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By Sherry Listgarten

What gives you hope?

Uploaded: Dec 8, 2019

Early this week I was feeling a little hopeless. I like to play a game when we are driving in other parts of the state (1), counting the number of EVs to see how much progress we are making towards California’s goal of five million on the road by 2030. There are around 15 million cars registered in California, so that means about 1 of every 3 cars needs to be an EV in 10 years. If you’re on 101 around here, progress looks good -- EVs abound. But if you go just over the bay to 880, there is a big difference. It’s maybe 1 in 20. And over the Thanksgiving holiday I was in San Diego (soccer, anyone?), and my little car-counting game was just depressing. Not only were there virtually no EVs, there were few hybrids (I count those when I get desperate), and the cars were generally massive. And this is in California, where our vehicle standards are among the most progressive and our temperate climate is conducive to EVs. What does it look like in other parts of the US? (2)

Then after I got home, I ran into a friend who had just returned from a family trip to the east coast over Thanksgiving and was looking forward to their planned trip to South America over Christmas break. This is a friend who loves nature and spending time outdoors, but travels long distances frequently, almost compulsively, and is constantly thinking about the next trip. Do any of us need to take so many long-distance vacations each year? If well-educated people who love the outdoors and surely understand the climate situation are still not connecting the dots between their values and their actions, how will we ever turn around our emissions?

On top of this, seasonal shopping has been in high gear, with Buy More Friday (in stores) followed by Buy More Monday (online), while everywhere big box stores are packed to the rafters with displays encouraging yet more consumption. How can the average person possibly make planet-first choices in this kind of environment?

But then …

Things happen all the time these days to remind me of the progress we are making and of the growing number of people who are determined to make a difference. Here are a few of the things that happened this week to renew my inspiration.

- I watched a Stanford lecture. Our local university sponsors an enormous amount of climate work in and across many of its departments. Stanford makes much of this information freely available, and faculty collaborate extensively with industry to better validate their work and get meaningful findings to market. Yes, it is their job to do this, but I am impressed with the scope and urgency of their commitment. This week I watched one of their recorded Energy Seminars, and I got a boost being reminded of the very capable people working on reducing our energy emissions.

- I learned of a truly bipartisan effort. Americans of all persuasions are concerned about climate change, yet there is an unfortunate partisan overlay on many of the efforts. So I was intrigued to read this week about a new bipartisan initiative, World War Zero, whose goal is to drive broad popular consensus that addressing climate change is an urgent priority. “The Future is Watching”. Indeed. (3)

- I saw people making changes. Every week I hear about neighbors taking action to reduce their emissions, whether it’s to arrange a carpool, price a heat pump, or eat more vegetarian meals. This week I learned of someone installing an EV charger, another opting for slower online delivery, and another who only just now turned on her heat. Every one of these actions is meaningful, and my heart does a little happy dance for each one.

- I heard from an ambitious environmental leader. Along those same lines of “each of us makes a difference,” I heard Michael Brune talk this week about the Sierra Club’s goals for 2020 (he is Executive Director), and he was crystal clear that addressing climate change “is not an armchair exercise”. The club has seen a groundswell of support this year in terms of funds and volunteers, and they are “going all in” to reduce and eliminate our use of fossil fuels and to notch big environmental wins in the all-important 2020 elections. I loved his determination and ambition, and his insistence that “We expect our members to be active”. Each of us has a part to play.

- I got an email from Toyota. What, you might be asking? Well, I wrote them a while ago. I own a Toyota, and I shared my disappointment that they advocate removing California’s ability to set its own fuel economy standards. I got an email from them one morning this week explaining their stance. It wasn’t the contents that I found inspiring. Rather, it was the fact that enough people wrote to them that they felt the need to draft and send a letter explaining their position. I love that people are speaking up. These fuel standards are one of the most important tools we have for combating climate change. (4)

It can be easy to focus on the negative because there is a lot of bad news. But the positive is where the action is, and is ultimately what is going to make the biggest difference. What has encouraged you this week?

Notes and References

1. In case you are wondering, no, I did not play this game before I got an EV :) It’s fun, though, and we all benefit from EVs on the road, even if we’re not driving them.

2. Below is a chart from EVAdoption that answers most of those questions. We need a sustained 23% annual growth rate in EV registrations through 2030 to hit 5 million vehicles. I’d guess that requires a strong used EV market, more affordable new EVs, and charging infrastructure in a much broader variety of residences, businesses, and public spaces. While the trend so far is good (and it continues through 2019 with around 60% growth over 2018), keeping it going will be a different kind of challenge.

3. The Atlantic has an interview with John Kerry about World War Zero.

4. There are many news articles on the car industry’s response to the administration’s weakening of our fuel standards. Here is one. In case you are curious, the main reason Toyota cited in their email was concern that California’s proposal would increase the cost of vehicles, which could in turn slow the rate of vehicle turnover (to cleaner vehicles). I’ve put a copy of Toyota’s email here if you want to read it.

Current Climate Data (October 2019)

Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

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