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As we face our climate crisis, choose your vehicle wisely

Original post made on Jun 9, 2017

When discussing the climate crisis, the question most often asked by concerned citizens is "What can I do to help?" Look for the banner hanging along the side of Embarcadero Road near Louis Road in Palo Alto for an easy answer.

Read the full guest opinion here Web Link posted Friday, June 9, 2017, 12:00 AM

Comments (43)

Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 9, 2017 at 8:50 am

I can't speak for others, but we can't afford the replace cars every ten years. We have two fifteen-year-old cars that meet other needs, and cannot even imagine replacing them in the foreseeable future. Even if we did, they would be sold to others who would use them.

I would love to get an electric vehicle, but just can't afford it. We had solar panels we took down from a previous home but never could use them because we couldn't afford to install them and they didn't qualify for rebates. We eventually gave them away so someone could use them.

There are life cycle energy costs you are not taking into account here. The existing cars required a great deal of energy to make, and so do new ones. What about using our collective brilliant minds to come up with workable inexpensive energy-saving engine retrofits for the most common models on the road? I've brought this up for years and only heard excuses without actual attempts to figure it out. I would do that in a heartbeat, and overall it would be better for the planet because of life cycle energy costs.

Look at what happened with lighting. LED and fluorescent lighting is a huge part of our reductions to date. But imagine if the only way to get that new loghting is to replace the whole fixture. The industry could have gone that way, and remained an expensive novelty for a few. In some cases, it's still necessary to replace fixtures, but for the most part, people can put the new technology in their existing fixtures, which hugely lowered the barrier, especially trouble and costs, to entry. Now think about solutions for cars on the road and how something similar could both dramatically reduce emissions in a shorter time scale while also reducing wasteful life cycle energy costs. Coming up with reliable workable retrofits to existing vehicles could seriously reduce the barriers to entry just as with lighting.

It's not likely to excite businesses because there is no future in retrofits of existing vehicles. But a lot of money could be made in the meantime, so creating the solutions through a competition could jumpstart it.

Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 9, 2017 at 9:25 am

A gas guzzler that is used only a couple of times a week is better for the environment than an eco-car that is driven everyday. Try walking or biking more or using public transit.

Posted by Tom Kabat
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 9, 2017 at 10:29 am

We can save even more than the 20 pounds of tailpipe CO2 from burning a gallon of gasoline. We also save the 8 pounds of CO2 upstream emissions per gallon of gasoline purchased. (Upstream emissions are from drilling, pumping, shipping, refining, and trucking it to the gas station etc.)

Posted by Truth
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 10, 2017 at 8:57 am

To everyone in this community I believe most of us understand that Palo Alto as well most of the bay area DOES NOT represent socioeconomic landscape of a mass majority.

That being true you can "sit on your high horse" and talk about "20 pounds of tailpipe CO2" till your blue in the face and all your going to get more poverty,a declining middle class and four more years Trump.

Real answers only will come when we learn to work together without all the PC nonsense.

Anything can be taken to far "John Brown" rings a bell.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 10, 2017 at 9:17 am

My wife drives a Prius, and I have a Tesla 3 on order, should arrive later this year. We also installed solar on our roof a few years ago.

We are doing our part.

Posted by Comment
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 10, 2017 at 10:38 am

People need to stop using so much air travel. People think they are being eco-friendly with their electric cars, but then they travel all around the planet in airplanes. Non-essential air travel needs to stop. What about air travel, Palo Alto?

Posted by Bill Kelly
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 10, 2017 at 12:37 pm

While we are considering CO2 upgrades, how about replacing the forced hot air furnace with an electric heat pump?

Posted by Leading by example
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 10, 2017 at 12:45 pm

At the recent city council meeting on the city's Sustainability and Climate Action Plan the city manager made a surprising comment. He said that transportation is Palo Alto's main remaining source of green house gases now that we are carbon free electricity. But then he said that the problem would largely take care of itself by 2030 due to adoption of clean vehicles and that the city did not need to take additional significant transportation initiatives to get to an 80% GHG reduction. This aligns with the council majority and staff recently back pedaling on a business tax to fund local transportation.
When leaving the meeting I noticed that the mayor's parking spot was occupied by his full sized Ford SUV. Oh well.

Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 10, 2017 at 12:59 pm

So here we have a couple of "climate warriors" telling us how we have to live our lives all in service to a higher collective good.

Unfortunately, like many of the prescriptions spewed like emissions from a Chinese coal fired electric generation plant, the recommendations put forth here fail even on their own questionable terms.

Any brief serious search yields the sad conclusion that (as was pointed out by a poster above) electric cars - on a lifecycle basis - are no better and maybe worse for the environment than modern gasoline cars. You're not going to alter whatever climate change is coming by getting everyone to switch to Teslas.

In fact any politically feasible fiddling with auto emissions will have virtually no effect on future climate warming when they're plugged into the models used to forecast future temperature changes (as imprecise as those models are by their econometric nature.) Our climate warrior hectors offer feel-good prescriptions with no practical effect.

Want to do something that will actually do something to change CO2 levels in a meaningful way? OK: Ban private automobiles - including Priuses and Teslas. Get rid of all air conditioning. Limit living space to 200 sq ft per person. Stop expecting fresh vegetables and fruits flown in from the Southern Hemisphere during the winter here.

And perhaps most relevant people most likely to say they're concerned about climate change - us coastal elites right here in Palo Alto - stop all those European and Asian vacation flights - each of which puts about as much CO2 into the atmosphere as one of those hick Texans in their SUVs or Pickups do in a year's worth of driving.

The plain fact is that none of us - not climate change denying Texans or "concerned" climate warriors like Messrs. Eittriem and Grossman - are willing to make the sacrifices that are really needed to affect meaningful change. The differences is that we sophisticates on the coasts think that wordy moralizing opinion pieces is a substitute for action. The authors are akin to medieval bishops selling indulgences: "buy and electric car and all your climate sins are forgiven".

We better hope that Trump is right and that the climate models are all wrong because if the models are at all accurate, we're doomed. There is no appetite here - let alone in the aspirational countries like India and China to do what the models say we should - and no political will to force it on us.

Posted by Julie
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 10, 2017 at 3:31 pm

@ leading the way
I think you are mistaken. The mayor gave up his parking space last year because he rides his bike to the council meetings.

Posted by DZ
a resident of Fletcher Middle School
on Jun 10, 2017 at 9:12 pm

Cars aside, we should reduce buying useless things, like all the fitness trackers, IoT stuff. You really need your tracker to tell how you fell after working out? Is it really that hard to just stand up to turn off the light? It is so laughable that you will need your tracker to tell you to get up walk once in a while, then you buy something just for not getting up:). Think about how much CO2 was generated by making all those junks...

Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 10, 2017 at 10:14 pm

The working class rightfully sees this whole climate change debate as nothing but yet another scheme to transfer jobs and wealth to the global elites, the pedantic, poppycock spewing pundits and 3rd world handout seeking despots for the following reasons:

Coverage and Duration
The total surface area of the Earth is about 197 million square miles. Jeacque Custeau famously said we should call our planet Water instead of Earth because 71% of it is made up of liquid. At best, we have about 150 years of sporadic observational data on land and with major gaps in coverage. For the other 71%, it wasn't until the 1990s that we had a reasonable global picture by combining land, sea, air and satellite measurements.

1870s - Land based thermometers with many large gaps in undeveloped areas
1950s - Weather balloons with many large gaps in undeveloped areas
1970s - Weather satellites
1990s - Network of sea based buoys

So we only have about 20 years of reliable and normalized data. The current eon of climate and life started about 543 million years ago. Thus, we have some limited observational temperature data for 0.000028% of that time and a global picture for about 0.000004% of that time.

Anyone who has had the experience of reading a thermometer is immediately skeptical of claims within less than 1 degree. Our current weather service does not even forecast that level of granularity for Palo Alto tomorrow and yet the PCA claims to know that the collective billions of dollars in investment will reduce the net global average temperature increase in 73 years for the entire planet by 0.73 degree Celsius.

Over the last 150 years, the weather stations have moved or been added to new locations, transitioned to different people recording the data, changed observational and reporting practices, been impacted by urban development and replaced by newer and better technology. Imagine the difficulty of normalizing data readings across all those different times, people, locations, instruments and technologies.

It is an impossible task and that's why the data sets are constantly being smoothed, cherry picked and adjusted retroactively. In fact, even in the US it is common to reduce the included weather stations down to a small subset (200) of its best monitoring stations because the others are not good enough to be included.

Have you ever noticed that the correlation coefficients and confidence intervals (Margins of error) are rarely included with the articles? When you see hysterical headlines, watch the decimal points carefully. Last year, it was reported that our annual average temperature was the highest ever recorded. What they only told you in the fine print was it was 0.01C higher and the calculation had a 0.1C margin of error. That is like saying the 49rs advanced the ball ten yards for a first down plus or minus the entire 100 yard football field.

System Compensation Effects
The warming crises depends on the assumptions of a runaway feedback loop and the the rest of our environmental systems do not compensate for it. If it does not exist then all we have is a minor gradual increase in temperature over the next couple of centuries that will get reversed by cyclical ice ages. Just like we have had before several times in our geological past. There is also evidence that as C02 increases the plant mass also increases to mitigate and moderate the changes.

Scientific Method
The scientific method is a process not a conclusion. It relies on developing a hypothesis, making predictions, testing for results and adjusting the theory as the data improves. Indeed, science is still doing that for even Newton's and Einstein's work. Many true scientists are uncomfortable when climate change is represented as "settled science" or using scare tactics to cause a panic.

That is not how the scientific method works as well as the fact that many of the initial predictions have been invalidated by observation. There is no hockey stick. Mean temperatures have not increased at a rate of even the lowest forecasts. Satellite data since 1979 actually shows no significant upward trend outside of expected ranges. Polar bears have not died out and the number of hurricanes has not increased. Not a very good record. That would be fine and normal if the hypothesis was adjusted to match the data and not the other way around.

Of course, it has not been aligned to match reality. Instead, more and more extreme claims and data manipulations are being used to try to prop up a crumbling theory. Not surprisingly, the climate change hysteria has increased directly proportionally to the risk to its funding. It is time to demand more from the press and our politicians. Adjust the hypothesis and redirect resources to where they will actually improve our habitat and environment.

Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 10, 2017 at 10:27 pm

"A gallon of gasoline burned produces almost 20 pounds of CO2 (roughly 8 pounds of carbon atoms combined with 12 pounds of oxygen atoms)."

How can a gallon of gas, which weighs about 6 pounds, produce 8 pounds of carbon?

The 20 pounds CO2 yield is generally correct ( Web Link but the breakdown needs adjusting.

The article also needs to account for the non-negligible emissions associated with the energy expenditures due to stopping and reaccelerating at traffic signals and stop signs, and to define approaches to minimize vehicle stops.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 10, 2017 at 10:33 pm

" The working class rightfully sees this whole climate change debate as nothing but yet another scheme to transfer jobs and wealth to the global elites, the pedantic, poppycock spewing pundits and 3rd world handout seeking despots for the following reasons:"

Much heat. No light.

Posted by Confused
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 11, 2017 at 3:30 am

I am all for conservation and protecting the planet, but I have never understood why Americans keep advertising to reduce their driving, reduce their water use, etc. and then encourage everyone from all over the world to move here.
This never made sense to me.
Many of these newcomers never drove in their homelands.
Many looked forward to moving to the US so they could drive, and have a big house with a big green lawn. This is the way our country is marketed in many developing countries through magazines and television.
We are adding more new drivers to the US.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2017 at 6:46 am

The best way to reduce car usage is to vastly improve public transportation. Increase taxes on gas and EVs so that public transportation is a viable option and improve the efficiency of public transportation so that it is not viewed as a slow method for poor people to get to where they are going but an efficient alternative for commuters.

Posted by Choose your....CAR!?!?!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 11, 2017 at 7:02 am

There's the problem. People look at only fuel and emissions (prius, tesla) and they don't understand the masive energy costs associated with just bringing those cars and all their components to market. After maybe only 8-10 yrs of use, massive amounts of energy are needed to recycle what they can, then the rest into landfills and toxic waste dumps.

Choose your car wisely? How about actually being wise and choose a bike or your feet. Again, this is only for people who think this stuff matters. I'm not telling anyone to do anything, but please, understand the environmental costs of your priuses and teslas. They are better than combustion cars, but they are definitely not "green" when the full environmental costs are looked at. Not by a long shot, they're still part of the problem.

Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2017 at 10:27 am

I believe people should be able to make their own choices when it comes to getting around, they all have pros and cons, but perhaps a start would be to quit punishing people who don't drive? Why should these people be forced to buy a parking space that they would never use? Why are their sales tax dollars going to expand freeways?

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 11, 2017 at 10:37 am

@Confused, re "This never made sense to me."

Follow the money.

Posted by Joe Giraffe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 11, 2017 at 10:44 am

Here are some links found after a 'brief search' that shed some light on some of the unsubstantiated claims in the posts above:
EPA: Web Link
BMW i3 Web Link
Unions of Concerned Scientists
Web Link
Scientific American
Web Link

Posted by stop judging
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2017 at 11:21 am


What matters more is how much you drive and if you commute *long distances* ALONE

Thank you very much but I don't drive for daily commuting anymore and my finances will not permit a new and electric car DON'T judge me because of my car

And the real issue is public transportation- the biggest fail in the USA...if you want to feel guilty, look no further to the dismal options in California, where people are obsessed with their cars and what their frinds and neighbors drive

Posted by Nancy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 11, 2017 at 11:45 am

Nuclear power will solve most problems.

Posted by Facts
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2017 at 12:58 pm

@Joe Giraffe
Thanks for the informative links and Palo Alto's electricity is now 100% carbon free.
Sorry but you are thinking of last year's mayor who commuted by bike. Mayor Scharff drives solo in a big SUV.

Posted by Brett
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 11, 2017 at 5:25 pm

@ Sanctimonious City, that is one of the best sober assessments of the global warming alarmism that I have seen in public blogs. Thank you.

Posted by Dirk Petermeyer
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 11, 2017 at 5:49 pm

I know I am doing my part! I commute on my unicycle wearing my beanie propeller and backpack. Parking is a snap..One glitch, we have not quite figured out how to take the kids to the doctor during a rainstorm event. Maybe we can put one in the backpack!

Posted by Facts
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2017 at 10:04 pm

Oh my Dick. I am so sorry that you sold your car and only kept your unicycle. Whoever convinced you to do that must have been pulling your leg and assumed no one would be so gullible.
My family bikes about two thirds of our trips in town, we get door to door faster than driving and get our exercise at the same time. When our kids need to go to the doctor, rain or shine, we just use our car, no problem.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 11, 2017 at 11:08 pm

As a human being, I won't claim to be free of hubris.

But I am amazed at the hubris of my fellow humans who think since climate change is a man-made catastrophe, then only man can take the right.

There is a fundamental, basic irony at play here. Maybe the climate change warriors simply have too much time and money on their hands. I don't know how else to explain this widespread, collective, mainstream insanity.

Remember the Crusades? Its easy for a majority to believe the majority, righteous, mainstream opinion while the truth lags behind.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 11, 2017 at 11:10 pm

" Increase taxes on gas and EVs so that public transportation is a viable option"

No no no no no no no. Increasing taxes should never, ever be the solution to ANYTHING!!!!!!

Posted by Free Downtown Parking for Electric Vehicles
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 12, 2017 at 10:20 am

If they institute paid parking downtown, I think there should be an exemption for electric vehicles. That would help motivate residents to switch, although personally I do not like the idea of paid parking downtown.

Posted by Greg
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 12, 2017 at 10:53 am

Electric vehicles were derailed by big oil decades ago. Of course, they should be used. But because drivers of electric vehicles do not pay a gas tax and government always wants more of your money, expect a push to tax vehicles based on miles driven and to establish more toll lanes everywhere. Will that discourage the shift to EV? Some. But the important point is that government wants more money and elected politicians simply go along with the bureaucrats. And you can always take a bus from near your home to near your home - but not likely anywhere you need to go. This is a country of many special interests and very few shared principles.

Posted by Electric cars don't alleviate congestion
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2017 at 11:19 am

An electric car doesn't reduce traffic CONGESTION. I enjoy walking and riding my bike for trips under 5 miles because it's quick, I get a little exercise and have fun. Frankly, Palo Alto is so flat, it's barely exercise. It's just not that hard to walk and bike here. Our streets are lovely and shady, and they seem to be improving with new bike lanes and bike boulevards. I hope the city will continue doing that.

It's much nicer than being in a car. As for kids, when mine were little we pulled them (and groceries) in a trailer. When they got a little older we taught them to bike. Now they bike everywhere, so they are not dependent on mom and dad for transportation. Freedom from "car jail" for the whole family. Yay!

I see so many completely able bodied people choosing to drive a couple of blocks to the grocery store or to school or the library. I realize that some people cannot walk or bike, and no guilt there. But the majority can choose alternatives to driving more often. Let's try the breaking the nasty habit of picking up our car keys every time we leave the house. We are creating the traffic congestion we hate, making our beautiful community noisy, dirty and less safe, and it's harming our planet. Consider all of our transportation choices. Learn our local transit options) Shuttle, VTA bus, Caltrain. Choose to bike or walk as often as you can. If we reserve driving as our "long trips" option, we'll do a lot to reduce traffic congestion.

Many individuals together can effect real change.

Posted by zap
a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2017 at 11:25 am

Here's an idea. Two birds with one stone as well!!

We're worried about pollution. We're worried about low income housing. How about we build low income housing, but you're not allowed to move in unless you drive a Tesla or a Leaf, and limited space for hybrids, maybe 20%.

Posted by Dean
a resident of Los Altos
on Jun 12, 2017 at 11:31 am

Don't forget those gas leaf blowers, that are ILLEGAL in Palo Alto and Los Altos! They produce enormous amounts of pollutants, along with being a horrendous noise nuisance. Replace your gas leaf blower with an electric one, or use a rake, or even leave the leaves in place as compost.

Make your neighbors happy, and help you and your gardener stay healthy, by NOT USING gas leaf blowers!

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 12, 2017 at 11:44 am

Worried about pollution?

Stop with this "build, baby, build" nonsense that only puts more people and vehicles on the road that are stuck in gridlock and idling or constantly circling to find increasingly scarce parking spots.

Stop allowing under-parked buildings where developers can buy their way out of providing enough parking via in-lieu payments to our highly paid bureaucrats and consultants.

Start timing the PA shuttles so they can drop off/pickup the kids at school.

Stop the idiotic preaching while ignoring concrete solutions.

Stop milking the residents to subsidize the commuters who are over-running us so we might be able to afford a new car, electric or not.

Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 12, 2017 at 11:47 am

We are barking up the wrong tree. A simple change in our diet from red meat does more for our carbon footprint than trading ain a SUV for a Tesla or Hybrid car.

How about getting the Diesel engines out of Cal Train as a real start?

Let's add some intellectual honesty to our discussion and include diet choices as a component that easily dwarfs car choice. -- or is it that we can't showcase "the cool Palo Alto way" because food choice is made in the privacy of our kitchens?

Let's add some wholeness to our environmental advocacy.


Timothy Gray

Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Jun 12, 2017 at 11:54 am

God help us if we are depending on Palo Alto do-holders to save the world.

How about something more rooted in economics - a carbon tax?

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 12, 2017 at 11:56 am

God help us if we are depending on Palo Alto spell-checkers to save the world.

Posted by Be polite, please. Shuttles & Schools
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2017 at 12:21 pm

How about we just start being nicer to each other? Good grief. There are lots of good ideas here, but they are stated with so much venom and accusation, it's not really a conversation. It's people spouting off at each other and NOT listening or thoughtfully considering others' point of view.

Democracy works when we listen to each other, identify areas where we can work together and move toward consensus.

Please be kinder and more polite. There are certainly many things we can all do to improve our community.

For the record, Shuttles are timed around secondary school schedules. Many students ride Shuttles to Jordan, JLS, and Paly. Please note that Shuttle funding comes partly from Caltrain, so the Shuttle schedules also have to support the train schedules. Also, the city is exploring expanding Shuttles, accommodating school schedules is part of that planning process.

If you work WITH people toward solutions instead of blaming and kvetching, you get better results.

Posted by Tim Buck II
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 12, 2017 at 12:25 pm

"I am amazed at the hubris of my fellow humans who think since climate change is a man-made catastrophe, then only man can take the right."

OK, let's say you find yourself banging on your head with a hammer. Do you do the hubris thing and stop hammering, or do you pray somebody comes along and gives you a softer hammer?

Posted by Doing Our Best
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2017 at 2:19 pm

We own a hybrid and an electric car. Solar has been cost-prohibitive, and we already lost a new roof, which had to be replaced a year later, because of Chinese-made panels.

If we need to replace the roof again, we will use the solar shingles. However, and note well, that unless you have a tile roof, you will have to add more support beams to your roof ( we will, too). The solar shingles weigh almost as much as roofing tiles, or a little more than slate shingles!

Once my wife is healed from the installation of two titanium rods to support her spine, she hopes she will be able to ride a bicycle again!

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 12, 2017 at 5:50 pm

An obvious solution to reduce per capita impact is to have larger families.

Posted by eachhisown
a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2017 at 5:58 pm

I have my vehicle and I am very happy with it, it is not what many here would choose but that does not bother me at all. I don't criticize your electric car and I don't want you to criticize my vehicle. That said even those some choose Smart Cars or Electric cars and others choose SUV's, full size pickup trucks or Hummers there are smart things that can be done to help, first thing that comes to mind is to keep tires inflated to the proper pressure. That saves gas and saves money. So no matter what kind of car you do choose, there are still smaller ways to help the environment while saving some money

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 12, 2017 at 6:04 pm

The VTA specifically said that it cut service in Palo Alto because we're supposedly already served by the shuttle. We're still stuck with the sales tax increase.

Only after VTA announced the service cuts and its rationale did Palo Alto transportation folks say they would start "working" on things with the VTA when it seems they should have been on top of the issue BEFORE the sales tax vote and working with the VTA to coordinate "planning."

Whether PA is coordinating with CalTrain or the VTA or whoever the stakeholders are in the El Camino /Embarcadero intersection and the Oregon/Middlefield intersection where cars are STILL getting stuck in the middle of intersections.

But I guess we should be silently and politely grateful that they're still "working" on it since they won't respond to residents' complaints, something that's been the topic of several articles and editorials.

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