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The world needs a crash course to net zero now

In this week’s blog, Everlution is reproducing an article from the Guardian titled Earth’s tipping points could be closer than we think by George Monbiot. We agree wholeheartedly with the article’s message and that is, we need to get moving on economy-wide net zero initiatives right now to save ourselves.

There’s one thing we know about climate breakdown, it’s that it will not be linear, smooth or gradual. Just as one continental plate might push beneath another in sudden fits and starts, causing periodic earthquakes and tsunamis, our atmospheric systems will absorb the stress for a while, then suddenly shift. Yet, everywhere, the programmes designed to avert it are linear, smooth and gradual.

Current plans to avoid catastrophe would work in a simple system like a washbasin, in which you can close the tap until the inflow is less than the outflow. But they are less likely to work in complex systems, such as the atmosphere, oceans and biosphere. Complex systems seek equilibrium. When they are pushed too far out of one equilibrium state, they can flip suddenly into another. A common property of complex systems is that it’s much easier to push them past a tipping point than to push them back. Once a transition has happened, it cannot realistically be reversed.

The old assumption that the Earth’s tipping points are a long way off is beginning to look unsafe. A recent paper warns that the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation – the system that distributes heat around the world and drives the Gulf Stream – may now be “close to a critical transition”. This circulation has flipped between “on” and “off” states several times in prehistory, plunging northern Europe and eastern North America into unbearable cold, heating the tropics, disrupting monsoons.

Other systems could also be approaching their thresholds: the West and East Antarctic ice sheets, the Amazon rainforest, and the Arctic tundra and boreal forests, which are rapidly losing the carbon they store, driving a spiral of further heating. Earth systems don’t stay in their boxes. If one flips into a different state, it could trigger the flipping of others. Sudden changes of state might be possible with just 1.5C or 2C of global heating.

A common sign that complex systems are approaching tipping points is rising volatility: they start to flicker. The extreme weather in 2021 – the heat domes, droughts, fires, floods and cyclones – is, frankly, terrifying. If Earth systems tip as a result of global heating, there will be little difference between taking inadequate action and taking no action at all. A miss is as good as a mile.

So the target that much of the world is now adopting for climate action – net zero by 2050 – begins to look neither rational nor safe. It’s true that our only hope of avoiding catastrophic climate breakdown is some variety of net zero. What this means is that greenhouse gases are reduced through a combination of decarbonising the economy and drawing down carbon dioxide that’s already in the atmosphere. It’s too late to hit the temperature targets in the Paris agreement without doing both. But there are two issues: speed and integrity. Many of the promises seem designed to be broken.

At its worst, net zero by 2050 is a device for shunting responsibility across both time and space. Those in power today seek to pass their liabilities to those in power tomorrow. Every industry seeks to pass the buck to another industry. Who is this magical someone else who will suck up their greenhouse gases?

Their plans rely on either technology or nature to absorb the carbon dioxide they want to keep producing. The technologies consist of carbon capture and storage (catching the carbon emissions from power stations and cement plants then burying them in geological strata), or direct air capture (sucking carbon dioxide out of the air and burying that too). But their large-scale use is described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as “subject to multiple feasibility and sustainability constraints”. They are unlikely to be deployed at scale in the future for the same reason that they’re not being deployed at scale today, despite 20 years of talk: technical and logistical barriers. Never mind: you can keep smoking, because one day they’ll find a cure for cancer.

So what’s left is nature: the capacity of the world’s living systems to absorb the gases we produce. As a report by ActionAid points out, there’s not enough land in the world to meet the promises to offset emissions that companies and governments have already made. Even those who own land want someone else to deal with their gases: in the UK, the National Farmers’ Union is aiming for net zero. But net zero commitments by other sectors work only if farmland goes sharply net negative. That means an end to livestock farming and the restoration of forests, peat bogs and other natural carbon sinks. Instead, a mythical other will also have to suck up emissions from farming: possibly landowners on Venus or Mars.

Even when all the promised technofixes and offsets are counted, current policies commit us to a calamitous 2.9C of global heating. To risk irreversible change by proceeding at such a leisurely pace, to rely on undelivered technologies and non-existent capacities: this is a formula for catastrophe.

If Earth systems cross critical thresholds, everything we did and everything we were – the learning, the wisdom, the stories, the art, the politics, the love, the hate, the anger and the hope – will be reduced to stratigraphy. It’s not a smooth and linear transition we need. It’s a crash course.

EV News

Vovlo Polestar 2

Polestar has disclosed the lifecycle carbon footprint of its latest Polestar 2 electric car and is calling for more manufacturers to do the same.

Volvo’s electric-car offshoot Polestar has revealed the whole-of-life climate impact of its latest Polestar 2 electric vehicle (EV) variants, from production to disposal – and is calling on the wider automotive industry to do the same.

Polestar’s Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) consider a range of factors tracked through a car’s life cycle from the production phase, through the use phase, and to the end of its life. These factors are expressed through a single easy-to-comprehend ‘CO2e’ (carbon dioxide equivalent) number.

Calculations reveal that the two variants of Polestar 2 – Long Range and Standard Range – have a higher carbon footprint through production and disposal phases than petrol-powered, internal-combustion engine (ICE) cars, but have far lower emissions outputs over the course of the use phase.

Polestar’s research flies in the face of online rhetoric stating that electric vehicles (EVs) have just as high a carbon footprint as combustion-engine cars, owing to the relative high carbon output through the production phase.

The carbon impact of Polestar’s EVs takes into account CO2 produced through extraction of raw materials, energy used to produce the cars, and recycling impacts. By collating these factors into one number, Polestar says it enables consumers to make quicker and more educated decisions when buying a car.

2021 Mitsubishi Outlander

Enjoying the great outdoors means being smart about the gear—keeping it efficient and minimalist yet comfortable and dry.

A recent drive of a 2021 Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid, equipped with a Roofnest Condor hard-shell fold-out rooftop tent, underscored that less-is-more mantra—within reason.

At face value, the Outlander PHEV delivers an all-electric range of 24 miles—enough to cover most of the commute without starting the engine, especially when considering it’s the only mass-market plug-in hybrid on the market with DC fast-charging (CHAdeMO, like the Nissan Leaf). Keep driving past the charge, and it’s EPA-rated at 26 mpg combined.

Those aren’t numbers that keep up with the Toyota RAV4 Prime, Hyundai Santa Fe Plug-In Hybrid, or Kia Sorento Plug-In Hybrid, but none of those offer fast-charging.

Australia Post is about to add 20 electric delivery trucks to its fleet

Australia Post is about to add 20 electric delivery trucks to its fleet, but they will be assigned to short routes due to their limited driving range.

The Fuso eCanter has about the same size battery pack as a Hyundai Kona SUV

Because of the electric truck’s weight and 3000kg payload, the Fuso eCanter has a maximum driving range of 100km when fully loaded – rather than the 480km range of a similar battery pack in a smaller, lighter passenger car.

A diesel-powered delivery truck of similar size has about 300km of driving range between refills.

It would take about 30 hours to recharge the Fuso eCanter electric truck from empty using a household power socket, but Australia Post will have a number of fast-chargers that can reboot the electric trucks in about an hour.

Australia Post will lease 20 of the electric Fuso eCanter trucks for six years from October 2021.

In news from the USA, shifting the federal fleet to electric vehicles could save United States taxpayers $4.6 billion by 2030, according to a report released last month by the Electrification Coalition and Atlas Public Policy.

The report found that 97% of the light-duty vehicles and buses in the federal fleet could be replaced with EVs by 2030, and 40% could be made electric by 2025.

These totals don’t include the United States Postal Service fleet, which the report noted would be well-suited to electrification because mail trucks operate on predicable routes that don’t take them far from central depots.

The report also claims that, by 2025, EVs will be cheaper than internal-combustion vehicles for 99% of USPS light-duty vehicle applications. Going electric at that point could save $2.9 billion, and estimated savings rise to $4.3 billion by 2030, according to the report.

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