This Week’s Climate and Clean Energy Brief: Amazon on the Brink, Tesla Competitors Emerge, Civilization Collapse Report, Trump Trashed on Environment, Utilities Partner with EVs

There was quite a lot that we missed in the climate and clean energy world this week. So, in an effort to catch up, we’re going to provide you with a handful of the major highlights. But before we continue, I’d like to also mention that a major and potentially weather event with climate change related influences is now starting to slam the U.S. Northeast with high winds, waves and heavy surf.

We’re compiling a report for later this afternoon on yet one more extreme weather event in a long procession. So watch this space.

The Amazon Rainforest is on the brink of collapseFor a number of years now, we’ve been covering the dual impacts of human-caused climate change and deforestation on the Amazon Rainforest. One of our expert commenters, Umbrios, is a Brazil native and regularly provides updates in the threads below. So those who’ve followed along here have known for a while now that the Amazon is in serious trouble.

Rising temperatures are increasing instances of wildfires within the typically wet forest. Meanwhile, encroaching farms and settlements have cut and burned through the lush jungle, invading it with roads and threatening to choke off what is one of the great ecological treasures of our world.

(A combination of slash and burn deforestation, droughts, rising temperatures and wildfires are pushing the Amazon Rainforest to the brink. A new study finds that human encroachment and climate change are on the verge of transforming half of the Amazon into less productive grasslands. Image source: The Union of Concerned Scientists.)

The concern is that the Amazon, which is under increasing threat like so many other key environments around the world, reaches a tipping point where much of it is transformed into less productive and less helpful Savannah. Where that point rests on the temporal and spatial scale has long been a subject of debate. But a new study finds that it’s much closer than many had feared.

In total, about 17 percent of the Amazon has been deforested. And what the study found was that, due to continued rising temperatures associated with human caused climate change, only another 3 percent deforestation would be enough to transform fully half of the Amazon into Savannah. In this case, global warming is acting in concert with local clear-cutting to provide a dual threat to this great forest that is home to 14 million species and is one of the largest remaining carbon sinks on the planet.

Tesla competitors emergeOn the sustainability side of our ongoing story of tragedy, hope and crisis, we find that a number of automakers are emerging to challenge Tesla’s all-renewable business model. Unfortunately, so far, most automakers are confronting Tesla with single model designs rather than a full transformation of business strategies. But what is encouraging is the rising quality of EVs entering the production fleet.

A good example is this week’s announcement by Jaguar that its I-PACE EV can out accelerate some versions of the Tesla Model X. I-PACE is an EV sporting a 90 KW battery pack and a 240 mile range. It’s priced between 87,000 and 102,000 dollars (US) and it has a stated acceleration of 4.5 seconds from 0-60 mph. This makes it a peer or a near peer to the Tesla Model X which starts at 85,000 dollars, has an all electric range of between 257 and 289 miles, and can accelerate from 0-60 in 4.9 to 2.9 seconds (P100D).

(Jaguar promotes smaller, long-range, high performance, high-price I-PACE electric vehicle as competitor to the Tesla Model X. But is Jaguar really serious about transformational EV production? Or is it just trying to slow Tesla’s all-renewable Juggernaut down? Image source: Jaguar.)

The I-PACE is, however, smaller than the X. Weighing less, it likely relies on this lower mass to match Model X acceleration and range due to Tesla’s superior battery energy density. But what is clear is that Jaguar is trying to compete with Tesla on turf that the all-electric automaker has long dominated.

Jaguar claims that the I-PACE is part of a transformational strategy. But a single EV entry is hardly tranformational compared to Tesla’s larger EV-only production chain and design path. So the question for renewable energy supporters is — does this Janguar really help to speed the clean energy transition, or is it just another rock a primarily fossil fuel based motor company is throwing into the road to delay Tesla? Time, and the number of EVs Jaguar produces (both as models and as single model production) will tell.

Scientists are concerned about the risk of civilization collapse due to climate change and how harmful political ideologies are making matters worse. So my background is one of emerging threats. I worked in the U.S. military, as a member of the U.S. Navy’s DOD force protection group, and as Editor for Emerging Threats at Jane’s Information Group. And it has long been my goal here to analyze climate change impacts in the frame of a systemic threat that increases civilization collapse pressure.

In the military context, climate change is often described as a Threat Multiplier. Rising global temperatures and associated sea level rise, growing season disruption, and increasingly severe weather events can severely damage infrastructure or tear at the fabric of societies — generating conditions of mass desperation the world over. Those focused both on humanitarian relief efforts, often a military mission, and on combating rising instances of extremism (which are often fueled by economic desperation or inability to access shelter, food, and water) are now very concerned about the impact of climate change disruptions on global stability.

(Illustration of instances where climate change has multiplied instability. Note that effects range well outside the regions indicated in the above graphic. Image source: Climate Change as a Problem of National and International Security.)

Unfortunately, these disruptions do not always occur far from home. And no nation has a viable defense against harms associated with climate change. Over the past year, the U.S. has seen some of the most damaging extreme weather events in its history. And most of these have been scientifically linked to climate change. One instance — Maria’s strike to Puerto Rico — resulted in a systemic collapse that has yet to be fully repaired. Part of this failure is due to the severe nature of the climate change enhanced storm. But another aspect of the U.S.’s failure to support Puerto Rico was the fact that the Republican Party was held in the grips of the harmful ideology of climate change denial, jingoism, and anti-government thinking.

This ideology, which has captured so much of the political state of play of one of the world’s greatest nations, cripples responses to the growing existential threat of climate change. It denies both mitigation in the form of renewable energy funding even as it denies the necessary level of support in response to the disasters that climate change produces in ever-greater numbers and on increasingly destructive scales.

The new climate change collapse threat study discussed above is being conducted to examine the societal risks of climate change in light of political capture by harmful ideologies that fail to recognize realities on the ground as they emerge. We’ll be following it here with interest.

Trump trashed on terrible, disjointed, reckless environmental policies. Pretty much every thinking, rational person in the free world has now been woke to the fact that Trump cares little for the safety and security of the American people and sees the office of the Presidency primarily as a means to advance the personal interests of himself, his family, and his close associates. Never before has an Administration acted in so corrupt a fashion or courted so many nefarious entities in a brazen effort at self-promotion, damn all public consequences.

“Over and over again, the Trump administration has put the profits of multinational polluters over the health and well-being of everyday Americans,” — Eric Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general.

One of Trump’s first harmful and self-serving actions was raise Scott Pruitt to head of the Environmental Protection Agency. An unprecedented assault of critical safety-related protections of the American citizenry soon followed. An assault led by policies promoted, through Pruitt, not just by his allies in the coal, oil, and gas industry; but by practically every harmful polluting industry.

(The Center For Biological Diversity has filed 57 lawsuits against the Trump Administration. And it just just one of many agencies leveling an all out response to Trump’s assault on the environment.)

The Trump Administration has tried to enable the dumping of dental mercury into water systems, to allow the use of a substance harmful to child brain development, to enable the environmental release of such dangerous toxins as lead, to let gas companies leak poisonous and climate change enhancing methane plumes into the local environment, to allow trucks and automobiles that spew smog, to halt the protection of key species like bumblebees, and to roll back the Clean Power Plan, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act.

Such harmful and irresponsible actions have resulted in the Administration being hit by scores of court cases. Rick Sniedermann, the New York Attorney General, alone has produced 50 environmental lawsuits aimed at preventing the roll-back of key protections. And in many instances, the Administration’s pro-polluter policies are suffering serious losses in court.

Utilities partner with EV manufacturers. There’s an amazing clean energy synergy that’s yet to be fully leveraged. It’s a case where wind, solar, other clean energy sources, EVs and EV batteries are capable both of reducing emissions and of creating valuable new energy markets. PG&E apparently recognizes this opportunity and is more than willing to partner with automakers to incentivize it.

BMW and PG&E are offering a 10,000 dollar rebate for the BMW i3 to utility customers. The offer is beneficial to those purchasing an EV because it can reduce the cost of a 44,000 dollar EV to 24,000 after all state, federal, and utility/automaker rebates.

(PG&E power mix shows potential for substantial greenhouse gas emissions reductions for EV owners who purchase electricity from the utility vs those who own a gasoline or diesel-burning vehicle. At some point, PG&E may well considering changing its name to Pacific Electric. As the gas portion is increasingly less relevant to its energy portfolio. Image source: PG&E.)

The utility benefits due to increased electricity demand coming from the EV user. And BMW benefits from the marketing provided by PG&E which helps it to clear old models from its inventory and pave the way for more advanced electrical cars.

It’s also worth noting that PG&E generates more than 70 percent of its electricity from non-carbon-emitting sources and it has a goal for continuing to expand its clean energy allotment. So EV owners who are PG&E customers are engaged in substantially reducing their transportation based carbon emissions over time.

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The Global Smack-down Against the Infernal Combustion Engine Achieves Full Charge

As the climate-wrecking fossil fuel age was climbing to dominance in 1943, Winston Churchill perhaps made the most famously telling Freudian slip of all time. In an attempt to laud the transition from the horse and buggy to the fossil-fuel driven car, he said to an audience at Harvard:

“Man has parted company with his trusty friend the horse and has sailed into the azure with the eagles, eagles being represented by the infernal combustion engine–er er, internal combustion engine. [loud laughter] Internal combustion engine! Engine!”

And as people from the Arctic to the Maldives to Bangladesh to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico can now attest, the effects of the gasses produced by internal combustion have indeed started to become quite infernal as the leading edge of climate change related disasters begins to take hold.

(The LA auto show this week was dominated by new electrical vehicles.)

But at the same time that seas are rising and the weather is worsening, there is renewed hope that all this infernal combustion and related climate wrecking carbon dioxide spewing into the atmosphere may start to taper off. For if the age of unsustainable fossil fuels was heralded by an infernal engine, then the age of sustainability itself is being heralded by blessed batteries and the cars they power.

UBS — 1 in 6 New Cars to be Electric by 2025

For the electrical transition is happening now. And it’s charging up as we speak.

According to a recent report by UBS, the number of affordable, desirable electrical vehicles will vastly expand between now and 2020. Multiple vehicles that are competitive with, if not matching the performance of, Tesla’s Model 3 will be available by that time. These models will continue to proliferate through 2025.

(UBS estimates rapid increases in EV market share. This is bad news for fossil fuels and good news for sustainability.)

At the same time, prices for both batteries and vehicles are expected to fall. Total cost of ownership for electrical vehicles is already less than a comparable fossil fuel based car for a number of models. This is due to lower fuel and maintenance costs. However, overall total cost of ownership is expected to be less on average than fossil fuel cars by the early 2020s. Meanwhile, base price for EVs is expected to out-compete that of fossil fuel based cars by 2025 even as EVs are expected to consistently outperform ICE vehicles by that time.

As a result, UBS expects that between 6 and 25 percent of all new cars will be electric by 2025 with the average between these two predicted ranges hitting 16 percent or 1 in 6 of all new cars sold.

Volkswagen Invests More than $12 Billion in EVs

Tesla, presently the global EV market leader, is today’s company to beat. And Volkswagen, recently stung by an emissions scandal, appears to be stepping up to the plate as a serious challenger.

The company, this month, decided to invest 12 billion dollars to build as many as 40 electrical vehicle models in China. A market that by itself may support as many as 6-9 million EV sales per year by 2025. Volkswagen, in total, aims to sell 1.5 million electrical vehicles per year at that time.

(Volkswagen electrical car, SUV and Hippie Van spotted in California on November 27th. Image source: Clean Technica.)

Already, the company is developing multiple high-quality models to include an electric version of its iconic hippie bus, an electric car based on traditional Volkswagen styling, and a new SUV crossover called the CROZZ. All are expected to have a 200+ mile electric range and feature better performance than their fossil fuel counterparts.

Movement Toward Electrification Across Entire Industry

But it’s not just Volkswagen that appears ready to move aggressively toward electrification, pretty much every major automaker is adding new EVs between now and 2022 — with a number focused on total or near total electrification (see Jaguar video at top of post).

To name just a few, GM plans 20 new electrical models over the next six years, Ford plans 13 by 2020, and both Daimler and Renault plan to have 8 BEVs on the road by 2022. New entrants like BYD and Tata are also advancing electrical vehicles in their home markets of India and China. And the above-mentioned Jaguar expects all its new vehicles to have electric or hybrid electric drive trains by 2020.

Tesla Still Leading the Charge, But Will that Last?

Though numerous factors have driven the industry toward electrification to include falling battery costs, concerns about mass devastation from human-caused climate change, and drives by cities like Paris and nations like China to clean up air quality, it was Tesla, primarily, that proved to the world that EVs could be mass produced at market-setting quality and performance.

Tesla advances continue today with news reports indicating that the Model 3’s performance beats pretty much all of the BMW 3 series internal combustion engine cars hands down. And reviewers over at Motor Trend have gone so far as to call the Model 3 a BMW 3 series killer.

Meanwhile, indications are that production bottle necks may be starting to clear for the market-setting Model 3. Panasonic recently announced that battery production for the vehicle is about to speed up even as the company introduced reservation options for non employees this past week. If this is the case, Tesla is in the process of securing at least a 1-2 year jump on most major automakers.

(The new Tesla Roadster. Image source: Tesla.)

Tesla has also not let its various aspirational goals slip. Its offering of a 500 mile range long-haul truck by 2020 at $180,000 is yet another trend-setter. And the new Tesla Roadster with a 250 mile top speed, a 600 mile range, and featuring hyper-fast charging will basically far outperform even the top fossil fueled vehicles in pretty much every metric.

As the race between Tesla and the rest of the auto industry to produce the next trend-setting EV ramps up, it looks like the main loser will be that old pollution-belching infernal combustion engine. Good riddance.

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