EVs 101: Your Guide to Electric Vehicles
By Patrick Rogers
If you have ever considered making the switch to an environmentally friendly electric vehicle, don't drag your feet. Though EV prices are falling, and states are unveiling more and more public charging stations and plug-in-ready parking spots, the federal government is doing everything it can to slam the brakes on our progress away from gas-burning internal combustion engines. President Trump, likely pressured by his allies in the fossil fuel industry, has threatened to end the federal tax credits that have already helped put hundreds of thousands of EVs on the road—a move bound to harm not only our environment but our economy, too. After all, the manufacturing and sale of EVs, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids supported 197,000 jobs in 2017, according to the most recent U.S. Energy and Employment Report.
In the face of the administration's hostility to combating climate change, the action of individual citizens grows ever more important. The U.S. is the world's second-largest producer of greenhouse gases, and transportation accounts for the largest share of pollution of any sector of the economy. Driving an EV or hybrid gives us an opportunity to help rein that in.
Cleaner cars also make good economic sense. The fuel efficiency of cars and light-duty trucks operating in electric mode is equivalent to up to 100 miles a gallon in a conventional automobile, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuel Data Center. That translates into average annual savings of close to $800 for EV drivers.
Plus, EVs are just fun to drive. They're practically silent, handle beautifully, have no tailpipes (and therefore no tailpipe emissions), and produce instant torque, making acceleration on the road fast and smooth. "It's a great driving experience—you hear people talk about drivers with an 'EV smile,'" said Luke Tonachel, director of NRDC's Clean Vehicles and Fuels Project.
Take advantage of incentives while they last.
Consumers can currently buy and lease EVs at a considerable discount thanks to tax credits and other incentives offered by the federal government, states and localities. The widely touted IRS Plug-In Electric Vehicle Credit, for instance, saves buyers up to $7,500 on the purchase of qualifying cars. States have their own incentives, including a rebate of up to $7,000 for buying an electric SUV or pickup truck in Colorado and a credit of up to $2,500 for leasing a plug-in EV in Massachusetts, for example. Benefits like local electricity discounts, reduced tolls, free parking, unrestricted access to HOV lanes and rebates for installing home charging equipment further sweeten the deal. For a full list of incentives currently on offer, you can search by zip code here.
But the emphasis is on currently. The game-changing federal tax credit for EVs first offered in 2009 is limited to the first 200,000 EVs sold by manufacturers. EV industry leader Tesla has already hit that cap, and General Motors may have just hit it as well. Ford, Nissan and Honda could reach their limits in the next two to three years. One tax quarter after this happens, the tax credit for their buyers drops to half the total, before phasing out entirely after a year. A coalition of carmakers and some members of Congress have proposed lifting the caps and extending the federal program for 10 years, but they face opposition from lawmakers with ties to the fossil fuel industry who want to cancel any subsidies for clean energy.
Consider your (many) EV options.
With commitments from the world's major carmakers to eliminate internal combustion in their cars before 2025 or 2030, the design, production and delivery of EVs has shifted into high gear. More than 40 EV and plug-in hybrids from a dozen manufacturers are now on the market, and carmakers will soon roll out many more models, including lots of electric SUVs. Prices range from around $30,000 for the Ford Focus Electric and Nissan LEAF to upwards of $140,000 for Tesla's top-end all-electric Model X and the hybrid BMW i8 coupe.
Finding the EV that's right for you can be a challenge, due to a combination of market forces and the uneven playing field created by the availability of tax credits in some states but not others. For example, residents of California, where the vast majority of EVs are sold (including a record 23,710 in August 2018, or nearly 10 percent of all cars purchased in the state that month), can find many more options than consumers almost anywhere else. But that's expected to shift now that California's Zero Emissions Vehicles program has been adopted in nine other states, requiring a certain percentage of automakers' annual sales to be electric cars and trucks. Together, those states—Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont—represent about one-third of the total U.S. automobile market.
For help in making a choice, be sure to take advantage of dozens of websites and social media forums where EV drivers exchange the latest information about new models, test drives, car reviews and tools to help find new and used EVs for sale near you.
Don't be afraid to buy used.
If you're feeling outpriced by the options available at a dealership near you, consider buying a used EV. In general, Edmunds, the automotive industry research group, finds that they depreciate in value more quickly than internal combustion cars, which is bad news for potential sellers but creates bargains for would-be buyers. Though savings vary by make and model, the average used EV costs 43 to 72 percent less than a new one, according to Edmunds. Two- or three-year-old EVs have fewer moving parts than used conventional cars, so they show less wear and tear and will require less maintenance. (And, as with all EVs, they require no oil changes.) Like all battery-operated devices, they do experience battery-life degradation over time. But it is common for automakers to warranty batteries for at least eight years or 100,000 miles—and they are required to provide warranties covering 10 years/150,000 miles in the states with Zero Emissions Vehicles programs.
Shrug off any feelings of "range anxiety."
Today's EVs offer a median per-charge range of 154 miles, which goes a long way toward easing drivers' worries about running out of juice in the middle of nowhere. Given that the average American driver uses his or her vehicle 29.2 miles a day, you can get through much of the week before you'll need to recharge—which most EV owners do while they sleep at night, either through an outlet in their own garage or via a communal port at a co-op or condo complex.
Finding the nearest charging station when you're on the go just got a lot easier, too: Along with excellent online resources like ChargeHub and Plugshare, Google Maps has added a locator feature for smartphones, which includes information about the business where the station is found, charging speeds and port types.
Overall, 2018 was the biggest year yet for state-authorized utility investments in transportation electrification, with more than 25 states across the country committing to support various EV infrastructure programs. A major initiative is underway to create an EV-friendly corridor with fast-charging posts on highways in eight western states, and another one in the planning stage would link Montreal and Washington, DC. You'll also soon be pleasantly surprised at the number of options you have for charging away from home. Two billion dollars from Volkswagen's diesel testing scandal settlement has been earmarked for building out EV infrastructure around the country, and cities from Atlanta to Boston have passed ordinances requiring EV-ready parking places.
Take advantage of low-cost charging perks.
Low-cost time-of-use plans from local utilities keep the cost of charging down to the equivalent of about $1 a gallon of gas for conventional cars, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and the cost isn't subject to the volatility in the oil market that makes prices at the gas pump unpredictable. If you charge primarily at night, you may be able to access off-peak rates, or your costs may even be zeroed out completely. For example, some utilities offer incentives to plug in an onboard diagnostics device that transmits charging data, and then pay drivers a flat fee when they don't charge during peak hours. And lest you worry about sacrificing convenience, drivers can simply program their EVs to draw power automatically at a certain time of night to avoid having to run out to plug in. So greening your personal transportation by going electric isn't just good for your wallet, the economy, and the planet—it also won't cause you to lose any sleep.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Independence Day weekend is a busy time for coastal communities as people flock to the beaches to soak up the sun during the summer holiday. This year is different. Some of the country's most popular beach destinations in Florida and California have decided to close their beaches to stop the surge in coronavirus cases.
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For some combat veterans, the Fourth of July is not a time to celebrate the independence of the country they love. Instead, the holiday is a terrifying ordeal. That's because the noise of fireworks – loud, sudden, and reminiscent of war – rocks their nervous system. Daily fireworks in many U.S. cities in recent weeks have no doubt been interfering with the sleep and peace of mind of thousands of veterans.
What Is PTSD?<p><a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">PTSD</a> can occur when someone is exposed to extreme exposure traumatic experience. Typically, the trauma involves a threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence. Along with war veterans, it happens to refugees; to victims of gun violence, rape and other physical assaults; and to survivors of car accidents and natural disasters like earthquakes or tornadoes.</p><p>PTSD can also happen by witnessing trauma or its aftermath, often the case with <a href="https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd" target="_blank">first responders</a> and <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-many-faces-anxiety-and-trauma/202006/invisible-wounds-the-frontline-heroes" target="_blank">front-line workers</a>.</p><p>All this adds up to tens of millions of Americans. Up to 30% of combat veterans and first responders, and 8% of civilians, <a href="https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/epidemiology.asp" target="_blank">fulfill the diagnostic criteria for PTSD</a>. And that criteria is not easily met: symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive trauma memories, difficulty sleeping, avoidance of reminders of trauma, negative emotions, and what we call "hyperarousal symptoms."</p>
Fireworks Can Trigger Flashbacks<p>Hyperarousal, a core component of PTSD, occurs when a person is hyper-alert to any sign of threat – constantly on edge, easily startled and continuously screening the environment.</p><p>Imagine, for instance, stepping down the stairs in the dark after hearing a noise; you're worried an intruder might be downstairs. Then a totally unpredictable loud sound explodes right outside your window.</p><p>For people with PTSD, that sound – reminiscent of gunfire, a thunderstorm or a car crash – <a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">can cause</a> a panic attack or trigger flashbacks, a sensory experience that makes it seem as if the old trauma is happening here and now. Flashbacks can be so severe that combat veterans may suddenly drop to the ground, the same way they would when an explosion took place in combat. Later, the experience can trigger nightmares, insomnia or worsening of other PTSD symptoms.</p><p>Those of us who set off fireworks need to ask ourselves: Are those few minutes of fun worth the hours, days, or weeks of torment that will begin for some of our friends and neighbors – including many who put their lives on the line to protect us?</p>
Who Else Is Affected?<p>Millions of others, though not diagnosed with PTSD, may similarly be affected by fireworks. <a href="https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics" target="_blank">One in five Americans</a> have an anxiety disorder, many with symptoms of hyperarousal. Also impacted are those with autism or developmental disabilities; they find it difficult to cope with the noise, or just the drastic change from life routines. Then there are people who have to work, holiday or not: nurses, physicians and first responders, who have to be up at 4 a.m. for a 30-hour shift.</p><h3>How to Reduce the Negative Impact</h3><p>There are ways to reduce how fireworks affect others:</p><ul><li>For those with PTSD, the unexpected nature of fireworks is probably the worst part. So at least make it as predictable as possible. Do it in designated areas during designated times. Don't explode one, for instance, two hours after the designated time window. And avoid setting them off <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/04/fireworks-ptsd-fourth-of-july-veterans-shooting-survivors" target="_blank">on the 3rd</a>. People are less prepared then.</li><li>If you're aware that a veteran or trauma survivor lives in the neighborhood, move the noise as far as possible from their home and give them prior warning. Consider putting a sign in your front yard noting the time you'll set the fireworks.</li><li>Remember, it doesn't have to be super loud to make it fun. Consider using <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/504964-its-time-for-silent-fireworks" target="_blank">silent fireworks</a>. And you don't have to be the one who lights the fireworks. Simply enjoy watching while your city or township does it safely.</li></ul>
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By Jeff Berardelli
For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world's top climate modeling groups have been "running hot" – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.
International Effort to Evaluate Climate Models<p>For the past 25 years the international community has been evaluating and comparing the world's most sophisticated climate models produced by various teams at universities, research centers, and government agencies. The effort is organized by the World Climate Research Programme under the United Nations World Meteorological Organization.</p><p>Climate models are complicated computer programs composed of millions of lines of code that calculate the physical properties and interactions between the main climate forces like the atmosphere, oceans, and solar input. But models also go a lot further, incorporating other systems like ice sheets, forests, and the biosphere, to name a few. The models are then used to simulate the real-world climate system and project how certain changes, like added pollution or land-use changes, will alter the climate.</p><p>Every few years there is a new comprehensive international evaluation called the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP). In the sixth such effort, known as CMIP6 and now under way, experts are reviewing about 100 models.</p><p>Information gleaned from this effort will act as a scientific foundation for the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) next major assessment report, scheduled for release in 2021. The goal of the report – the sixth in 30 years – is to inform the international community about how much the climate has changed, and, importantly, how much change can be expected in coming decades.</p>
A Conundrum Emerges<p>Over the past year, the CMIP6 collection of models being reviewed threw researchers an unexpected curveball: a significant number of the climate model runs showed substantially more global warming than previous model versions had projected. If accurate, the international climate goals would be nearly impossible to achieve, and there would be significantly more extreme impacts worldwide.</p><p>A foundational experiment in every report addresses "sensitivity": If you double levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) that were in the air before the Industrial Revolution, how much warming do the models show? This doubling is not expected for a few more decades, but it is a quick way to communicate the critical role of greenhouse gases in changing the climate.</p><p>The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 35% since the 1800s because of the burning of fossil fuels. As a result, global temperatures have already increased by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit.</p><p>In the first IPCC assessment report, published in 1990, the answer to that question about the impact of doubling carbon dioxide gave a fairly wide range of results – between 2.7-8 degrees F of global warming. Since then, four more assessments issued six to seven years apart reached nearly the exact same conclusion on sensitivity.</p><p>But that sensitivity may, for the first time, change significantly in next year's assessment. Why? Because starting last year, numerous models in the CMIP6 collection displayed even bigger spikes in temperature upon doubling of CO2 concentrations. We're in serious trouble if the climate sensitivity falls in the mid or upper range of the previous assessments. But if the new, higher estimates are correct, the impacts on civilization would be catastrophic.</p>
In the above CarbonBrief interactive visualization, the bars offer a comparison in the range of sensitivity in the CMIP5 models (gray) and CMIP6 models (blue).
New and Encouraging Evidence Is Emerging<p>At first, scientists were uncertain whether the new model runs were on to something, so the international modeling community dug in to produce multiple studies. The results are not yet conclusive, but a gradual collective sigh of relief seems to be materializing.</p><p>"Evidence is emerging from multiple directions that the models which show the greatest warming in the CMIP6 ensemble are likely too warm," explains Dr. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.</p><p>For example, <a href="https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2020-23/" target="_blank">a study</a> released April 28 evaluated the past performance of the models making up the CMIP6 ensemble. The team assigned weights to each model based upon historical performance of their warming projections, weighing the poorer performing models less. By doing so, both the mean warming and the range of warming scenarios in the CMIP6 ensemble decreased, meaning the warmest models were the ones with weaker historical performance. This result supports a finding that a subset of the models are too warm.</p><p>That conclusion is supported by another new study evaluating one particular model – the Community Earth System Model (CESM2) – that showed greater warming. Using that model, the researchers simulated the climate in the early Eocene era, about 50 million years ago, when rainforests thrived in the Arctic and Antarctic. The CESM2 simulated a historical climate that seems way too warm compared with what is known about that era from geological data, indicating that the model is likely also too warm in its future projections.</p><p>Two other recent studies of the CMIP6 models being evaluated use clever analysis methods to <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2019-86/&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNHYwFB-1KqndGfJ4sXdrrm9DpbLaQ" target="_blank">narrow the range</a> of future warming projections and also <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/12/eaaz9549&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNEhKY1YZ19qgjSZ_hJM14JmzqXOXw" target="_blank">reduce the projected warming</a> of the CMIP6 models by 10 to 15%.</p><p>Through the intensive research spurred by the CMIP6 climate-sensitivity curveball, scientists have been able to turn a confounding challenge into a confidence builder, providing even greater certainty than they had before in both the abilities of the climate science community and in the computer models used. Moreover, the experience has helped unearth uncertainties remaining in the modeling process.</p><p>Experts conclude much of this uncertainty probably lies in the complexity of clouds. "We have been looking as a community at why the models with greater warming are doing what they are doing – and it's tied to cloud feedbacks in the southern mid-latitudes mostly," explains Schmidt.</p><p>In fact, <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/26/eaba1981" target="_blank">a new study</a> addressing the increased sensitivity was published in Science Advances stating, "Cloud feedbacks and cloud-aerosol interactions are the most likely contributors to the high values and increased range of ECS [sensitivity] in CMIP6."</p>
Understanding the Complexity of Clouds<p>It's long been known in climate modeling circles that cloud processes and interactions are a potential weak link for climate modeling. That reality has been brought front and center by the urgent challenges posed during this CMIP6 evaluation period, but the current evaluation of models also provides an opportunity for discovery and improvement.</p><p>Cloud complexity comes from the reality that clouds have a multitude of sizes, altitudes, and textures. Some clouds cool Earth by providing shade, reflecting sunlight back into space. Others act like a blanket, trapping heat and warming the world.</p><p>Given that about <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/icesat_light.html" target="_blank">70% of the globe</a> is covered by clouds at any given time, it's no surprise that they play an integral role in regulating the climate. The challenge is to figure out which types of clouds will increase, which will decrease, and what the net effect will be on cooling or warming as the climate changes.</p><p><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0310-1" target="_blank">One study</a> last year reached an alarming conclusion: Left unchecked, the release of CO2 into the atmosphere may lead to a tipping point where shallow low clouds disappear – leading to runaway, catastrophic warming of nearly 15 degrees F. While scientists see that outcome as only a remote possibility, it drives home the urgent need to better understand clouds.</p><p>"We have a saying at NOAA: It isn't rocket science – it's much, much harder than that," quips Dr. Chris Fairall, ATOMIC's lead investigator. "One of the major problems for modeling is there is not clean separation of scales." The photo below is one that Fairall took from the NOAA P-3 aircraft.</p>
Investigating the Secrets of Clouds<p>To address the urgent question about the dynamics and role of clouds in a warming world, NOAA and European partners launched their ongoing research effort unprecedented in scale. The U.S. contribution, ATOMIC – short for Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Interaction Campaign – is an international science mission that was featured recently on "<a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/video/study-aims-to-examine-links-between-climate-change-and-clouds/" target="_blank">CBS This Morning: Saturday</a>."</p>
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To hear many journalists tell it, the spring of 2020 has brought a series of extraordinary revelations. Look at what the nation has learned: That our health-care system was not remotely up to the challenge of a deadly pandemic. That our economic safety net was largely nonexistent. That our vulnerability to disease and death was directly tied to our race and where we live. That our political leadership sowed misinformation that left people dead. That systemic racism and the killing of Black people by police is undiminished, despite decades of protest and so many Black lives lost.
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