If it woes, it leads

We’re backing into the climate future/present with woes leading the way. It’s the perfect media framing and supports the status quo – yes everything is awful. We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas, let’s see how we can keep cheap gas going a little bit longer. It’s this way, in part, because ALL of the progress is boring. For instance, wide bandgap:

Silicon and silicon carbide are useful in electronics because they are semiconductors: They can switch between being electrical conductors, as metals are, and insulators, as most plastics are. This ability makes semiconductors the key materials in transistors — the fundamental building blocks of modern electronics.

Silicon carbide differs from silicon in that it has a wide bandgap, meaning that it requires more energy to switch between the two states. Wide bandgap, or WBG, semiconductors are advantageous in power electronics because they can move more power more efficiently.

Silicon carbide is the senior citizen of WBGs, having been under development as a transistor material for decades. In that time, engineers have started using younger upstart WBG materials, like gallium nitride, or GaN. In the 1980s, researchers used gallium nitride to create the world’s first bright blue LEDs. Blue light comprises high-energy photons; gallium nitride, with its wide bandgap, was the first semiconductor that could practically produce photons with the sufficient energy. In 2014, three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for that innovation, which became ubiquitous in devices like TV screens and light bulbs.

Lately, researchers have started using gallium nitride to improve power electronics. The material reached commercial fruition over the past few years in adapters for charging phones and computers. These adapters are smaller, lighter, faster-charging and more efficient than traditional ones that use silicon transistors.

“A typical charger that you buy for your computer is 90 percent efficient,” said Jim Witham, chief executive of GaN Systems, a Canadian company that supplied the transistors in Apple’s gallium-nitride laptop chargers, which were released last fall. “Gallium nitride is 98 percent efficient. You can cut power losses by four times.”

Keep going, science.

What can you see from your car?

Or truck.

Other cars, lane lines, hopefully*. Traffic lights, parking lots. Some trees, a pedestrian*. A cyclist**.

A sidewalk – don’t stop looking at your phone.

Without a shift in perspective, it’s readily seen how none of this changes until people get out from behind the windshield. And no one will make you – that’s not how this works, at least not here, not yet. The costs could sway your decision-making, you could think about doing something differently. Not because you have to, but because you’re curious. You don’t live out in the country, but you also can’t quite walk to the store, much less to work. Still, you want to check out the view, have a look at the street from up close, from the other side of the windshield.

The prospect of seeing other drivers, reifying our fellow road-users, in recent parlance, into something other than the abstractions that we experience, which allow us to disconnect what we are doing from the consequences of doing it. That abstraction is what has to go. And if it’s only that, maybe we won’t feel like we’re losing so much.

See how fun this is? Fiddling with ways to trick ourselves into doing what’s best. So very child-like, this dependence on unsupportable habits to maintain, to remain in, abstract suspension, protected from the outside and other people, things that don’t actually mean us harm. “But I need to get from here to there,” though I don’t want to re-consider here or there. Just want to stay wrapped in this steel cocoon.

Conveyance. Economic drivers. These notes for later betray an urgency beneath the wheels, outside the windows.

The dated conversation

People are shocked! “Shocked” at gas prices. How long have we been having this conversation? Corollary – how long have we been avoiding this conversation?

Obviously, everyone and their mother is mad, mad, mad about the high price of gas, in part because Americans now are back to driving just about as much as they did before the pandemic. We’re not going to the office, but we’re not staying home. From Virginia to Colorado, drivers are liable to pull up to the pump and be greeted with a sticker of Joe Biden, pointing at their total: “I DID THAT!”

A look back at 2011 suggests an interesting counterfactual: What if, facing those high prices, we had made changes on the demand side instead? Believe it or not, this was what some people thought might happen. President Barack Obama took that moment (and the conditions created by the auto bailout) to set new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, known as CAFE, which put in place ambitious fuel efficiency goals for automakers. “Slowly but surely Detroit is shifting its attention from SUVs to cars,” All Things Considered reported in March of that year.

You won’t believe what happened next! It’s all ugh. I don’t wish anybody ill on this point. It’s certainly not enjoyable to being filling up on $4.39 per gallon multiple times in a week, but come on. The conversation about more roads all-the-time, living rilly rilly far from work, school, shopping goes back quite a bit farther than 2011. It’s not just smaller cars but a whole suite of living conditions that continue to be – ta-da! – unworkable, which should be the new unsustainable. The larger unworkable situation – sprawl, mostly non-existent public transit, and yes, gigantic vehicles – makes $4 gas that much more painful, as well as Groundhog Day all over and over again.

[You] Make it stop.

No emissions travel to a war zone

Or if not to a war zone, in close proximity to one. This seems far less a question at this point than an eventuality, but… will the last vestiges of fossil fuel domination burn furiously right up to the borders of energy transformation? The physical proximity of Russia and Norway hide the light years in distance they are from one another in ways that should make us wonder about the elasticity of time:

a new study by the Clean Cities Campaign, a coalition of non-governmental organizations, which analyzed 36 European cities on factors such as road safety for pedestrians, access to climate friendly transportation and air quality. The research found that Oslo is making the most progress on wiping out mobility emissions, followed by Amsterdam and Helsinki. Naples and Krakow had the lowest scores due, in part, to congestion. The financial hubs Paris and London ranked fifth and 12th, respectively.

Meanwhile, bombs, missiles, troops, and chaos for civilians in Ukraine. We may think this is about a crazy person’s LOOK AT ME obsession and not a ‘war’ for resources, but without the latter, there is no source for the former. His delusions are being fueled by the old standbys, in addition to resentment and authoritarianism.

Dammit.

Self-driving boats

Since he began scamming promising people – buyers and not just buyers, but BUYERS – that full self-driving would be available in six months (2016), Elon Musk has played a vital role in one of our great national pursuits. Yes, separating people from their money. But normalizing electric cars, even with the side auto-taxi fraud, is to be lauded. Tesla definitely got the other car makers to get some skin in the game.

There are and long have been many obvious reasons behind the difficulty of self-driving cars that Musk is now copping to, but again the Overton window has been effectively shifted. Quiet electric vehicles are turning up all over the place – on land, on sea, even in the fjords:

But they’ve already made Norway the most electrified shipping nation in the world, thanks to an aggressive government push to cut maritime emissions. The country is home to almost three-quarters of the 274 vessels globally that run at least partly on batteries, according to a state advisory body. Its fleet of 31 fully-electric car ferries is expected to nearly double by the end of the year, says the Green Shipping Programme, a public-private partnership that supports the transition. Even the sightseeing ferries that cruise Norway’s famous fjords are transitioning to battery power.

On a Saturday morning in Stavanger, along Norway’s west coast, a new ferry, the Rygerelektra, is in the harbor preparing for a tour of some nearby fjords. Measuring 42 meters long with seating capacity of nearly 300, the ferry, is owned and operated by Rødne Fjord Cruises. It is among a group of vessels from several of Norway’s leading maritime companies that are driving a shift towards zero-emissions fleet and supporting Norway’s ambitious economic reinvention away from oil and gas to alternative energy source.

They acknowledge the challenges of large-scale fleet charging, though promising technology already exists. And then, they can’t resist the temptation:

“In Norway, we need to transition from oil exports to sustainable products and services, while still utilizing the competence we have gained from the oil industry, says Pia Meling, vice president of sales and marketing at Massterly, the autonomous shipping company. “We would like to compete on the renewables and in clean shipping in particular.” Massterly’s vision is one of zero-emission, autonomous vessels moving everything from passengers around Norway to containers across oceans.

Emphasis added because I guess they can’t help it. But really, who knows where the over-promise of auto-taxis might lead? Self-driving boats are certainly more possible, if not theoretically easier – at least until you get to a crowded harbor. But hey, in the open water? Sure. In six months, we’ll be…

Logically circular

So… climate change is resulting in more and more severe storms of all kinds, and now (soon) one of the drivers of our gloriously enhanced CO2 budget will be able to power your home when the power gets knocked out because of those more severe storms:

Believe it or not, this battery-powered truck can really power your house when the lights go out, and better still, doing so won’t require a rat’s nest of extension cords or even a portable generator. What Ford calls Intelligent Backup Power enables this all-electric rig to feed power from its enormous battery pack through its hardwired wall charger directly into your home’s electrical system.

As you might suspect, electric cars store positively enormous amounts of energy in their batteries. After all, it takes a lot of juice to move a multi-ton vehicle at interstate speeds for hundreds of miles. When it goes on sale next year, the new Lightning will offer two battery pack sizes, the smaller of which should provide 230 miles of range and the bigger one about 300. Ford hasn’t said how large these electron reservoirs are, but we’re estimating they’ll clock in at roughly 110 and 150 kWh, respectively.

The F-150 Lightning can provide up to 9.6 kW of power output. According to Ford, that’s more than enough to fully power a house at any one time, and considering the size of the battery, it could do that for at least three days (based on a daily average of 30 kWh). The automaker says you can make that power last for up to 10 days if you ration the electricity accordingly. Kind of like hypermiling for your home.

Definitely some prepper fanboy-ing going on with this soothing new pickup, though we are far beyond any shyness or shame about making fun of things both ironically and unironically at the same time. Ah, the land of opportunity. No need to waste your time hating on only one brand of irony.

ETA – Actually, there is no real reason to be hating on much of anything and this example nutshells the fundamental conundrum as first articulated (over to your right, there >). Can we market our way out of this? It’s like the punchline to this entire site.

Be Moved

If you build it, will they take them? Trains, that is, super, high-speed and just regular intra-city transit. And Buses. Buses! But before even the lowest-frills fancy stuff, fix the bridges:

Most, if not all, Americans support the idea that bridges shouldn’t collapse as you drive over them, yet there are 44,741 bridges in the United States that are rated “poor” by the Federal Highway Administration. Nearly 45,000! That’s out of about 616,000, meaning that about 1 in 14 bridges indexed in the United States receive the government’s lowest rating.
But wait! It gets worse. The three ratings used — good, fair, poor — are simply reflections of the lowest rating a bridge gets on the condition of its deck, superstructure or substructure. (If you think of a standard highway bridge, the deck is what you drive on, the superstructure is what supports the deck and the substructure is what holds up the rest of it.) Those values are assessed on a zero-to-nine scale, with the average score for all three components being about 6.5 nationally.

There’s handy searchable map at that link where you can see the bridges in your area that need maintenance. Yikes! There‘s a are multiple tons of them.

It’s also important that the Biden Infrastructure bill includes, among many other things, no money for expanding roads. Stop expanding already uncross-able roads and intersections. The BIKE is the answer, not the ambulance. This is one of the subtle keys to the shift in transit. And I’ve written previously about taking Amtrak below Richmond, VA. The trains themselves are very dated, but it’s the rickety tracks beneath them that feel like such a hazard. It’s a disgrace, and like the state of the postal system, it’s decline by design. It’s been left in purposeful, deliberate disrepair.

So there’s plenty to fix, and feel good about while we’re doing it. Not feel triumphant – it’s not necessary. Just responsible for taking care of our sh*t and making it useful. Buy yourself a nice pen with what’s left over and write someone a letter. You might get one back. Write the next one on the train. Feel romantic, be moved.

Front Foot

Stay on it.

White House officials are preparing to present President Biden with a roughly $3 trillion infrastructure and jobs package that includes high-profile domestic policy priorities such as free community college and universal prekindergarten, according to three people familiar with internal discussions.
After completing the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package this month, Biden administration officials are piecing together the next major legislative priority. Although no final announcement has been made, the White House is expected to push a multitrillion-dollar jobs and infrastructure plan as the centerpiece of the president’s “Build Back Better” agenda.

This will do multiple things, with hundreds of billions of dollars to repair roads, bridges, sewers, waterways and railways, as well retrofitting thousands of schools and other buildings, the bill also includes $400 billion to combat climate change, with $$$ for transit, and importantly, R & D. And this isn’t pouring money into nowhere – people will have to do that building, digging, measuring, research. So… jobs. Yes, boring and crucial.

And Republicans will fight it because of reasons. Let them. Make them. Remember: no tax cuts, especially the most recent ones, have ever been paid for. And the bugaboo of inflation will be what they betting on to argue against infrastructure investment. Let them explain. From the back foot.

Taking the Slow Boat

photo of crowds on a beach

People sunbathe at Levante Beach on July 22, 2015 in Benidorm, Spain. Photographer: David Ramos/Getty Images Europe

This being Amurrika and all, I started linking to the business press a little more regularly sometime ago, to be aware of how the world looks to those who see everything through the prism of money. Bloomberg Green has some good reporters and this digression on Mass Tourism’s Carbon Impact is valuable:

a model built by and for the masses, one that thrives on low-cost flights, all-inclusive hotel resorts, giant buffets and endless sangria. Spain, the world’s No. 2 destination with 83.7 million visitors in 2019, is a magnet for mass tourism (it’s no coincidence that package tours were invented not far from where I was standing). In total, the industry flew, accommodated, fed and entertained a good chunk of the world’s 1.5 billion tourists last year.

Globally, it was a booming sector before the pandemic, growing at about 4% every year, employing 10% of the world’s workers and representing 10% of global gross domestic product. The enormous cruise ships, fossil fuel-powered planes and the hotels in remote, water-scarce locations make it incredibly carbon intensive too. Total footprint is estimated at around 8% of overall human emissions.

The sector’s climate record before the pandemic was already discouraging. Efforts to lower the carbon footprint have mostly been limited to climate neutrality pledges and headline-grabbing small steps like eliminating mini-shampoo bottles, replacing plastic straws with paper ones and serving sustainable food on flights.

Just calculating the impact is hard. Any serious account should include carbon emitted directly from tourism activities, but also from the whole supply chain, also known as Scope 3 emissions. That would involve food, accommodation, transport, fuel and shopping.

Scope 3 emissions are an important benchmark, and we should be aware of how to think about carbon footprint. As for global travel, I have been an active participant for more than twenty years. I remember at one point looking into the cost/feasibility of traveling to Europe by ship instead of plane for a completely different set of reasons. Considering it again, it still makes sense – and is completely unaffordable vs. comparable flights. The reality of mass tourism is a conundrum – yes, people need to travel, to expand their mindfulness of and about the world. Yes, small communities without other industries need viable economic lifelines. Yes, it creates an environmental disaster in more ways than ten.

Things Fall Apart. Look at the photo up top. Look at what has become of Venice. Without factoring in the true costs of these experiences – cruise ships, quick trips, cheap tour packages – the viability of these this places and practices have already fallen into great peril. They are at risk, even as they continue unchanged. The cruise ship industry is revving their engines, despite the inherent contradictions of scale. We need to re-think broadly. Disperse the destinations. Stay longer, take longer to get there. Yes, it costs more. These experiences already costs more than we think.

When at all costs

Quite likely, that the news of Oil’s decline will arrive long after it has actually begun to happen. That’s mostly the way most things work – just ask all the Hillbillies people Elegying worried that the demographics of the U.S. are changing!

Even so, BNP Paribas has startlingly concluded that the economics of oil “are now in relentless and irreversible decline”:

The report is good news for humanity because it means peak oil demand may be less than a decade away, which in turn means ambitious climate goals will be more affordable than previously thought.

But the bank’s analysis, “Wells, Wires and Wheels,” is devastating for Big Oil. It concludes that “the oil industry has never before in its history faced the kind of threat that renewable electricity in tandem with EVs poses to its business model.”

But one of the most startling findings is that because the cost of running EVs on solar or wind power is dropping so rapidly, the only way gasoline cars can compete with these renewable energy-powered EVs in the 2020s is if the price of oil were to drop to $11 to $12 per barrel. The current price of oil is over $50.

Even worse for oil, this economic analysis doesn’t even factor in many of the other benefits of running cars on renewable power rather than oil. These include the vast public health benefits of not breathing air pollution from burning oil, along with the benefits of not having huge oil spills and of not destroying a livable climate.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer, more thoughtful and civic-minded group. It would honestly have been much better had we just thanked them around 1967 and made the direct move to the obvious as it had already by then been long-imagined. But no. There were markets to dominate and profits to lose and wars to fund, thus the long drawn out halftime show that just embarrasses everybody with the need for enormous flags, jet flyovers and pale people in native costumes. Can’t enjoy this show and take no pleasure in their decades-late demise.