A makeshift new barrier built with shipping containers is being illegally erected along part of the US-Mexico border by Arizona’s Republican governor – before he has to hand over the keys of his office to his Democratic successor in January.
The understanding that climate change and air pollution affect the developing brain has grown exponentially in the last 20 years. Research has now linked prenatal as well as postnatal air pollution exposure to reduced IQ and other cognitive problems, developmental disorders such as ADHD and autism, depression and anxiety, and even structural changes in the brains of children. Research has also shown how climate-related displacement results in disruption of education and mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression in children. These conditions often persist, affecting health and brain function in adulthood. They also add to the list of harms that have been more widely recognized as being related to climate change and air pollution: heat-related illness, drowning and physical trauma from severe storms and floods, premature birth and low birth weight, asthma, and other respiratory disease.
All of which invites the question: Why do these rail barons hate paid leave so much? Why would a company have no problem handing out 24 percent raises, $1,000 bonuses, and caps on health-care premiums but draw the line on providing a benefit as standard and ubiquitous throughout modern industry as paid sick days?
The answer, in short, is “P.S.R.” — or precision-scheduled railroading.
P.S.R. is an operational strategy that aims to minimize the ratio between railroads’ operating costs and their revenues through various cost-cutting and (ostensibly) efficiency-increasing measures. The basic idea is to transport more freight using fewer workers and railcars.
The second problem with P.S.R., from the shippers’ standpoint, is that its scheduling is less precise than advertised. Eliminating spare labor or train cars may render railroads more efficient mechanisms for translating investment into profits. But such fragile systems aren’t necessarily efficient for bringing freight from one place to another, especially in a world where natural disasters and public-health crises exist.
In early 2021, when the acute phase of the COVID pandemic ended and economic demand spiked, freight carriers’ operations were derailed by their own “efficiencies.” For a week last July, Union Pacific had to suspend service between Chicago and Los Angeles while it reopened shuttered rail ramps and reconfigured operations in order to keep pace with rising orders. Similar disruptions afflicted the other major carriers, as The American Prospect details.
This is another instance where myopic 2000s micro efficiency actually makes the whole system less efficient. The only reason for PSR is maximum extraction of value. If you do that at the lower level of a complex system, there is no resiliency at upper levels, and the system really isn’t efficient.
Rail workers deserve paid leave as human beings. It’s the ethical thing to do. It’s also the pragmatic thing to do if we want a functioning rail system going into the 2030s that can handle the system shocks from future pandemics and climate disasters. This itself is a climate story.
Analysts say there’s a lesson in that: The new jobs at these green factories may function as a political game-changer. “That may be an implicit long-term strategy for the Democrats: With domestic manufacturing likely in traditional Republican districts, the partisan split may soften on renewables,” Timothy Fox, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, told me.
Some Republicans in Georgia also see these factories as politically beneficial. Governor Brian Kemp, in his successful campaign for re-election, touted a surge in green jobs across the Peach State. There’s a battery plant so massive that it stretches half-a-mile along a freeway northeast of Atlanta — and more facilities are on the way. Hyundai Motor Co., for instance, just started building a $5.5 billion electric-vehicle plant near Savannah.
This was one of the most important things the IRA will do, change the politics around clean energy. Clean energy production is going to be the jobs on the ground that people see in lots of parts of the country that were left behind.
That is going to change the politics of future climate legislation, and what is possible. We might even see this in the 118th Congress coming up with a razor thin Republican majority.
Osaka University in Japan is beginning a joint research project with civil engineering company Toda to develop the world’s largest floating wind turbine.
As Nikkei Asia reports, the goal is to have an experimental wind turbine capable of outputting 15 megawatts. In order to achieve such high output, the blade span of the new turbine is expected to be roughly 200 meters, making it about three times larger than existing wind turbines.
The US East coast is unique in having a huge shelf to do offshore wind on, that’s easy to attach to. To really get Wind powers’ full potential, floating solutions like this are needed, as there are so many more places in the world that can work.
Japan is in a current energy bind as well, they have very little land, their power system is largely Coal and Natural Gas, all of which they import. Nuclear was out of favor the last two decades, which has made the current LNG price spikes hugely expensive for the country. Floating wind is a bet they need to pay off, because otherwise it’s very unclear how they meet their climate goals.
I also wonder if their reliance on Coal is one of the reasons the Japanese Government has been so luke warm on EVs, because they don’t really have any way to grow their electricity grid effectively.
CHPE is expecterd to deliver 1,250 megawatts of clean energy, or enough to power 1 million New York City homes — about 20% of the city’s electric demands.Power cable lines will be installed underground and underwater for an estimated cost of $2.2 billion. The transmission line is expected to start full operations in the spring of 2026. It’s expected to reduce carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons in its first 10 years.That’s equivalent to removing about 500,000 cars off New York roads, Hochul said, adding it will significantly reduce the state’s carbon footprint.
Weather conditions affect how much power can be carried on transmission lines, and high-tech DLR sensors attached to transmission lines give grid operators like National Grid real-world information on weather and thus on the carrying capacity of lines. In simple terms, colder air temperatures and higher wind speeds cool down power lines, giving them more capacity to carry energy — conveniently enough, at the same times when high winds are increasing wind-farm power output.
Traditional “static” line ratings for transmission lines, in contrast, don’t capture these environmental factors, forcing grid operators to restrict power flows based on worst-case expectations.
This kind of real-time expansion of existing grid capacity could help overcome some major barriers to reaching New York state’s goal of getting 70 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2030, said LineVision CEO Hudson Gilmer.
This looks like it could add some pretty significant additional load onto existing wires quickly. As the NY load shifts from summer to winter with electrification, getting 20% extra capacity in the winter on transmission lines would be huge wins. Hope to see this more places.
One of the current challenges in the field of Journalism is that there are currently 6 PR staff for every 1 Journalist, and the PR staff are much higher paid. Which means that a lot of reporting on more technical areas ends up being mostly taking an existing press release, doing an interview with the authors, and running it as a story. Especially for highly technical items (like studies / reports), the Journalists may not have the expertise to really pull them apart with a critical eye to ensure they hold water.
Last year, Patrick Anderson went electric: He got a Porsche Taycan EV in dark blue.
Anderson, who is CEO of East Lansing-based economic consulting firm Anderson Economic Group, loves the zippy acceleration and “exciting” features the car offers. He also gets satisfaction in knowing that driving an EV benefits the environment, he said.
But Anderson’s joy comes with a dark side.
“They are a wonderful driving experience. But at the same time, they’re an enormous burden in time and in energy in finding chargers and getting them charged,” Anderson said. “And you’re not really saving much in terms of charging costs … you may be paying more.”
This seemed really odd, because it goes in the face of a lot of existing studies which show how much cheaper EVs are. Enough so that I went into the study to figure out why.
Finding the Critical Assumption
The critical table in the study is here, where it shows EV cars cost more to fuel. Often by a factor of 2 (highligted in green). But the reasons why that math comes out like that is largely because of what’s in red.
The key assumption of the study is that EVs will be charged outside the home for 70% of their electricity. And that electricity will cost 3x the residential rate. They create a single “mostly at home scenario” which still assumes that 40% of electricity comes from outside the home.
This is a pretty key assumption, that has no justification. The DOE typically assumes that more than 80% of charging happens at home. My own personal experience with 14,000 MWh of energy transfered to our 4 year old Chevy Bolt, is that at least 97% of our charging was at home. And all our charging out of home was actually at for pay L2 chargers which were the same energy price at home (largely at work and during a conference to Troy).
If you replicate this with those numbers, you find the EV costs are in line with their ICE cars. Which is still a surprising result. And that’s where it’s worth looking at all the other biases put into the study.
Lot’s of other assumptions and biases
One other thing was strange on the initial assumption. EVs are divided into Mid Cost (Bolt, Model 3), and Luxury (Porche / Model S), however only the Luxury case showed a 60% at home charge case. That seems like a really big missing case. Why?
If it had been included, it would have broken the streak of every EV scenario coming out more expensive than every ICE scenario. Which seems to be the main goal of the study. This scenario is conspicuous in it’s absence.
Let’s look at other assumptions made and what bias they bring to the table:
12,000 miles per year. The national average is closer to 14,000, and in the state of Michigan, it’s closer to 15,000. As you increase the miles per year EVs cost less. 12,000 is a justifiable number, but it definitely biases towards ICE.
Per year state fee on EVs. These range from $0 – $200 depending on the state. $200 was chosen as the number, because that’s the Michigan number. Even though mileage wasn’t chosen for Michigan. Again biases towards ICE.
There is a whole set of “dead head” calculations which are used saying you have to drive around looking for chargers, and the number of times you have to go out to do this per month with an EV. Based on the listed fuel economy the number of trips is quite high. It suggests an average of 87 miles per Fast Charge added to a Bolt / Model 3 (which have 240 mile ranges) or 117 miles per Fast Charge for something like a Model S with 250 – 300 mile range. Which seems, odd. Also, even though all other numbers are averaged out to yearly numbers, for some reason the 60% at home scenario actually assumes charging only 100 miles per fast charge session.
Cost of Chargers
There is one good insight in that most EV chargers want to charge at home, and that does mean buying a Level 2 charger and having it installed. They estimate that cost at $1600 with professional installation. They don’t include the 30% tax credit for doing so (which comes and goes, but again that’s an ICE bias). $1600 is probably a little on the high side, I think it cost us more like $1200 all in. They also assume the lifespan of the charger is 5 years, and amortize it over that. That seems extremely low, and again is an ICE bias.
The really bonkers assumption they make though is that you have to buy a Level 1 charger. Those come as standard equipment with every EV. There is really no justification other than an ICE bias to put that in.
Cost of Fueling?
The study authors justify many of these items, as well as not including the costs for an ICE vehicle during this same 5 year window (scheduled maintenance, oil changes, breaks, transmission fluid, etc). They claim annual registration fees are fueling, as well as permanent home infrastructure like a charger.
And this is where it is really clear the point of the report was to generate a very specific result. If you squint hard, pile on some biases, and assume everyone is refueling EVs like ICE cars, you can create a scenario where one part of owning an EV is more expensive than an ICE car.
But, it will still be cheaper to own. Even in the flawed study. And once you start correcting for lots of the flaws, you end up with something that looks a lot like other analyses.
A Real Study would have been…
A real study would have been to note there are some extra costs for EVs outside of just home electricity, like home charging infrastructure, commercial fast charging costs, and state policy creating EV fees, and look at cross over points. Under what circumstances do these extra fees hurt EV adoption. What policies should be in place to less them.
For instance, the EV annual fee to replace missing gas tax only makes sense if you believe that every EV just causes the same damage to roads, with no other benefits. When every EV replacing an ICE car on the roads reduces fine particulate pollution (from both exhaust and break dust) which directly decreases health care costs for the state. There is a big case to be made that these fees should be eliminated on those grounds (or prevented from being passed in states where they don’t yet exist).
What policies ensure homes are EV ready. What policies are needed to handle the economic problems of fast charging (which mostly is about how commercial power tariffs work). These are all good questions to ask. None of them were.
And this is why when you see a study or report come out from somewhere, don’t assume it’s correct out of the gate. Always bring a critical eye, especially to reports that claim to bring results that are very different from the existing literature.
In order to play with the data more, I built a google sheet that plugs in the existing study, and adds scenarios with higher rates of at home charging, and eliminates the per year EV fee. You can make a copy and adjust some of the inputs to see how it changes things. Though remember that even this is still an incomplete picture, as it doesn’t include the maintenance costs.
Summer 2021 was different in New York than past summers. It wasn’t the relentless brutal heat that we’d experienced the last few years. The heat that finally drove my parents in Vermont to install air conditioning.
That was constant and oppressive, but not acute. You did kind of adapt to it. You learn that the Walkway Over the Hudson opens their gates at 7am, so 6:30am is the earliest bike ride you can take to see the Hudson in the morning before the heat and humidity makes the return climb on the bike just too much. It meant that if it was too humid, maybe a walk at 6am was a better option, back in by 7, then buttoned up in AC the rest of the day. It was definitely climate change, but it onset slow enough through May and June that it felt just like some new normal.
This summer was different. It was acute. The first big hit was a rainstorm in the middle of July. The rains were different this summer. There were almost no rainy days. Only rainy minutes. The bursts would come as a quarter or half inch of rain, in 20 or 30 minutes, then pass. Sometimes with a rainbow on the other side. The rainstorm in July was hard, but not that notable compared to the rest. Except, the watershed is wide. Many of our local streams are fed from tends of miles away in every direction. And the Sprout Creek had more than it could handle.
Our daughter was in camp at the park this July. Finally signed up for swimming lessons. And the lake was now closed. It’s still feels incredible to say “climate change cancelled my daughter’s swim lessons.” And just when that was starting to sink in, the second shot.
The Bootleg fire, and the fires raging across western Canada, brought their smoke to NY. I went out for a morning ride on the 19th, and the Sun was definitely the wrong color. It rose as a deep eerie red, both striking and horrifying at the same time. The Sun was weak on the ride. The air cooler than it should have been. It made me think of the 1816 year without summer, or what a future attempt to dim the Sun to address the deadly heat might feel like.
The wildfires and volcanoes of elsewhere have always brought colorful sunsets to the North East, but this time was different. The smoke came down. Sitting on our porch eating dinner that night, I smelled a campfire. Folks in the neighborhood have them all the time. But this time I checked the air quality, and realized, to my shock that I wasn’t smelling a backyard marshmallow roast. This was old forests, 3000 miles away. Forests that were part of carbon offset payments.
The next day my wife started complaining of a headache. I looked, and the AQI was 180 outside where she’d spent the afternoon. And a new habit was formed. Check the AQI every morning when I wake up. Was it healthy enough to go ride a bike. We’ve now got our own Purple Air sensor to help map out this new risk to our region. The wildfires of far that now burn so big, so hot, that they can blanket the entire US in smoke. The world literally on fire.
When Henri formed as a storm, I watched closely. We were predicted for 4 – 6 inches of rain, which I knew would be devastating, having seen Irene and Sandy’s impacts to the region. But modeling rainfall is notoriously hard, and we only saw about 2.5 inches over 2 days. The rivers swelled, but stayed in their banks. The rivers were now high, springtime high, but not dangerous on their own.
We had a interlude. A kid’s birthday party, outside on the Hudson River. Next to the freight rail, which 5 big trains passed us while we were there. I was talking with a friend about climate change and the Hudson River. People forget it’s tidal. That the ocean pushes up it twice a day. It changes direction 4 times a day. And that sea level rise will come for it. I pointed out how exposed the MTA Hudson Line is to sea level rise. To the south it’s barely 2 feet above current high tide. 2 feet of sea level rise, which with no real climate action, will happen within 30 years. Aggressive action might give us a century. And what will this region look like when that train is gone. Pre-covid, those commuter trains were full all the time. The growth of Beacon and Poughkeepsie has been fueled by easy access to New York City. It represents a huge amount of the money flowing into the economy.
And then Ida. The meteorologists were right, Ida should not have taken us by surprise. They wrote the warning for the storm before it had a name, 5 days out. They gave the North East 48 hrs notice of catastrophic flooding possibilities. They couldn’t have done a better job. But people can only hear things that they believe are possible. Their imagination is shaped by what they saw before. When I mentioned to my wife that Weather Underground thought we were going to get 3.5 inches of rain, she said, I hope not. It can be wrong for sure. But they always thought Henri was a 2 inch event for us.
The rains came. Steady at first. And building. And when it was all said and done over 5 inches had fallen here in less than 24 hours. On top of the saturated ground. This time the rivers did not stay put. It took the whole of a sunny day after the storm for with Wappingers creek to crest, and it’s still receding. Areas remain under water, there is no where for the water to go.
Freedom Lake is gone again. This didn’t surprise us. After going 7 years between flood induced rebuilds, this time it was 7 weeks. They’ll have the whole off season to fix it. But for how long?
But the real surprise. The one we weren’t expecting. The trains are stopped.
Riding across the Walkway over the Hudson seeing a silent Poughkeepsie Train station was bizarre. The MTA is working on it, trying to find a way to repair enough for limited service on those lines. It also means Amtrak for Albany to NYC is shuttered until further notice. And there were no freight trains on the CSX rails on the West side of the river yesterday.
Labor day brings the unofficial end of summer. The temperature, humidity, and air quality have all dropped back to extremely pleasant.
But we are only half way through Hurricane season. The ground is saturated, there is no where for more water to go. And we are still in a Pandemic.
Many parts of the world have been living this kind of climate emergency for years. Disaster after disaster, no breathing space between them. We can’t rebuild from climate disasters fast enough. Our town’s park budget is broken, because of Climate Change. And this isn’t a new normal. As we continue to burn fossil fuels, this gets worse every year. This will be “one of the good years” when we look back from mid century. It’s why we have to do everything we can to transform our society away from extraction of dirty fuels, and to something far more collaborative and cleaner. This is a special time in history where the future will really be decided over the next few years. Not many people have the chance to live in a moment in history where this much change is possible. It’s a brutal responsibility, but one that if you embrace you’ll look back knowing you did what you could to really shape the future for the better.
This past week I was talking with my folks on the phone, and my mom asked a question: What climate organizations should she give to? She has typically been giving to various animal welfare organizations, but it’s really been occurring to her that all that work is for naught if we fail to act on climate.
In the chance anyone else is interested in the answers, here we go. Let’s give the simple list, and then why later.
Many people associate not for profit corporations with tax exempt charity status, but that’s not strictly true. To be granted tax exempt status there are a bunch of rules around it. One of it is that you can’t spend the majority of your resources on Lobbying elected officials (the official rule is something like 10%, so you’ll see lots of charities with a 20 person staff having 1 policy person, that’s fine).
The thing about climate change: it’s a really big problem. A problem that needs systems change to really solve. And that means policy. Which means you really do need to lobby for things. And a few of these orgs are all in for doing that.
Citizens’ Climate Lobby is an organization I’ve devoted a lot to. At the heart of the organization is a belief that the way forward on climate is by strengthening democracy, and that a big part of that is training volunteers all over the country to go into elected officials offices as citizen lobbyists, and ask for it. We’ll never outspend the professionals, but we do outnumber them. In the past 3 years I’ve now done over 20 lobby sessions, including 7 with my congressman’s office (once with him directly). I now feel incredibly empowered to sit down with my elected officials and ask them for things. In many of those meetings I’ve had break through moments realizing that we were bringing brand new information and perspectives to the table.
Supporting this org means funding the national staff, who manage education, messaging, and materials for the 195,000 volunteers in the group. I’ve met most of the national staff now, many have become friends. They work on a shoestring budget for what their impact is.
Sunrise Movement is a youth climate organization, founded in 2017, who were thrust onto the national stage through the Green New Deal plan. Sunrise is also one of the organizations most responsible for pushing the Democratic presidential field into being better on climate. They are working off a theory for change from the Civil Rights Movement.
They also only let you join the organization directly if you are under 35. This is a youth centered organization, specifically lifting the voices of millennial and gen z.
So while I can’t join, I can support them financially, which again pays for their leaders to be able to build the movement.
350.org – The organization started by Bill McKibben named after the safe atmospheric level of CO2 we need to get to. We’re currently at 414 (pre-industrial was 280ish). Their work of late has been focused on divestment, getting organizations to divest their investments from fossil fuels. When they started this work there was a lot of skepticism that it would mean anything, because there was always more money on the table. But, a decade in, it’s starting to snowball now. The fossil fuel companies are starting to complain about lack of financing, and it’s definitely removing social license from them.
350.org was the first charity I gave to who was working on changing systems, not just relieving suffering. I’ve been donating to them for over 10 years, and it’s really great so see this work coming to fruition.
It turns out Environmentalists tend to suck at going to the ballot box. And this is one of the reasons why politicians don’t prioritize the issue, because it hasn’t won them elections. EVP exists to change this, by building lists of people where Environment and/or Climate are their top issue, but who don’t vote regularly. And then, we text them, call them, knock on their doors. Remind them an election is coming up. Remind then that voting is a norm. Ask them to say out load to us that they are going to vote.
Because it turns out if you tell someone you are going to do something out loud, you are far more likely to. EVP doesn’t tell anyone how to vote. Just works to make Environmentalists super voters. People that show up to vote for every election, from president, to school board, to dog catcher.
In addition to financial support, I helped organize and run phone banking hours this fall, and activating a lot of CCL volunteers to help make calls. This organization is really running on a shoe string budget, and all money goes into buying the data sets and supporting their very small national staff.
Journalism / Media
One of the dramatic changes that happened on the climate landscape this past couple of years is a whole lot of really talented people (mostly women) ventured out of safer media landscapes and decided there was a lot of climate journalism not being told because of the publishing companies didn’t see value in it. Maybe that’s because of how much ad revenue they get from fossil fuels? Maybe other reasons.
But, these folks changed the narrative, and also showed the appetite for it all.
Drilled – I personally found my way in here via Amy Westervelt’s incredible Drilled podcast (now in season 5). It tells the story of the huge disinformation campaign that’s been waged by the fossil fuel industry for decades to block climate action. This is required listening for anyone wanted to make change in the space. It’s infuriating at times, but sets up the real stakes going forward. Once she made an option to support the effort, I was all in.
Heated – Just of a year ago Emily Atkins quit her job and started a climate news letter full time for people that were angry about climate change. It was great. The first couple of months she did it for free, but was always up front that she would make it subscription based so she could pay the rent. I’m pretty sure I signed up day one that she did. Her voice is amazing, and she’s asking hard questions of powerful people. Her complaints about Twitter’s ad policy around climate denial changed policy there. The list of powerful folks that consider Heated required reading is only growing.
Hot Take – Amy Westervelt teamed up with Mary Annaise Heglar to make a podcast (and now news letter) that discussed the best of climate writing. Not just journalism, but all kinds of writing. It’s great stuff, and the two of them riffing off each other is always incredible. Again, once they had an option to financially support them, I was all in.
Our Warm Regards – This has been a years long project by Jacquelyn Gill and Ramesh Laungani. Jacquelyn is one of my favorite climate voices on twitter. This podcast centers some of the science of climate change, but in often unexpected ways. The recent episode on the Tempestries project (making scarves that show the temperatures changes of time), was really remarkable. This year they setup a patreon to help pay for interns to help with the show. Again, I was all in.
Why so many?
We don’t yet know what will be the winning solution on climate. Will it be insider policy work? Will it be outside pressure? Will it be social license change? Will it be changing the electorate? Will it require all of the above and more?
I’m privileged to be working in an industry where we’re paid quite well. So I feel like I can support a bunch of these efforts both with money and time. I also feel like the journalism side doesn’t get enough attention. Climate journalism is critical to connect these impacts with our day to day lives, and exposing some of the history around industry disinformation to block action.
If you are looking for one answer – Citizens’ Climate Lobby remains the organization I give the most to, and where I think some of the bigest outcomes are likely to be. Especially given that the Senate is going to be somewhere between 52-48 R/D, to 50-50. How we collectively partnered with EVP this fall and activated a huge number of volunteers and leaders to do that work was amazing.