By Ben Jervey
Fueling U.S. Forward, the Koch-funded campaign to "rebrand" fossil fuels as "positive" and "sustainable," has released a new video attacking the Dirty Secrets of Electric Cars, signaling a possible strategic pivot from straightforward fossil fuel cheerleading to electric vehicle (EV) and clean energy bashing.
The video and accompanying Dirty Secrets of Electric Cars web page feature blatant factual errors, misleading statements and glaring omissions (all of which will be debunked thoroughly below), while essentially attacking electric cars for using the same materials needed to manufacture cell phones, laptops, defense equipment and gas-powered cars, and which are even a critical component of the very oil refining processes that form the foundation of the Koch fortunes.
When Fueling U.S. Forward launched last August, the organization's president Charles Drevna described the campaign as an effort to rebrand fossil fuels by focusing on the "positive" aspects of coal, oil and gas. This newly released video seems to further confirm investigative journalist Peter Stone's reporting from last spring that the Kochs were "plotting a multimillion dollar assault on electric vehicles."
How do we know that Fueling U.S. Forward is this Koch-funded campaign? First, Charles Drevna, who is leading the effort, developed the concept while serving as a distinguished senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research, a pro-fossil fuel think tank that was partially founded by Charles Koch and that is run by a longtime lobbyist for Koch Industries. Second, and more concretely, Drevna told DeSmog's Sharon Kelly that he was working with Koch Industries' board member (and longtime Koch brothers' confidant) James Mahoney on the campaign and that it was funded by "one of the brothers."
Echoes of America Rising Squared
Fueling U.S. Forward and America Rising Squared (or AR2) have no public affiliation. Yet within a few weeks in June, both groups launched attacks on electric vehicles using the same misleading arguments and nearly identical language. While the former group is a known Koch-funded campaign to promote fossil fuels, the latter has close ties to the GOP establishment, and has invested heavily in promoting alleged hypocrisy among climate action advocates, even paying "trackers" to follow around the likes of Tom Steyer and Bill McKibben.
In June, as DeSmog reported, AR2 published a white paper that purports to reveal the "human and environmental costs of 'clean energy,'" taking electric vehicles and solar panels to task for their reliance on rare Earth metals. As we wrote at the time:
Here's what the white paper doesn't mention: many of the very same rare Earth minerals that the AR2 report bashes are critical components of cell phones, computers, cameras, military and defense equipment, and even traditional gas-powered vehicles. What's more, the petroleum refining process is critically dependent on some of the same rare Earths that AR2 lambasts in this white paper.
The new video from Fueling U.S. Forward echoes the AR2 talking points, almost to the word. (For a closer analysis of the AR2 report, see the original DeSmog article).
Debunking the New Fueling U.S. Forward Electric Car Attack Video
The Fueling U.S. Forward video (which is still unlisted on Youtube, but available to be shared and viewed by anyone with the link) is short enough that we can walk through it line by line.
"This is an electric car/ Car companies say it's a clean alternative/ But electric cars are more toxic to humans than average cars."
This depends on an exceedingly narrow definition of "toxic." If you only consider the materials that go into the batteries of electric cars versus the batteries of "average" cars, then this is maybe defensible. But if you consider the materials that go into the entire vehicle, as well as the fuel used to power the vehicle, than EVs are far cleaner and less toxic.
First, there's the fact that gas-powered vehicles require some of the same "toxic" rare Earth metals that the video criticizes. (More on that below). Then there's the even bigger issue that tailpipe emissions—including ozone, particulate matter and other smog-forming chemicals—are the dominant source of ground level air pollution, and nearly one half of all Americans live in areas that don't meet federal minimum air quality standards. In fact, emissions from road transportation cause roughly 53,000 premature deaths every year in the U.S., according to MIT researchers.
"Their batteries are made of rare Earth metals/ Like cobalt, lithium…"
First, a fact check: cobalt and lithium aren't rare Earth metals. This isn't to say they aren't problematic—cobalt mining in particular is plagued by some very serious environmental and labor problems, as documented in in-depth reports by Amnesty International and the Washington Post. But these problems are economy-wide. Cobalt is used widely in the lithium-ion batteries that power most cell phones and laptops. (See the subheadline of the very Washington Post article that the FUSF video cites: Tracing the path from deadly hand-dug mines in Congo to consumers' phones and laptops). There's no question that lithium-ion battery manufacturers have to clean up their supply chains, but that's something that Apple and Panasonic and Samsung are as responsible for as Tesla and Ford and General Motors.
Actually, cerium is used in nickel metal hydride batteries that are common in hybrid motors, but isn't used in the lithium-ion batteries that have been utilized in plug-in vehicles in nearly a decade.
But cerium oxides are also found on every catalytic converter fitted into an internal combustion vehicle. That's right—every gas-powered car relies on this rare earth metal that Fueling U.S. Forward criticizes.
"That are extracted mostly overseas/ From countries like China/ And Congo/ Where pollution is rampant/ And children are forced into oppressive labor."
Again, electric vehicle manufacturers must do their part to clean up the mining of these metals. But so do the cell phone and laptop makers, companies that supply communications and combat equipment to the Department of Defense, satellite communications system operators, medical device manufacturers, and so on.
"These metals are scarce/ Their extraction is dangerous/ And many of the batteries end up in landfills"
This last point is simply untrue. First of all, very few electric vehicle batteries have even run through their usable lives. Once they do, companies are already lining up to start recycling them, either for use on the electric grid or to be disassembled and the materials reused.
"This makes electric cars toxic/ For both people and the planet."
Some of the components of electric car batteries have localized health and environmental impacts. But compared to the alternative—internal combustion vehicles spewing carbon and other air pollution—electric cars truly are much cleaner from cradle to grave.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that "cerium is used in the batteries of electric vehicles," whereas it is actually used in nickel metal hydride batteries common in hybrid motors, no longer in plug-in vehicles. We appreciate those who reached out to note the error.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.