Cars News and Reviews 785,000 People on the Streets, 40,000 Under a Tent - CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Tuesday

What was supposed to be the mother of all climate marches was scotched after terrorist attacks shook Paris and left it in a state of emergency on the eve of the global climate negotiations, COP21, the 21st Conference of the Parties.

That didn't stop people from taking to the streets. In Paris, thousands of people joined hands all along the route planned for the march. 20,000 pairs of shoes were placed on the Place de la République, symbolising the marchers who were banned from marching on the streets.


But streets elsewhere did see marchers. 785,000 of them, according to organizer Avaaz, in thousands of cities large and small, from Alaska to the Antarctic, from Melbourne to Mumbai to Mexico City. If the large march in Paris had happened, the total would beat one million people. That's huge.

And what a march!

This march is a human family endeavour. There are some photos at the site as well as in the media. I've been following Bill McKibben's twitter feed, replete with photos people have sent him from all over.


It's powerful to see the variety of people who have turned out for this: people in sarong, in suits, in shorts; in puffer jackets, in traditional garb, holding up signs in the world's languages, plus the universal ones: the blue-green earth, the red heart, the yellow sun. I found it hard to keep my eyes dry. Because it elicits an emotion I don't usually feel around climate change: hope.

Nobody knows what the effect is on the negotiators in Paris. What is certain is that the heads of state who have gathered there and gave their pretty speeches on Monday, all concur that it is time for real action.

Then they leave and leave the real work, the hard slog, to the negotiators, who will spend the next two weeks, under what's essentially a big tent, at Le Bourget.

We've got their back. An international poll found that "people in both rich and poor nations broadly favor their government signing an international agreement limiting greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of coal, natural gas and petroleum." In a recent poll of Americans, "most respondents said that in situations where a sacrifice must be made, protecting the environment was more important than stimulating the economy — by 54 percent to 34 percent."

In the mean time, the best way we can help the negotiators is to talk about global warming. Here is a good primer. And remember, the effects of climate change are compounded, sort of like interest on your savings: this means that the first pound of carbon that you save has the biggest effect.




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Cars News and Reviews 2015 Turkey Award: Volkswagen AG- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Thursday

Why hesitate? Without a doubt, Volkswagen AG more than deserves CelloMom's Turkey award this year, for installing devious software in huge numbers of its cars to pretend that they pass the NOx emissions limits while really they don't in real-life, on-the-road use. In the US, VW owners are now offered $1000 to bring in their - our - NOx spewing machines into the dealer for the fix. Of that, $500 is in cash, and $500 is in credit for parts of work done by the dealerships.

The toxic cloud around the issue is still spreading, eveloping an ever growing number of cars, brand and locations, and casting a finally crticial public eye also on the inadequacies of the European test cycle in general, and especially where it overstates fuel efficiency, in some cases up to an egregious 40%. This last bit has been a public secret for quite some time, but now people are calling it out for what it is: scandalous.

Adding to the smog, Volkswagen has denied that its sales have been negatively affected by the "Dieselgate" scandal. But who is going to believe them now?

Happy Thanksgiving! And remember what your mom said: don't lie. Afterward, people won't trust you, ever again.



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Cars News and Reviews Architectural solar cells- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

You know that photo of a parking lot where the rows and rows of cars are covered with a canopy of solar cells? "Share and Like if you think every parking lot should look like this!".

Umm no. I've always argued that the ideal parking lot, say, for a mall, should have several dozen parking spots close to the entrances, all for handicapped parking. Plus a bus stop.

As a sign that I've been living in small-town America for a long time, I had forgotten to advocate for bicycle parking. So here is my bit on that conversation: Share and Like if you think every parking lot should look like THIS:

This is a typical bike lot in the Netherlands. It can accomodate a dozen bikes in the space ordinarily taken up by a single car. A roof protects the bikes against frequent Dutch rains.

But this one has a novel catch: solar panels on the pleasingly curved surface. These are architectural thin-film solar cells that are bendable: so you don't need a flat surface to mount them on; they can be applied to buildings with visually interesting curved surfaces. Think of what an archtect like Zaha Hadid could do with that!



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Cars News and Reviews #BadDino vs Our Children- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Monday

Imagine that, sixty-five million years ago, a comet did not hit the earth, and kick up a dust cloud. Nuclear-winter-like conditions did not follow. The planet remained balmy, and dinosaurs prospered. Further, imagine that even though dinosaurs roamed the earth, there was still enough biological space for mammals to develop, finally producing homo sapiens sapiens with all our ingenuity, our agriculture, our technology, and our addiction to such things as "Call of Duty" and "Candy Crush Saga".

Now suppose that there has been genetic cross-talk, and evolution, and that the dinosaurs that survive after all that time have taken on the shape of businesses. Some are small, some are large; some are behemoths. Some of the most successful ones do trade in those things that are even older than dinosaurs, fossilised carbon in all its forms: coal, oil and natural gas.

This carbon was largely deposited around 300 million years ago, in a geological era called, fittingly, the Carboniferous. So those carbon deposits were already ancient when dinosaurs came on the scene, 230 million years ago. The burning of that carbon yields the carbon dioxide that is now de-stabilising our planet's atmosphere.

Photo by Marcin Polak

Here's the thing about dinosaurs: They have - by definition - a reptile brain. This brain governs the quests for food and for mates. It is associated with such behaviours as aggression, dominance, and defense of territory. These properties are all manifest in the behaviour of today's dinosaurs surrounding their digging up, refining and selling of carbon-based fossil fuels, which they call business.

Think also of the Gary Larson cartoon of the crocodile in the witness box saying, "Well of course I did it in cold blood, you idiot! ... I'm a reptile!"

Here's the other thing about dinosaurs: They lack the mammalian brain. This is the part of the brain that makes mammals care for their young, sometimes for decades, despite the sacrifices that entails. This is where empathy lives, and language, and planning. Nobody knows where love resides, but it is one of the defining characteristics of our species: that we love. And nothing and nobody takes up as much of our love as our children.

In contrast, reptiles don't even know their children: they lay their eggs, and walk away.

It is no wonder that the dinosaurs of the fossil fuel industry misunderstand the significance of a law suit brought by a band of courageous young people, except in its implications for their business.

A number of teens across the United States have sued the government for neglecting its duty under the Public Trust Doctrine. That doctrine, an eminently human concept, states that the government must protect the natural resources that enable the survival and prosperity of all its citizens, including its future citizens.

The children claim that the government is not doing enough to assure a livable climate for future generations. Their organisation, Our Children's Trust, has the backing of excellent lawyers; Their "guardian" is Dr. James Hansen, one of the foremost climate scientists of our time.

The young plaintiffs have filed suits in their own states, and in August 2015 they filed a Climate Lawsuit against the US Government and the President. As stated in their website, "Plaintiffs seek a court order requiring the President to immediately implement a national plan to decrease atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (“CO2”) to a safe level: 350 ppm by the year 2100."

This lawsuit has rung the alarm bells with the fossil fuel industry, who regard it as an encroachment on their territory. They have awakened, and stirred, and in an unusual move they now have banded together to defend that territory. Their ranks include ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Koch Industries and their trade groups, such as the American Petroleum Institute: we're talking about Big Oil and Big Coal.

This group of fossil fuel behemoths are proposing to "intervene" in the court case, saying the children's lawsuit is “a direct threat” that could constrain “the sale of the product they have specialized in developing and selling.”

I don't know what they mean by "intervene", but it sounds ominous. The imbalance of strength borders on the ludicrous. As MSNBC put it: "Big Oil joins legal fight against little kids on climate change". Never mind David and Goliath: this is more like the sling in the young herder's hand versus the firepower of the combined armed forces of the United States.

And adults are standing back and letting it happen. The story was covered by EcoWatch, by MSNBC, and a few local newspapers. And there is a piece in Slate by the intrepid Eric Holthaus. But otherwise there has been a eerie silence surrounding the issue that ought to make us all shout with anger. Apparently it doesn't qualify as "news" that a cabal of major corporations set out to stomp on our children's rights, and on the children defending those rights.

Adults must not let these fossil fuel interests play with our children or our children's future: they are not benign. They are not our children's friends. Let us all call them out for what they are: bad dinosaurs.



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Cars News and Reviews Why VW diesel fix comes later to American drivers- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

European drivers of VW diesel cars are, if anything, even more frustrated than their American counterparts. This is partly because VW is a fixture on European streets: world's largerst car manufacturers makes most of its cars for Europe. It has long been a popular brand known for making sensible and affordable cars, and people (like me!) have a soft spot for its iconic models like the beetle and the campervan.

So when my brother in law in Holland forwarded me a Q&A page on VW diesels, I glommed onto it the way I studied for my driver's test (yes, it's in Dutch; but Google translate does a decent job of turning it into other languages). The page is on the website of ANWB, the Dutch automobile association (even though it's still called a cyclists' association for historic reasons).

Photo by Art of Nature and Life

The questions sent in by its members are very much like those asked by American diesel owners: What will the fix do to my fuel efficiency? The horsepower and torque? The resale value of my car? Should I sue VW? Will I need to pay extra emissions tax on the car purchase retroactively? (the answer is no: the Dutch government intends to make VW responsible for those damages).

And the one big question: WHEN will my car get the fix?

This is really the largest source of frustration, since VW has so far not come forward with a time schedule, or indeed a comprehensive plan, for cleaning up its mess. I'm imagining its engineers are working round the clock to come up with a solution that will simultaneously satisfy the EU emissions standards, the customer's love of the peppy driving style, the various realities of the engineering (a retro-fit is almost always way harder than doing it right the first time) - and the cost. And they'd better get it right in one go, or VW reputation, which is already in the gutter, will get flushed off the streets by a further wave of negative sentiment.

Just a few days ago, VW has announced that in Europe it will recall affected models with a 2.0L diesel engine, to install a software patch that will bring down the NOx emissions to within the European limits. The software patch is expected to be ready by the end of 2015, and get installed in early 2016.

This is only for models with a 2.0L diesel engine; the ones with a 1.6L or a 1.2L diesel engine will need a hardware fix, which will not come until September 2016. If you didn't know that there were such engines in VW cars, it may be because you live in the US where VW doesn't sell them. They are significanly less expensive, both to buy and to run, than the version with the 2.0L engine. In Europe alone there are 3.6 million cars with VW's 1.6L diesel engine.

US owners of VW diesels will have to wait longer as well. The software patch is not going to be enough to get the NOx emissions below the stricter US standards set by the EPA. Note to those who want to see the EPA defunded and crippled: we need this agency to be the watchdog of our air, water and general environment; it has saved countless lives since President Nixon called it into being in 1970.

As one example of the EPA's efficacy, here is a graph of limits on car emissions that have direct bearing on lung health. The graph has two parts: it shows European emissions limits on the left, and American ones on the right, both appropriate to the diesel cars of the VW scandal.

Some emissions limits on car exhaust have been in place in the US since the early 1960s. But those were the bad old days when the word "pollution" was yet to make its way into common use. People littered the streets. People thought it normal that a smokestack emits a billowing black cloud containing soot and toxic gases. Why, people smoked, voluntarily inhaling toxic fumes; cars' ashtrays actually contained cigarette ash, not change for the parking meter or beeswax to keep your kids' hands busy on long trips.

In 1991, the EPA put stricter limits on car exhaust in a schedule called Tier 1. For cars falling in the "Tier 1, bin 5" category, such as these passenger diesel cars, The emissions limits for NOx was 400 mg/mile for gasoline cars and 1250 mg/mile for diesel cars. In addition, there was a 100 mg/mile limit on "PM10" pollution, which means particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers (about a fifth the width of a human hair).

The numbers in the graph are smaller because I've done the translation from mg/mile to mg/km so they can be compared with the European numbers.

In 1999, the EPA sharply curtailed cars' particulate-matter emissions in the Tier 2 schedule by limiting NOx emissions to 70 mg/mile for both gasoline and diesel cars, and PM10 pollution to 10mg/mile. These mandates, together with the fact that US diesel fuel has the lowest sulphur content in the world, makes for the strictest limits for particulate pollution. Thank you, EPA!

In contrast, the European emissions schedule is much more lax, its evolution toward lower emissionis limits running behind that of the EPA by more than 15 years. The Euro3 standards for passenger cars, adopted in 2000, were only a little better than the EPA standards of 1991. Even the new Euro6 schedule, adopted in late 2014, is not as good as the EPA's Tier 2 which was adopted back in 1999.

Most of the diesel cars of the VW scandal fall in the Euro5 schedule.

Not only is the overall emissions in Euro5 higher than in US Tier 2, a higher emissions allowance is given to diesel cars than to gasoline cars. A large part of this is the engineering reality that diesel engines emit more particulate pollution than gasoline ones.

But it also reflects the European drive to lower carbon emissions ever after the Kyoto climate treaty, which they did sign. Europe put itself squarely behind the diesel car because they're up to 30% more fuel efficient than diesel cars and give that much less CO2 emissions. They subsidized diesel fuel to encourage the sales of diesel cars.

Of course EU officials were aware that diesels give more particulate pollution than gasoline engines; the difference in NOx limits reflects that. The trade-off is between health risks to your own population, and climate risks to the global population. In that respect, I think they went for the honourable alternative. It's in the same vein as smoking being your personal decision, while second-hand smoke for your kids is not cool.

It's also a fact that the US fuel efficiency schedule trails the European one by about a decade. Which is too bad because the average American drives a lot more than the average European.

There are now reports that the EU authorities have long known about cars exceeding the emissions limits in real-life driving conditions; it's not clear whether they allowed this because of pressure from the car manufacturers or because of the relentless drive to lower the carbon emissions.

But if you compare the Euro5 numbers to the Tier2 numbers, you see why US drivers of VW diesels have to wait longer for the emissions fix than European drivers. While the software patch will take emissions below the 180 mg/km mandated by the EU, it's not enough to get it below the 43 mg/km mandated by the EPA. This will take a hardware patch.

You can argue about the "fairness" of this, but the EPA does not distinguish between gasoline and diesel cars. Unlike the EU, the US is not a signatory to the Kyoto treaty, too many of its politicians still deny that global warming is happening, and while the CAFE rules require the national fleet to become more fuel efficient, the nation is not yet divorced from its SUVs with V6 engines and all-wheel drive - otherwise known as gas guzzlers. Frugal diesel engines make up a tiny fraction of cars on US roads, so there are no separate rules for them.

Personally, I would love to get the software patch while they're working on the hardware fix. That will get my car below the European NOx limit of 180 mg/km. That's still more than 4 times the EPA limit of 43 mg/km (70 mg/mile) - but it sure beats driving around at 10-40 times over the limit until they finally call in my car for the real fix.



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Cars News and Reviews Martian SUV- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross

On Mars as in the USA, vehicles are getting larger with time. You can see why: payload is tough to get into orbit, and expensive. I don't actually know what the postage for, say, the Mars Rovers' communications devices, but I bet it's larger than the total annual revenue of the postal services of a small country.

The first Mars rover, the 1997 Sojourner, was barely larger than a skateboard. The ones in the next mission in 2004, Spirit and Opportunity, were about the size of a bicycle, albeit one with six wheels and solar-panel wings. And Curiosity, which landed on Mars in 2012, is the size of a car, crammed with cool instrumentation for exploring the Martian surface.

The next one will be the size of a large SUV - electric, of course. There's a great side-by-side comparison of how things happen in the movie The Martian and how NASA's engineers are designing things for the #JourneyToMars project; one of them shows an exploration vehicle designed to house and move two people. They say it's the size of a pickup truck, but I say it looks more like the iconic VW minibus that moved so many happy campers.

But the movie is set way in the future: Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, the one who gets stranded and has to find a way to survive and to work his way home, armed with a good set of skills (he's the missions's mechanical engineer as well as the botanist) and a good sense of humour. If you haven't read the book, yet, I highly recommend it: there's a lot that didn't make it into the movie, and the book is way funnier.

I can't remember if author Andy Weir specified how large that rover was, but I was surprised to see it depicted in the movie as something quite a bit larger than an SUV. I mean, the wheels alone are four feet across.The rover is not as large as the monstrous tar sands trucks, but it's still twice as big as a VW camper van.

I couldn't help thinking, I hope he's got some spare parts for that journey, over rough terrain, to the site of the craft that's going to take him off the surface of Mars, and home, to Earth. Also: I'd hate to have to change the tires on that baby.

And there's another thing about that movie. Maybe it's me with my obsession with climate change. Maybe it's that it's Matt Damon with *his* climate change obsession. (Remember, this is the actor of Gasland, and one of the reporters on Years of Living Dangerously, and the big name on But next time you watch The Martian, pay attention to the speech in the very last scene - the speech that's not in the book!

It goes something like this (and I paraphrase liberally): "When you're out there in space, chances are you will get into a life threatening situation where you think, This is it, this is the end. You can accept that - or you can start to do something about it. You can science the heck out of it, and start solving one problem, and then the next, and then the next. Because that's what's going to get you out of there, and back home to earth, alive."

Sounds to me like a message to a sentient species. One that's lost its way, whose situation seems hopeless, and that needs to find a way back to the earth that was once its home.



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Cars News and Reviews In-Car Smoking Ban- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Thursday

Smokers take note: starting on October 1, 2015, you may no longer smoke in your own car (or anyone else's) if you're sharing the car with a child under 18. The ban covers England and Wales (and the Scottish parliament is considering a similar ban).

This is a Good Thing, especially for the chidren we love. Why expose them to the risks of second-hand smoke? The anger unleashed by the Volkswagen diesel scandal shows clearly that we value the health of our lungs, and there's no worse attach on a child's developing lungs than having them share a small confined space with a cigarette smoker.

Even France, home to the notorious and formerly ubiquitous Gauloise cigarettes, has banned smoking in cars containing children under 12. That ban came into effect July 2015.

Most children already associate the cigarette lighter with the power source for their iPods and whatnot, rather than with lighting up an actual cigarette, anyway.

In the United States, laws on in-car smoking in the presence of children vary from state to state (and sometimes between counties), and the age of the child varies likewise, from 8 in Vermont to 18 in California and Oregon.

If a universal ban of smoking in cars were to be installed, perhaps we can leave out the fire retardants in the upholstery, that come with their own health risks.

And that would be a Doubly Good Thing.



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Cars News and Reviews What to do if you own a Volkswagen diesel car- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard about the emissions fraud perpetrated by Volkswagen, which installed software that enabled some VW models to behave like saints during the EPA emissions tests, while allowing devilish behaviour out on the road while you are at the wheel going about your daily business.

During the tests, the NOx emissions come in under the legal limit, while in real-life conditions it can be 10 to 40 times larger than that legal limit. NOx is a gas that contributes to small-particle pollution (better known as smog) that's bad for lung health.

Why did Volkswagen do this?

Why, to save money, why else?

This is not cool. I bought my diesel Golf because it offered decently high mpg without the environmental and maintenance problems of the battery in a hybrid, and without the range issues of most affordable EVs. I did know about the particulate emissions but made a conscious decision that the low carbon emissions was worth the added pollution, especially since I live in a small town where the dust from unpaved roads make a larger contribution to the particulate levels in the air.

But I didn't buy it so that I can spray egregious NOx emissions.

The fix will very probably decrease the power of the car - I don't mind that: the 2.0L engine is too much for a car this size anyway. But it may also decrease the overall fuel efficiency. And nobody can say right now by how much.

I don't know about you, but getting rid of the car and buying a new one is not in the cards for me right now. And because it's the only car in our family, that's the one I will have to keep driving until this gets sorted out. It could be a while, as the smoggy cloud surrounding the scandal seems to keep spreading, with every passing day implicating more cars, more countries, and possibly other car makers as well, and with lawyers licking their chops over the impending law suits.

What to do in the mean time?

First, find out if the car you own is affected. The rogue software is installed in the following models, manufactured in the last few years:

2009 - 2015 VW Jetta TDI
2009 - 2014 VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI
2010 - 2015 VW Golf TDI
2015 VW Golf Sportwagen TDI
2012 - 2015 VW Beetle TDI
2012 - 2015 VW Beetle Convertible TDI
2012 - 2015 VW Passat TDI
2010 - 2015 Audi A3 TDI

Wait a minute: that last one is not a Volkswagen. Right! But Audi is part of the Volkswagen group, and the Audi A3 shares a platform with the VW Beetle, Golf and Jetta (plus a few models in the Skoda and Seat lineups).

What you do next depends on your circumstance, and in particular where you live exactly. The following assumes that you are sound of body, and willing to do a bit more work to keep the particulate pollution from your diesel car from your neighbours.

If you live in the city:

Park your car and walk, ride your bike, or take the bus or the subway. You know, whenever you practically can. Meet your neighbours. Beg a ride from friends to go to your farmer's market, and make them dinner in return. Find creative ways to get around without using the four wheels - hey, maybe you will find that the hassle of maintaining those wheels aren't worth the convenience you get from it.

If you live outside the city:

In small towns and rural areas you don't have much of a choice, as distances are larger and public transportation more sparse if they exist at all. Plan your errands to minimise your total miles: shop for groceries on the way home from work, and plan ahead to do all your errands in the same general area on the same trip. Which can save you a lot of time as well as money and emissions. Walk or take the bike where you can (and where it's safe). Carpool with people who don't have a diesel car.

No matter where you live, on a bright and sunny day your car will make more smog than on overcast or rainy days; this is because the UV light from the sun promotes smog formation. So if you have the luxury of timing your errands, try to do them on overcast or rainy days, and walk or bike on the sunny days (that works out in a fortunate way!).

However, if it's not sunny because a pall of smog has parked itself over where you live, don't drive your diesel car. The nanoparticle aerosols already in the air will glom onto the NOx coming out of your tailpipe and form the dangerous particulate pollution.

As with any dangerous air-borne anything (say, the VOCs from painting or from your nail polish), proper ventilation helps a lot. Do your drives on breezy rather than wind-still days. Smog particles actually don't form the instant the NOx leaves your tailpipe: the NOx forms a nucleation center that accretes other tiny particles, and this process can take a few hours (depending on how many of those nanoparticles are around), so it's not like your car is coughing lung-cancer clouds directly onto the cyclists with whom you share the road.

Consider this: your diesel car, even with its rogue software and its high NOx emissions, is still a heck of a lot cleaner than diesel cars and trucks that used to spew those visibly black clouds wherever they went. Also: in the US, particulate pollution comes overwhelmingly from the dust from unpaved roads. My overview of particulate sources is here.

I'm not trying to apologise for the ills of polluting emissions, and certainly not for covering them up. I'm trying to tell you that there is no reason to panic even if you are forced to keep driving your diesel car. By all means, try to stay out of that car as much as possible. But if you must drive it, so be it.

And when it comes to the recall, please do bring in your car to the dealer. I'm hoping the EPA will force VW to pay out for every car that is brought in for the software patch, or however they decide to resolve this. About $500 per car would pretty much guarantee that every car will get fixed. If significant torque (="fun drive") and fuel efficiency is lost, that may have to be more like $1000.

But make no mistake: even though the EPA sets the legal limits for emissions of various substances, in the aggregate driving a car is dangerous and dirty. It's as simple as that. Every car running on fossil fuels, not only the diesel cars, emits a toxic brew of volatile organic compounds and aerosols. And carbon dioxide in spades, more than a pound per mile if your car does 20 mpg.

It comes down to this: Two Wheels Good, Four Wheels Bad.



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Cars News and Reviews The Popemobile is a Fiat 500- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Wednesday

Pope Francis, arriving in the United States, landed at the Andrews Air Force Base, was enthusiastically greeted by a welcoming committee headed by President Obama and Vice-President Biden, walked the red carpet, was cheered by the crowd inside the terminal building - and drove away in a Fiat 500.

To be precise, it's a Fiat 500L, the larger version with more space in the back. But it's a Fiat 500 nevertheless. And this is fitting for a pope who has chosen simplicity over pomp (just look at the saint whose name he has adopted). This is the man who, as Cardinal of Buenos Aires, used to take the bus to work.

And now, Pope Francis has skipped over the Rolls Royces and the Cadillacs, and climbs into a Fiat 500.

Talk about leading by example. He has suddenly made it utterly cool to get into a small car. Not just a small car: the iconic small car.

It is also a fitting start to his US tour, on which he will argue for social justice, which increasingly includes climate justice. His encyclical, Laudato Sí, calls for a radical change in the way we do things, in the interest of the poor and the vulnerable. Getting into a smaller car, for starters. If you haven't yet read the encyclical: it is not long, it is scientifically correct, and it is profoundly moving, even to a non-Catholic like me.

On Thursday, September 24, the Pope is addressing a special joint session of the US Congress. He's expected to spur them on to climate action, which they have been singularly unable to do so far. In support of the Pope and his message, there will be a rally for Moral Action on Climate, out on the National Mall. I intend to be there.

[Of course, Italian newspapers have highlighted the made-in-Italy popemobile. La Reppublica (which has a special section on Vatican affairs) has an entire slide show on the Fiat 500 on the Andrews Air Force Base. It's here; enjoy.]



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Cars News and Reviews "The butler - I mean the software - did it."- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Monday

This is the 21st century where very few of us have butlers. That's nothing new: it has always been the case that very few people have butlers. But what is new is software, and most of us got that. Software still won't make you a cup of tea, but it sure can act as your personal assistant, your secretary, and your accountant.

And software now runs your car, which is said to be evolving into what's basically a large tablet on wheels. Software regulates the mixture of fuel and air injected into the cylinders of your car's engine, the timing of the ignition, and myriad other housekeeping tasks that used to be performed by mechanical devices.

Like butlers, software can, shall we say, embellish reality. Like a butler compliments his employer on his looks after the elaborate grooming for the dinner party (think Jeeves), so a car's software can be devious. But unlike butlers, who make their own decisions about whether and when to deliver a white lie, software has to be deliberately made deceitful by the people writing it.

This is a roundabout way of saying that Volkswagen is fully responsible (and has admitted as much) for installing less-than-honest software in some of its diesel models. The crooked code detects when the car is going through an emissions testing cycle, and adjusts various parameters to minimise emissions of NOx gas. These nitrogen oxides contribute to smog formation which is very bad for your lungs.

Outside of the test cycle, that is, under normal driving conditions, the cars affected emit 10 to 40 times the legal limit of NOx.

That stinks.

Cheating the EPA is such a serious infraction that Volkswagen could face fines up to $37,500 per car, which is a lot more than the sale price of the car. Nearly half a million vehicles are affected. Including mine.

Diesel cars are known to surpass the EPA fuel economy specs in real-life driving. My 2012 diesel Golf averages about 38mpg, significantly more than the 34mpg stated in the spec sheets - but I wouldn't want to have that advantage at the expense of spewing all that NOx.

The irony is that the story was uncovered by a team of people who set out to show that diesel engines can run clean, especially now that European governments are starting to put their support less behind the diesel car and more behind electric ones.

So my car will soon get called into the dealership. Just as a butler found to be deceitful gets fired, so the duplicitous software will get removed and replaced with a non-rogue version.

Restoring the NOx emissions to acceptable levels will mean giving up on horsepower or fuel efficiency, or both. If I had a say on the character of the replacement software, I know I'd go for better fuel efficiency over more horsepower, any day.

This engine puts out way too much power for this size car, anyway.



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Cars News and Reviews Wind Parks: Heavenly Vision or Eyesore?- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Saturday

Here is the vision for our zero-carbon future: Everybody will get around in electric cars. And all the electricity to run those cars will come from renewable sources, like solar and wind, both as good as zero carbon, once you start manufacturing them using energy from solar cells or windmills that you've already built.

Great idea, right?

Another source of renewable energy, hydropower, already provides more than 6 percent of the electricity consumed in the United States in 2015. They were built in a gung-ho time: first their construction gave lots of jobs. Once they were finished, they supplied electricity to growing cities as well as water to both cities and agricultural users. Not to mention the opportunity for water sports, in all those places that would normally not have enough water for a row boat, never mind yachts and water skis.

People love dams. But oddly enough, people don't love wind parks.

That's too bad, because wind is actually one of the most promising sources of clean energy. Already, at 60,000 megawatt (MW) installed capacity, it supplies 4 percent of the electricity used in the nation, and it's growing by leaps and bounds.

Back in 2008 wind already generated 52,000 gigawatt-hours of energy. A gigawatt (GW) is a billion Watts. But those 52,000 GWh is a tiny fraction of how much energy could potentially be generated by wind in the US: That number is mind-bogglingly large: 37,000,000 GWh, or 30 times the nation's entire current electricity consumption. Conveniently, the wind potential is reasonably well-distributed, peaking over a broad swath of the midwestern states as well as at the coasts.


So why aren't we buliding wind parks like mad?

The reason has to do with something that can be neither reasoned, or measured: it is what people consider to be beautiful. People who live near a site where a wind park is proposed tend to say that wind mills are ugly, and mar the beauty of their view. Or that tourists will stop coming to their beach if an offshore wind park is visible from the boardwalk.

I personally beg to differ. I think modern wind mills are rather beautiful, and it always lifts my spirits to see a row of them turning in that stately way. It smells of clean energy: of wind un-burdened by soot particles and mercury and ash; of innovation and ingenuity; of the future.

If I wasn't happily married already, I would not mind getting married on a wind park. As a tourist, I would love to go visit an offshore wind park, which are said to attract, over time, a ecosystem of marine life around their bases where fishing boats cannot come. An offshore wind park is a marine safe zone, and I could easily see going boating or snorkeling there. And afterwards I would go back to the shore and do all the beachy things you do on a beach, all the while admiring the windmills in the distance.

I really don't see the problem with wind mills.

But even as people have enough sense to prefer, when given the choice, a wind mill over a fracking rig in their back yard (duh!), when someone actually wants to build a windmill the heels tend to get dug in deep. Especially when it comes to their sea view.

And that is why most offshore wind parks are in Europe. In 2014 Denmark got 39 percent of its electricity from wind. On one gloriously windy day in July 2015 its wind parks generated 140% of its needs.

In the US, there are no offshore wind farms.

Which is a real shame, because the potential on both coasts is enormous. Those seaside communities could tap into that huge resource, all carbon free. It would bring jobs. The parks would become marine sanctuaries that attract tourists and more jobs.

If you look at it that way, wind parks are beautiful!

Anyway, it beats mountain top coal mining, or digging for tar sands.



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Cars News and Reviews Coal Is Amazing - CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

The coal industry just badly tore a nail while desperately scrabbling for a handhold, trying to keep itself from sliding down a slippery slope to oblivion. Okay, that "oblivion" bit was wishful thinking on my part, coal will be with us for a while yet, for while it yields the dirtiest form of energy in so many ways, it's also the most plentiful and the cheapest.

But it is, as the Guardian points out, a sign of the coal industry's desperation that it feels the need for a charm offensive. The most recent is the "Coal Is Amazing" ad from the Minerals Council of Australia.

The ad features suggestive landscapes in shades of charcoal grey, with a soft-spoken female voiceover whispering seductive things about coal.

In response, Australians have taken to Twitter and subverted the #CoalIsAmazing hashtag with their own take, peppered with plenty of black humour. Or should that be anthracite humour? All the sarcasm stops have been pulled out in this reaction, the outpouring of disgust completely eclipsing the original intent of the hashtag.

Here are a few samples:


In response to "aesthetic objections" to wind farms:

Referring to the child labour practices of the 19th century when coal drove the Industrial Revolution:

In response to the claim that is it now "40 percent cleaner":

There are, of course, movie references:

But it is this tweet that definitively puts coal with other things that people once thought were a good idea but turned out to be a very bad mistake:

Go ahead, read the #CoalIsAmazing feed for yourself. I bet there are more gems in there.

Is this outpouring of sarcasm going to take down the Australian coal industry? I don't think so. But like any torn nail, this one will annoy the coal lobby for a long time. Because the crowd's countercampaign is sticky. I for one will remember it.



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Cars News and Reviews How to Slash Transportation Emissions- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Saturday

California (who else?) is leading the nation in reducing carbon emissions. The state is gripped in a devastating drought that is made worse by the effects of climate change, and Governor Jerry Brown is proposing a suite of bold mandates. By 2030, the energy efficiency of buildings must be doubled; half the state's electricity is to come from renewable energy, and California's transportation must run on half the oil that it uses today.

Of these, the first two are pretty straightforward. Energy efficiency in buildings is such a good investment that it should be a no-brainer, since many measures pay for themselves in a few years. The renewable energy sector is already providing 20 percent of California's electricity, and solar energy in particular is now growing in leaps and bounds, so it's quite possible for the renewables portion to reach 50 percent in 15 years.

Everybody can see that those two goals are within reach. But the third goal, to reduce transportation use of petroleum by half, is becoming a contentious issue. In large part it's the reality that, in California like everywhere else in the nation, almost everybody depends on their car to get them places. Places they really need to go, like work. There are pockets with great public transport, but by and large the car is it.

The oil industry, whose profits come in large part from our wallets, which we open every time we stop at the gas station, has entered the "discussion", casting the proposal as a disaster and painting a near future in which gasoline is rationed, leading to long lines like during the oil shocks of the 1970s, and even the banning of minivans.

Of course they would. It's their profits at stake here, after all, and in the long term we're talking about their very existence that's on the line, if this kind of legislation spreads beyond California the way sensible legislation tends to do.

It's naturally in an oil company's interest to scare you about an oil-free future, or even a future with a lot less oil. But the truth is that oil executives have a lot more to fear from this proposed mandate than you and I. It's their disaster we're talking about here.

Would half the Californians drive in Tesla Model S electric cars in 2030? Hmmm. It would be super cool, but unlikely: the new Model S, that P85D that broke Consumer Reports' scoring scale, has a price tag with six digits.

But there are other ways to sharply decrease our reliance on gasoline.


Go Electric.

Even right now there are a number of options for EVs and plug-ins, like the Chevy Volt, the Audi A3 e-Tron hatchback, the VW e-Golf, and the Nissan Leaf. In the coming few years the selection, like the vehicles' range, is only going to increase: car manufacturers can be expected to include one or more electric options in their lineup soon, and these will be priced so that you don't have to be super-rich to buy them.

Tesla itself is planning to offer a more affordable EV, with a 200 mile range and a price around $35,000. This is coming in 2017.


ReThink Your Ride.

This would be a good time to consider whether the car you own is really suited to your needs. If you have one or two children, and aren't planning more, do you really need that minivan?

Maybe your answer is yes. Mine was: for a while, my parents lived around the corner from us, and our minivan carried the six of us often, and very comfortably.

But my parents moved away, and I found that we did very well in a VW Golf, which is considered the "plain vanilla" family car in the Netherlands. It carries all four of us, plus our two cellos. With all doors closed. (Disclosure: one of the cellos is a 3/4 cello. But you get the idea).

If you need the back row to accommodate three child seats, it may make sense to buy the more expensive narrow car seats rather than a wider car.

Generally, smaller cars have much better fuel efficiency than larger cars, as well as smaller price tags, so you could win out both ways here.


Same Ride, Fuel Efficient Engine.

When that Golf was ten years old, we got a new car: it was another Golf. I guess we're a plain vanilla kind of family! But by that time, turbodiesel engines had come into their own and our new Golf does 38 mpg in our daily routine. That's twice as frugal as the old Golf, with the same space inside. What a deal! In the ordinary course of things (no road trips) I go to the gas station once a month.

There are actually quite a few cars out there that seat more than five people and do better than 30mpg. And eventually they will come to the United States: it's only a matter of time before the federal fuel efficiency rules will require them.


You've Got Until 2030.

Here's what really works in our favour: there's no need to rush out right now and buy a more fuel efficient car: Just be aware of these choices next time you go car shopping, which will happen at least once in the fifteen years between now and 2030. Besides, with the fuel efficiency mandate pushing towards more frugal cars as time goes on, the longer you wait, the more choices you'll have for fuel-frugal cars.

This way you have time to save up for a sweet ride. While the up-front costs may be higher, like for a diesel car or an EV, the cost of running the car is significantly less than for a conventional car running on gasoline.


Move Outside the Box

I'm talking about the box with four wheels. A bike is way less expensive than a car, and walking is absolutely free! If you manage to weave in either or both for your transportation needs, that's more savings both in emissions and financially.

If we all took these steps, many of which are more fun, or save you money in the long run, or both, we really will only need 50 percent the oil we need today for transportation, no rationing required. In fact, there will be a lot fewer people who will need to make that trip to the gas station.

And that would be a cool thing. Inside California and elsewhere.



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Cars News and Reviews What to Do About Our Choked Roads?- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Friday

There is a poster, produced by the city of Muenster in Germany, for their 2001 campaign to push for better space management of their roads. It compares, side by side, the space required for sixty people to commute to work by car, by bus and by bike.

A picture is worth a thousand words! A composite picture like this poster is worth more than three thousand words, which is great for me, as I have a few other things to say.

Car commuting is a great example of the prisoners' dilemma: going by car is great if it's just you and your four wheels on the road, and you can go unimpeded from A to B. But real life is never like that (unless you work the graveyard shift). So many of us now commute by car that we're constantly in each other's way, suffering delays and stress together, wasting time and money sitting in interminable traffic that only seems to be getting more interminable with every passing year.

So far, the standard response has been to widen the roads, or to build more roads. But those measures tend to be counter-productive: New roads are like magnets, sucking in cars: they exert a seeming irresistible attraction to more traffic, which proceeds to clog up the new lanes or roads, and you're back to where you started with the congestion, except that now there are even more cars on the road in total.

Quite apart from the health hazards coming out of tailpipes. Plus the carbon emissions.

Inside a city there isn't even any space for more or wider roads. In places that do have the space, building new roads or widening them is expensive. So much so, that Iowa's Department of Transportation has made the unprecedented proposal to stop building new roads, so that more funds are available for the maintenance of existing infrastructure.

A lot of technologists are saying that the near-future self-driving cars will help dissolve traffic jams. Sure, they probably will - for a while, and on the highways where the distance between human-driven cars must be large. But again, inside cities, where congestion already puts traffic at a stand-still, adding self-driving cars is not going to help much to get it flowing.

In Los Angeles, things have gotten to such a head that the city, the birth place of "car culture", is taking the astonishing step of re-examining its relationship with its freeways. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, columnist Christopher Hawthorne says,

"Increasingly the fundamental task Los Angeles faces is one of re-urbanization — of infill development, of reanimating or repairing the public realm. At the heart of that task is an understanding that the most successful kinds of spaces in the city are the ones where a broad range of activities has a chance to play out.

In this emerging Los Angeles, the freeway is an outlier, a hulking support system for an aging, if not outdated, set of beliefs."

Strong words indeed! However, this sentiment is not exceptional, but part of the broader zeitgeist. The state of California, suffering from a crippling and prolonged drought that can be attributed at least partly to man-made climate change, is proposing to slash the use of petroleum for transportation by half by 2030.

If the bill goes through, it will be very interesting to see how California will get to the 50% reduction in 15 years. They already have the nations largest fleet of electric cars, but both EV ownership and the power generated by renewable sources like wind and solar would need an improbable jump to eliminate all carbon emissions from half cars and trucks on the road today. My sense is that popular resistance to nuclear energy makes that avenue not a realistic option, and in any case it would be hard to ramp up nuclear energy production on the scale required within fifteen years.

Most commentators on the road congestion problem have dismissed public transportation as a viable option. (I'm talking about buses, light rail and trains, not car-sharing or Uber). I agree that on the whole public transportation in the US is patchy, not very fast, often unreliable, with the exception of some highly localised successes. In short, it stinks.

I say that it not a reason to write it off. Public transportation can be quite glorious: fast, on time, clean, and used by a large cross section of the population. Look to Seoul, Tokyo, Paris or Rome for examples of places where that is the case.

Photo by Supermac1961

Inside cities, reducing the number of cars on the roads would make space for a whole bunch of cool things besides bicycles: things like sidewalk cafes, street markets, festivals; things that turn a bunch of buildings into a beloved neighbourhood. A place where people want to spend time - which is why such streets can be called Sticky Streets.

A combination of a good public transport network and safe cycling infrastructure (to cover the notorious "last mile" to and from the home) can do wonders, not only to traffic congestion, but also to the health and wealth of the residents and - yes - their happiness.

The big secret of public transportation is that it has to be public. A patchwork of private enterprises is simply never going to deliver the way a seamless public network can. The best infrastructure - light rail, BRT lanes, fast-charging stations for electric buses - is expensive, and can often only be reasonably undertaken by a city or even a country or a state.

This is where public education comes in. People need to be convinced that the public outlays are worth it, paying for themselves in the long run not only financially but also in better health. And that it's okay that parking space is being exchanged for safe separated bicycle paths, because that helps reclaim our streets from the automobile, which has had it for long enough now, thank you very much.

I expect to see more outreach programs soon, like the one that generated that poster for Muenster.



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Cars News and Reviews License-Plate Parking- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

I'm squinting at the parking meter, grateful that it's a quiet weekday morning and nobody is behind me waiting their turn to use it. That gives me a chance to take my time with the new routine, and to step back and admire the photovoltaic panel mounted on top like a minimalist umbrella.

But let's step back in time a bit: In the beginning, there was the mechanical parking meter. Putting in a quarter (or a lot of quarters, depending on where you are parking) made the steel arrow move to the desired parking time. The arrow sits in a glass window, so you can see it from both sides of the parking meter.

Parking meters lined up down the length of the street alwas reminded me of the scene in the Odyssey, where Penelope challenges her suitors to shoot an arrow through the eyes of twelve axe heads. Except parking meters were never that well lined up.

Then there was the Pay and Display scheme: this is where you park your car and pay at a post that dispenses a slip of paper that says your car is good to stand there until the time stamped on the paper. This you put on your dash board.

This saves a lot of meter repair, and the cost (and risk) of emptying the meter of its coins. But it still broadcasts to the world, or at least to anyone who glances through the wind shield, how much longer your car is going to stand there. That's really not great for privacy or theft safety.

So now the city of Delft, which has pioneered all sorts of transportation measures that make cities more liveable, is running a pilot program of license plate based parking called, in true Germanic form, "kentekenparkeren".

As with Pay and Display, there is one meter for the parking lot (run on a solar panel, mounted above the meter). However, it no longer dispenses the paper with the time stamp. And as we shall see, it requires no coin pickup either.

Start by entering the license plate ("kenteken") of the car you are parking. Apparently it does not require a Dutch license plate, which is nice if you're visiting from outside the country, like France of Poland.

Then you enter the time you plan to park the car. This is still a fixed amount, even though you get to choose it. It would be great if you could enter some long time, and get reimbursed if you return before the time is up. But maybe that's for a future implementation. For now, you estimate the time you need.

The machine responds with the amount you owe. At this particular spot it's apparently €0.60 an hour, really not that much. This is the outskirts of a small city, after all. Of course, if you dont owe a parking fee, like on Sundays, the meter would give you a friendly reminder, which a mechanical parking meter never did.

But when you look for the coin slot, you'd be disappointed. Even though there is one (barely visible in the photos, to the right and slightly below the screen), it has been carefully sealed. This is the 21st century now, and no cities want to pass by the safety and cost savings of electronic payments.

You can use a bank card (very popular with the Dutch, who use it for everything, including a 30-cent parking fee), or if you are a hapless tourist you can use a credit card. If you have neither, you're out of luck -- although in practice, chances are you can find a friendly Dutch person who will bail you out with their bank card if you give them the cash.

That's it. This machine prints an optional receipt, but you put that in your wallet or purse, not on the dashboard.

A meter maid would scan the license plate, and the municipal computer would respond with the expiration time. I assume that, once this system if fully implemented, any parking tickets for Dutch cars would be automatically issued by the city computer and arrive at the address to which the car is registered, with a pre-printed money transfer card that only requires your bank account number and your signature to complete. This is how you pay the fine if you run a red light and the camera gets activated (as, I'm sorry to say, I can confirm from personal experience).

Here's the really cool thing about this deal for my dad: My dad has a handicapped-parking card that he hangs on the rear-view mirror. It allows him to park for free, at places designated for the handicapped, or regular places, or places in residential zones that are reserved for residents. As well as anywhere inside the largely car-free city core.

That makes this card extremely desirable, and a magnet for thieves. (When he received the card, it came with an offer for an in-car safe box in which you can lock it away). But now you don't need to bring the card at all: I've registered my aunt's car, which is his motorised transport for the summer, to his handicapped-parking card, and now the car can be parked anywhere inside the city of Delft, without even using the parking meter and without displaying the handicapped-parking card. (Outside of Delft we still have to remember to bring the card, since this is a local experiment).

So this is the true end of unsightly rows of parking meters. Allright, individual parking meters come on poles, perfect to lock your bike to, but that makes it even more unsightly. Bikes belong in their own parking spots. And there would never be arguments about parking tickets issued at meters that don't work.



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Cars News and Reviews Urban Heat - CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Tuesday

"Urban Heat" sounds like a cool name for a band. Unfortunately it's nothing like that. In fact, it's not exactly cool. The "urban heat island" refers to the fact that the average temperature of a large city is higher than the surrounding rural area. Sometimes, quite a bit higher.

This is because a lot of energy is used in cities, for transportation, heating, cooling, lighting, running computers, washing machines, coffee makers and all the other machines that make modern life possible. And once that energy has done its job, it turns into heat.

And that's even before taking into account some other things that make it worse, like the lack of cooling trees, and the presence of dark asphalt and rooftops that are very good at absorbing heat from the sun. So there is more than fresh air that makes it so "refreshing" to get out of the city and into the countryside.

Urban heat is hard on cars. On a nice sunny day cities can be warmer than the area around it by up to 27F (15C). And if you park your car in the sun, it can get hotter still.

This hapless Megane got stuck in a confluence of unfortunate circumstances: Its owner had parked it in the sun, on an asphalt lot, in an Italian town, right when a heat wave hit it in August 2015. Oh, and the car was dark blue. Outside, the temperature was in the high 30s centigrade (38C =100F), and since a car is a nice greenhouse under any circumstance, the temperature inside the car must have shot way up: high enough to cause the plastic parts on the car to melt.

This photo makes me wonder what the inside of the car must have looked like. I imagine the radio could have looked a bit like Dali's melted clock. In fact, any electronic part must have suffered immensely. And think of all the plastic parts from the carpeting to the wire insulation. So there's another reason to leave you car out of the city, at least on very warm and sunny days.

Here is a cool interactive graphic from the amazing folks at Climate Central, illustrating the urban heat effect for an urbs, that is to say a city, near you.

Go ahead: give it a spin. Then, next time you go downtown on a hot day, take the train or bus. It keeps one more heat engine off the streets, and spares your car the wear and tear of being in a furnace. Not to mention the risk of melting its electronics.



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Cars News and Reviews Not Enough Fear and Loathing in The Hague?- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

Since I shamelessly borrowed, for the title for this post, from Hunter Thompson's book "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", let me start by saying that I've actually never visited one of the Dutch "coffeeshops" where they don't sell coffee. So the photo below is not mine, I found it at a website called This menu is pretty, and it's from a coffeeshop called Tweede Kamer, perhaps in honour of the Lower Chamber of the Dutch Parliament that passed the policy that, while marijuana, like other drugs, is not legal in the Netherlands, possession of marijuana "for personal use" (up to 5 grams, if you must know) is not prosecuted.

This is probably the most famous example of the Dutch ability to see something without seeing it.

Another thing they see, all the time, is water. Water is embedded in the national psyche, not only as a necessity of life, but also as the stuff that comes out of the sky (no language has more words for "rain" than Dutch), and the stuff you need to keep out to keep the country from getting flooded. Half the country is a gift from the rivers whose delta it forms. The other half has been hard-won from the sea. And the sea is now threatening to take back what belongs to it.

When the IPCC came out with its fifth Assessment Report in 2013, the projection for sea level rise was 26-82cm. In the Dutch news, this was reported as "up to 82cm": they didn't even bother mentioning the lower bounds, they need to be prepared for the worst case.

So the country of 17 million is battening down the hatches. They're pumping €20bn into a fortification of the Delta Works, a system of coastal defenses. The Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment (formerly the Ministry of Traffic and Water Management) is shoring up dikes all along the coastline. It's spending an extra €2.3bn on innovative river management projects, because when a river dike breaks, that's a disaster too.

They see clearly the climate change that causes sea level rise and the kind of heavy rainfall that causes rivers to swell. There's no climate change denial here.


Image Havenbedrijf Rotterdam N.V.

On the other hand, Shell is a fixture in the country. The port of Rotterdam is a huge transportation hub running almost exclusively on fossil fuels, and is ringed with oil refineries. It's so successful that they've had to build an enormous extension that juts out into the sea, that can accomodate modern supertankers carrying mind-boggling amounts of oil and goods.

Meanwhile, the country still get less than 5% of its energy from renewables, which is crazy if you consider that the windmill is its iconic trademark. Sure, they're building offshore wind parks, finally, but because of resistance based on "aesthetics", the total capacity is still dwarfed by the wind installations in near-neighbouring Denmark. And they're blowing off building an experimental wind park that proponents say could be crucial for developing next-generation windmills.

And day to day, nobody is talking about climate change much.

I'm not saying the Dutch are living a drug-addled existence out of touch with reality, coffeeshops notwithstanding. They are a matter-of-fact kind of people who prize having both feet firmly on the ground. Even so, I feel there's not enough fear - or should I say respect - of the sea. There's not enough loathing of the peddlers of a fossil-fueled lifestyle, not enough of connecting the dots between the fossil fuels burned by everybody and the incessant, tough, expensive fight against the rising waters.

But maybe, just maybe, the Dutch are starting to shake off the comfortable haze brought on by the prosperity made possible, among other things, by North Sea Oil and the country's natural gas reserves.

There are wake-up calls. The Dutch Natural Gas Company has pumped so much natural gas out of a bubble beneath Groningen, that in parts of the northeast of the country the soil surface is lowered by more than a foot: 35cm. That's not great for a place that's already below the current sea level by one meter. But these changes are slow and not very visible.

What is plain to see are the cracks in people's homes, caused by earthquakes in the area due to the settling of the soil. The number of eartquakes has been increasing drastically over the past two decades, and it's been estimated that two of every three homes are at risk of structural damage.

So there's been an outcry. In response, the government has reduced the production of natural gas in the area. But the lost production volume has to be compensated by buying natural gas from Russia. In order to decrease that dependence, Minister Kamp, of Economic Affairs, has now proposed drilling for natural gas in the North Sea.

Nobody will complain about the aesthetics, since the drilling platforms will be way out of sight of the shore. But if they go ahead with that plan, the Dutch government will never reach the emissions reductions to which they have committed.

The climate activists Urgenda, who do have a clear view both of climate risks and of their citizen responsibility, have now challenged the government in a landmark citizen lawsuit to force it to abide by its own plan.

The citizens won.

I hope this is the beginning of a shift. I hope that, when those damaged homes in Groningen are rebuilt, they will be not only more earthquake resilient but also more climate resilient: that they will run on renewable energy, and that the building of such homes will give rise to a whole new class of job opportunities that have nothing to do with the production of natural gas. Indeed, that natural gas will become quite obsolete.



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