The Birth of My Activism

I have always been an electric vehicle and alternative fuel enthusiast, following every change in the industry, researching its history, looking for kinks in the armor of the market for a way to get these vehicles into people’s hands. Then one day, it seemed to come true. General Motor’s announced in 1996 it was to produce an electric car to be called the EV1. This following its successful entry into the first World Solar Challenge in 1987 and the positive hoopla raised by the press for GM’s presentation of its future electric car, a prototype called the Impact, at the 1990 LA Auto Show.

 

 

There's more...

Weekly Mulch: Can Clean Energy Curb Climate Change? Probably Not.

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

During the State of the Union address earlier this week, President Barack Obama spoke at length about clean energy, with nary a mention of climate change. This is the new environment in which America’s energy policy is being made.

Just two years ago, Democrats were rallying to combat climate change, one of the most worrying challenges the country faces. But now, Obama has apparently given up his plan to openly fight climate change during his presidency. It’s hard to imagine how, even in a second term, he would choose to re-fight the lost battle to create a cap-and-trade system.

The Obama Administration has instead resorted to a sort of insurgent strategy. Instead of waging an all-out battle against energy interests, the U.S. government will try to chip away at the edges of the industry’s power and rally citizens’ allegiances to a new flag, that of “clean energy.”

Climate bill’s absence is smothering clean energy

Since Washington hasn’t succeeded at tackling climate change head on, Obama’s new strategy is to attack the problem obliquely by promoting innovation in clean energy and setting goals for the use of technologies like electric cars. But can clean energy efforts and innovations thrive in the absence of a wholesale climate policy? When a climate bill was still a possibility, clean energy entrepreneurs were promising substantial investments in the sector, if only Congress could give them a framework. And as Monica Potts explains at The American Prospect, in the absence of a climate bill, clean energy has flagged:

What’s been problematic about the president’s approach up to now is that, despite his efforts to pump funding into the clean-energy sector, as he did with about $90 billion of the stimulus, renewable energy hasn’t taken off. Obama had a line in his speech that summed up why this is so: “Now, clean-energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean-energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling.”

Short on influence

It’s possible that clean energy investors will take the President’s new promise as incentive enough to push forward. But, they will also have to consider the influence of the newly empowered Republicans. Mother JonesKate Sheppard isn’t convinced that the president’s new tactic will stick:

“There are plenty of people—and most of them happen to be Republicans—who don’t think that policies to support clean energy are worthwhile and who will oppose any attempt to move away from them,” she wrote. “Meanwhile, this latest iteration of the Obama climate and energy plan includes few of the driving forces that would actually make renewables cost-competitive in the near future and allow renewables to compete (the big one being, of course, a price on carbon pollution).”

When “clean” energy includes coal

Another weak point in the President’s new strategy is his reliance on the vague idea of clean energy, which becomes dirtier the more it is used. As Sheppard writes, “Environmental groups weren’t all that excited about the inclusion of “clean coal” and nuclear in that mix, but that’s pretty broadly expected as the price one must pay to draw broader support for a clean energy standard.”

Another key source of clean energy is natural gas. In Washington, it’s become a given that natural gas, which releases less carbon when burned than coal or oil, will help the country transition away from its high-carbon diet and be phased out as energy sources like solar and wind become more viable. (The natural gas industry, of course, doesn’t see its role as transitional. It’s playing for keeps.)

And while some places are rightly celebrating the freedom that natural gas gives them from coal—as Care2’s Beth Buczynski reports, Penn State is investing $35 million to convert its coal-fired power plant to natural gas over the next three years—other places are bearing the environmental toll of this new, clean fuel. In North Carolina, for instance, hydrofracking, the controversial technique that natural gas companies have been using to extract the gas from shale, is not even legal, but already environmental groups are having to fight efforts from energy companies to buy up potentially gas-rich properties, Public News Service reports.

A poverty of political capital

The president’s new strategy on clean energy will surely succeed at turning current energy economy slowly towards a new path. In the absence of any overarching strategy to fix the country’s energy problems, it’s going to have to be good enough. But ultimately, this sort of tactic, born out of a poverty of political capital, cannot move fast enough to keep energy companies from scouring the earth for more profits doing what they’ve been doing.

That means that there will be more scenes like the one in Kern County, California, where companies are dredging up the last resources of oils from the tar sands. In Orion Magazine, Jeremy Miller writes:

The land also reveals the Frankensteinian scars and machinery necessary to keep up that level of production. Gas flares glow on hillsides. Nodding donkeys lever over thousands of wells, some of which are spaced fewer than a hundred feet apart. Between the wells and imposing cogeneration power plants—which supply energy and steam to the senescent fields—run wild tangles of pipe. These are the conduits of an elaborate industrial life-support system, breathing in steam and carrying away oil.

Will the president’s new strategy prevent the creation of more landscapes like this one? It seems overly optimistic to hope so.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Karma's a Bitch.

(cross-posted at kickin it with cg and motley moose)

Note: I originally wrote this one year ago and yet - it still seems more timely than ever.

With last week GM reporting a $15.5 billion loss in the second quarter, it is quite clear that American car manufactures are getting their come-uppance.

Edmunds.com published a list of the top 10 most efficient 2008 sedans available.  They ranked the cars based on EPA fuel economy numbers.  And sweet moses would you guess that not one from an American manufacturer made the list!  Even the Wall Street Journal, not known for its criticism to big business, has sharp words about American car manufacturers.

There's more...

Karma's a Bitch.

(cross posted at kickin it with cg and Clintonistas for Obama)

With last week GM reporting a $15.5 billion loss in the second quarter, it is quite clear that American car manufactures are getting their come-uppance.

Edmunds.com published a list of the top 10 most efficient 2008 sedans available.  They ranked the cars based on EPA fuel economy numbers.  And sweet moses would you guess that not one from an American manufacturer made the list!  Even the Wall Street Journal, not known for its criticism to big business, has sharp words about American car manufacturers.

Now we see the results of the myopia that has afflicted Detroit auto executives. These are the people who staked their companies' futures on gas-guzzling, heavyweight behemoths.

Auto execs claim they were giving Americans the products they wanted. Really? For proof to the contrary, look at their U.S. market shares, which are slumping to historically low levels as Japanese auto makers gain ground.

In lieu of GM's stunning losses, I was reminded of the complete and utter arrogance they displayed when they crushed its fleet of EV-1 electric vehicles in the Arizona desert.  The EV-1 was among the fastest, most efficient production cars ever built. It ran on electricity, produced no emissions and catapulted American technology to the forefront of the automotive industry.

The story of the EV-1 is documented in the amazing film Who Killed the Electric Car? It chronicles the life and mysterious death of the EV-1 and it examines the cultural and economic ripple effects caused by its conception and how they reverberated through the halls of government and big business.

A summary:

The film deals with the history of the electric car, its development and commercialization, mostly focusing on the General Motors EV1, which was made available for lease in Southern California, after the California Air Resources Board passed the ZEV mandate in 1990, as well as the implications of the events depicted for air pollution, environmentalism, Middle East politics, and global warming.

The film details the California Air Resources Board's reversal of the mandate after suits from automobile manufacturers, the oil industry, and the George W. Bush administration. It points out that Bush's chief influences, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and Andrew Card, are all former executives and board members of oil and auto companies.

A large part of the film accounts for GM's efforts to demonstrate to California that there was no demand for their product, and then to take back every EV1 and dispose of them. A few were disabled and given to museums and universities, but almost all were found to have been crushed; GM never responded to the EV drivers' offer to pay the residual lease value ($1.9 million was offered for the remaining 78 cars in Burbank before they were crushed).

Embedded below, the film in its entirety:

If the above does not work, visit this LINK.

However its not all bad news.  In the same WSJ piece - it would seem that some have climbed aboard the bus.

In a recent meeting with Ford executives, CEO Alan Mulally dared to challenge the Detroit gospel that you can't make money on small, fuel-efficient cars.

At last Ford appears to be making bold moves to design and sell vehicles that people want. In Paris earlier this summer I spotted an unfamiliar car so attractive that I went over to see what it was. It was a Ford. Presumably this is one of the six European models that, as part of the "Drive One" campaign, Ford will introduce in the U.S. Ford is also boosting production of its fuel-efficient "EcoBoost" and four-cylinder engines, speeding up hybrid introductions and converting three truck plants to small-car production.

Even GM seems to be facing reality. It said it's planning for oil prices in a $120-$150 range for the foreseeable future, boosting light vehicle production, and suspending production at four truck plants. It, too, is accelerating production of efficient four-cylinder engines, and announced a global Chevrolet small-car initiative.

While promising, what pulls my chain about the above is that rather than take responsibility for the planet and in the role these car companies play in emissions, the American car manufacturers are only taking these steps because of the price of gas.  Let's hope their successful.  However as they say, karma's a bitch.

There's more...

To fight global warming, we also need to rethink transportation

It doesn't get much more visionary and ambitious than Al Gore's recent speech on energy and climate change, and this sentence in particular:

Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.

If you missed it, you can find the full text here or read a helpfully annotated version here.

My only quibble with this fantastic speech was that Gore said little about the transportation sector, which is the second largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Changing our transportation policies and funding priorities could greatly help us address the climate change emergency. More on that after the jump.  

There's more...

Diaries

Advertise Blogads