what is climate justice, the million mile battery, and are republicans climate optimists?

The newsletter for people "woke" on carbon and climate

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. ~ Haida Proverb

Issue No. 38 - August 9, 2020

Welcome to the latest issue of Carbon Creed - a curated newsletter for people “woke” on carbon and climate.

My name is Walter McLeod, and I appreciate the value of your time. We hope to inform, inspire and encourage you as we navigate this weekly journey through the good, bad and ugly of carbon and climate. 

First, I want to thank you for indulging my vacation last week - it was rejuvenating, relaxing and just what I needed. I also want to thank everyone who read our Friday open thread Carbon Creed (part 2)” which concluded our affirmations on carbon and climate. Many of you shared thoughts and comments via email, and I appreciate your insights. Every expression helps me refine and improve the Creed. Here’s one example from my good friend and subscriber, Lucinda, commenting on Do no harm:

“Funny, this is Google’s motto.  But I don’t believe it anymore.”

Lucinda’s comment is so prescient - companies like Google just don’t get it. They don’t grasp the power of “shu” (Do no harm) when fully embraced in word and deed. This problem is not unique to Google, and I will analyze corporate pledges on carbon and climate in my forthcoming book.

Your feedback and comments are so important. It helps me understand what’s working and what’s not. Here’s another great email I received from Joe Flippin, regarding ESG and public policy issues:

(Here is the link to the Morgan Stanley Climate Impact Report)

These are just a few of the great minds reading our newsletter. I’m sure there are more of you out there - why not make yourselves heard on this Friday’s open thread?

Now, to the issue at hand… this week we review Michael Shellenberger’s controversial new book Apocalypse Never, discuss the global implications of climate justice, deep dive into the million-mile EV battery and digest the EU’s carbon border tax moves. I hope you enjoy the menu!

You can ping me anytime at mcleodwl@carboncreed.com.

If you are a subscriber, THANK YOU, and please share this with a friend.

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(image: Petmal/Getty/ORF)


Climate change, an inherently social issue, can upset anyone’s daily life in countless ways. But not all climate impacts are created equal, or distributed equally. From extreme weather to rising sea levels, the effects of climate change often have disproportionate effects on historically marginalized or underserved communities.

“Climate justice” is a term, and more than that a movement, that acknowledges climate change can have differing social, economic, public health, and other adverse impacts on underprivileged populations. Advocates for climate justice are striving to have these inequities addressed head-on through long-term mitigation and adaptation strategies.

The following are key factors to consider in thinking about climate justice:

1) Climate justice begins with recognizing key groups are differently affected by climate change.

As a UN blog describes it: “The impacts of climate change will not be borne equally or fairly, between rich and poor, women and men, and older and younger generations.”

“Climate change is happening now and to all of us. No country or community is immune,” according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “And, as is always the case, the poor and vulnerable are the first to suffer and the worst hit.”

Generally, many victims of climate change also have disproportionately low responsibility for causing the emissions responsible for climate change in the first place – particularly youth or people of any age living in developing countries that produce fewer emissions per capita than is the case in the major polluting countries.

2) Climate impacts can exacerbate inequitable social conditions.

Low-income communities, people of color, indigenous people, people with disabilities, older or very young people, women– all can be more susceptible to risks posed by climate impacts like raging storms and floods, increasing wildfire, severe heat, poor air quality, access to food and water, and disappearing shorelines.

Here are a few examples of how some communities may be more affected by these impacts than others – and may have fewer resources to handle those impacts, too:

  • Communities of color are often more at risk from air pollution, according to both the NAACP, the American Lung Association, and countless research papers.

  • Seniors, people with disabilities, and people with chronic illnesses may have a harder time living through periods of severe heat, or being able to quickly and safely evacuate from major storms or fire.

  • People with limited income may live in subsidized housing, which too often is located in a flood plain. Their housing options may also have inadequate insulation, mold problems, or air conditioning to effectively combat severe heat or cope with strong storms.

  • Some indigenous communities are already seeing their homes and livelihoods lost to rising sea levels or drought. For example, the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe has lost nearly all of its land and is relocating to higher ground.

3) Momentum is building for climate justice solutions.

Last week Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a potential Democratic vice-presidential pick, joined Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to introduce the Climate Equity Act of 2020. This legislation seeks to increase the federal government's support for marginalized communities that stand to be affected by climate change.

Another indicator of the growing momentum of climate justice is Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s campaign support for a “plan to secure environmental justice and equitable economic opportunity in a clean energy future…. Addressing environmental and climate justice is a core tenet.”

In the end, there is no single way to define, let alone champion, climate justice. But in combination with other current social justice movements – perhaps epitomized and including, but not limited to, the Black Lives Matter movement – many experts see climate justice becoming an increasingly significant component of overall concerns raised by climate change. Go deeper here LINK

Creed Comments: Climate justice is truly having its moment (finally). And thanks to articles like this (originally penned Daisy Simmons), the broader public is beginning to understand that this is not a niche issue. Rather climate justice has huge global ramifications that could impact billions of people on every continent. Its time has come.



Does optimism on climate change make you a republican?

This book review was originally written by John Horgan (Scientific American), but is modified here due to space constraints. I share my personal thoughts at the end of the post.

Last spring I was feeling pretty glum about, well, everything when Michael Shellenberger sent me a prepublication copy of his book Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.

Before I weigh in on the book, here’s some background. Shellenberger is a controversial figure. For years, he has urged his fellow greens to adopt a more optimistic outlook, which he insists is more conducive to activism than fear. His influential 2007 book Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, co-written with his fellow activist Ted Nordhaus, accused environmentalists of being hostile to science, technology and economic progress.

We need economic and technological development to overcome climate change and other environmental threats, Shellenberger and Nordhaus insisted. People are unlikely to care about polar bears, they pointed out, when they’re worried about feeding their children. Shellenberger and Nordhaus also faulted the environmental movement for being reluctant to acknowledge its successes, as if doing so will foster complacency.

In Shellenberger’s new book, Apocalypse Never, he asserts that human-induced climate change, while quite real, is less of a threat than many journalists and activists claim. He presents evidence that the risks of extreme weather events, wildfires and species extinction have been overblown, and that humanity is adapting to higher sea levels and temperatures.

Apocalypse Never cheered me up at a moment when I badly needed it. It serves as a counterweight to, for example, the claims of journalist David Wallace-Wells, a self-described alarmist. In his recent bestseller The Uninhabitable Earth Wallace-Wells contends, all too persuasively, that climate change is “worse, much worse, than you think” (see my review here).

The polarized reactions to Shellenberger remind me of those to John Ioannidis, the Stanford epidemiologist who has warned that our reaction to COVID-19 might be overblown. People judge the claims of Shellenberger and Ioannidis based less on their actual merits than on their perceived political implications. Optimism, whether toward the pandemic or global warming, is viewed as a conservative, pro-Trump position. Now more than ever, political polarization makes it hard to have a rational argument about scientific issues.

Although I stand by my open-minded views on Apocalypse Never, parts of the book made me wince. Shellenberger argues so aggressively for nuclear power that a former colleague, Alex Trembath of the Breakthrough Institute, accuses him of “nuclear fetishism.” Shellenberger is so pro-nuclear that he even defends nuclear weapons. Dismissing the possibility of eliminating nuclear weapons, he suggests that they can serve as a memento mori, a reminder of death that makes us cherish our fleeting lives.

Shellenberger’s positions on nuclear energy and arms strike me as discordant with his optimism and faith in human ingenuity. In short, my main gripe with Shellenberger isn’t that he’s too optimistic; it’s that he’s not optimistic enough. Go deeper here LINK

Creed Comments: Some readers will not agree with my posting this review, but I always think it wise to understand both sides of the climate debate. Apocalypse Never is a controversial book and the author has become a political lightening rod. However, John Horgan does an excellent job presenting both the strengths and weaknesses of the book, which is why I chose to share it with you. Let me know what you think.



(image: Amperex/CATL)

The million-mile car battery is coming!

As every mobile-phone owner knows, after a year or so the battery starts to fade and the beast needs recharging more frequently. That is a nuisance, but a phone’s batteries can be replaced fairly cheaply—or the whole handset traded in for the latest model. An electric car, however, is a much bigger investment. And batteries are its priciest component, representing around 25-30% of an average mid-size vehicle. Apart from increasing the risk of running out of juice and leaving a driver stranded, a deteriorating battery quickly destroys a car’s second-hand value.

To provide buyers with some peace of mind, carmakers guarantee their batteries, typically for eight (8) years or around 150,000 miles (200,000 km). Producers are now planning to go much further than that, with the launch of “million mile” (1.6m kilometer) batteries. Zeng Yuqun, the boss of Contemporary Amperex Technology, a giant Chinese firm which produces batteries for a number of carmakers, said in June that his company was ready to start manufacturing batteries which would last for 16 years or 2m kilometers. Elon Musk has hinted that Tesla, a Californian maker of electric vehicles of which he is boss, has a million-mile battery in the works. Rumours suggest this could be unveiled in September. And over in Detroit, General Motors (gm) is in the final stages of developing an advanced battery which it says has similar longevity.

To the moon and back, twice

What causes a car battery to lose performance? Thrash a car and its battery will deteriorate faster. Regular fast-charging also reduces battery life, as do overcharging and deep discharging. Driving in extremely hot or cold weather does not help either. And battery life will diminish even if you just leave the car in the garage. The real point of a million-mile battery is that the technological advances required to make it possible will deal with these things as well.

The lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries which power electric cars age in two ways: with time and with use. Battery-makers call time-dependent ageing “calendar ageing”. It is a consequence of the gradual degradation of some of the materials employed in battery construction. This degradation reduces a battery’s ability to hold a charge—though even here it is possible to ameliorate the problem to a certain extent. Leaving a car with a fully rather than partly charged battery, for example, can increase the rate of calendar ageing.

Use-dependent ageing is a consequence of the number of discharge-recharge cycles a battery goes through. It is caused by the complex chemical reactions that take place when a battery is operating. Some of these are essential to a battery’s job of storing and releasing energy.

Each cycle of discharge and recharge takes its toll. Lithium is so highly reactive that stopping it getting tied up in other chemical compounds while a battery is in use is hard. Even a small amount of diversion per cycle adds up, reducing the amount of the element available to store energy. On top of this, charging up faster than ions can be absorbed by the anode may result in a layer of lithium “plating” building up on the anode’s surface, reducing its storage capacity.

It is difficult to generalize about the extent to which these processes reduce a battery’s lifetime. Not only does it depend on how that battery is used, but also how it is made. Li-ion cells come in different forms and a variety of chemistries, some of which have not been around long enough in cars for people to know for sure how long they will last.

Nevertheless, the industry has a few rules of thumb. Once a battery’s capacity falls below 80% of its starting value, it is generally thought no longer suitable for use in vehicles. Some reckon that, on average, Li-ion batteries lose 2% of their capacity a year. This may not seem much, but by the time a vehicle is six years old it could mean it is halfway through its useful life.

Why stop at one million miles?

As a marketing device, the million-mile battery will give electric-car buyers—even those never likely to put a million miles on the clock—more confidence that their batteries are robust. But some users might truly desire a lifetime range that great.

Then there’s this other twist. Future electric vehicles may end up being more than just a means of transport. Plans are afoot to let electric-vehicle owners connect their cars to the grid in a way that will store surplus electricity generated in times of plenty by wind and sunshine and release it during hours of peak demand, with the owner collecting a fee for doing so. That means these grid-buffering vehicles will be racking up lots of charging cycles even when they are not moving.

Nor are million-mile batteries the limit of engineers’ aspirations. The next objective is to replace Li-ions’ liquid electrolytes with solid ones. That would keep the ions under stricter control and allow even longer driving ranges. This could make a two-million-mile battery a feasible objective. If that day comes, the tables would have been turned. From being the first part of a car to fail, its battery will have become the last.

Go deeper here LINK

Creed Comments: A well said article. I continue to be awestruck by the pace of transition and scale of innovation in the EV and battery sectors. This is what market-driven decarbonization looks like!



The CO2 border adjustment for the EU

The European Union has laid out options for designing its plan to impose charges on imports of some goods to try to protect EU industry from being undercut by countries with weaker climate policies.

Options under consideration are a value-added tax (VAT), a customs levy and an extension of the EU’s carbon market, the European Commission said on Wednesday. 

The aim is to create a level playing field where EU companies are not shouldering carbon costs that put them at a disadvantage against foreign rivals who do not face such charges. 

The Commission will unveil plans next year to impose so-called carbon costs on imports - a move which officials admit could ignite trade tensions. 

In a consultation launched this week, the Commission laid out options for the policy, which it hopes could raise up to 14 billion euros ($16.23 billion) by 2027 to help fund the EU’s next budget and its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. 

The options include a border adjustment tax on imports of selected emissions-intensive products. The tax would be linked to the price in the EU emissions trading system (ETS), which forces power plants and industry to buy permits to cover emissions. 

An extension of the ETS to imports, forcing foreign companies to buy carbon permits at the border, is also an option. This could also be done by creating a separate pool of permits for foreign producers, the Commission said. 

The third option is a VAT or excise duty-style carbon tax on products sold in Europe, which would affect EU producers as well as foreign firms. 

Diederik Samsom, who heads the Commission’s climate cabinet, told a Stockholm Environment Institute event last month the EU wants to show it is serious about climate action.

“We want to extend that to the rest of the world - if needed, with instruments that we were, in the past, happy to forget about for obvious reasons - not to create trouble with others in the world.” - Diederik Samsom, European Union Climate Cabinet

The Commission has said its carbon border policy will comply with World Trade Organization rules - but it has acknowledged that it could antagonize large trading partners.  Go deeper here LINK

Creed Comments: The EU continues to lead the world when it comes to carbon finance and tax innovation. Hopefully, the Union will have a draft plan ready in time for the meeting of G20 finance ministers in Saudi Arabia toward the end of 2020. The key parties to watch before and leading up to that meeting are the United States and China. Creed will be following this ambitious carbon policy move closely.



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