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How Many Electric Cars Do We Need to Save the Planet?

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 13:01

Compared to conventional cars, plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  This is true even after accounting for the power plant emissions from the electricity to charge them. That's why environmental groups have been calling on policymakers, automakers, the media, and the public to support an accelerated switch to plug-in cars, while simultaneously slashing fossil fuel emissions in other ways -like improving mass transit and expanding solar power.

In his state of the union address four years ago, President Obama said, "we can break our dependence on oil and become the first country to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015." Today we can more accurately estimate that we'll have roughly 400,000 EVs on the road by the end of 2015.  We will likely hit the 1 million mark around 2018. Still, not a bad start for a new category of passenger vehicles. EV sales have grown faster out of the gates than hybrid cars first did.

But we can – and should – do much better. Indeed, late last year, EVs made up only about .85 percent of total U.S. auto sales.

Sierra Club, the major environmental group, hired AlterAction - a behavior change consultancy -- to produce an in-depth analysis of the U.S. EV marketplace.  One finding really struck us: the U.S. needs 10 million EVs on the road by 2025 to have a shot at avoiding the worst effects of climate change.

Even AlterAction's sunniest market projection indicates that we'll have only four-to-five million EVs on the road by 2025 if we charge ahead at the current modest pace of growth.  But we believe an aggressive campaign promoting the most effective EV programs and policies in the right locations could bump that number to 6-8 million EVs by 2025. And with many more NGO, government, and corporate stakeholders making this a priority issue, we could actually reach that 10 million EV mark within the next decade.

How do we get there? As we wrote in our last post in this blog series, some EV programs clearly are already working and should be expanded and replicated. These include high-level EV taskforces put in place by state government leaders, consumer incentives that make EVs cheaper to buy and more convenient to operate – such as cash rebates and carpool lanes access, initiatives that encourage the installation of charging equipment at places of work, and utility programs, such as off-peak charging rates and outreach to their customers.

And where in the country do we focus our attention? Part of the answer is the eight Northeast and West Coast states whose governors have already committed to the Zero Emission Vehicle Action Plan.  That plan promises 3.3 million EVs will hit the roads by 2025. There is A LOT of work to be done in these states to meet these commitments. Recently, a coalition of businesses and NGOs provided some specific recommendations and urged the governors of all the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to ramp up their EV programs.

We shouldn't ignore certain other pockets of the country where we can accelerate EV adoption, too. For example, Georgia is among the most popular states for EVs because of its generous $5,000 EV consumer credit, which advocates are currently fighting to defend. A recent report shows that EV drivers in Georgia are currently saving a combined $10 million a year in fueling costs, and last year these Peach State drivers prevented 22,000 tons of GHG emissions. Additionally, Kansas City Power & Light recently announced it plans to install 1,000 EV charging stations, which could boost EV sales in part of the Midwest.

In California, Pacific Gas & Electric just announced its plans to install 25,000 new EV charging stations, including at two of the most important types of locations for EV chargers: at workplaces and multi-unit dwellings. The air quality is so bad in parts of south and central California that policymakers have set a goal to electrify nearly all passenger vehicles on the road by 2032. Translation: even the Golden State, the EV capital of the U.S., needs to significantly ramp up its ambitious EV programs.

Getting to 10 million EVs in the U.S. by 2025 will be a major challenge, but we know a lot already about what works and where to focus. In our next post, we’ll lay out a vision for how to get the public charged up and demanding these cars.

Mike Walker is the founder and CEO of AlterAction, and his blog is here. Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club's Director of Electric Vehicles Initiative. Emily Norton and Jeff Fisher also contributed to this post. Photo credit: Gian Metzger.

From Compass

UK Takes Historic Step to Fight Climate Disruption and Phase Out Coal

Tue, 02/17/2015 - 12:05

While the U.S. was celebrating the President’s Day weekend, and shortly after the Republican-led Senate rejected legislation upholding climate science, the leaders of the three main parties in the United Kingdom signed an agreement to work together across party lines to tackle the climate crisis head-on. Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron joined forces with Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg as well as Labor Party leader Ed Milliband to:

  • Seek a legally binding, global climate deal that limits temperature rises to below 2°C.

  • Forge an agreement on carbon budgets according to the Climate Change Act.

  • Accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy and to end unabated coal for power generation.

This announcement comes after sustained advocacy by groups working to protect the health of UK citizens from both the danger of climate disruption and pollution from coal-fired power. According to the Health and Environment Alliance pollution from coal plants cause 1,600 premature deaths, 363,266 lost work days, and over one million incidents of lower respiratory symptoms every year in the U.K., costing $1.7 to $4.7 billion each year. Moreover, the nation is forced to find coal from unfriendly sources, spending around $1.5 billion on coal imports from Russia even as the situation deteriorated in Ukraine and new sanctions were introduced.

But this new pledge goes far beyond simply addressing domestic concerns around the use of coal and climate – it sets the tone as we go into the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris later this year. While the naysayers like to claim the U.S. would be acting alone, it is clear that there is global momentum for action. From the historic agreement between the U.S. and China in November, to this news out of the UK, we are seeing proof that countries around the world are prepared to take concrete steps to counter climate change.

Nicole Ghio From Compass

A Love Story for Global Divestment Day!

Sat, 02/14/2015 - 10:06


To kick off Valentine's Day weekend, the University of Illinois Beyond Coal Campaign is hosting  “Breaking Up with Coal,” an event in honor of Global Divestment Day featuring a twenty foot long comic about breaking up with coal.


Starting Friday afternoon, UIUC students can stop by, grab a valentine, warm up with a cup of hot chocolate, and participate in a photo petition to call on U of I to break up with coal.


The UIUC Beyond Coal Campaign has come a long way in the fight to divest. Last November, the campaign launched a major petition drive and achieved an unprecedented 6:1 vote on a ballot initiative from the student body in favor of coal divestment. Currently, it is estimated that $5.1 million dollars of the active University endowment pool, of about 1.81 billion dollars,  is invested in the “Filthy Fifteen” largest coal mining and utility companies.

Transitioning from coal to a clean energy future will prevent premature death, asthma attacks, and heart attacks. So this Valentine’s Day, we are asking students to pledge to save a heart by taking part in a photo petition supporting UIUC’s breakup with coal.  

Divestment campaigns across the nation will be hosting flash-mobs, vigils, sit-ins, pledges, and rallies to pressure their institutions to divest from fossil fuels. Recently, Stanford University, the City of Seattle, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and countless other religious organizations and institutions have committed to divesting from coal.


The University of Illinois is making significant headway on addressing climate change. U of I is the first Big Ten university to submit a climate action plan, pledging to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, end coal combustion from the local Abbott Power Plant by 2017 and just broke ground on a 5 MW solar installation. The University is also writing new plans that look at moving up its carbon neutrality date, which includes 100% clean energy purchasing.   


As UIUC leads the way for large universities and clean energy, one crucial step will be for the University to divest. The University’s achievements regarding carbon neutrality will always be limited by its investments in coal.

Join UIUC for Global Divestment Day! And take the pledge to go fossil free today!

Erika Weir From Compass

#COP21: Geneva: Effort Rising In The Face Of Challenge And New Strategies

Fri, 02/13/2015 - 13:59

In the lead up to the COP21 climate negotiations this December in Paris, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is currently hosting its annual Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) session in Geneva, Switzerland. This session, ADP 2.8, comes just two months after the conclusion of COP20 in Lima, Peru, and presents the Parties -- the negotiating bodies for each country -- with a need to further develop and clarify the text that came out of Lima. This text will be used during the final 2015 climate negotiations in Paris.


Janice Meier is a volunteer with the Sierra Club who volunteers on the Club's behalf as a co-chair of the Climate Action Network's Technology Working Group. She is blogging from Geneva.


The story for this ADP session is shaping up to be one of excellent cooperation and stepped-up Party effort as the new Co-chairs’ strategic planning seems to be engendering effective cooperation. While this session must produce a draft negotiating text by May in preparation for an agreement in Paris, the co-chairs approach of focusing first on Parties’ text additions seems to have reassured Parties that they are being heard and inspired their focused effort.


This is not to say that differences have disappeared. There has been reference made to the disagreement on differentiation (how countries at different levels of development should be treated differently) being papered-over in Lima, that make clear that “slick language” won’t save the agreement. Then there is the question of handling “Loss and Damage,” that is, what happens in the most vulnerable countries when the impacts of climate change are beyond adaptation. And there are a host of others as well.


But, overall, the mood in the rooms has been upbeat in Geneva, and already, we’ve seen dramatic shifts from the process in Lima -- where you couldn’t pay a delegation to moderate the length of their interventions in Lima, in the opening plenary in Geneva, we had Parties agreeing to hand in text for file rather than read out their interventions. And in the ADP sessions since, Parties have engaged constructively to follow the new Co-chairs lead, including focusing first on new text submissions as a definitive way to put to rest Parties’ fears that text was being ignored.


And there have been real wins for environmental non-governmental organizations as a number of Parties took up ECO’s Human Rights challenge and almost competed to introduce the text that was suggested in an ECO article, and likewise, offered long sought after text on the assessment of potentially risky climate technologies


But mid-week, the process seemed to hit a snag when the Co-chairs suggested reverting to the Lima text and announced that the results of the “streamlining process” that was about to be embarked on would not be reflected in the new draft text. What was not made immediately clear is that their reason for doing so was to protect the draft text that they had. Had they re-opened that text and if any disagreement had ensued they risked not having enough time left to get to agreement again this week and missing the mandate for text before May.


In essence, the process was a victim of its own success. Because Parties agreed to the draft text so quickly, there was unplanned time, but because the draft text needed to be protected, no further change could be made to it. The meeting adjourned a bit early, and the next morning began with a discussion on guiding questions that gave the parties time to better understand each other’s positions. In the afternoon the streamlining work began, again with Parties cooperating to find solutions.


Yes, this process has challenges and is likely to have many more between now and Paris -- including how to deal with a voluminous text -- but the good news is that if this new-found effectiveness carries through 2015, we may be on the high road to a successful Paris agreement. Let’s give the negotiators kudos and all the support we can muster.

From Compass