More Diesel Cheating ... It's Time to Say Goodbye to the Internal Combustion Engine
The news that Fiat-Chrysler is the latest auto-maker caught having massively—and probably illegally—exceeded allowable emission levels for its diesels cars raises a major question: Will this crisis shake Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne's long standing bet against history, in particular against the replacement of the internal combustion engine by the electric drive train?
Marchionne stands almost alone in the auto industry in denying the electric future—but now that he too faces an existential crisis over diesel cheating, how much longer can he—or his shareholders—cling to the combustion past?
Chrysler, we now know, installed software designed to deceive emission testing procedures on 100,000 U.S. Dodge Ram and Jeep Cherokee diesels from 2014-2016. It also apparently pulled similar manipulations in Europe. The company has agreed to recall and fix the vehicles, but denies it broke the law—standard operating procedure for auto companies when first caught exceeding pollution limits.
Fiat stands accused of having installed similar emission "cheat" devices on much larger numbers of cars it sold in Europe—it's not yet clear how widespread the issue is, but this feels very much like the early stages of what could be a major scandal. The European Union has initiated legal action against Italy for failing to adequately enforce EU standards for auto emissions testing on cars made by Fiat. And the University of the Ruhr reported that Fiat installed cheat devices on the Fiat 500X, a compact diesel widely sold in Europe.
The U.S. violations were clearly part of the company's strategy to use somewhat more efficient diesels to meet increasingly stringent U.S. fuel efficiency and carbon emission rules while clinging to a vehicle mix very stuffed full of SUV's and almost entirely devoid of the zero emission electric vehicles which other auto makers are relying on to average out with their big cars. (Chrysler has consistently shown the worst fuel economy performance of any U.S. auto manufacturer).
Marchionne has historically derided the future of the electric vehicle, at one point urging customers not to buy Fiat's EV 500 because "I lose $10,000 making every one." He is also the major auto executive least interested in producing standards sedans for ordinary customers, cancelling many of Chrysler's biggest selling sedans and emphasizing SUV's even more heavily.
Without a strong car line, and with no meaningful EV presence, Marchionne really had no choice but to rely on diesels to cut fuel consumption—regardless of the inability of small diesels in particular to meet pollution requirements. Now he, like Volkswagen, is nakedly exposed as having allowed his company to sell vehicles whose emissions kill its customer and their neighbors—a new study this week calculated that the excess emissions from diesels that fail to meet pollution standards already kills 38,000 people a year globally. Now the burden from non-compliant Fiats and Chryslers will be added to that total.
The diesel scandal forced Volkswagen to make a major shift away from diesels and towards electric drive trains. Will Marchionne follow? After all, the other six of the big seven auto manufacturers are each far ahead of Chrysler in their investment in the electric future. But Marchionne has said that Fiat's next likely model of electric car won't arrive until after he has retired; he worries that allowing electrification to get a firm hold in the auto market will open the industry up to new competitors; and the SUV heavy product line he deploys doesn't offer easy opportunities for early electrification.
But if he stays his electro-sceptic course, Marchionne is betting even more heavily against what appear to be the historic trends. The two fastest growing auto markets in the world, China and India, have national governments sending strong signals that they plan to phase out market access for the internal combustion engine altogether, perhaps as soon as 2030, as does the biggest market within the U.S., California. A recent Financial Times story reported that Torotrak, an engineering company which a year ago was lining up contracts with auto makers to improve the efficiency of their internal combustion engines, is now being cut off from contracts because the companies have decided, "the shift to electric vehicles is accelerating and we have only limited R&D money to invest and we are going to put all of it into the electric car revolution."
The head of Shell Oil, one of the ultimate losers in an electrified transport sector, warned that "the energy transition is global. It must be embraced. It is unstoppable." And it means, he spelled out, electric vehicles. "The world needs to make a massive shift towards consuming energy as electricity," he said.
While short-term the scandal is bad news for Fiat Chrysler, its shareholders and its workers, it may give the company one last time to catch up with history—and recognize that electrification is the future of the auto.
To learn more about Carl Pope's views on the environment, energy and climate, read Climate of Hope which he has co-authored with former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and which can be purchased online or from your local book store.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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