Anti-Vaxxers Study Could Inform Climate Debates

Anti-vaccination advocates and climate skeptics have a lot in common.  Both sets of people tend to have a paranoid view of the world, distrust scientists (at least on the issue at hand), and refuse to accept evidence.  So a recent study on communicating with “anti-vaxxers” may shed some light on ways to communicate better with climate deniers:

[R]esearchers conducted a new study designed to test out the effectiveness of one potential intervention aimed at changing people’s anti-vaccination attitudes: highlighting factual information about the dangers of communicable diseases. After recruiting 315 volunteers, the researchers used questionnaires to probe their views on a variety of divisive subjects, including vaccination.

Participants were then randomly split into three groups that received different study conditions. One group was provided with scientific literature that refuted common vaccination myths. The second, a so-called “disease risk group,” was given various materials highlighting the risks associated with three vaccine-preventable diseases: measles, mumps and rubella. These included stories from parents whose children had suffered such diseases, images of infants with the infections and information regarding the potential consequences of failing to vaccinate. The final group was a control that was given unrelated reading material.

At the end of the study, participants’ attitudes were reassessed to see whether the intention to vaccinate their children had changed. Encouragingly, the researchers report, they found that the second intervention successfully changed people’s vaccination attitudes in a positive manner; even those with the strongest anti-vaccination beliefs could be countered with this technique.

If climate advocates were to take a similar approach to communicating with climate “skeptics,” they would focus on the likely impacts of climate change, just as this study focused on the likely impacts of not vaccinating. Stories seemed key in the vaccine study, so testimonials from residents of the arctic on melting sea ice or Hurricane Sandy victims might have a comparable influence on opening minds.

Perhaps a study like this has already been attempted on climate deniers.  But if not, I’d be curious to find out if this approach might work in that context.

Clean Power Plan Better Than Nothing

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will finally release its “Clean Power Plan” today to regulate carbon emissions from the power sector.  The agency was required to do so by a 2007 Supreme Court decision.  Yet due to what must be the brutal politics of trying to regulate coal-fired power plants, the Obama Administration dragged its feet until now — six years into the Obama presidency.

The final rules require a 32 percent drop in emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels.  But this target is extremely watered down, to the point where it actually projects a slower rate of progress going forward on carbon emissions than we’ve been experiencing since 2005 to date, given that we’re already halfway to those targets with business-as-usual progress.  Yet this is still better than the draft rules, which had targets so low that five states (!) were actually already in compliance with the 2030 goals.

Michael Grunwald pretty much sums it up in Politico:

If you’re really ranking them, the Clean Power Plan is at best the fourth-strongest action that Obama has taken to combat climate change, behind his much-maligned 2009 stimulus package, which poured $90 billion into clean energy and jump-started a green revolution; his dramatic increases in fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, which should reduce our oil consumption by 2 million barrels per day; and his crackdown on mercury and other air pollutants, which has helped inspire utilities to retire 200 coal-fired power plants in just five years. The new carbon regulations should help prevent backsliding, and they should provide a talking point for U.S. negotiators at the global climate talks in Paris, but the 2030 goals would not seem overly ambitious even without new limits on carbon.

I couldn’t agree more with Grunwald on his rankings. The stimulus in particular is underestimated in its impact on boosting the clean technology sector. The sad part is that even this weak action today on climate will provoke endless litigation. And if a Republican wins the presidency in 2016, expect the EPA to gut and delay these rules and approve weak state implementation plans.

All relatively depressing, but these rules are still better than nothing.  And maybe we can hold out hope that they will be strengthened over time.

Kodiak Shows How Islands Can Go Full Renewable

0db0a0ae481afed63f2740df47b19e9dThe Alaskan island, with plentiful hydro and wind resources, shows how it can be done:

Previously overseeing an electrical grid almost entirely supplied by diesel generators, the board of the Kodiak Electric Association made the decision in 2009 to go renewable by 2020 as diesel prices continued to rise.

“We wanted to get off diesel,” association CEO Darren Scott said of the utility’s diesel generators, which used to provide expensive electricity to more than 6,000 residents of Kodiak, the village of Port Lions and the largest Coast Guard base in the country. “Diesel wasn’t going to be a part of our future.”

The switch to a grid run 99.7 percent on renewable resources not only stabilized Kodiak’s electric rates but also brought them closer to the national average. After Hawaii, where the average cost of electricity is nearly 34 cents per kilowatt hour, Alaskans pay the second-highest electric rates in the Untied States, at 17.58 cents. In Kodiak, customers are now paying 13.8 cents per kilowatt hour, just above the national average of 12.5.

The Alaska Renewable Energy Fund, established in 2008, helped fund the transition, which is expected to pay for itself in savings in under a decade. Meanwhile, cutting the diesel generators off reduced carbon dioxide emissions more than 60 percent each year.

Kodiak is setting a great example for other island states like Hawaii to follow.  As the concept is proven in these island areas, they will be much easier and less costly to transport to mainland grids.

California Needs Wyoming Wind

RowofWindTurbines2From a new study by the University of Wyoming:

The wind in Wyoming tends to blow more during the winter and afternoon. California tends to be windier during the summer and at night, according to the report for the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority by Jonathan Naughton of the university’s Wind Energy Research Center.

That the wind doesn’t blow all the time and the sun doesn’t shine at night or on cloudy days are two of the biggest shortcomings of those renewable energy sources. But spreading renewable power out across the grid can make renewable energy generally more viable.

Chances are, if the wind isn’t blowing in one region, it’s gusty somewhere else.

The study compared wind patterns at California wind farms to those at sites with wind potential in Wyoming, including an approximately 1,000-turbine wind farm in south-central Wyoming that the Denver-based Anschutz Corp. plans to build to export electricity to California.

The Anschutz plant in particular will take years more to permit plus connect to transmission. But the study points to the need for better cooperation among western states to balance the plentiful renewable energy. California can’t do it alone, even with better demand response and energy storage technology. Ultimately, transmission and smart state policies will be key.

Used Teslas Still Expensive But Getting More Affordable
Even used it's still pricey

Even used it’s still pricey

The San Francisco Chronicle reports on the trend so far with the Tesla resale market:

An analysis of used Model S sales finds that while not many have hit the market so far — just 1,600 — they typically command prices well above $50,000. At the same time, they’re attracting buyers who are a little younger, a little less affluent and less likely to live in California than the typical Tesla driver.

“The way we think of the new Model S buyer is a wealthy tech executive living in the Bay Area — that’s the image in pop culture,” said Jessica Caldwell, director of industry analysis for the auto information service. “If you have a lower price point, you’re going to get a larger, more diverse pool of people.”

Used EVs, including Teslas but also LEAFs and other models, will be cheaper and help to reach a much larger market. But they will also compete with cheaper, better-range vehicles that will be coming on-line in the next few years. Still, it will be hard to beat a cheap 200-mile used Tesla Model S for the foreseeable future.

California’s Hydrogen Fueling Stations Don’t Work
You can drive it but you can't refuel it.

You can drive it but you can’t refuel it.

Green Car Reports documents the challenges that drivers of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are having finding functional stations:

Last year, the state of California committed $100 million over five years to building 100 hydrogen fueling stations in the state by 2020, in partnership with Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda, and private companies like First Element Fuel as well.

Early lessee Paul Berkman of Corona del Mar, for one, is frustrated.

He’s paying $500 a month for a vehicle he hasn’t been able to drive for five weeks, because all three hydrogen stations within 20 minutes of his home or workplace have been down for more than a month.

Berkman told Green Car Reports that the closest station, five minutes away at a Shell site in Newport Beach, has been “struggling”–and that at best it can only fill his Tucson Fuel Cell to half capacity.

Ten minutes away, a station by the University of California–Irvine campus has been closed for upgrades.

The California Air Resources Board issued a testy response to the article, which Green Car Reports included in an update. They cite the early trouble with plug-in electric vehicle stations, too, as an example of what they hope are just short-term problems.

Trouble is, public charging stations for battery electrics are also unreliable, even after a number of years of widespread usage. So that’s not exactly confidence-inspiring. The state will need to get this issue fixed, for both fuel cell and battery electrics, if it has any hope of encouraging widespread adoption of these technologies.  But at least with battery electrics, you can just charge at home.

Did “Ludicrous” Mode In Teslas Just Make ICE Cars “Toast”?
Simply ludicrous.

Simply ludicrous.

Barry Ritholz at Bloomberg seems to think that Tesla just put the nail in the long-term coffin of the internal combustion engine:

What Tesla has done with its “Ludicrous mode” upgrade for the Model S is figure out how to put almost all of the power in its system to all four wheels at once without melting its engine-management components.

The Tesla P85D with the complete 90kWh “ludicrous” upgrade costs about $100,000. The upgrade gives it a 0 to 60 mph time of 2.8 seconds. To put that into context, to get that sort of acceleration from a car previously required a Porsche 918 Spyder (0 to 60 in 2.3 seconds) or a Bugatti Veyron (2.6 seconds) or a Koenigsegg One (2.5 seconds). They each cost $1.1 million, $2.9 million and $3.8 million, respectively.

You can save some money by buying a Lamborghini Huracan ($237,250) or the Ferrari 458 Italia ($239,340), but both are slower than the Tesla. That makes the McLaren 570s a relative bargain at $184,900, but it, too, is slower than the Tesla.

The bottom line for Ritholz, who proclaims himself one not to make bold predictions, is that the top-end market will soon fall to Tesla, followed by the rest of the car market:

My guess is that by 2035, if not sooner, the majority of automobiles sold in the U.S. and Europe will no longer be gasoline-powered.

Let’s hope he’s right, because the future of climate stabilization depends on it.

Energy Tax Credits Are Inefficient And Inequitable

solar-germanySo says a new study by UC Berkeley economists Severin Borenstein and Lucas Davis.  After looking at IRS data on tax credit programs like for electric vehicles, renewable energy, and energy efficiency improvements, they found that most of the benefits are going to top-income earners.  In part it’s because lower-income renters don’t have access to property-based credit programs.

But they also found that the programs are inefficient at encouraging better energy usage:

What about efficiency?  Although tax credits may initially seem like a good idea, they are actually quite a poor substitute for first-best policies like a carbon tax or cap-and-trade program.  Probably the single biggest limitation of a tax credit is that it cannot achieve the efficient level of usage. Take energy-efficient windows as an example.  A tax credit can encourage households to install better windows, but it cannot get households to use less heating and air-conditioning. A carbon tax, in contrast, would encourage households both to install better windows and to use less heating and air-conditioning.

One could argue in response that the inequities may even out over time — as high-income residents buy electric vehicles and renewables like solar, the costs are coming down and bringing the technologies within range of lower-income residents. And these programs are certainly better than nothing.

But in the long term, they should be replaced by the programs that Davis and Borenstein advocate: a carbon tax or rigorous cap-and-trade system.

Climate Change Progress And Reminders In The Southwest
Washed out bridge over the Texas Wash in Southern California

Washed out bridge over the Texas Wash in Southern California

I’m just back from a vacation road trip through Southern California, Arizona, Nevada and the Sierra Nevada. Along the way, I saw evidence of our progress in transitioning to a cleaner economy, but also the impacts of climate change.

For starters, we were lucky to make it through the Southern California Desert before a freak July rainstorm destroyed another decaying piece of infrastructure — a highway bridge over the Texas Wash near Desert Center. Interstate 10 is now closed through that area. Hard to imagine a more powerful symbol of both our need for transportation investments and the likely future of severe climate impacts.

Corn Springs palm oasis

Corn Springs palm oasis

In that same area, we off-roaded to a beautiful campground at Corn Springs, a major stopoff and village site for local Native Americans and a very interesting canyon beyond the desert floor.  The spring is now dry, presumably from dewatering related to local mining.

Meanwhile, we saw solar panels galore, including major solar installations north of Interstate 10.  It seemed like almost every emergency roadside phone stand had a solar panel above it, evidence of the now-cheap cost of panels.

For electric vehicles, we didn’t see many, other than a few Teslas in Mammoth Lakes.  It will be a while before remote areas of the U.S. are truly reachable and workable for EVs.

Boulder Dam featuring low lake levels.

Boulder Dam featuring low lake levels (notice the white bathtub ring).

For further climate impacts related to drought, we visited Boulder (Hoover) Dam, and saw the ridiculously low lake level.  Mono Lake also has not risen anywhere near the shoreline elevation required by the 1994 State Water Resources Control Board decision to restore the lake.

This part of Mono Lake should be underwater by now.

This part of Mono Lake should be underwater by now.

But if these July rains keep up, maybe the rain cycle will be reversing in California and throughout the west.   Not that that would be a good thing for the climate and ecology here.

Finally, we visited the ancient bristlecone pine trees — the oldest living things on Earth — in the White Mountains past the eastern Sierra Nevada.  One grove featured trees older than 4000 years.  Always nice to put things into perspective.  Let’s hope people will still be able to visit these trees in another 4000 years.

Bristlecone Pine Trees -- oldest living things on Earth

Bristlecone Pine Trees — oldest living things on Earth

Gone Fishing

Blogging will return at the end of next week.

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