SUVs are way worse for the planet than anyone previously thought

Sales of hefty and heavily-polluting SUVs have doubled in the last decade – outweighing the progress made from electric vehicles. Can cleaner SUVs offer a way out?

The phenomenal rise of the SUV all started with a squabble over chicken. It was 1963 – the height of the Cold War – and US president Lyndon Johnson was fuming over a tax that France and West Germany had imposed on cheap, intensively-farmed US chicken flooding European supermarkets.

In December 1963, after months of failed negotiations, Johnson retaliated. He slapped a 25 per cent tax on imported potato starch, brandy, dextrin and, crucially, light trucks. The effect was immediate. Volkswagen stopped shipping pickups to America and Japanese firms pulled their models from the country, while American manufacturers renewed their focus on much larger vehicles. While the other taxes were later repealed, the levy on trucks was permanent.

In that single executive order, Johnson cleared the path for the SUV to dominate the roads of the United States and then the world. Buoyed by lenient fuel emissions standards and forgiving regulations, oversized cars became the new normal. Between 2010 and 2018 the number of SUVs in the world increased from 35 million to 200m. Now 40 per cent of annual car sales are SUVs – double what it was a decade ago.

First sold in 1983, the Jeep Cherokee is generally seen as the first car to kickstart the trend for modern SUVs. Its successors are still among the best-selling SUVs in the US Heritage Images / Contributor / Getty

…Despite being heavy and gas-guzzling – the average modern petrol SUV emits over ten per cent more CO2 per kilometre than the average petrol car – SUVs have long been marketed as a way of getting people back to nature. SUV adverts are replete with images of cars off-roading over rugged and unexplored natural terrain, Aronczyk says. In reality, SUV ownership tends to cluster in urban areas and only one to 13 per cent of drivers ever use their vehicles for off-road driving, according to Keith Bradsher’s 2004 book High and Mighty: SUVs – The World’s Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way.

…With their hulking weight and high driving position, SUVs exude a feeling of safety for those behind the wheel, but it can sometimes be an illusion. In 2003, traffic data from the US government found that people driving or riding in an SUV were 11 per cent more likely to die in an accident than people in cars – thanks to their high centre of gravity and tendency to roll over in crashes. They’re even worse news for pedestrians: SUVs are around twice as likely as cars to kill pedestrians they hit. With their high bumpers, SUVs tend to hit pedestrians in the chest and knock them to the ground, rather than flipping them onto the relatively soft bonnet, as is the case in passenger cars.

Despite being less fuel efficient, more polluting and sometimes more dangerous than passenger cars, the SUV isn’t going anywhere. Growing sales in Africa and the rest of the developing world suggest that when car drivers become more affluent, they start thinking about upgrading to larger vehicles. But if we can’t kick our attachment to SUVs, how else can we get out of the environmental cul-de-sac we’re driving down? MORE

 

Montreal to charge more for parking for bigger vehicles

Montreal

But what is the best criterion?

The Plateau district of Montreal is incredibly dense, with over 11,000 people per square kilometre. The buildings, with their exterior stairs, are almost 100 percent efficient. But street parking is in short supply, and permits are required.

To help fight carbon emissions, the new Mayor of the borough, Luc Rabouin, wants to raise the parking permit price for cars with bigger engines. He tells the CBC: “The ecological transition is a priority. The residents of the Plateau want us to act now, while there is still time.”

It’s an interesting idea that is already being done in another Montreal district. In Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, a car with a 1.6 litre engine pays C$75, 2.2 litres pay C$90, and anything over 2.3 litres pays C$120. That seems low to me, but then I had a Subaru Outback with a four-banger that came in at 2.5; you could fit two of them in the 5.7 litres of a Ram 1500.

Of course, there is opposition that says “I think that this is just part of their anti-car ideology” or another tax. But the director of the environmental council likes the idea:

“[Montreal mayor Valérie Plante] and her team committed to very ambitious targets, with a 55 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050. If they want to get there, they have no choice but to attack parking.”

Angie Schmitt TweetTweet from Angie Schmitt/Screen capture

 

I learned about this via Angie Schmitt’s tweet, which, like the CBC headline, is not exactly accurate; they are using engine size, because it’s hard even to define an SUV anymore, given that most are actually crossovers on regular car chassis. I wonder if engine size is the best criterion. There is not a lot of parking in the Plateau, and I suspect size is a bigger issue.

vehicles over 6000 poundsVehicles over 6000 pounds/Screen capture

I think that weight is a better standard, since fuel consumption really is a function of it, and heavier cars are also bigger. Look at this list of vehicles that are over 6,000 pounds, used as a guide for calling it a work vehicle and getting a tax deduction; there are a lot of SUVs and pickups on it. They are BIG.

A very big pickup truckA very big pickup truck/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

 

I have long said that the governments should Make SUVs and light trucks as safe as cars or get them off the road, and that there should be a special licence class for them since they are so much deadlier than cars. But they also take up so much space. On my own street, there are three big pickups that take up way more space than the cars did. This is, perhaps, a better way to determine how much they pay for parking.

Whether it is taking up space, killing pedestrians, or emitting greenhouse gases and particulate matter, these big vehicles are a disaster. Tax the crap out of them, and charge parking by the square foot that they occupy.  SOURCE

The climate crisis will make entire cities uninhabitable. It’s time to head underground

Underground cities have long been sci-fi fodder, but now governments and planners are taking them seriously. One of the biggest challenges to overcome is convincing people to be comfortable underground

Alexander Spatari / WIRED

Back in 1800 BC, the people of the Cappadocia region of modern-day Turkey decided their environment was so hostile – with extreme weather and the constant threat of war – that they dug an entire city underground. Derinkuyu, the oldest underground city still in existence, housed 20,000 people, providing schools, houses, shopping areas and places of worship protected by large stone doors which allowed each floor to be closed off separately.

In 2010, Helsinki, Finland, essentially took the same approach. The city council approved an Underground Master Plan, completed in 2019, that covers the city’s entire 214 square kilometres – combining energy conservation, shelter from the long, cold winter and an enormous prepper bunker in case of Russian aggression.

But it isn’t just security and seasonal weather touted as reasons for living underground. Subterranean living offers an alternative to huge tower blocks and growing populations. Asmo Jaaksi, a partner at Helsinki architectural practice JKMM and the chief architect of the city’s underground Amos Rex Museum, says living underground conserves heat and may, for some, be one of the safest places as the climate emergency escalates.

Helsinki has long pioneered underground living – the Temppeliaukio Church, designed by architects Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen was sunk into the city’s Toolo district in 1969 and, in 1993, the Itakeskus Swimming Hall – a large recreation centre that can handle 1,000 customers on an average day and converts into an emergency shelter with space for 3,800 people.

“Helsinki stands on bedrock – a good foundations and very stable ground,” Jaaksi says. “The city is very overcrowded, and we have such long, dark and cold winters. Underground offers more room and connects us together away from the bad weather.” Ilkka Vähäaho, the head of Helsinki’s geotechnical division, agrees. Vähäaho says other main drivers for developing underground include: “the Finnish need to have open spaces even in the city centre – taking parts of the city underground would allow more open space on the surface.”

This is where Helsinki’s plan could be pioneering a new attitude to subterranean living. With 60 per cent of the world’s population expected to be living in cities by 2050, meaning housing needs to be found for some 2.5 billion people, urban land is an increasingly limited resource. There is a practical limit to how high buildings can be built and due to space constraints, protected buildings or districts and green belts, many cities, such as Paris, Mexico City and Singapore are considering the answer lies not in more skyscrapers – instead, why not build down? MORE

 

 

Stanford scientists creating ways to quickly, accurately and inexpensively find natural gas leaks

From production to consumption, natural gas leaks claim lives, damage the climate and waste money. Research teams at Stanford are working on better ways to find and fix gas leaks quickly and inexpensively from one end of the system to the other.


Stanford’s Robert Jackson used this specially equipped car to survey Manhattan and several other cities in search of natural gas leaks. (Image credit: Robert Jackson)

As it flows through pipelines from wells to stovetops, natural gas is prone to leaking, threatening not only human safety and health but also the health of the planet.

Over the past 10 years, natural gas leaks and explosions in U.S. residential and commercial neighborhoods have killed 73 people, injured 412 others and caused more than $500 million in property damage. Gas leaks and other emissions throughout the industry emit a third of all human-made methane, a greenhouse gas 36 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Researchers at Stanford and elsewhere are looking for fast and affordable ways of detecting leaks throughout the natural gas supply chain in an effort to reduce damage and save lives.

“While a large portion of methane in the atmosphere comes from agriculture and livestock, natural gas leaks are found throughout the gas distribution system,” said Stanford professor of geophysics Mark Zoback, director of the Natural Gas Initiative, which funds much of the work at Stanford tracking down and mitigating leaks.

When burned to produce electricity, natural gas releases about half the carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour that coal does, as well as less sulfur and nitrogen oxides, making it a tempting alternative to coal.

However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the oil and gas industry emitted approximately 8 million metric tons of methane in 2016 – the equivalent of emissions from 43 million cars in a year. A 2014 study by Adam Brandt, an associate professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford, found that such leaks can negate some but not all of the climate benefit of switching from coal to natural gas, as some experts, including Zoback, have advocated.

Working with postdoctoral scholar Arvind Ravikumar, Brandt recently led the Mobile Monitoring Challenge – a contest to find the most affordable and accurate ways of detecting natural gas leaks – along with colleagues from Stanford, Colorado State University and the Environmental Defense Fund.


A drone-based methane detector competes in the Mobile Monitoring Challenge at a natural gas facility in Colorado. (Image credit: Sean Boggs/Environmental Defense Fund)

In the course of the contest last year, drones whizzed overhead, trucks rumbled by and helicopters zoomed through the sky at controlled testing facilities in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Sacramento, California. MORE

The Winnipeg Women Ridesharing to Keep Each Other Safe

Non-profit, donation-run Ikwe Safe Rides is an alternative to taxis powered by Indigenous women.


Christine Brouzes, a co-director of Ikwe Safe Rides in Winnipeg. Photo by John Woods/The Canadian Press

Williamson, who is Indigenous, says Winnipeg, Manitoba has a reputation. While no one would argue women aren’t made to feel unsafe in any geographical location you can name, cab drivers in Winnipeg have built a culture of acceptable harassment toward women, but particularly, Indigenous women.

“My experiences, they’re very Winnipeg,” she told VICE. “And people know! People know … you could talk to an Indigenous woman in another city, and they would probably know. Don’t take a cab in Winnipeg.”

https://video.vice.com/en_ca/embed/5be31030be4077516b3e03a1

Another Winnipegger, Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development project coordinator Valdine Doering, says even when she has taken every safety precaution possible, taking a taxi in Winnipeg is a dangerous situation. MORE