TABORRI BRUHL STANDS with the electric chainsaw he uses to cut firewood harvested from his New Haven property. Bruhl heats his home with wood and powers his home with solar energy. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
NEW HAVEN — Taborri Bruhl’s world changed four years ago on the day he learned the African western black rhino had gone extinct.
“It just struck me as, ‘That’s permanent.’ You can’t undo extinction,” said the 50-year-old New Haven resident.
While many grieved as part of the collective tsunami of sadness, Bruhl decided to act.
The 2017 Chevy Bolt—not the same as a Nissan Leaf.
Ok, so I finally drove a Bolt. And… it’s not the same as a Leaf. I know, this is not sounding like rocket science here. But, bear with me—time for the very very short review.
My quick impressions from a 30-minute drive…
— The Bolt is a smaller car, that feels lighter than the Leaf. BUT… I just looked up the curb weights, and the Leaf averages about 3,350 lbs, and the Bolt is actually a bit heavier, at 3,500 lbs. So let’s unpack this a bit. First, the Bolt is smaller. You can’t really see any of the hood, even when you lean forward a bit. The passenger is closer to the driver than in the Leaf, by what seemed like several inches, and the side windows angle in more at the top. The end result is a cabin that feels quite a bit tighter than the Leaf’s. The area behind the rear seat (the “trunk space”) is smaller, too. But… there’s no hump in the middle of the rear floor, so the rear seating area seemed plenty spacious. Then, it has more power than the Leaf, by a noticeable amount. On one start, I accidentally broke both front tires loose, which made me wonder 1) if it has traction control, and 2) how much faster it would be if it was rear-wheel drive like a Tesla. Its acceleration on a highway on-ramp was impressive, and it seemed to dart right up to 70 mph. So… I think it’s this power that makes it feel lighter than the Leaf, even though it isn’t.
But… (there might be lots of buts in this post…) it seemed quieter than the Leaf, sort of. Continue reading →
News Flash—The EV world is changing. It’s been a few weeks since we’ve returned, but I’m finally getting around to reporting on our trip to the St. Louis area, from Vermont, in the 2015 Leaf. In total, we traveled 3,010 miles, in a big loop, off and on over a period of about three weeks, camping along the way on the days that we traveled. We did a slightly shorter version of this trip two summers ago, and back then I did a once-a-day blog entry about the trip. In one sense, not too much has changed—the daily mechanics of this trip were largely similar, and I don’t feel that this aspect deserves much more electronic ink. On the other hand… there were some aspects of the trip that have changed drastically in the last two years, and they mostly relate to the EV world as a whole, and these aspects deserve some attention.
My daughter’s high-school presentation about permaculture; she was tasked with solving “a problem in agriculture”. She might have solved them all. I would change a word or two here and there, but on the whole I think she’s nailed it.
Google’s self-driving car, a possible forerunner to “Transportation as a Service”, or “TaaS”.
Imagine this—fully autonomous cars, legal in all fifty states by 2021. And shortly after that—no more car dealerships. Cars that last for half a million miles, but that very few people own. Radical disruption of the oil industry. No more gas stations. An extra trillion dollars a year in US consumers’ pockets. People paying to have their used gas cars towed away and disposed of. Unused pipelines.
These and more are the stunning predictions in a new report from a noted technology research group, whose authors see an approaching “perfect storm” of economic disruption, driven by self-reinforcing feedback loops that revolve around the combination of dropping prices and increased capabilities of electric vehicles, renewable power, and self-driving control systems.
Basically, they envision an entire transportation system that is akin to today’s Uber, but one that is coupled with electric vehicles and autonomous driving in ways that result in plummeting costs, and they predict that this unbalancing of costs will have ramifications that will upend much of life as we know it. Perhaps more importantly, they also conclude that this shift will happen much, much sooner than nearly anyone thinks it will. In fact, they predict that sales of new gas-powered vehicles to consumers will cease as soon as seven years from now. Continue reading →
Have you ever felt like your intellectual efforts were too narrowly focused? Or, that you were missing broader truths somehow? Both have occurred to me lately as I teach some of the esoteric details of economic theory in my AP Macroeconomics course. This is because most economics course material is more-or-less focused on only one type of economic system (a relatively free market economy), and only one general type of government (various forms of democracy). At the same time, it is clear that most macroeconomic thinkers fall way short of grasping the relationship between the market economy as we know it and the environmental destruction of the planet that we see all around. Is it possible that the ENTIRE economic system that we study is doomed to fail in the long run; that it is incompatible with sustainable human life on the planet? (I don’t actually think it is, but it is a question worth pondering).
I focused several lessons recently on these topics, but to help my students really grasp how these things are related, I gave them the following assignment. I’ll just put the assignment in this post, and in future posts I’ll explore some of the possible answers. I have friends who differ from me politically, some who are libertarian, and others who are quite conservative, and I wonder what answers they would give to these questions. So, without further ado–
All the Really Big Questions AP Macro Research and Writing Assignment
There are not really correct or incorrect answers here, but what is your thinking with regard to the following questions and topics? Don’t just make things up! There are varying opinions on all of these, but use your critical thinking skills. Your worldview should be cohesive!!! These three topics are deeply and completely interrelated.
Our economic system. From a worldwide perspective, is capitalism as we know it a good system? Why or why not? What would a “good system” of economics achieve? Is China on the right track with large degrees of state control? Is South Korea, with government support of certain industries? The US? Europe? Does success in one country come at the expense of another, or can all countries achieve success and prosperity? If “capitalism” isn’t an ideal system, what would replace it?
Hmmm, it seems that I don’t have time to write long posts. So, I’ll just write some short ones instead. Short post number one– the diffusion of innovation theory really helps make sense of our transition to electric vehicles. As I’ve long held, EVs are clearly better vehicles. They’re mechanically more simple, smoother, quieter, quicker, more reliable, they require less maintenance, they’re cheaper to operate, AND they can be powered with renewable power, AND the entire fuel distribution network (the electric grid, in this case) is dramatically more efficient, AND the vehicles themselves are more efficient (regenerative braking, no wasted heat…). EVs will also help solve the indeterminacy problems of renewable generation, and the list goes on. Eventually we will all drive EVs, and gas-powered cars with tailpipes spewing filth will be seen as archaic.
Because I have long seen this, I would be listed as a “visionary” in the diffusion of innovation model, and because I have acted on these ideas and bought two EVs, I am also an “early adopter”.
A pattern that many have noticed, however, as they study technology, is that diffusion often gets stuck between the early adopters and more widespread use. They call this barrier “The Chasm”. Early adopters typically adopt the innovation for reasons other than purely economic ones—in my case, I bought EV’s to lower my carbon footprint, and to try to do my part in getting humankind to operate in a more sustainable fashion. But the next phase of adoption, the early majority, consists of people who adopt the technology largely for economic reasons; they are pragmatists. “The chasm”, this barrier to adoption between the early adopter and the early majority, is something of a chicken and egg problem— in the case of EV’s, the lack of market share prevents the economies of scale from bringing down costs, and the higher costs prevent the market from expanding.
But, I’m pretty sure that right now, today, we are witnessing the electric vehicle crossing this adoption chasm after being a bit stuck for several years. And the reason? Tesla, and particularly the Model 3. The Model S (S, not 3!) has been groundbreaking in many, many ways, but it is still a $90,000 vehicle that most people can’t afford. The Model 3, however, promises to be a true game-changer.
Jumping-the-chasm impetus number one— the Tesla Model 3.
With a sticker price of below $40,000, and a range of over 200 miles, the Model 3 is likely to propel electric cars solidly into the mainstream (and 400,000 people have already paid deposits to ensure their place in the queue to get one). From there, all those natural advantages that EVs have will propel ever-further adoption—the chasm will have been crossed.
In addition, the announcement of the Model 3 prompted Chevrolet to do something akin to a magic hat trick Continue reading →
(The following is a transcript of the speech that I gave at the National Honor Society induction at our school last spring. Mr. X read it at the time, and felt that I should publish it here. In light of current challenges to environmental policy in the US, I think he might be right.)
Hey kids! Here I am, with my speech!
First, I just want to tell you all that it’s quite an honor for you all to ask me to do this. A few weeks ago Chloe, and Matt, Nihdi, and a few others all came into my room and stood around my desk and kind of stared at me… it was a little bit freaky. I didn’t quite know what they were up to, but then they asked me to come and do this talk tonight. And like I said, I am honored that you asked. So, the kids told me that speech should be not too long, and maybe inspirational. Hmmm. Then Mr. Berryhill told me that it could also be “aspirational”. Hmmmm.
So I thought about this for a few days. What could I tell you guys that was inspirational?
So as some of you know, I live up north of Middlebury, and I drive an hour each way in my electric car. I like to drive anyway, and I enjoy the time; I sometimes tell people that it’s a break between kids at home and kids at work. Anyway, it’s some good thinking time, I seem to work through a lot of mental problems on my drives. So I was thinking about what I could tell you guys that was “inspirational”.
And then I had this little epiphany, just driving along, because it really struck me that life itself was pretty inspirational. We’re all pretty lucky, to live where we do, in the times that we do. AND, holy moly, for you guys, just starting out, it should be even more inspirational. Continue reading →
A new woodstove in the Bruhl house. Efficiency—still the goose that lays the golden egg…
Well, our trusty 1972 Vermont Castings Defiant woodstove, a hand-me-down from a close relative, finally had to be retired. It had developed enough air leaks that it was easy to overfire, and each time it got too hot it cracked or warped a little bit more, to the point where it was becoming difficult to keep it in check and was becoming a slight safety hazard. So, we went shopping for a new one, and settled on a large Dutchwest model (Dutchwest is now owned by Vermont Castings), the 2479, a non-catalytic stove that meets the strictest EPA emissions standards.
And, since I feel that efficiency is one large key to our sustainable future, I’m writing this post because I’m amazed at the improved efficiency of this new stove. I didn’t quite believe that the old Defiant could be topped— I burn well-seasoned hardwood, and we burn hot, clean fires. But, whereas older stoves might have been 40-50% efficient, the new ones with carefully designed secondary burn chambers are 80% or more efficient, and the result is much more heat from the wood that is burned. The difference is noticeable—the new stove brings the house up to temperature far faster than the Defiant ever did, AND does it with less wood. Continue reading →
Video above: Nature is beautiful, and fragile, and it needs our protection.
Ok, I desperately need to write a post here, and to catch up a bit. I ran for State Rep, it was fun, we ran a strong campaign, the election was close, but I didn’t quite make it. So, now I’ve been trying to catch back up with all the things in my life that got put on hold during the race. And, despite a lack of posts here for the past five months, I’ve certainly had plenty of sustainability thoughts. In fact, that might be part of the problem with getting started again, because I’m not quite sure where to begin. So, a short post here about a simple idea—
I read something that Al Gore said the other week after the election, that “There’s no time for despair“. I think he’s right. True, we now seem to have a Trump administration that threatens to halt or reverse progress on protecting the environment. BUT, I’ve said all along, for years and years—individual action comes first (one such post here) and government action will follow, eventually, when there becomes a critical mass of voters. With a Trump administration we may have a setback on the government side of things, but we still have individual action. We can still affect the demand side of these equations, and this is an equally powerful tool.
And, in the “no time for despair” department, the challenges in the world have not abated. 2016 is nearly certain to be the hottest year on record. Giraffes were just recently listed as being in danger of extinction. Elephants, gorillas, and lions might all soon be gone from the wild or even extinct. Coral reefs have suffered devastating bleaching and die-off events, worldwide. Monarch butterfly numbers have plunged by 90% or more, in just the last decade. Humankind is still growing by 200,000 or more people every day, and human development is causing devastating habitat loss worldwide. Seas are being overfished, plastic pollution of the oceans continues unabated. This depressing list goes on. (I expected this– I wrote a post in 2014, “Brace Yourself“, about how things will get worse before they get better).
Giraffe in Kenya. Recent studies have shown giraffe numbers to be dropping precipitously.
On the other hand—the good news also continues nearly unabated. The world installed 73 gigawatts of solar last year (that’s about 200 megawatts every day), and almost as much wind generation, and those numbers are still increasing. Thirty or more countries have reached grid parity with regard to solar, and grid-parity for the entire world is expected by the end of 2017. Panels are increasingly efficient, as are the production lines that make them, and new panels today pay back their energy debt in only two years. Battery technology is improving, with power densities doubling in the last five years, even as prices have fallen by more than half. Affordable electric vehicles are coming off of production lines today that go well over 200 miles on a charge. More charging stations for electric vehicles are being installed daily, and many of them are powered by renewable energy. Tesla just announced a new solar roof that it will soon sell at prices similar to conventional roofs. President Obama recently expanded a marine protected area northwest of Hawaii to include over a half million square miles, making it the largest protected area on the planet. Underground high-voltage DC lines are being built to move renewable power long distances, including one in my state of Vermont. LED lighting continues to be perfected, and is an order of magnitude more efficient than the incandescent bulbs of yesteryear. Net-zero houses are becoming common. World poverty has been cut in half in the last twenty years. This list of good things goes, on, too, at the same time as the list of bad things.
So we’re in a race, and the outcome isn’t exactly clear. That’s why I agree with Al Gore’s statement—we don’t have time for despair. Yes, many of us are deeply concerned about the impact of a Trump administration with regard to sustainability. Yes, government action in the US is likely to halt or even reverse in some cases. But we still have the power of demand, and we still have the power of individual action. So channel your concern into making a difference. Buy or lease an electric vehicle. Install solar panels or buy renewable power. Reduce your consumption. Weatherize your house. Join a group that is part of the solution. Vote with your dollars when you shop. Buy organic, and Fair Trade. Buy quality products from socially responsible producers and make them last. And don’t give up on the political process—there will be more elections, and more votes. It’s going to be a long hard slog, and there will be some setbacks, but eventually we will prevail.