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A Green New Deal For Global Security

As we enter the New Year of 2019, we face the potential for more record global warmth. The fossil fuel burning that has continued for so long, that has been industrialized and unwisely linked (by industry and policy) to economic growth in many regions continues at a devastating pace. A pace that injects about 37 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into our atmosphere each year. For in too many cases, the necessary transition to an admittedly much stronger and far more viable clean energy economy has been blocked or delayed.

A Harmful Status Quo

We are a world locked in conflict between old fossil fuel interests and emerging clean energy and pro climate change response interests. Thus far, the conflict has generated a state of both economic and political grid-lock. One that at present perpetuates the harmful status quo.

We face vast continued greenhouse gas emissions presenting a growing danger to everyone and everything living on Earth. The threat of damaging climate change occurring on human time-scales is no longer some far-off object whose emerging reality can easily be hidden from public view by republican deniers in the U.S. government and abroad or related mass media campaigns funded by the fossil fuel monetary and political interests who authored the crisis.

surface melt ponding Amery ice shelf

(Increasing surface melt ponding in both Antarctica and Greenland, as seen in this January 1, 2019 satellite shot of the Amery Ice Shelf, is one visible sign of climate change’s growing impacts. Large land ice sheet melt is the primary driver of both sea level rise and changes to ocean circulation. Just two of many harms driven by fossil fuel burning and related carbon emissions. Image provided by NASA Worldview.)

The threat posed by human-caused climate change is one that impacts us now. And though present impacts are mild compared to a future in which vast fossil fuel burning and related dumping of carbon into Earth’s atmosphere continues, we are faced with growing damage, hurt, and harm today.

How did we get here? It’s a big question. One to be answered fully by future historians. But we can simply say that we haven’t transitioned away from fossil fuel burning fast enough. That we haven’t yet adopted clean energy or clean political thinking at a swift enough pace. That the old ways of power-brokering linked to fossil fuel burning continue with a tenacity which is, itself, difficult to deny.

Old Smoke-Stack Politics vs New Clean Energy Politics

Though a single blog is perhaps too short an article to address such a vast issue fully, it is certainly possible to take a look at the tip of the (metaphorically and literally) melting ice-berg. In doing so, we ask the teasing question — how are such seemingly far-flung objects as Amery Ice Shelf melt ponds, a Green New Deal, Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and Russian nuclear capable bombers in Venezuela linked?

As literary objects go the question is, of course, rhetorical. But it is one that reveals how old smokestack style power-plays can keep us stuck in the ongoing harmful pattern of fossil fuel burning, warming, and increasing global environmental damage together with the related geopolitical conflict that all too frequently results. It also opens up the avenue to a new geopolitical contest to old regimes. One based on clean energy economies of scale and technological innovation coupled with climate change response.

Clean Energy Enabled Obama’s Counter to Russian Aggression

Back during the Obama Administration, there was a larger challenge to old forms of power brokering. It happened when Russia invaded the Ukraine and the U.S. sanctioned Russian oil ventures such as the fossil fuel multinational — Rosneft.

The U.S., under Obama, through both clean energy policy and increased oil extraction at home had become more energy independent. But more importantly, with policies such as EV incentives, increased fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, the sun shot initiative, adherence to the Paris Climate Agreement, and the implementation of the Clean Power Plan taking hold, the U.S. was also turning toward a future that was finally less dependent on fossil fuels and, more importantly, the broad availability of oil and gas. The U.S., under Obama, was thus able to move more and more away from the old oil and gas politics that might have forced our nation to turn a blind eye to Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. Instead, old oil-based global policy gave way to something new as the U.S. effectively canceled an Exxon-Mobil contract with Rosneft even as it moved to hamper Russia’s oil oligarchs in retaliation for its physical aggression.

Russia — Slave to Oil and Gas Revenue

Then and now, Rosneft was a cornerstone of Russian political and economic power. The company, like the East India Trade Company of the old British Empire, serves Russia as a way of projecting its power abroad. We see this in Russia’s past use of gas shipments to influence Europe. We see it in Russia’s past and present use of oil ventures like Rosneft to gain political footholds in places like Venezuela. And we see it in Russia’s attempts to use Rosneft to directly influence U.S. policy through relationships with western oil giants like Exxon.

Western sanctions against Rosneft and related oil oligarchs put a check on Russian power projection. It also leveled a direct threat to Russia’s narrow economic power base. Represented, in part, by its use of Rosneft as a political tool for power projection, Russia is itself fully invested in fossil fuel burning. For not only is Rosneft a lever for Russian power brokering abroad, the company exists in a context in which 16 percent of Russian GDP comes from oil and gas money. Moreover, 52 percent of Russia’s federal budget is funded by fossil fuel revenues from state-corporate entities such as Rosneft. Meanwhile, 70 percent of Russia’s export revenue comes from the oil and gas sector. Unable or, more likely, unwilling to diversify its economy away from oil and gas, Russia is instead a slave to it.

2016 Election Meddling in Context

Given the above, we can see that the Russian economy suffers a kind of resource curse in relation to its dependence on fossil fuels. But Russia has also taken a rather odd stance with regards to climate change. National policy has long considered climate change beneficial to Russia. This despite the fact that recent research shows numerous harms including movement of rains away from most productive soils, expanding wildfires in the north, widespread loss of land due to sea level rise, and destabilization of border states to the south.

(How a Green New Deal would make America great by enabling us to confront foreign adversaries and climate harms in one go.)

That said, after grappling with an Obama Administration more emboldened to sanction its fossil fuel industry, Russia had every short term economic and political incentive to seek regime change in the U.S. Trump, with his climate change denial, promise to double down on old energy sources like oil gas and coal, and his stated aims to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement while cancelling programs like the Clean Power Plan appeared to be ready to generate policy more beneficial to Russia’s fossil fuel sector. With oil and gas presently so central to Russia’s economy, the motivation to support Trump on an economic and political power basis alone must have been quite strong. This on top of a widely cited motivation to generate chaos and division in the U.S. during election season.

Venezuela: Oil as Power Lever and Motivator for Aggression

Following its meddling in the 2016 U.S. election with the stated aim to place Donald Trump as President, Russia’s oil-based power plays continued. This time, Rosneft gained a lien on 50 percent of Citgo — the Venezuelan state oil company. Venezuela, even more heavily dependent on oil revenue than Russia, has been facing economic decline ever since oil prices crashed during the late 2000s. Smelling opportunity, Russia has moved into Venezuela, funded its debt, and announced joint oil production agreements.

Russia’s increased hold over Venezuela is also reminiscent of past cold war power moves in which easily leveraged resources like oil often played a key role in establishing vassal or proxy states. The most recent move by Russia brings with it the old sabre rattling of nuclear capable weapons system movements and related media sensationalism as Russia’s deployment of two nuclear bombers to a Venezuelan air base ruffled feathers from Europe to the U.S.

Green New Deal — A Way Forward for U.S. Climate and National Security

Russia’s power plays may seem similar to the past. But they occur in a context where the U.S. increasingly has the option to respond by doubling down on clean energy policy as a means to directly counter the might of bad actor regimes dependent on fossil fuel revenue. This is in direct contrast to the cold war where hard power responses like troop movements and weapons systems deployments were seen as central to national defense.

In the new era, such movements of troops may also be seen as necessary. But the response that matters most to long term U.S. national security is the lessening of reliance on fossil fuel to give the U.S. a better bargaining position vis a vis petro states like Russia while simultaneously reducing the nation’s contribution to the climate crisis.

Such synergistic foreign policy benefits evoking a new U.S. economic and moral leadership would seem to make clean energy based programs like the Green New Deal and revitalization of energy efficiency and clean energy supports a no-brainer nationally. These are domestic programs with global consequences for the future of the United States. And the fact that adversaries like Russia are working hard to prevent the implementation of such programs at home should provide a clear incentive for all Americans to support them.

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4 Million EVs on the Road Globally — To Hit 5 Million in About Six Months

 

The number of EVs on the road in Europe has hit 1 million with a 42 percent growth rate in the January to June timeframe. Meanwhile, Global EVs have hit 4 million with nearly 2 million sales projected for this year. From January to July, Tesla took the crown as top-selling EV automaker.

California Has Already Cut Carbon Emissions to 1990s Levels

California has reduced its electrical power sector related carbon emissions by 35 percent — enabling it to achieve a goal set for 2020 early. Looking ahead, California will need to rely an synergies between batteries and clean energy both in power and transport as it moves to cut emission further.

California Close to Committing to 100 Percent Renewable Electricity

Yesterday, Senate Bill 100 passed the California State Assembly. If it makes it through a second set of legislative hurdles, it will reach Governor Brown’s desk for signing into law. If this happens, California will join 88 other cities and counties across the U.S. as well as the State of Hawaii in 100 renewable electricity commitments.

Tesla Model 3 Production Keeps Ramping — Hitting Near 2,400 Per Week in Early April

Past behavior can often be predictive of future results. Sometimes, however, we are pleasantly surprised. Such is the case with Tesla’s Model 3 production ramp this week.

Tesla’s Big Surge Continues

According to reports from both Electrek and Bloomberg, Tesla appears to have sustained weekly rates of Model 3 production above 2,000 for more than 14 days. Indicators for this continued surge come in the form of record VIN number releases. For since late March, the number of Model 3 VINs ordered from the U.S. government has doubled from approximately 14,000 to around 28,000. Meanwhile, Bloomberg’s Model 3 production tracker has surged to 2,394 all-electric vehicles per week. A new record.

(Bloomberg’s Model 3 tracker has captured a big surge in Model 3 production translating through to early Q2. Image source: Bloomberg.)

The big jump in VINs comes along with Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s announcement that he planned to continue Model 3 production rates of over 2,000 vehicles per week into early April. This higher production rate is contrary to past production behavior by Tesla — which typically surges late in a financial quarter and then backs off at the start of a new quarter.

5,000 Per Week Model 3 Production Goal in Sight

And though it is still possible that we could see all-electric, zero-tailpipe emissions Model 3 production slackening a bit following this most recent, apparent much longer-running surge, there are indications that Tesla’s capability is rapidly expanding. First, it appears that two lines are now running for Tesla Model 3 and related battery production. Second, it appears that many of the Model 3 bottlenecks have been addressed. And, third, it looks like new Model 3 production infrastructure continues to spring up in the form of dedicated facilities at Tesla’s Fremont plant and Nevada Gigafactory.

(A drone fly-over of the Tesla Fremont factory shows new buildings that appear to be dedicated to Model 3 production efforts. Video source: Tesla Factory Flyover Drone.)

Tesla’s production legs are, therefore, growing longer. And, in light of this fact, it appears that our earlier estimate that Model 3 would produce between 17,000 and 27,000 during Q2 may fall a bit short. As a result, that estimate is now adjusted upward to 18,000-30,000. This steepening ramp is increasingly possible especially if Tesla is able to maintain production rates in excess of 2,000 Model 3s per week through April and May even as it attempts a surge to 5,000 Model 3s per week by June.

Diversification of Model Line Planned For July

Tesla presently still has around 470,000 reservation holders for the Model 3. However, it’s uncertain how many of these are waiting for the long-range, rear-wheel drive version that is now in production. Past indicators are that the number is around 100 to 120K. Most of the rest either appear to be holding out for the dual motor version or for the lower price version. A 5,000 vehicle per week production rate will quickly eat through remaining long range, rear wheel reservation holders. And it is likely for this reason that Elon Musk is planning to start looking at producing the dual motor Model 3 during July of 2018.

So not only is the pace of Model 3 production quickening, the advent of new Model 3 versions is on the horizon. All-in-all this is good news for Model 3 reservation holders and for renewable energy/climate change response backers in general. We’ll have to watch Tesla indicators closely. But it appears, more and more, that the company is able to put Model 3 production hell behind it. To step it out as an all clean energy mass producer.

Another Record Month for U.S. Electrical Vehicle Sales as Tesla Struggles with Model 3 Ramp

Electrical vehicles are a key element of the clean energy revolution. They are more efficient than fossil fuel driven vehicles; they produce zero particulate tailpipe emissions. When mated with solar and wind, they produce zero carbon emissions in operation. And they can serve as storage units for renewable energy sources all as their mass production drives the net cost of batteries continually lower.

So if you’re worried about climate change, and you’re well informed (not misinformed, confused, or focused on various shiny objects presently circulating the media), then you’re really interested in seeing electrical vehicle adoption hitting a high ramp in the near future. For those in this group, the October U.S. electrical vehicle report should serve as some hopeful news even as federal action under President Trump tilts more and more toward extreme anti-climate change response policy.

25th Consecutive Month of Record U.S. EV Sales

According to Inside EVs, plug-in electrical vehicle and hybrid sales saw their 25th month of consecutive record gains. About 14,598 electrical vehicles sold during October — which was 33 percent greater than during October of 2016. The yearly total for the U.S. during 2017 is now 157,039. This roughly matches 2016’s accumulated sales from January to December of 158,614. Given present trends, and given the fact that EV sales tend to ramp up during November and December, it is likely that U.S. numbers will hit near or slightly above the 200,000 mark by year end.

(U.S. Electrical Vehicle Sales During October. Image source: Inside EVs.)

GM’s Chevy Bolt rocketed to the top of the list for the month with 2,781 sales. The Bolt has benefited from broader dealer availability and appears to be riding the wave of excitement produced by the Model 3, which is still not available in the mass market. The car is also low-cost, long range, and extraordinarily well reviewed — despite lacking the larger charging network support available to Tesla owners. Annual Chevy Bolt 2017 sales still lag behind that of Tesla’s market-leading Model S — with 20,750 sales for the Model S and 17,083 sales for the Bolt.

The second best-selling plug-in car during October was Toyota’s Prius Prime at 1,626. Toyota’s plug-in electric hybrid has also been very well reviewed by buyers and features a range extending gas engine that completely removes range anxiety (although this is less of an issue for Teslas and the Bolt which presently boast ranges in excess of 200 miles).

Chevy’s Volt takes up the third spot on the heels of the Prius Prime with 1,362 sales. This hybrid boasts a longer electrical range than Toyota’s Prime and the position of an established leader in the field. However, the Prime’s popularity is now giving the Volt a run as top plug-in-hybrid with annual sales neck-and-neck between the two at 16,710 (Volt) and 16,682 (Prime) respectively.

Tesla’s Model S and X vehicles rounded out the 4th and 5th spots for the month with 1,120 (S) and 850 (X) U.S. sales. For the year, Tesla’s Model S is still the top selling EV with 20,750 U.S. sales and the Model X is the 4th best selling U.S. EV with 16,140 total sales. Tesla sales efforts tend to follow an uneven track with greater sales pushes toward end-quarter. So Tesla’s October lag is par for the course for the company which saw a record 3rd quarter of 2017 with 26,150 cars sold globally during July, August and September. To match this level, Tesla total sales will have to ramp during November and December. However, it is worth noting that sales of Tesla EVs have grown significantly in places like Europe during recent months — hitting 4,662 in Europe during September alone.

Aspirational Tesla Struggles to Meet Vision of Mass EV Production

Tesla is presently struggling to ramp up production of its highly sought-after, signature Model 3. With upwards of 500,000 reservations, the nascent company is seeking to make a leap to major automaker status on the platform of an electrical-vehicle-only line. Tesla bet on a highly automated line and a simplified design to achieve a rapid Model 3 ramp to meet this demand and to ensure cash flow into 2018. However, issues with suppliers and with managing such a high level of automation has caused the Model 3 production ramp to splutter. In total, reports estimate that around 405 Model 3s have been produced through the end of October with 145 produced that month. Tesla, acknowledging difficulties, has rolled back its production ramp by 3 months — aiming for 5,000 Model 3s per week by March.

(The Tesla Model 3. Image source: Tesla.)

Our forecast for Model 3 production by end year has dropped to 2,000 with between 75,000 and 200,000 Model 3s produced for 2018. However, if problems with Model 3 production do not soon clear, the total for 2017 could drop to between 700 and 1,000. Hopefully, Tesla can transport itself out of its various circles of mass production hell and avoid such a lag.

Tesla has a history of missing ambitious targets and then catching up with time. Tesla’s Model X production ramp also encountered difficulties, but the all-electric SUV swiftly became a global best seller once production bottlenecks cleared. That said, these are tough signs in a tough time for Tesla, and for those (like this writer) who support the spirit of Tesla’s fully-integrated all-renewable based business model. Renewable energy foes have been emboldened by Tesla’s struggle with Tesla bears making rabid statements almost daily. The next 3-6 months will be make or break for Tesla — determining whether the company falls behind a growing pack of high-quality electrical vehicle producers or whether it continues to be an industry leader. And, in so many ways, Tesla’s success or failure will help to make or break U.S. global renewable energy leadership. For EVs, as a whole, have found new sources of leadership coming from China and Europe even as many automakers invest more heavily in electrical vehicle lines.

Links:

October 2017 U.S. Plug-in Vehicle Sales Report Card

Tesla Record Month in Europe

Tesla Model 3 Delivery Delays

 

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