My Electric Car (RIP)

electric car

This is (was) my electric car.

I was disturbed to be guzzling down gas at 15 mpg (and almost $4/gallon) in my V8 Toyota 4Runner, but I also need that vehicle to transport my horse to shows that nobody else at my barn goes to. Competing my horse is pretty much the only thing I do in life (besides the normal, like work and family), so it’s super important to me.

In July 2017, I got a job about 20 miles away that required working 8:00 to 5:00 and commuting on the 405. Anyone in SoCal understands that is a good hour+ commute each way. While my husband was looking at cars one day, he spotted this VW e-Golf. It was used and already had the diamond lane stickers–in California, you can apply for carpool lane stickers if you drive a clean-air vehicle.

The car cost $16,000, about half of its “new car” MSRP (it was a year old). I can’t remember how many miles it had on it, but not many. It came with a 10 year/100k-mile warranty on the battery, my biggest worry. We decided to scoop it up since there was a car charging station at my job.

Pros and Cons

Pros: All-electric vehicle (EV), not hybrid, uses zero gasoline. Sticker to drive in carpool lane and reduce commute time by half or more. Not spending $250/month on gas anymore (spending about $4/day or $80/month to charge at work instead). Brake energy no longer wasted–it’s used to charge battery. Electric motors have much simpler design (fewer moving parts) than an internal combustion engine, making them more reliable. No oil changes needed. Lower center of gravity makes for nice, sporty driving. Extremely high torque means incredible acceleration from a standstill, which is safer for merging onto roads and highways here.

Cons: Not yet available in large SUV/truck (this is a big con for me with my trailer, or anyone with lots of kids to drive around, who only wants to care for one vehicle). My car had about an 80-mile “range” before recharging was needed, so it couldn’t be driven on long trips (I didn’t have a fast-charge port, only slow & medium). So you’d technically need a 2nd car with hybrid or regular gas engine to drive across state lines to grandma’s if you can’t fly/train/bus there. And finally: availability of charging stations.

electric car charging station

Pictured: 4 EV chargers near my work. My eGolf and its blue twin.

This was the one that did me in. If you have a garage, you can easily plug your car into a regular outlet after work until the following morning (“slow charge”), or have electrician install the “medium” speed charger–the same type of outlet as a stove or clothes dryer–which will give you plenty of daily commuting juice in about 4-5 hours.

Since I live in a condo with no charging station, I was dependent on my charger at work. I switched jobs in October 2017 and, thankfully, still was close to a car-charging station at the new job. Charging there cost $1/hour.

A Change of Circumstances

But then my company was bought out and I was sent to work from home in March 2018. At first, I tried to drive to the nearest charger a few miles from my house. There was only one unit, and it always had a car attached. It also had a one-hour time limit (useless!). I drove to the next closest chargers… also all occupied. With feet left to drive before running out of charge, I found a public park that closed in 1 hour with an open charger (you can locate all the chargers around you on a phone app; some brands tell you if they are available or in use). Started to realize this was a nightmare.

Now that I would only be driving to see my horse every day, and of course there were no car chargers at the barn, I decided I really couldn’t keep the car. Best case, I could find a charger and, what, wait for 5 hours while it charged? (If the car had a fast-charge option, that would only take 30 minutes, but this was a feature I didn’t even know to ask about at the time we bought it.) Or walk 2 miles home and 2 miles back? (The car was too small to hold a bike inside.)

So we decided to sell it.

Now I’m back to the horse-transporting gas-guzzler. To be fair, none of my problems with an EV would be issues for anyone with a garage (containing an outlet) or a car with a fast-charging option. Also, newer electric cars have a hugely improved range–over 200 miles. In my area, there are plenty of charging stations and you could easily drive from L.A. to Vegas (300 miles) and beyond just by planning with an app and coordinating your fast-charges with rest/food stops.

The World is Almost Ready

I hope sharing my electric car story has shed some light on the topic. You definitely don’t need to spend $80,000 on a Tesla to enjoy the benefits of an electric car! For instance, the 2018 Chevy Bolt has a 238-mile range and $36,000 MSRP. That price will come down as the 2019s roll out (same battery range on the new ones).

2018_chevrolet_bolt

2018 Chevrolet Bolt.

In fact, with more charging infrastructure and beefier vehicles, everyone could be driving EVs within one generation of auto-purchase turnover. It’s really the psychological grip of the gas-powered car that I see as the problem. Do you think it can/should be done? Please comment below.

I have lots more ideas for clean commuting that don’t even involve owning a car, but I’ll save that for another post 🙂

Post Script: What’s Super New is Actually Super Old

Right after I finished this post, I was watching a Netflix show about batteries (so important in the switch to electric cars). It turns out electric cars almost beat out internal combustion engines when cars first came out!

Sadly the batteries had some problems to be sorted out, and the Model T got the jump before they were perfected. Gas stations took the place of the electric car charging stations that were all over New York. Here is Jay Leno’s 1909 Baker electric that still runs!

“It’s the Economy, Stupid”

Drought

On Black Friday (#ClimateFriday), Volume II of the National Climate Assessment was released (Volume I came out in 2017). The Natural Resource Defense Council calls it the most definitive report ever compiled on climate change in America. Once again, blink and it was easy to miss.

This report was mandated by Congress in 1990–in a 100-to-0 vote(!!)–to be delivered every four years by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) to Congress and the President. The USGCRP was proposed in Reagan’s final budget and established during Bush 1’s administration.

More than 300 experts compiled the report, which was reviewed by more than 1,000 people in the scientific, business and public interest communities. Thirteen federal agencies helped author it, including NOAA, NASA, the EPA, the Department of Defense, the Pentagon and the State Department.

The report is more than a wake-up call, it’s a tally of the damage that’s already been done by a swiftly changing climate: billions of dollars in costs resulting from intensifying disasters like crop failure, fires, hurricanes and floods, the scale and frequency of which have never been seen before.

“Climate change puts many things Americans care about at risk, both now and in the future, and risks will intensify without action,” the report states. “Many options are available to reduce risks, and choices made today will determine the magnitude of future risks.”

Unlike the previous report I mentioned by the IPCC, this one was more focused on humanity’s role in extreme weather and how continued climate change will play out in terms of costs.

This is the report I like to call, “It’s the economy, stupid.” It puts dollar amounts on changing nothing. While making expensive changes to our energy grids and transportation methods now definitely sounds like a pain in the wallet, it’s just spending NOW vs. much more later. It’s in our economic self-interest down the road to cut greenhouse gases.

According to the report, climate change will cost the U.S. $500 billion per year in today’s dollars by 2100 if we stay on our current trajectory. Health care costs, infrastructure damage, agricultural failures and import/export prices (George Costanza’s favorite) are the primary contributors.

The authors recommend 3 primary solutions: carbon taxing; the government capping allowable greenhouse emissions; and researching clean energy with public funds.

Needless to say, but I’ll mention it anyway, radically cutting our greenhouse emissions makes more than economic sense. It will be saving the lives of future people (including ourselves) affected by food and water shortages, pollution, insect-borne diseases, heat stroke, and natural disasters.

Win-win!

Cover photo: Wikimedia Commons, by Jorge Franganillo

1.5 to Stay Alive

smoke stack

In October of 2018, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report compiled and reviewed by, collectively, thousands of climate scientists from all over the globe.

What is the IPCC? It’s a panel assembled by the United Nations (UN), put together to distill knowledge from every branch of science related to climate and climate change. There is no political party or agenda behind its publication. It’s just putting info out there.

There’s a lot to take in, but the big headline is that we must keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (above pre-industrial levels) to avoid mass destruction. Here are digestible takeaways I got from this summary:

  • First of all: we’re already at 1 degree C of warming since the industrial revolution. Yes fellow math wizards, that gives us 0.5 degrees to go.
  • Even if we shut off all climate-warming production today (gas, goal, methane from cows, et cetera), the world would still get hotter for a while as existing pollution continues to trap heat.
  • 1.5 is bad, but we can live with its effects. 2 degrees gets into a whole ‘nother ballpark: massive ice sheet melting and sea level rise that effects many more millions of “climate refugees,” as well as wiping out untold species on land and sea. (Side note: the Paris Agreement is weaker than you think, and would leave us at 3 degrees of warming by 2100.)
  • Since we’re already closing in on 1.5 degrees, the critical window requires cutting emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and 100% by 2050. But after 2030 is really when the domino effect of climate catastrophes will begin if nothing is done.
  • Sticking to “only” 1.5 degrees also requires massive removal of carbon from the atmosphere (carbon capture/sequestration). Also… this isn’t actually possible yet.

A key passage in the IPCC report explains how we gon’ do all dis:

“Pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems.”

You know what? That is actually kind of exciting. It gets all my WWII nostalgia cranking. Back then, the U.S. transformed in a few short years, out of the Great Depression and into incredible innovation. They sacrificed like crazy and worked together toward a common goal.

There ARE solutions, and I’ll get to them as the series goes on.

Cover photo: Zimmer Power Plant Smoke Stack, by joelbeeb

Climate Blogging for a Minute

polar bear

I’m going to shift the focus of this blog  for a minute to the breezy topic of how we’re basically tied to the front of a train hurdling down the tracks to our own doom.

Check out this cool video if you’re still a skeptic. (And no, “natural climate change” has never happened this quickly–we can tell based on ice cores going back hundreds of thousands of years how fast natural climate change happens. It’s nothing like this.)

Beginning in October, a lot of important climate reports have come out, although you could miss them if you blink with the amount of other news under which they get buried. I’m going to write one post per report just to keep them short.

My only hope is to raise awareness, as this is no longer a problem we can pass along to the next generation. The scientific consensus is in: we have until about 2030 to get out ahead of this thing. That’s 12 years. That’s almost certainly within your lifespan if you’re reading this.

The major problem is that this isn’t something “we” can fix by recycling more or conserving water or eating vegan or driving a Prius. Those are great steps, but we need MASSIVE, coordinated effort by all (particularly large) countries … immediately. Hmm. That is a depressing thought, only because we know the likeliness of it happening 😦

Why? Why can’t people on a large government scale look at the problem, say “this is worth addressing,” and freaking address it?

Because it’s easier to let people drive their trucks (yes, I have one too), keep that coal plant open till, like, whenever… because… jobs? I don’t know what the logic is, honestly. There are way more jobs in developing and manufacturing alternatives to fossil fuels.

But there’s quite literally no plan on the horizon at all. Really no countries are on target to meet their Paris Climate Accord goals, and those goals are not radical enough to stop massive increases in crop failure, climate refugees, droughts, fires, floods, et cetera.

It’s too overwhelming. Easier just not to think about. To live in the here and now, plug your ears, and sing “la la la la la la!” But I invite you to continue reading my series. If nothing else, just to maybe learn something new.

And that’s fun! Yay!

Cover photo: Polar bear on ice flow in Wager Bay (Ukkusiksalik National Park, Nunavut, Canada), by Ansgar Walk