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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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SB-50: To Save our Planet?

Uploaded: Mar 26, 2019
Yesterday State Senator Scott Wiener and Berkeley professor Daniel Kammen wrote an op-ed in the New York Times suggesting that SB-50, and bills like it, are needed to address climate change.

In a nutshell, their argument is:
- Car transportation is California’s biggest source of emissions.
- Vehicle electrification is not happening fast enough.
- We must get people out of single-occupancy cars and reduce long commutes.
- Restrictive housing policies and sprawl are exacerbating this. More people are driving farther, and mass transit becomes less effective.
- To fix this, we need SB-50 (and bills like it).
- It has many other benefits as well: improved social, racial, health, and economic equality.

The authors conclude by saying that housing and transit are largely under city and state control, unlike many other climate policy challenges. And so they see the growing interest in densification, mass transit, and YIMBY as “perhaps the most hopeful development in the American climate movement in recent years.”

I am interested in your thoughts on this. In particular, is it appropriate to position SB-50 as a climate bill? I am having some difficulty with that. I worry when climate fixes are bundled in with complex and contentious topics like housing densification, health care for all, or a living wage, among others. I understand why politicians are doing that, and there is certainly some value to looking holistically at several issues at once. But my concern is that reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is so important and so urgent that I would rather we address it more directly and forcefully.

So my take is that it is misleading to portray SB-50 as a climate bill, and in particular one focused on vehicle emissions. Can we really change how we live and build our cities faster than we can electrify our vehicles? Build out charging infrastructure? Develop an effective system of electric buses and other transit? Put a meaningful tax on natural gas, so we just leave more of it in the ground? AFAIK, these are all under city and state control. So why the alternative focus on this “most hopeful development”, which arguably distracts from these simpler and (imo) more effective and immediate fixes?

Notes and References

1. The authors cite a recent CARB report as a basis for much of their argument. From my quick reading, that report argues for more housing for the health of society as much as for improving emissions, which seems odd coming from CARB. But I need to do a more thorough read.

2. Interestingly, this FAQ for an earlier study by Kammen that I covered in this blog post indicates that denser suburbs have a higher household carbon footprint (HCF), up to a point. “When classifying suburbs into low, medium and high population, more populous and population dense suburbs have higher HCF. Large suburbs have population densities 3 times larger than mid-sized suburbs, and 6% higher carbon footprints…. This is largely because more population dense suburbs have higher incomes than less dense suburbs. Higher incomes translates to important social, cultural and economic benefits, but higher incomes also generally correspond with higher consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.”

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Comments

 +   96 people like this
Posted by Dan, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 26, 2019 at 10:42 am

SB-50 is a power/money grab by people who stand to benefit by it financially but not suffer any of its negative consequences. It is also poor policy ... throwing in "affordable housing" and "climate change" is just a way to try to force people to "take their medicine" ... i.e. agree to further limitations on the already minimal control we have over quality of life and neighborhoods we choose to live in.


 +   11 people like this
Posted by dbaron, a resident of University South,
on Mar 26, 2019 at 10:54 am

dbaron is a registered user.

I think it's absolutely a climate bill. Concern over human-caused climate change is one of the major reasons I advocate for denser housing. The sprawl of US development is one of the major reasons US greenhouse gas emissions are higher than other western countries.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Mar 26, 2019 at 11:06 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@dbaron -- Thanks for your comment. Not to be a pain, but do you have a reference for your claim that sprawl is a major reason for our higher emissions than other western countries? I ask only because (for example) this FAQ by Kammen says very clearly that "There is no correlation between population density and average household carbon footprints of zip codes, cities, counties, or metropolitan areas .... It would be incorrect to say population density is correlated with lower household carbon footprints." So I would appreciate any reference you have to back up your claim.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Cliff Bargar, a resident of another community,
on Mar 26, 2019 at 11:47 am

Sherry, I believe the authors are suggesting that for individual households there are other factors that are stronger predictors for emissions than density. The point immediately preceding the one that you reference seems to be the relevant one for the impact sprawl has on collective emissions:
"Note: this is the primary finding of the paper that is used in the title. The implication for policy is that suburban sprawl undermines, or cancels, the benefits of urban population density. Urban development planning should focus on impacts at metropolitan as well as more local scales, as is typical in regional transportation planning."

So sprawl is absolutely a driver of increased carbon emissions. Senator Wiener and Professor Kammen are absolutely right that housing policy is climate policy. We need to be doing everything we can on all fronts to lower our collective carbon emissions, including but not limited to the things that you mention.

For your question about how we might electrify our cars more quickly I'd like to point out that only 6% of cars sold in CA now are electric while the average lifetime of a car in the US is now 11.6 years.

And while I think we need an "all of the above" mentality it's not at all obvious to me how overhauling entire segments of our economy (transportation, energy, logistics, etc.) will be "simpler" to accomplish than repealing our bans on apartment buildings and increasing our investments in public transportation.

Thanks,
Cliff

References:
Web Link
Web Link


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Mar 26, 2019 at 12:23 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Cliff -- Thanks for your comment, and references. I will wait for some other people to chime in, but one high-level point I'd question is your assertion that "We need to be doing everything we can on all fronts". I don't think I agree with that.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Anting Shen, a resident of another community,
on Mar 26, 2019 at 1:46 pm

Thanks for writing this Sherry.

As for whether we need to be doing everything we can on all fronts, I notice it depends on where you stand on how urgent you think climate change is. Some people believe we don't need to do anything for climate change, and others think we're doomed if we don't hit our climate goals in the next few years. There's "scientific evidence" for both sides.

I'm not sure where you lie on the spectrum, but if you don't think hitting the climate goals California has set for the near term is critical, then it's perfectly reasonable to not do everything we can on all fronts, especially since increased density will bring uncertain changes to Palo Alto.

I also do agree with you that we should be careful to bundle other issues into climate. I don't understand why minimum wage is in the green new deal and marketed as climate either. But Cliff is right that car electrification isn't going to take over anytime soon. I work in the automotive industry and all the estimates predict a good while before the fleet is mostly electric. Many of the 1hr+ commuters cannot afford to live here and cannot afford electric cars either. You're as aware as I am of how clogged our highways are in the mornings, and all those people are sitting in their cars for hours a day because there's no housing for them near their jobs.

SB-50 is more of a housing bill than a climate bill, but the arguments for why it could help reach our climate goals makes sense to me. Perhaps it's not worth the trade-offs of changes to our neighborhoods, but housing next to transit makes sense to me, even if the to-be-determined "job rich areas" is an overreach.

Lastly, if we remove parking requirements for new housing, I don't see why developers would build so much parking if they're goal is profit. No parking = no cars, and it's pretty obvious to me that having more people near transit with no cars is helpful in tackling climate when 40% of our emissions is from cars.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Max, a resident of another community,
on Mar 26, 2019 at 6:44 pm

Sherry, thanks for the thoughtful post - I definitely recommend you go back and complete a more thorough read of the CARB report. It's unambiguous and unequivocal:

“With emissions from the transportation sector continuing to rise despite increases in fuel efficiency and decreases in the carbon content of fuel, California will not achieve the necessary greenhouse gas emissions reductions to meet mandates for 2030 and beyond without significant changes to how communities and transportation systems are planned, funded, and built. ...

"Even if the share of new car sales that are ZEVs grows nearly 10-fold from today, California would still need to reduce VMT per capita 25 percent to achieve the necessary reductions for 2030."

Sadly, California has been awful at decarbonizing its transport sector and so the "easier/faster" path of just electrifying the fleet is no longer an option. We have to get people out of cars. And the only way to do that is to give them places to live where they don't need cars.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 26, 2019 at 7:36 pm

Simply increasing dwelling density around here is death by carbon. It marries urban population intensities with suburban driving necessities. Outcome: dense auto traffic permanently gridlocked as packed-in people go about their life necessities in an environment built by and for 1950s suburban sprawl.

We need to also densify our retail resources, especially food and entertainment, and disperse them among the housing projects. And we must intersperse jobs with housing to conquer commuting necessities. Goodbye Walmart, Safeway, Googleplex, Appleopolis, Facebookburg, ... .

Above all, we must implement all this by rectifying the extravagantly inefficient land usage in our sacred R-1 zones, as well as in privileged land gobbling enclaves like Atherton, Woodside, Portola Valley, ... . The fashionably feckless "build it all down there, by transit" mantra ain't up to the job.


 +   34 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Mar 27, 2019 at 9:50 am

Allen Akin is a registered user.

I don't think climate protection is the reason for SB 50 (and the other bills related to the CASA compact). It's designed to draw as many political contributions as possible from tech companies, developers, and the trades, while drawing as many votes as possible from the younger voters who are most affected by the jobs/housing imbalance.

But let's assume for the sake of argument that it's intended to be a climate bill. We should then ask: Is it an effective one?

Around here, I think the answer is "no". The easiest way to see this is to note that SB 50 is fundamentally based on mass transit, but doesn't include the new policy or funding needed to make transit work.

In our part of the Peninsula, VTA is cutting service and Caltrain is at capacity, so building "transit-oriented" housing can't help in the near term; people will still have to drive. A good clue to this is that per-capita car ownwership is rising (see footnotes here Web Link). Zero-parked SB 50 developments will simply fill city streets with the overflow parking and traffic.

Electrification will add 20%-30% Caltrain capacity, but essentially all of that is already spoken-for by projects already in the pipeline. (Stanford's GUP uses half all by itself.) The Caltrain 2040 Business Plan considers a huge expansion, but we're a long way from understanding how much is realistically possible, how it would be funded, when it would come online, and how operating expenses would be covered (given that Caltrain runs at a loss Web Link). Those trenches and tunnels people would like to see for grade separation? Not possible with four-track expansion.

Even if Caltrain expanded dramatically, we have a density-distribution problem. It's instructive to look at LA, which has much higher population density than we have, but still suffers from low transit uptake and high traffic because, like here, the density is widely distributed (Web Link). Getting people from Caltrain stop to Caltrain stop isn't enough; the jobs are spread out all over, and people still have to get to and from the jobs.

Then there's the job-change issue. One of the reasons companies still want to expand here despite all the costs is the large pool of employees who are able and willing to change jobs frequently. Even if you live close to your job today, it's highly likely that won't be true a few years from now. Will you move every time you change jobs? At least in Palo Alto, the answer seems to be "no"; two-thirds of working Palo Alto residents have jobs outside the city, even though we have a huge excess of jobs here.

So with regard to carbon emissions from transportation, it looks to me like SB 50 would make things worse for a generation, if not longer. If it is intended to be a climate bill, it's not an effective one.

There's a lot more that could be said about the failings of SB 50, both conceptually and practically, but there's really not room for all that in a blog comment. :-)

We could do a lot better. I think the simplest approach would be a regional requirement that any office construction be 100%+ offset by housing construction within a 30-minute commute range. That gives the tech companies, who are driving the jobs/housing imbalance, the incentive to help financially with nearby housing and/or transit. Unlike SB 50, it would also help moderate demand, which is the root cause of the jobs/housing imbalance (see Richard Walker's book "Pictures of a Gone City" for a useful analysis).


 +   3 people like this
Posted by chris, a resident of University South,
on Mar 27, 2019 at 12:29 pm

Density needs to happen in conjunction with transit investment. One without the other does not make sense.

Many Palo Altans seem to live in a vacuum. They think they can protect themselves from density unilaterally, despite the high growth of Facebook and Google being encouraged in Menlo Park and Mountain View, respectively. They can try to fight SB-50, but in the end it is a losing battle. Even if SB-50 is defeated, the problem won't go away.

Palo Alto needs more visionary leaders who can see the forest for the trees. Going it alone is an exercise in futility. Trying to work wth other cities in the area would be a good start. The holier than thou attitude of Filseth and his cronies is getting old.


 +   62 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 27, 2019 at 1:03 pm

SB50 is a handout to the Real Estate Developers who - surprise - are Wiener's big campaign contributors and political backers, cynically pitched as climate friendly, and anything else that might get somebody naive to believe in it.

Just building denser luxury towers in low-income areas like East Palo Alto will not stop people who want an actual house from moving to Morgan Hill and Hollister to get one. If you want to stop such “sprawl," you need those cities to actually ban houses. The idea of offering suburb-seekers more market rate apartments is not well conceived. Those new downtown units are to help attract future arrivals to the region, not reduce emissions.


The Environmental movement in California is rapidly splitting into two camps. One camp is really about Density -- its top goal is to bring more people to the state, and it pays lip service to “environment" as a slogan, while simultaneously advocating to gut actual environmental policy such as CEQA in order to add people faster. The other is still focused on Environment, is willing to admit in public that you cannot add humans without adding environmental damage, and is prepared to control that damage, even if it sacrifices some population growth.

SB50 delights the Density camp, and appalls the Environmental camp.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Mar 27, 2019 at 5:42 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Great comments, everyone. A couple of good points were made by several people, without much disagreement:
- EV adoption is not even close to what we need at this point.
- Density doesn’t make much sense without transit.

@Allen asks a great question, namely if this were a climate bill, would it be effective? His take is that since we don’t have effective transit in this area, and the bill doesn’t fund it, it can’t be. @Curmudgeon takes it a step further, and says it’s not enough to have housing and jobs co-located (either walkable or transit-able), you also need services (retail, dining) either near housing or near transit. And don’t forget daycare and schools.

@Cliff suggests it’s simpler to repeal a ban on apartments and fund transit than it is to get people to adopt EVs. I agree that it is technically easy to repeal a ban and fund transit, at least once you win over voters. But that’s not enough to lower emissions. As a few commenters suggest, you have to get the right people to move (such as people living in typically affordable homes far away), and have transit and services in place for those people. @Resident also makes the point that some people may not move because they want houses and not apartments, such as families with young children.

A couple of people wonder why I don’t want to adopt an “all of the above” mentality, as @Cliff puts it. It’s not that I don’t care much, as @Anting wonders. I would like for us to be deadly serious about reducing emissions. The thing is, I don’t think that throwing everything at the problem to see what works is a great strategy. It’s wasteful and distracting. Effective, focused efforts will take time and money and persistence. IMO, we should pick a few things that have a direct and significant impact on emissions, and do what it takes to ensure they are successful. (And we also need innovation from places like Stanford to create more options for the next ten years.)

How do we get driving emissions to near-zero? I cannot believe that “redesign our cities and suburbs, build transit, and move people and jobs and other services, so that people don’t drive” is the best answer to that. It seems complicated and expensive. I can believe that “switch to electricity- and hydrogen-powered vehicles” is the answer. It is going to take a lot of work and funding -- it is no small ask -- but imo it is entirely doable, and certainly a much simpler and more contained problem than the other.

Fuel-switching solves just one big problem, though -- emissions. Redesigning where and how we live and work, if done well, can also solve congestion, make people healthier, free up wilderness, improve social equality, and so much more. But holy cow, I don’t think we have time for that. I much prefer that we place a few, simple, more straight-forward bets that do not require such large-scale changes, and make a real go of them.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Max, a resident of another community,
on Mar 27, 2019 at 6:42 pm

Sherry, I respect your right to believe that the experts who study these things are wrong. But then I have to conclude that solving climate change is not what you're really concerned about.

I'd greatly prefer these discussions if people could be more honest about their true intentions; wishing for electric vehicles to save us is not actually a solution to climate change, and the professionals who have made their careers analyzing this problem have all reached the same conclusion.

So, perhaps you care to tell us what it is you really care about? Because I can deduct from your last note that climate is not it. Denying a purely mathematical analysis of physical reality is not the domain of climate activism, it's something else entirely.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 27, 2019 at 6:53 pm

"I can believe that “switch to electricity- and hydrogen-powered vehicles" is the answer. It is going to take a lot of work and funding -- it is no small ask -- but imo it is entirely doable, and certainly a much simpler and more contained problem than the other.

EVs do not solve the carbon emissions problem; they merely relocate most of it to where the power generators are. Out of sight, out of mind, but still on planet.

H2-powered vehicles are likewise carbo-illusions. All their hydrogen must be separated from the other atoms it is attached to prior to stuffing it into cars, and those separation processes involve emitting carbon. EVs and H2s have their place, but they are far short of a solution.

As I wrote about above, effectively addressing the emissions problem requires fundamentally restructuring the physical layout of our society. Our fifties legacy is not sustainable. Lucy and Ricky need to move back to the city.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Ben, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Mar 27, 2019 at 7:15 pm

I consider SB50 another unmitigated giveaway to developers. There is nothing in the bill to address already overtaxed infrastructure, and I think impacted schools are specifically mentioned in the bill to not receive any new funding to compensate. If Wiener is as concerned about auto emissions as he says, maybe he should consider the amazing polluting capacity of just one giant container ship, estimated to equal to about 50 million cars! Web Link Sounds crazy, but seems to be true.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Mar 27, 2019 at 7:47 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Max -- No other agenda, for realz.

@Curmudgeon -- Absolutely, EVs don't make much sense without green electricity. Thanks for pointing that out. Re producing hydrogen fuel, not sure why you think this has to use fossil fuels and/or emit ghg's. It's true that the traditional way to produce it uses natural gas. But electrolysis with renewable energy can work as well. And people have been working on new ways to manufacture the fuel. See, for example, this recent result from Stanford. And I've seen other results in this vein. The Department of Energy has a brief overview here. I'm not saying this move from fossil-fuel vehicles to alternative-fuel vehicles is already in the bag. But we are much farther than we were, and we (mostly) know what needs doing.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Mar 27, 2019 at 8:03 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Ben -- State Senator Wiener is correct to focus on light vehicle traffic. Here is more data on that. (Scroll down for an easy-to-read pie chart that shows US transportation emissions by source.)


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Samuel, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Mar 27, 2019 at 11:34 pm

@Sherry Listgarten Q: What is your basis for disagreeing with the conclusion of the CARB report?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Mar 28, 2019 at 4:49 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Samuel -- Thanks for the question. The answer I think is that I'm talking about a narrower issue, the issue of climate, and not much else. The CARB report is a progress update on SB 375, which has a broader scope. So, for example, when talking about inadequate progress on vehicle emissions, the report addresses the SB 375 charter: "This lack of progress to date also puts California at risk of not achieving the important public health, equity, economic, mobility, housing, and other benefits that SB 375 SCSs are expected to deliver."

For the purposes of this report, CARB is required to consider the big picture, and their recommendations follow suit. And there's nothing wrong with considering the bigger picture. It's nice to address a lot of problems at once.

What I'm suggesting, which reasonable people may disagree with, is that the climate problem is so urgent, and we are already so clear on what we need to do, that we should address it more directly and with more focus on its own, and not bundle it in with more comprehensive overhauls. That is why I am concerned about calling SB-50 a climate bill. Redesigning how we live and work can certainly have climate benefits, and many other benefits. But it's not what I would advocate as a "climate bill" if we want to quickly and significantly decrease our emissions.

Maybe I'm being narrow-minded, thinking small, overstating how urgent the climate issue is. But hopefully that makes my questions clearer.

FWIW, I do think that as we keep adding people to this planet, and/or as the inhabitable areas shrink due to climate change, we need to densify. I don't know if you've heard of the book Half-Earth by E.O. Wilson, but he makes that case pretty clearly. It's not about emissions so much as limiting our overall impact on the environment, and allowing for (even fostering) diversity and wildness in our ecosystem. So as we grow and/or habitable area shrinks, we densify. But dense urban environments can be unpleasant, unhealthy, unsafe, etc. So ultimately this discussion also comes around to growth. That is the point @Resident is making above.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Max, a resident of another community,
on Mar 28, 2019 at 6:21 pm

Sherry, the EV challenge - which CARB does very narrowly and specifically deal with as it relates to carbon emissions (not just in the context of SB 375) - is that it is not mathematically possible for California to achieve its climate goals *even if we accelerate EV deployment tenfold in the next few years;* which is also not possible, since the cars aren't even available at that scale, and car manufacturers have no intention of providing them on the time frames and at the scales needed.

There is too much research on this to link to it all, but the findings of the expert community on this are consistent and not really up for "debate," any more than gravity is debatable. If your primary concern is really about climate change, it seems to me, at least, that you're resistant to accepting the rather rigorous findings of the researchers who've made their careers figuring this out - including Dan Kammen, the author of the piece you posted, who's findings mirror all the others. Why?

Your readers are at least transparent in their beliefs that there are too many people in general, or that this is just bout greedy developers, or that our transportation systems can't handle it, or whatever excuse they need to justify resisting change and preventing more people from moving to Palo Alto. Heaven knows they have the full ear of the Mayor and city council. I would hope that, in the interest of integrity, if you're going to consistently dismiss replicated research findings, you share what your motives are with your readers. I personally am now already doubting your sincerity when you say climate change is your chief concern.

Web Link


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 28, 2019 at 8:25 pm

"Re producing hydrogen fuel, not sure why you think this has to use fossil fuels and/or emit ghg's. It's true that the traditional way to produce it uses natural gas. But electrolysis with renewable energy can work as well."

The point is that all hydrogen occurring in nature is chemically bound to other elements. It must be separated from them before it can be reburned as fuel, and any separation process spends energy, both directly to yank off the hydrogen, and indirectly in various generation and transmission and utilization overheads. Much of that energy is carbon-sourced. That carbon must be charged against the hydrogen economy.

And we haven't considered the hazards of storing a highly flammable invisible odorless gas in "gas tanks" at multi-ton pressures. A gas that ignites spontaneously at leaks and burns with a hot invisible flame. A gas that penetrates the walls of its container, reacts, and transforms it into brittle hydrides.

A hydrogen economy would truly be a booming economy. Meantime, give those Claritys and Marais--the MAX 8s of the automotive world--already on the road a wide berth.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Mar 29, 2019 at 10:58 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Curmudgeon -- Yeah, new power sources like electricity and hydrogen aren't much of an improvement if we are generating a lot of greenhouse gases to create them. Would you buy an EV in West Virginia? Fortunately we have renewable mechanisms for generating electricity that are fairly well established, and we are getting there with hydrogen.

Ha, we wouldn't want that kind of booming economy :) Energy safety is really important, whether it's electricity, natural gas, hydrogen, nuclear, or something else. I don't know which is most dangerous, and I expect that's a complicated question with a complicated answer. FWIW, here is one site that made me realize the situation is not obvious. (Really? Shooting a bullet through a hydrogen tank?)


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 29, 2019 at 7:01 pm

From the linked article: " Thankfully hydrogen is relatively easy to sense due to it's high chemical activity."

"High chemical activity" says it all. Stunts with guns aside, one place I worked at investigated hydrogen flame phenomena. To ignite the stuff we just opened the nozzle valve. For safety everything--tanks, plumbing, test apparatus--was outdoors at a barren remote site.

It is theorized the Hindenburg's H2 ignited at a stray leak torn by a strong wind gust.

NASA has handled a lot of hydrogen. Its most common method for detecting stray hydrogen leaks, which are invisible optically, is to wave a common household broom around the plumbing. People had unwittingly walked directly into hydrogen flames.

Yes, conventional flammable fuels have their dangers. But they are far easier to handle. Their leaks are way less likely and much easier to detect than with H2.

But back to the thread topic. There is no handy magic solution. Reducing emissions must involve fundamental changes in living habits to diminish the necessity to consume energy. As about 150 years of experience teaches us, the resulting urban environments can be eminently livable.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Mar 29, 2019 at 8:00 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

The evidence for the Hindenburg points to the flammability of the skin. See the link I sent, but also many other links (smithsonian, livescience, thoughtco, all in the last 2 years). Apparently they even knew it back in 1937. "A handwritten letter in the Zeppelin Archive states, "The actual cause of the fire was the extreme easy flammability of the covering material brought about by discharges of an electrostatic nature." Re hydrogen necessarily being more dangerous than electricity or gasoline in cars, the link I sent said otherwise. Care to share one supporting your view that hydrogen vehicles are inherently more dangerous? Recent and from a reputable source is best. I haven't read much about it, so interested to learn more. Re the topic of the thread, it is not about whether there is a magic solution to climate change. It is about whether SB-50 is a climate bill, and even more specifically a vehicle emissions bill, as they claim.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 30, 2019 at 4:59 pm

Much has been published by the four sides in the hydrogen economy discussion. The commercial advocates are of course full flame ahead for it. Legacy energy interests want it dead in its cradle. In between are well-meaning advocates with varying degrees of technical moxie, and more cautious types (including yours truly) who urge going into a potentially dangerous technology only with all eyes open.

I am actually for H2, but we must get it right up front, else rollout disasters will kill it. Like what is happening with nuclear generation. The key issue how to accommodate the public's ever decreasing tolerance for risk. To the point: Hydrogen is not an immediate miracle solution to carbon emissions.

There is a very informative article on the Hindenburg at Web Link . It links to a convincing counter of the "rocket fuel paint" hypothesis: Web Link .


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Mar 30, 2019 at 8:14 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@curmudgeon -- Thanks, that is a good link on the Hindenburg! The photos and explanation on the "flammable covering" theory are really interesting. It does seem like the fact that the skin wasn't all burned suggests it wasn't super flammable, though they also acknowledge it may have been what started the fire.

You make a great point about visible early failures, and whether new power technologies can recover from them. I don't think the problem is so much a decreasing tolerance for risk as a broad misconception of risk. Relative danger is a difficult thing for people to understand, and is inherently complex. Perception is not always reality. Look at flying vs driving, for example. Or self-driving cars. Electricity vs gas is a hard one too, at least for me. And have you ever seen this article claiming that nuclear has in fact saved almost 2 million lives? What is the right answer?

It is difficult to evaluate "danger", and even harder to understand. So how will politicians and the public evaluate it? I've added it to my (long) list of good blog post topics...


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Samuel, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Apr 1, 2019 at 3:50 pm

@Sherry Listgarten -- Got it. So to confirm, you don't disagree with the findings (the science and data presented) in the CARB report then?


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Posted by Flats Earthers Prevail in PA, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Apr 1, 2019 at 6:01 pm

Moderator comment: I am removing this comment because it was not related to climate change. I think it may have been posted on the wrong blog by accident.


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Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Apr 1, 2019 at 8:19 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Samuel -- I can't pretend to be familiar with all the data and science presented in the nearly 100 page CARB progress report on SB 375.

But, fortunately, page 28 asks more or less the question that I was asking, namely whether we shouldn't focus on EV adoption first, which I believe is more effective and simpler and a shorter timeframe. What the report says is: "Even if the share of new car sales that are ZEVs grows nearly 10-fold from today, California would still need to reduce VMT per capita 25 percent to achieve the necessary reductions for 2030.”

It struck me that a tenfold increase by 2030 is very doable; I would bet that we would exceed that, assuming charging infrastructure is in place. So I looked for the source, which is the 2017 climate change scoping plan.

That is another massively long document. But luckily at the bottom of page ES5 is the data I was looking for, showing exponential growth in ZEV adoption over the next years. The plan shows around 300K vehicles in 2016, and in fact there were 522K ZEVs by 2018, so we are on track for the faster of those curves. So the scoping plan basically indicates a 22% growth rate for the 9 years (from 2017 through 2025, inclusive). That hits 3M ZEVs in 2025, so a factor of around 10 for those 9 years. Their chart stops at 2025, but if you were to extend that through 2030 (14 years total), you get a factor of 19 from 2017, or 5.7M ZEVs on the road.

So it seems to me that the document they refer to (the scoping plan) is projecting a factor of 19 growth, not a factor of 10, by the year 2030. So, while the "If statement" in the 2018 report on SB-375 isn't technically inaccurate, the conditional (the "if" part of it, the tenfold increase) seems false -- we are projected to see more like 19x by 2030, assuming the 22% growth rate holds.

Sorry for all the math, and maybe I misread something, but all indications are that 2017 was a turning point in EV adoption, and we are seeing so-called "hockey stick" growth that accelerated through 2018. If we keep funding EV infrastructure and incentives, especially for lower-income families and multi-tenant buildings, that indicates we should do okay. So I would say a true vehicle-emissions bill would focus on EV incentives and infrastructure.

But lmk if you see other data that conflict with this. I realize that 22% growth through 2030 is not a given, but it is very doable, and imo a vehicle emissions bill would focus on making that happen.


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Posted by Respect, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 1, 2019 at 9:52 pm



@Sherry,
I think it is fundamentally a bad idea to put so many resources into cramming more and more people into a few cities. Humans suffer all kinds of ills from being that detached from the natural world, one of which is that they usually cease to understand arguments for saving the environment.

There is also a J-curve when it comes to efficiency. When you get too dense, any efficiencies actually reverse, and the life cycle costs overwhelm any savings of energy, etc.

The pollution and loss of the millions of man hours of people having more and more difficulty getting around is just senseless to force on cities. Hong Kong has the best transit system in the world with almost total usage by the population, but they have commute times about the same as Los Angeles and people don't live near there work in HK either.

We should be aiming for creating liveable, sustainable cities, with lots of green space, good circulation of traffic, and places to grow food inside and nearby so it doesn't have to be trucked from who knows where. When people live in the natural world, they tend to respect it more.


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Posted by resident, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Apr 2, 2019 at 6:59 am

How is it that "saving the planet" is a job of California and the US. China and India are the main users of coal and you are not going to stop that. Read the Paris Accord in Wikipedia - the EU controls the game board to allocated money in part to themselves and to their former colonies. The US is the ATM card for all of this activity. Read up on Russia's method for control of other countries - oil. They are not going to give up on that. If we stop oil production then we are providing Russia with more leverage on their expansion activities. They are selling a gas line to Germany. We - on an individual and state level need to cap our use of planet harming plastics. You all want a rally cry to implode local legislation but at the planet level the economic realities of other countries ability to change up their way of living will require a lot of money by their own desires to make it happen.


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Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Apr 2, 2019 at 10:16 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Respect -- Those are some good questions. Do people disconnected from nature tend to care about it? Can people in dense urban environments have good access to nature? Can city-living be healthy without that? Can cities be affordable if they do have that? Do people living in cities generate fewer per capita emissions? If so, does that mean we should all live in cities?

@resident -- People often ask those questions. Why should we do anything if those other countries aren't, or if they are worse than we are, or what can we do to encourage those countries (or other states) to do more, or ...

These are a bit off-topic from this particular post, but I hope to get around to them in a future blog post. It's great that you are thinking about this and asking these questions!


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Posted by Anil Gangolli, a resident of Midtown,
on Apr 4, 2019 at 8:07 am

I could see some green in it if it had excluded the wide "Job-Rich Area" covered by SB50, and took it down to just the classifications based on proximity to existing transit. It lacks any actual funding for transit improvements to the affected areas, and it imposes no limitations on vehicles. [It's admittedly hard to limit vehicles. The most likely thing to work -- fees on new vehicles with limited grandfathering for existing residents -- is arguably regressive/discriminatory.] Green urban planning takes much more than just allowing for denser housing, though that is an ingredient. I support the direction, but I remain convinced that the best control and planning on this is local. The state could help by providing financial incentives for green development. I'd also support killing the high-speed rail to LA and putting that money into local transit and green development.


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Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Apr 7, 2019 at 12:23 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Anil -- You say "I'd also support killing the high-speed rail to LA". Do you know that high-speed rail is the #1 recipient of our cap-and-trade revenue?

"I could see some green in it" -- My point is, you shouldn't have to try so hard. If this is a vehicle emissions bill, as they claim in the op-ed, then they should be spelling out how many emissions this will save, how it will do that, in what timeframe, and at what cost. And for extra-credit even compare it with other vehicle-emissions savings plans. There is green in many things, so imo we need to place our main bets thoughtfully, selectively, and aggressively. We have just 12 years until 2030, at which point we need to have reduced our emissions by about 40% from where they are today. Throwing darts at a green dartboard is not the way to get there. (Except for the innovation part, but that is not what this is.) This is a good graphic from Vox showing the relative ambitions of our 2020 goal and our 2030 goal.

And, yeah, local can be more effective. See my blog post on our local electric options. Unfortunately, the state is thinking of dialing back local electric as well...



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