Climate Movement Agenda: One Million (Frequent) Electric Buses Plus Protected Bikeways, “Everywhere”

Yves here. Hoexter makes an important point, that many climate activists’ proposals have focused on energy sources, as in promoting more use of solar or wind energy, and haven’t focused on how consumers use energy, as in the related infrastructure. Whether or not you agree with his proposals for electric buses and bicycles, they do make for a point of departure in getting to pragmatic reforms.

By Michael Hoexter, a policy analyst and marketing consultant on green issues, climate change, clean and renewable energy, and energy efficiency. Originally published at New Economic Perspectives.

The US climate movement, in which I am active, has not to date been effective enough in getting serious climate action on the agenda of government leaders, especially on the federal level. This weakness is in part shared with the international climate movement more generally, though the level of climate denial both among political elites and among the general population in the US is unmatched in the world. With that denial comes resistance to climate action, though for a variety of reasons, no actions commensurate to the climate challenge have really been attempted by governments in the world, whatever the local level of resistance offered.


On the one hand, the climate movement has focused on resisting the expansion of the fossil fuel industries; implied or stated in current campaigns versus the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking, or crude oil by rail is the idea that by blocking or trying to block these projects that, in yet unspecified ways, clean energy solutions will be implemented subsequently. Too often, at least locally, it appears that activists are looking for change to happen either within the fossil fuel companies due to lawsuit, protest or nonviolent resistance or at the interface between those companies and government, i.e. some form of regulation or outright ban that will constrain or, maybe, transform the fossil fuel giants.  In my area, demonstrations often occur at or near oil refineries and, in my view, too often, activists have called, in speeches and rhetorical flourishes for fossil fuel companies to join or fund the clean energy revolution, either via their own good will or under duress. Protestors seem to be unaware that the fossil fuel companies have little of the intellectual capital to help build the clean energy future and I’m not sure we would want them to acquire it either. While trying to block new infrastructure projects is a very good idea, activists shouldn’t devote too much of their total efforts in trying to “convert” the oil companies, as this is not where the action of energy transformation will occur. Fossil fuel industry companies might eventually transform themselves to become suppliers of clean energy technology or they might not; for the needed energy transition to happen, the participation of the soon-to-be-former fossil fuel industry is not important.

Many activists in the anti-fossil fuel movement, that sometimes calls itself the “climate justice” movement, appear also often to be motivated by “small is beautiful” social and technological visions that are at some remove from the present-day reality of energy, politics, civilization, and the economy. The ideal of a “return to nature” has been strong in the environmental movement since its inception in the Romantic reaction to industrialization in England, Northern Europe and the US in the late 18th and 19th Centuries.  In the 20th and now 21st Centuries, the cultures of tribal, rural and less urbanized peoples have been held up by some from the countercultural and environmental movements as representing a more nature-friendly way of life and are therefore to be emulated. Sometimes activism then takes the form of attempting to build “pre-figuring” cooperatives that try to show what movement members would like society to look like.

The rooftop photovoltaic solar panel and decentralized distributed energy have become for some the technological analogue to this idealization of small and more tribalized communities. There are some who focus on “smart-grids” and “micro-grids” as if these themselves represent climate solutions, while they seem, in my estimation, to be more of an accommodation to a small-is-beautiful aesthetic preference and shrunken political ambitions rather than efforts to stabilize the global climate. Advocates of small-scale solutions don’t seem to be grappling with the scale of energy inputs and energy use that our economy rests upon or even a less wasteful.

On the other hand, there is the dominance among the supposedly more pragmatic parts of the climate movement of the policy orientation that might be called climate Pigovianism (after the economist Arthur Pigou), the idea that the best and “purest” climate policy is the pricing of carbon emissions. The pricing of carbon will have its place but only in the context of a broader program of climate initiatives from the side of government, what might be called climate Keynesianism, about which I am currently writing a longer piece. Pricing carbon is a thin tin whistle of what governments can and should do in the face of oncoming climate catastrophe.

Not surprisingly, what has gone missing in the neoliberal era, that has redirected the power of government to serve primarily the most privileged and wealthy, is the use of government power, innovation, and investment to solve or significantly ameliorate the climate crisis. All in all, the climate movement, despite claims to radicalism, is in the grip of neoliberalism and prey to its eviscerated notions of what popular, collective and government action can do.   The movement is currently caught between an odd combination of far-from-reality ideals and, via climate Pigovianism, unimaginative acceptance of the “magic of markets” tripe that has been repeated ad nauseam by mainstream economists and neoliberal ideologues over the past 35 years.

Instead, the climate movement needs to recognize that perhaps painful breaks with its own neoliberal assumptions as well as, in some sectors, a heavy reliance on small-is-beautiful, localized approaches, need to take place. With this recognition, the climate movement should and (eventually) will place a series of demands on government to invest in clean energy solutions, as well as regulate the fossil fuel companies and energy markets more generally from the standpoint of the public good.   These will be steps in the direction of the future net-zero emitting society that is required for us to avert the worst climate catastrophes. The climate movement will, in my view, remain stuck in limbo until it advances this series of demands on government, or an equivalent series, to create new pieces of infrastructure and/or services via governments’ ability to spend, create new institutions, and reshape existing institutions.

A “Silver BB”: Frequent Electric Public Transit Plus Safe Biking Infrastructure

Under the influence of a culture of instant gratification or some primitive process of our minds, many of us look for “silver bullet” solutions to various problems. To anyone who surveys the scope of changing the energy basis of society, a rational view emerges that there is no single silver bullet to solve the crisis. Many actions need to happen sequentially or at once, for a satisfactory outcome: to achieve the net-zero carbon emitting society within the span of a few decades. One way to describe this is that we need a number of “silver BB’s” (small pieces of shot) rather than focus on finding the single silver bullet and therefore becoming disappointed in the outcome of one initiative that doesn’t, itself alone, free us from our carbon “sins”.

While I am opposed for numerous reasons to carbon gradualism, the targeting of a new middle-term energy infrastructure that still “deals in” the fossil fuel industries, as a intellectual framework and policy orientation, components of a net-zero carbon emitting energy and transportation infrastructure still need to be built piece by piece, whether concurrently or sequentially. So then a composite “silver bullet” is composed of a number of “silver BB’s” that constitute a net-zero carbon emitting infrastructure.

One of the major component changes that is part of building a net-zero emissions society is to transfer as much of the energy for transportation as possible to the direct use of electricity and/or, where possible, to choose lightweight solutions like walking or cycling fueled by food energy, most of which we would consume anyway. Once powered transportation energy is transferred to electricity, that electricity can easily be generated by zero-emitting electricity generation technologies currently on the market. The food production system has a ways to go towards a zero-net carbon emissions system but we would need to produce that food anyway and/or waste it by maintaining more weight on people’s bodies due to inactivity. Urban planners and public health advocates also see many benefits in an expanded biking plus transit option where possible. Municipal governments on both sides of the Atlantic have now undertaken fairly ambitious urban redesign efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of cities and enable people to choose public transit plus biking over automobile dependence.

While there are an increasing number of light-duty cars that use electricity either largely or completely (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and full battery electric vehicles), the rate of adoption of these vehicles has been slow relative to the demands of the climate challenge, even by the reckoning of EV industry heavyweights like Elon Musk. Personal electric vehicle usage favors, at least currently, the detached single family home or rowhouse with a garage that allows charging at night. Policy would need to be developed to encourage landlords, municipalities and electric utilities to install metered EV charging in apartment building garages, in public areas, and parking lots.

While personal or business electric vehicle purchases should be encouraged by policy, the timeframe involved in slowing global warming is very tight; to meet climate goals, more decisive changes are required in mobility and, eventually, settlement patterns in the United States and other relatively automobile dependent societies. The climate movement here in the US and elsewhere is well aware of the dire circumstances of the planet as well as the decline of conventional “easy” fossil fuels. From this understanding, the climate movement ought to be taking it upon itself to help lead such a revolution in urban and suburban mobility that brings with it a host of lifestyle benefits.

One way that governments and our society as a whole can ensure that we are making progress towards the net-zero emissions society is via adequate funding of electrified public transportation to make it almost inevitable that many people transfer most routine trips in cities, suburbs and along rural routes to some combination of walking, pedal power, electric bikes, or electric public transit. There would need to be a combination of ethical, cultural and economic factors which could facilitate this movement that would start in urban and concentrated suburban areas. To transfer the interest of the public to the use of public transit plus biking would require it to be a combination of “(morally) good”, “cool”, convenient, and affordable. The movement towards transit plus biking does not exclude and will actually also encourage the technological development of light-duty electric passenger vehicles that are more affordable, via the stimulation of higher production volume and innovation in battery technology.

One Million Electric (Solar) Buses with Wifi on Frequent Routes

There now exist a number of models of all-electric buses that would be suitable for a wide range of uses in the U.S. context. While the most sought-after form of public transit is electric rail in terms of its attractiveness to users, the long construction period, cost and use of eminent domain associated with building it make it harder in a nation not yet committed fully to maximizing the use of public transportation. Individual rail projects become status symbols but transit agencies must still rely heavily on buses and on-demand minibus services. Much of the rail infrastructure in the US is largely owned by (regulated) corporate oligopolies/monopolies that are not easily swept up into the public purpose as they have a primary duty to their stockholders rather than the public.

The rationale behind choosing buses as a first line of defense in the United States is that buses would utilize the already built publicly-owned road and limit access highway system, requiring decreased new infrastructure spending relative to an ambitious, though also desirable, new rail program and also the embedded new carbon emissions associated with steel and concrete required for new rail infrastructure. Choosing a path that reduces initial demand for new infrastructure does not encourage overlooking the already existing infrastructure deficit including the poor state of many bridges and roads, only that it would be wise at this moment in history to build on existing investments. Nor does it excuse us from building a high-speed rail network, which competes with emissions-intensive air travel

The battery-electric bus of various forms, in combination with software-driven on-demand mobility services via electric minibuses, might be the form of electric public transportation most suited to the American culture and settlement patterns. There are electric buses now made by a number of manufacturers that have battery capacities that can serve most local bus routes all day either by charging quickly throughout the day or charging once for several hours in the middle of the day. There are models that can recharge at stops using specialized equipment or recharge as they drive on special electrified pavements which might serve in some high-traffic corridors, enabling the use of smaller batteries onboard the buses.   The large Chinese OEM electronics and now vehicle manufacturer BYD, in which Warren Buffett has invested, also claims that it will soon be building a bus with a range of 275 miles/charge and rapid recharge capability for long-distance bus routes. Proterra, a South Carolina company, makes a bus with smaller onboard battery capacity that rapid charges every few stops or for 10 minutes at the end of a run using specialized fast-charging equipment. ABB, the large Europe-based electrical infrastructure company has developed a bus fast-charging system now in testing in Geneva. The cost of electric city or commuter buses appears to be about 2x the capital cost of an equivalent diesel bus but can make up the additional cost of the bus within five to seven years. From BYD, a 40 foot bus appears to cost around $700,000, while a 60 foot articulated bus would cost just over $1 million dollars.

Switching from diesel to electric buses immediately eliminates some of the most noxious aspects of riding, operating, and being around buses, in particular the diesel fumes, as well as particulate pollution from the bus to the surrounding environment.  Electric buses will be less prone to mechanical breakdown because of their relatively few moving parts. While not currently available, the technology now exists in the area of thin-film solar cells and photovoltaic glass to enable electric buses to also generate perhaps 7-10% of the energy that it would use from the sun, for assuredly an additional upfront cost. Such a capacity would not be installed just for green credibility but also to enable the bus to slowly recharge or run its air conditioning in emergency situations.

To attract and maintain ridership, there would need to be value-added features of the buses and bus service that offer additional conveniences. WiFi Internet would be standard on all buses, as well as depending on the type of bus, a degree of seating comfort that is somewhat superior or better-designed than the typical city bus designs. Having boarding platforms with floors at the level of the bus floor would also be a positive feature for ease of boarding. Another type of bus/coach with cushioned seats similar to those used by long-distance bus companies, with probable capital costs above $1 million per coach, could be used as express buses, as do a number of private bus companies and transit agencies. The NYCTA connects the outer boroughs, underserved by subways, to Manhattan with express bus service, as does New Jersey Transit, which has a commuter rail network that covers a small portion of New Jersey’s suburban expanse. Such express buses would provide semi-privacy to passengers and have proven to be fairly popular with suburban bus-riders, more so than open-plan city buses. With a high volume of express buses using limited-access highways, there would develop, perhaps only during peak hours, dedicated bus lanes, as happens through the Lincoln Tunnel from New York to New Jersey to enable buses to avoid traffic and remain on schedule. This would also attract motorists to use buses especially for rush hour commuting.

A number of different route designs and service models are possible depending on the layout, density, and typical trip type of passenger trips in the area. One route design system would employ express buses that use limited access highways to deliver passengers to either small local bus depots by the off-ramp or to the center of towns. These express coaches would run in at least 15-20 minute frequencies throughout the day and at least several, depending on demand, smaller minibus sized buses through the night. From there a number of last-mile and near last-mile options are available: bicycle storage facilities, bicycle-share facilities (require a bicycle share near the destination as well), circulator buses that serve local routes, neighborhood shuttles that function door to door, park & ride, or various on-demand taxi solutions. Another design is a frequent bus network along arterial roads, with guaranteed 5 or 10 minute bus headways during peak travel times as well as 15 minute headways throughout the day and evening with 24 hour options either on-demand or at set intervals.

With the support of federal government funding due to the emergency situation we find ourselves in, local public transit planners should be encouraged to design integrated mobility solutions to enable people to choose to leave their cars at home or not have to purchase cars at all if they choose. The “product” that transit agencies should focus on is not a “bus-ride” or “train-ride” but convenient, sustainable mobility supported by clean electric drive vehicles powered increasingly or entirely by renewable energy. The City of Helsinki is now rolling out an integrated mobility solution with mobile phone application that ranges from bike rental, taxis, mini-buses and conventional transit utilizing both public and private mobility providers. Helsinki has also developed an on-demand mini-bus service which may as well be appropriate to low traffic small towns and exurban areas.  For rural counties, a rural route “post bus” system is also possible with frequencies depending on demand but enabling repetitive trips along rural routes to major towns and shopping centers.

If we undertake this campaign, the net cost of the buses themselves would be around $1 trillion dollars which in the world of electrified public transportation is cheap considering the 35-40 million seated and 70 million total passengers that these buses could transport at any one time. Of course operating the buses at high frequency would cost transit agencies plus the governments that fund them combined approximately $220 billion/year (an over 7.4 fold increase of existing transit agency bus and on-demand bus operating budgets for the existing 130,000 buses and minibuses), most of which goes immediately into local economies with favorable multiplier effects. It is probably worth it for the federal government to invest in 2 months of fare-free operation of the buses and 6 months of half-fare operation to gauge interest and support to “Spare the Climate” (a play on Bay Area air quality regulators’ “Spare the Air” program of smog alerts).

Another related “silver BB” which electrified public transit will help realize, is to scale up renewable power generation with a government program of building or funding of electrical transmission infrastructure to enable high volumes of renewable energy to serve load centers (towns & cities where most electricity is used) which are currently fossil fuel dependent in their electricity generation. Once the transmission infrastructure is in place, the US Department of Transportation might form an energy-buying cooperative for transit agencies to make favorable, long-term power contracts which, in turn, will allow wind and solar project developers to build the scale of projects required to start to address climate change.   The transmission infrastructure should be built to accommodate much more than the million electric buses would draw because we would also want to replace fossil-fuel dependent electricity generation for all uses, not just the buses. Large scale renewable energy development does not foreclose the more politically-favored, somewhat idealized distributed generation, which in Mark Jacobson’s 100% renewable energy plan for the US accounts for 8-9% of total energy.

If we were to assume that these buses traveled an average of 200 miles per day/365 days/year using 2 kWh electricity per mile with 7% of the electricity self-generated by the bus with a solar capability, they could be powered by 7000-8000 5MW wind turbines located in a favorably windy area such as in the Great Plains or offshore (producing 135 TWh/year at capacity factors ranging between 38% and 46%). The wind turbines should be dispersed in a number of locations but if they were grouped together they would be sited on an area 60 miles by 40 miles on land. The bases of 8000 5MW wind turbines themselves together would occupy a little more than 1/10th of a square mile or around 70 acres of that 2400 square miles, the rest of which could continue to be used for grazing or agricultural uses.

Depending on the location and type of wind turbine, a long-term contract for energy might fix the cost of generation at $.06/kWh on land or $.12/kWh offshore over a 20 year period and if the expense of transmission & distribution is added in, the transit agencies would be paying somewhere between $0.09/kWh to $0.16/kWh. This means that transport energy for buses would cost conservatively $0.24/mile on a city bus route versus the current approximately $1.20/mile for a diesel bus. Diesel costs will only go up over time as oil depletes. The rate for electricity due to the long-term contract and the free renewable “fuel” will remain stable for 20 years by comparison. Similar agreements at equivalent or somewhat higher price points could be closed for large scale solar installations, depending on their location.

If the buses averaged 20 passengers at any given time throughout the day with passengers averaging two trips of 5 miles apiece, these wind turbines plus buses would transport 27% of the total 5 trillion annual US passenger miles traveled (PMT) in all modes of transportation with the theoretical potential at capacity of up to 48% of total PMT seated in 40 foot buses average for the fleet. For land transportation there is no reason to stop at one million buses if these technologies and their judicious deployment are what fits the needs and demands of society. Also light-duty electric vehicles will continue to grow as a proportion of overall PMT, as gas prices continue their rise.

The electric buses plus wind turbines, if we assume that they will eliminate at least 75% of the use of liquid fossil fuels by US transit agencies would directly eliminate around 7.1 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by transit buses and vans. Indirect emissions reductions will be the greater portion, as replacing individually driven vehicles would be the intended purpose of public transportation at this scale, scheduled to accommodate passengers’ needs. By switching 27% of total passenger miles traveled from petroleum to wind and solar power, this would eliminate approximately 24% of the 560 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide released by petroleum usage and refining which will go up over time, per gallon because of the increasing dominance of more emissions intensive unconventional fossil fuels. Reduction of carbon dioxide emissions then would be conservatively 142 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide or 10% of total US carbon dioxide emissions. A more ambitious program using the same technologies or higher level of usage of this system could eliminate up to twice as many greenhouse gas emissions.

The federal government can of course afford to spend the money on these buses and the electrical transmission infrastructure with or without changes in the level of federal taxation, while state and local governments would need to raise tax revenues, perhaps from registration fees on gas guzzlers or on carbon itself. The motivation for spending the money needs to be communicated clearly and insistently by the climate action movement, as has happened and will happen, for instance, in wartime. In wartime against perceived existential threats (i.e. World War II), governments generally spend money on the war effort with regard only for whether the real resources are at hand to achieve desired outcomes or there are willing trading partners who would sell weapons/materiel for their national currency. Success would depend on the urgency that the climate movement and others communicated to government leaders and the public regarding the climate risks of continuing dependence on fossil fuels to power the US economy and society. In all probability, local governments will also participate to some degree in the purchase of the equipment, as well as in payments for the upgrade of bus depot electrical infrastructure required to charge the buses. Once people have affordable low carbon transportation options, instituting a carbon tax on the federal level would drive people to choose those options that are already in place.

Protected Bikeways and Complete Streets “Everywhere”

An integral component of this program is to change traffic design and streetscapes in the United States to allow for safe biking and shared streets as is now happening in many European cities and in parts of New York City. The goal would be transferring 30% or more of trips to biking alone or biking plus transit. Movement in this direction is already happening in regional pockets in Europe and the US and will continue to grow with broad movement and policy support and government investment.

Familiar to visitors to Manhattan, Paris, the Netherlands, or Copenhagen, the separation of bike traffic from car and truck traffic boosts biking by a number of orders of magnitude, sometimes doubling biking within the first year of operation. Protected bikeways are often built between parked cars and the curb but there are a number of designs possible, involving landscaping, barriers, etc. Switching commutes or “last mile” of public transit journeys to biking has many obvious health benefits as well as reduction in automobile clutter in public spaces. With such protected bikepaths, the inauguration of a wide-spread bikeshare program such as Paris’s Velib or New York’s Citibike becomes a means whereby people can use rented bikes for short or medium length journeys between various nodes of interest within a town or city. The bikeshare programs are usually bike station to bike station rentals located around the city/town and not intended for all-day use. In addition, laws requiring bike helmets as well as prohibition of bikers undertaking the “Idaho stop” have stood in the way of mass adoption of cycling with little positive effect on biking safety (and claims that they increase injury rates). Helmet wearing should remain optional.

An alternative to the protected bikeway (also called “cycletrack”), is to convert side or non-arterial streets to “complete streets” where traffic is slowed to 12mph and bicyclists, pedestrians and motor vehicles mingle on the street. European municipalities including Paris and London are now in the process of converting sections of their street network to complete (12mph limit) or traffic-calmed streets (19-20mph limit), which involves sometimes simply the posting of appropriate signage and painting of street surfaces, or can involve re-paving streets with modern cobblestones that signal mixed usage of the street. The concept is sometimes called a “woonerf’ reflecting the Dutch origin of this type of street design.

For those who do not want or are not able to pedal all the time, the now common electric bike is a viable option that is also highly energy efficient. An electric bike uses approximately one twentieth of the electric energy per mile that an electric car uses.   Electric tricycles are also available for those who want the extra cargo space or stability of the third wheel. Electric bikes will need to be regulated in terms of their power, as some high-powered models can function as motor scooters and have been known to lead to a high rate of accidents if driven recklessly at speeds over 25 mph. High powered e-bikes and their drivers should be regulated as are motor scooters or motorcycles.

While the term cycletracks “everywhere” is an exaggeration, protected bikeways should be built in ways that serve all likely routes that people would use, for instance linking town centers, schools, transit hubs and commercial areas. For the purposes of re-writing traffic design regulations on a state level, “everywhere” would need to be defined with the purpose of encouraging mode switching away from car traffic. Where limited access highways are the only access, dedicated cycletracks with their own overpasses may need to be built to reach destinations of local importance.

Economic Considerations

The 1,000,000 Electric Buses Plus Protected Bikeways “Everywhere” campaign should in the current, sluggish US economy be designed to have a net stimulatory effect on the economy, even as it intentionally shifts demand between economic sectors.   The pricing of bus fares/mobility services should be such that they undercut the current cost of maintaining a gasoline vehicle for a host of reasons including encouraging mode switching as well as reduction of emissions, leaving more disposable income for purchases of other goods and services.

To buffer the negative effects on aggregate demand from the inevitable shrinkage of fossil fuel dependent sectors, the campaign should be funded as a net injection of money into the economy via federal deficit spending, i.e. spending without raising taxes. Once the low or zero-carbon transportation system is in place, a carbon tax could help increase bus usage as well as drive further build-out of electric public transportation to, in turn further, decrease dependence on fossil fuels via driving internal combustion vehicles.

Transit agencies, electric bus manufacturers and their supply chains, bike manufacturers, electrical utilities, electrical supply businesses, and construction companies would experience increased demand and increase hiring substantially. Sourcing the electrical energy from renewable energy sources will also increase demand and hiring in wind, solar, and electrical transmission building, as well as provide royalties to landowners on which renewable energy production facilities are sited. Some of this demand is newly created and some shifted from fossil fuel dependent sectors. There would be reduced demand and job losses associated with decreased gasoline sales, decreased car sales and gasoline automobile production until such time as in the United States, auto dealers switched to electric vehicle and electric bike sales. Policy on the state and federal levels should incentivize the re-tooling of the automobile business towards electric drive vehicles for those interested in purchasing new personal or business vehicles.

Political Considerations

There are many hurdles to persuading Americans to get out of their cars and use public transit and biking, among them cultural-political animosities in “red” areas of the country to the concept of public transportation.  Additionally, there is a culture more generally of convenience and instant gratification which makes switching out of car dependence a challenge. Critically important is linking bikeways and public transit together as, the former gives people individual control over mobility which they can choose to link to public transit if they so wish. Furthermore innovation in integrated and on-demand mobility services by public transit agencies or regulated private transit companies will enable on-demand services that nearly mimic or exceed the convenience of driving one’s own vehicle.

The campaign can start in the concentrated, urban-suburban “blue” areas and extended to the “red” areas when “viral” news of the benefits of this change in types of mobility undermines political opposition to the concept. The campaign should be accompanied by a public education campaign about the benefits of the changes in the streetscape as well as the use of electric public transit, with a period for fine tuning services based on public feedback. While there may be a number of endpoints to this campaign that would be considered successes, the goals are to

  1. rapidly transfer transportation energy demand to electricity while
  2. simultaneously building renewable energy generation as well as
  3. create more diverse uses for public space other than car driving and car parking, enabling denser development and enlivened streetscapes in areas where housing is isolated from services.

In campaigns in support of this initiative, potential passengers will need to be addressed not only as convenience-seeking, cost-minimizing consumers but as responsible citizens, who could be motivated by a combination of factors in taking electric buses plus bikes or other transit. The call to “spare the climate” should be partnered with a readiness of governments to innovate and structure fiscal policy to achieve the goals above.

Some parts of the U.S. public transit advocacy community may resist this campaign because of its advocacy of the relatively lower “status” bus versus the higher status rail options favored by some public transit advocates. The 1,000,000 Electric Buses Campaign would not exclude the building of rail transit and the federal government can, of course, afford to build rail systems. High speed rail, the gold standard of rail transit, serves different functions and travel markets and should be encouraged in a separate campaign.   However, as explained above, bus systems fit more easily into the American context and would represent substantially lower costs for infrastructure and greater flexibility. If local and regional governments would want to take their transit to the “next level”, they could fund, design and build complementary rail systems to increase mode share for public transit and re-deploy or, even after perhaps 6 years their busses as needed. Some transit advocates may also resist or ignore this campaign because they have accommodated themselves to the decades in which public transit has been underfunded, especially from the side of the federal government.


This set of demands goes against the grain of the fossil-fueled neoliberal order, tending to distribute income and services via targeted government spending to people in the middle and working classes, though these services are open to and would benefit all. These programs also direct government attention and support away from the fossil fuel companies towards renewable energy and electrified transportation, also against the grain. Because they work against the grain, they require people to get out on the streets and into state and federal government buildings to demand change. Slogans help in this regard, so here are a few obvious ones to start:

“1,000,000 Electric Buses, Now!!”
“Bikeways Everywhere, Now!!”
“100,000 Wind Turbines, 1,000,000 Electric Buses”
“Clean, Frequent, Affordable, Public Transit, Now!!”
“Safe Streets for Biking, for Walking, for Business and for Play”

And the list could go on…

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  1. joecostello

    Getting Americans out of their cars is probably one of the most radical political notions of the last several decades. Car dependence says a lot on how our technology interacts with us, many times to controlling us, who needs robot fear? Having spent decades on this issue, telling Americans they dont need cars and to be looked at as totally insane, because when all people know is a car based infrastructure, to tell them they dont need a car is insane, this is a most difficult issue. But its essential.

    Of course what we’ve paid for oil, the automobiles fuel, in so many ways from environmental costs to military is basically a verboten topic in America, we watch the latest costs continuing to unfold or be dropped in Iraq. But it will be the cost of oil that will eventually end car culture in America, and while electric transit will be part of the change, it will go much deeper, it will be a rethinking of our entire landscape. Then again shouldnt be hard, the automobile has only been around for a century, it’s an important lesson in understanding the power and politics of technology.

    1. Steven

      I liked the article but think it made a couple of major mistakes:
      1. linking electrification of transportation to climate change
      2. failing to give sufficient consideration of the extent to which transitioning to electric cars (EVs) could contribute to the goal of electrifying transportation

      I am a ‘believer’ in climate change (I think? There is a lot of new information coming out about possible causes, including space weather, i.e. solar storms etc. The last book I read on the subject, “The Weather Makers” by Flannery accounted for the effects of astronomical cycles – unless something has changed??) But there is another even more pressing reason to conserve fossil fuels around which both liberals and conservatives should be able to unite: Oil wins wars. Without access to sufficient oil, the threshold for a major conventional war turning nuclear is substantially lowered, especially for a country like the U.S. whose transportation system is heavily dependent upon fossil fuels. The 2002(?) change in the U.S. no-first use policy to one of possible first use against even a non-nuclear opponent probably reflects this reality. (Hawks and doves can have their own Cold War over how the oil saved is actually used, once the capability to save it is in place.)

      Cars, personally-owned vehicles (POVs), were probably a major technological mistake. But they are a mistake the U.S. made over a century ago, along with the roads for them to run on. They are a mistake with which we are going to have to live for some time to come, particularly those of us who live in the country’s wide-open spaces. For those few of us who routinely travel beyond the range of existing EV battery technology, gas-powered POVs may be the only choice. Most of us, however, do not routinely drive that far daily. For those who occasionally do, cars like GM’s Volt – or if you just don’t want the range anxiety of a ‘pure’ EV – is a good way to enjoy the benefit of EV driving without the one major downside.

      (Disclosure: it was very hard for me to forgive GM for all its years of planned obsolescence and more recently the Hummer. But when a company does something right I think they should be encouraged, i.e. I own a Volt.)

      1. jonboinAR

        GM took a major step into the post-oil-dependent future when they developed and introduced the Volt, which really ought to be a game-changer. Then they reverted to form, almost completely dropping the ball on promoting and marketing it. For example, you and I are probably two in a hundred who comprehend (basically), how the Volt works and how much gasoline use it eliminates without restricting the owners travel-options any.

  2. John

    Solving climate change is definitely not a technical problem. The technology is there and will require long term planning. A combination of solar, wind, energy storage and….. nuclear, yes nuclear power needs to be scaled up in a big way to replace the need for fossil fuels. Keep in mind the most significant anthropologic source of C02 and other harmful emissions come from fossil fuel burning electric power plants.

  3. rusti

    Really fun article, right in my wheelhouse. I’d dramatically rearrange the allocation of resources though because I think some of the numbers given are doubtful.

    For example, 2 kWh per mile for an electric bus is optimistic, especially once the extra batteries are added that would extend the range or if heating/AC are required. Generating 7% of the 400 kWh per day with solar means harvesting 28 kWh per day average on a bus-sized horizontal surface in a battery based system (not like feeding all the generated energy into the grid) that’s going to have tons of shading from man-made structures, which isn’t realistic.

    I know you oppose carbon gradualism, but this plan is going to require a mind-boggling amount of Lithium (and other rare-earth minerals for wind/solar) so I’d cut down those resources required for zero emissions in cities to address the much larger problems of building up electrified long-haul infrastructure or mining equipment. Tesla co-founder Ian Wright’s Electric Drivetrains paired with microturbine generators for larger vehicles together with other fun new electric-bicycle designs for personal transport could make cities near-zero emissions for a fraction of the cost, allowing more people to work on emissions from jet fuels, long-haul transport, and renewable generation.

    1. stephen

      Yeah, the whole battery thing is a problem. We don’t need new fangled technology. Just a change in attitude. Trams and trolley buses ( overhead electricity powered ) have existed forever.

  4. Victoria Else

    Strongly agree with this perspective; situating climate solutions within the prevailing culture is crucial if we’re to have any hope of engaging the people in this process. One recommendation I have, however, is to stop framing the issues around “climate change” alone–it has a moralistic, faddish reputation among most Americans, which alienates people who are simply trying to survive in a threatening economy. Instead, we need to face up to the fact that the fossil-fuel economy is going the way of the dinosaur, and that *is* an existential threat to the American way of life. Shifting away from fossil fuel in a planned, urgent way is a critical step to making people safe in the emerging world of skyrocketing petrol costs.

  5. The Dork of Cork

    I strongly disagree with the tone of this article.
    Is the objective to release a greater surplus to be used elsewhere or is it Industrial sabotage ( leading to carbon reduction by default)
    It looks like Industrial sabotage to me,
    Highly capital expenive electric buses used in a low density space would reduce the number of buses available.

    The primary strategic objective of public transport in urban areas is to simply free up oil to burn in the hinterland.
    Anyhow this guy is always worth a listen (he runs the Bergen Tramway in Norway)

    Anyhow public transport will not be used much until you get a redistribution of the money.

    Trolleybus systems work much better in denser urban areas.

    1. Ed

      The way I’ve seen it done in poorer areas (done being limited car ownership) is a combination of dense,mixed commercial-residential land use so you can walk anywhere you might want to go, combined with very lax attitudes towards the people who do have vehicles using them to pick up people and move things for some extra cash, so its easy to get a ride when you need one. This actually points to more of a deregulatory agenda. I’m also skeptical of elaborate proposals such as this.

    2. jfleni

      Dork or Cork says “Trolleybus systems work much better in denser urban areas”
      Quite true; there are a grand total of five such (small) systems in the USA!

      What do I see in in pictures of RUSSIA? Dozens or hundreds of trolleybusses! They are not going to waste their precious oil or gas, but they will have the public transit that they need.

  6. The Dork of Cork

    This article strikes me as another desperate play at capitalistic overproduction.
    Instead of having a car in each doorway – a (expensive) electric bus in each burb street.

    One needs to look at case studies of recent habitiation change to understand systems.
    Take the case of Aragon
    the population of Aragon was 1,349,467, with slightly more than half of it living in Zaragoza, its capital city..not always the case.

    This recent change happened post 59~…… the villages engaged in primary activity experienced massive population loss throughout the 20th century but mostly after 59.
    The new Zaragoza tramway is now highly successful but the international Gare de Canfranc is now closed. (1970)

    Why is this ?
    What really happened to the local economy post 59 ?

  7. Moneta

    Great article. This will be a tough slug. Just this week, Danish tourists wrote to our politicians and the comment are quite depressing.

    It would seem that most North Americans love their cars, do not see anything wrong with it and if they want governments to spend, it’s to make more and better highways to deal with the traffic. They don’t seem to see that the car is responsible for a large percentage of their problems.

    1. trish

      yes, yesterday German tourists re dearth of solar panels in sunny florida.
      I mean, we look like a f*cking country of rednecks to many more progressive Europeans re guns, religion, guzzlers, mcmansions, etc.

      I remember reading a post somewhere (can’t find it!) from a Scandinavian (oh, my memory…) who mentioned that many Europeans label/see/call “environmental” what we call organic, with the focus being on not just what’s good for them, their bodies, but the environment on the whole. Of course the SUV/tank drivers filling the parking lots at the Whole Foods here don’t seem to see/choose to ignore the health implications for themselves/their own of their guzzlers while their in getting organic baby food and produce, etc.

      (same with the free-range beef, eggs, milk. good thing (within limitations of what “free range” can mean), but most don’t give a damn about the corporate ag cruelty. All about them.)

      1. Moneta

        I am just back from a tour of Europe. In the countryside, Germany’s roofs are full of solar panels. We rented an SUV in the Alps and were stunned to see mileage at less than 5.5L/100km on dash board despite switchbacks galore. I checked the performance for the same car in Canada… 12L/100km in city and 7.7L/100KM on highway… and these numbers are theory from the car manufacturer’s website.

        Obviously different motor for North America. Depressing.

        There are so many things we could do NOW but the population does not even want to listen… read the comments from Canadians on that article that I posted and you get a good idea of the psyche.

        The 99% are like alcoholics. They can’t change until they acknowledge they have a problem.

        1. lilly

          A friend and I rented a car in Italy. The gas milage was so good we actually thought the gage was broken.

      2. different clue

        Before the USDA takeover of Organic Policing and the swift rollout of Organic to new customer constituencies beyond the traditional Organic end-buyer/end-user, Organic used to MEAN by TAKen-for -GRANTed defiNITion ” good for the environment, the self, and everything else.” That was in the decades before USDA takeover when Organic was still a MOVEment.
        Some people still remember those days, that definition, and those concerns. Such people still buy Organic for that older movement reason. Such people would understand the saying: Every dollar is a bullet on the field of economic combat. And try applying that saying where/when they can in our locked-down and pre-engineered lives.

  8. Skeptic

    “Additionally, there is a culture more generally of convenience and instant gratification which makes switching out of car dependence a challenge.”

    I would add that there are also elements of Superiority and Man/Machine Interface involved. The Superiority comes from the fact that you are in your car and Pedestrians are, well, pedestrian and to be treated as such. And that, for many, they are their car. Cars also are powerful and give Power. Hundreds of billions have been spent to appeal to these instincts.

    The Man/Machine Interface is extremely powerful. People love to operate machines as I operate one now. Where I live people love to drive and drive. When I go to Town, and it is a Town, we walk about doing our errands. But we see few others, people drive from store to store, place to place, feet and legs unused. This where there is an epidemic of Obesity and most Doctors recommend “Get exercise!” One other Man/Machine phenomenon is the RIDEM MOWER, whereon the Mower, Man, sits on the Machine, Mower, and mows vast swaths of Lawn for apparently no other useful reason than to “Keep the grass down”. It does not go for feed to cattle, nor are crops grown on what is usually very fertile land. All because folks like to use Machines.

    Then there is the fact that NASCAR is America’s fastest growing Sport(?).

    One does hope that as the cost of Energy rises and people have less and less $$$, they will turn to alternative systems. For instance, a retail clerk told me yesterday that her son eighteen years old does not want a driver’s license. I was astounded and asked if he were not ostracized socially. She said no, there were a lot of others his age who felt the same way.

    Maybe one way to Change would be online Calculators where people could easily calculate all the Actual Cost of owning/driving a car or the cost of owning/mowing a Lawn. Then calculate the cost of the alternatives. I do not think most people do such calculations since these activities are ingrained in the Culture.

    1. Moneta

      Here in Ottawa, we have a lot of huge green spaces which serve no purpose but to look green and these need to be mowed. Of course the budget is not enough to keep them clean. They’ll mow just often enough but the whipper snipper job is often omitted. I don’t understand why we don’t just plant trees in all of these areas and just reforest instead of having green spaces that look grubby.

      Maybe I should start a group that could advocate for this…

      1. Otter

        Police Services, including Ottawa’s, have quietly pressed Parks Departments to remove trees and shrubs, because they impede surveillance.

        1. trish

          I’d never thought about this…but a quick google and from a security site called bizsecurity
          “Natural Surveillance [?] Criminals do not like to be seen or recognized, so they will choose situations where they can hide and easily escape. Here are some ways to incorporate natural surveillance into a business environment.

          Keep areas well lit. In particular, building entrances should be bright at all times and provide a clear line of sight from both inside and outside.
          Eliminate hiding spots. Cut down hedges and remove trees, bushes, fences, dumpsters, etc. that create blind spots or hiding places.
          Low, thorny hedges work well around windows, because they don’t obstruct the view in or out, and they don’t provide a comfortable place to hide.
          Use Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) [and an increasing array of higher tech tools] to view areas without natural sight lines. Put up monitors in public areas so that visitors know they are being watched. The last thing a criminal wants to see when they enter a building is their own face on a security monitor.”

          and, Expand who is labeled a criminal, I would add.

          1. Skeptic

            I read an architectural book about twenty years ago which was about designing buildings/malls in downtown areas that would be easy to secure and keep out the Riff and Raff. It gave examples from a number of major American cities. Shortly after reading the book I came across a building in downtown Boston which fit some of the descriptions in the book. The building was a reverse pyramid with upper stories and only one way in or out, up escalators into the building. I suppose there was a service entrance as easily monitored and controlled.

            That was years ago, one can only imagine where Security Architecture is now.

          2. Moneta

            First of all, we don’t need more light, we already have too much light pollution.

            Secondly, the argument that nature needs to be removed to reduce criminality is insane… then one could argue that we would have to get rid of every tree and all parks in a city to make them safe.

            The main point is that building cities that respect human beings reduce criminality… it’s a VIRTUOUS cycle.

          3. Moneta

            Cars increase criminality… they make it easier to hit and run, steal and run, kidnap and run….

            With cars, less people roaming at human speeds, so less prying eyes and less commitment… more need for surveillance machines… more feelings of coldness and detachment for an area.

            Also, for example, it’s much harder to run away with a 7-9 year old by foot or using public transportation…

            1. The Dork of Cork

              Hard to believe no body lives here because of a lack of token problem ( the biggest problem facing Spain)
              In the past many people lived here – together for good or ill.
              No light pollution back then.
              People could look up at the stars and dream.
              Nobody lives here now,,,,,,,,,,the bar in SIN is closed off season.
              Very little local light polution but for the wrong reasons.
              However the red sodium glow of Mordor is ever present on the southern horizon.

              Burb People have no idea of how the bank has destroyed them in so many different ways.

  9. The Dork of Cork

    The advantage of Industry is its concentration (think of a railway station and the critical mass of housing around this hub rather then a car centric tract of burb or a large 1,000MW generator which requires less capital inputs then 1,000 little 1MW generators )………..the disadvantage comes with its chiefly corporate capture and DISTRIBUTION of this subsequent excess power)
    Building a million electric buses or using Wind power as a concentrated power source (which it is not) strikes me as a very corporate distribution of Industrial concentration (concentration that resides elsewhere)

  10. The Dork of Cork

    I hate to break it to you but Canada is now part of the US of A lock stock and barrell,
    Nothing is sacred
    “In September 2007, the University stated it was planning on selling the DDO property owing to light pollution.[15] The university’s governing council voted on the issue during the week of 1 November 2007, and agreed to sell the site to the highest bidder. The 75 ha of land in the midst of a huge subdivision area was expected to fetch $100 million some of which the university planned to use to found a Dunlap Institute to continue astronomical research. The sale was called a “cash grab” by Richmond Hill Mayor David Barrow.[16]

    There’s all kinds of opportunities here that they’re just blowing off because they want the money. After 70 years, they’re just walking away without looking over their shoulder at what they’re leaving behind. That’s our disappointment.”[16]

    For the purposes of the sale, the land was partitioned into a 71 ha Parcel A and a 5 ha Parcel B, upon which sits the Elvis Stojko Hockey Arena and also a park with a 200-metre-wide solar system model. The arena is leased by the Town, now from the new owner, until 2015.[17]”

    A observatory lost in a swamp of burb light pollution.
    How sad.

    Its very much like the
    University of Chicago boys wanting to sell off Yerkes observatory for a few dollars more.

    We must all connect with the American burb scene for some funny reason.

    1. Moneta

      I already knew… but the 99% sure doesn’t.

      I believe Canada can not survive without socialism. For the last 150 years, Americans have been profiting from our discoveries. We don’t have the scale and we are riskophobes. Our government is selling us out and the population votes for it by wanting more tax cuts.

      I can’t tell you how many times I have had arguments with family elders when they complain about their taxes. They’re on “fixed income” the argument goes and they think they have paid enough. When I tell them that they are not paying enough as these are still paying for the stuff that was built in the 60s which is now crumbling they are livid. It was all malinvestment but they refuse to digest it…. it was all the politicians’ fault so that is why they want to starve government…

      1. The Dork of Cork

        Not a socialist myself but was a major fan of Dirigisme until recently.
        Still have these dirigisme twitches coming and going…..too much time spent in France I guess.

        We have witnessed a major breakdown between villages , market towns and Provincial capitals……walking around Aragon last year was a eye opener for me.

        The money gets sucked up into Nation State and Financial capitals……..also island & Mountain states who have captured a yield from outside their hinterland.
        Think of a typical Swiss village vs a Spanish or indeed French deadzone once known as villages.
        The money is simply too concentrated to be used for anything other then toys.
        A redistribution is the only solution as socialism further concentrates these claims.

        1. Moneta

          I used to believe in a form of dirigisme… Quebec has always been enamored wth the French way. But from an Anglo mother with a protestant work ethic, I’m a truly weird mish-mash. I now don’t believe in anything that is written down. What we need is not in the books. That is why I refuse to quote when I share my thoughts.

          I used to be appalled at the mere thought of separation but now I get the feeling that it would be liberating and lead to a snow-ball effect world wide… I’m afraid to say that the dollar needs to lose its reserve currency status if we want any change whatsoever.

  11. Steve H.

    First World Solutions:

    There is a viable existing model of their solution. It’s called Asia. (Africa too.) Such places lack expensive energy transport infrastructure.

    “An estimated 2.5 to 3 billion people still cook their food over open fires or in rudimentary cookstoves, and these numbers keep increasing due to population growth.” [1]

    Modernizing their situation won’t necessarily help:

    “In fact, an electric cooking stove is only half as efficient as a well-tended open fire, while a gas hob is only half as effective as a biomass rocket stove.”

    The complexity involved in these solutions can still be offset by external players:

    “… one giant container ship can emit almost the same amount of cancer and asthma-causing chemicals as 50m cars.” [2]

    Focusing on workable solutions to these problems do not involve a ‘cultural shift’ in our society, where powerful industrial interests are operating in opposition. It reminds me of recycling, in which the unpaid labor of sorting and cleaning allows municipalities to reduce costs of garbage disposal.

    Solutions which involve massive use of bikes also discriminate against the elderly, who cannot generate power at the same rate of the young, and for whom accidents are more likely to be debilitating.

    In those non-first-world place, bikes and rocket stoves allow an upgrade on the Maximum Power Principle:

    “… a proposed fourth law of thermodynamics called the “Maximum Power Principle”(MPP). The MPP states that biological systems will organize to increase power generation, by degrading more energy, whenever systemic constraints allow it.” [3]

    However, in first world situations, the same solutions are a downgrade on the MPP, and can decrease fitness and adaptability. While not taking on the debt load of having a car may be the correct solution when facing conditions of decreased economic opportunity, you still want the friend with the truck on moving day.


  12. Paul Tioxon

    One of the most overlooked practical solution is to change the building codes. Model legislation introduced at the state level, county level and municipal level would create a new standard of construction that must include net zero-energy goals, meaning buildings that produce more energy than they consume. Design to produce buildings that do not need central heating systems, eliminating the #1 source of fossil fuel demand in the home and incorporate a building code that includes passive solar design features along with roof top PV just as the building codes demand indoor plumbing with toilets connected to water treatment facilities. Some small towns have done just this in America, but in Spain, following the lead of Barcelona, the entire nation has adopted solar energy building codes. That is on top of a national transportation plan around the high speed rail connections that serves as their interstate highway program. The Spanish planners explicitly compare the Eisenhower era Interstate Highway System as a choice in national infrastructure planning that connected America by car and brought with it economic development. The public transit system of
    Spain is their major infrastructure program of this generation, along with their shift to solar power. All energy comes from the sun, including wind power driven by the storing power as thermal mass for the surface of the planet to create wind currents.

    In Philadelphia, the regional transit authority Septa, is converting its 1400 diesel bus fleet to hybrid electric/diesel. The republicans in the state capital wanted to take state budgeted funding for Septa if they did not buy natural gas powered buses, as part of the fracking lobby that wants to provide a market for the natgas coming from the Marcellus Share gas wells. So far, that has been beaten back. Of course the city at one point had an all electric public transit system of trolleys. Here there were 2 kinds of trolleys on the street, trackless and the kind most people are familiar with and what much of the outside world calls light rail. I call them trolleys. But all of the tracks and over head wire systems had not been destroyed. All of West Philadelphia. the city West of the Schuylkill River uses an extensive all electric trolley systems throughout the neighborhoods which all converge in Center City as underground or subway transit at City Hall.

    Outside of West Philly, there is still a very small remnant of the trackless trolleys which are electric buses that can maneuver around traffic and pull over to the curb to pick people up, without them walking to the trolley in the middle of the street because they stuck to trolley tracks. Here are pictures of trackless trolleys so you can be jealous of cool and I mean cool, these are air conditioned public vehicles set at meat locker temperatures which is one reason why Septa is really appreciated as an oasis of frigid air in the humid summer. They also are well heated in the winter, WHAT A COUNTRY!!

    As far as the campaign for 1,000,000 electric buses, that is a good idea. Most people live in high density urban developments, even if they call them suburbs. The South and Southwest having the rapidly growing urban centers without any history of public transit to build upon. They need more ideas to direct them into electric buses. The rural areas are already into their home brewed bio fuels. The farm communities have lots of smart cheapskates that have figured out how to save a buck by going green, a lot of them used to be called hippies, now that they are the old farmers, the younger generation just calls them that, old farmers, with windmills, cooking oil fueled engines etc. I am not sure where all of the criticism of air heads with romantic ideas of eco-topia popping up out of thin air coming from. There are always going to be airheads, but I haven’t seen many of them as leaders in any ecology, environmental or green movements, maybe they compose most of the protesters these days. Maybe they blog about their ideals, but the nuts and bolts of designing with nature has been part of the academic fiber of architects for decades as well as forward thinking builders.

    Amory Lovins has been a seminal figure in the renewable energy movement, having single handedly brought the issue up in the 1976 Foreign Affairs article that created 2 camps among the dominating power elite. The essay defined 2 paths for energy development, the hard and the soft path. One or the other would be pursued, but they were mutually exclusive. The hard path included the expansion of the nuclear energy and the problems of nuke waste and nuke weapons proliferating. The soft path was a rapid economy wide plunge into renewable energy sources meaning high level redesign for efficiency every where from cars, appliances and building construction along with solar and wind power generation for electricity. Jimmy Carter funded the National Solar Information Center which operated as part of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. It was a central clearing house and information center on all things related to solar energy development as part of the DOE initiative at the time to get us off of foreign oil dependency. The White House had installed a solar water heater on its roof at the time. Reagan tore it down when he come into power, along with every other community development program they could destroy.

    Lovins is a big believer in market driven change which is extensively reported on in the Rocky Mountain Institute website. This is probably the neo-liberal or green capitalism that Hoexter is referring to. Obama is funding this as well, as part of the stimulus spending. Along with whatever Solyndra type company loans, grants. The right wing hates this shit with a passion. Sarah Palin uses solar energy as a right wing talking point and poisons the idea for a lot of people who would other wise spend their weekends installing solar electric panels on their roofs instead of building elaborate gas fired bar b q centers or spending $5000 on gas powered back up electric generators. Consumers are sold elaborate redundant power systems dependent on fossil fuels but would scream freedom killing government regulations if they had to spend the same money on roof top solar panels!! So much for the market guiding us into sanity. Hoexter needs to target his political opposition which will block his ideas and smash any demonstration project that could move onto a larger scale taking a bite out of big oil company profits and power. Hippie punching is the refuge of people who have a hard time looking at capitalism square in the face and making political allies. It’s much harder than blaming air heads who aren’t regimented into disciplined cadres of change for the better. It’s not that romantics aren’t fighting hard enough when the opportunities presented themselves, it is the right wing political opposition who are organized for nothing else other than to wage war on fabricated menaces around the world and here in America wage the moral equivalent of war against Americans they brand the enemy, like ACORN, feminazis and my favorite: eco terrorists, bbrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!

    1. The Dork of Cork

      @Paul Tioxon
      Spain gave up its sustainable energy programme in 1959 when its people left the village for the city.

  13. DJG

    Ah, yes, the “Idaho stop,” a favorite of bicycling advocates across the USA, because we all know that deceleration is a serious problem. In Chicago, the “Idaho/Chicago stop” means riders blowing through stop signs, even with people on foot in the pedestrian crossings. It also means blowing through red lights. Curiously, we have a trend here of middle-aged Mexican men riding on sidewalks as well as middle-aged white women riding on sidewalks. Must be the “Idaho sidewalk rule.” I know that the intent of the author was not to moralize, but when it isn’t even possible to get people to observe basic traffic rules–basic rules of etiquette–I’m not having many vain hopes that we are going to solve the problems of climate change. As a pedestrian, I decelerate at red lights, too, but somehow that doesn’t matter. Unfortunately, accelerating climate change has struck during a time of economic and social stagnation, and as appeal as some of the author’s solutions are, there is no will for any kind of change now, other than “Idaho stop” ordinances.

    1. OIFVet

      Don’t you get me started on Emanuel’s greenwashing/corporate giveaways done in the name of turning Chicago into Amsterdam. The divided bike lanes with the upright white plastic dildo dividers? The ones in my neighborhood didn’t survive the winter. And made certain stretches more hazardous for pedestrians and drivers by forcing drivers to step into traffic to exit parked vehicles and hiding speeding, Idaho stopping bike riders from crossing pedestrians. I’ve been run over by a biker twice, and feel that as a pedestrian my number one hazard is bike riders.

      Then there is the massive giveaway to the financial rent extracting industry known as the Ventra Card. The only reason it replaced the Chicago card is because the latter didn’t have a built-in rent extracting opportunities. Add the botched implementation of Ventra and one readily sees how public transportation is being monetized and crapified, all in the name of the “environment” of course.

      Finally, Divvy bike share. Why am I paying Divvy to pedal their moving Blue Cross billboards around? They should be paying me. And 30 minute limit on the sparsely serviced South Side means a bunch of profit-padding fines for a portion of the city that just happens to be quite poor. New York’s bike share has 45 minute limit, but we in Chicago are special enough to merit only 30 minutes.

      Given what I see going on in Chicago, I am extremely sceptical of how and why these programs are being implemented. As far as I am concerned, their environmental benefits have been marginal but the profit from them substantial. We do need to change the way we move around, but not in a way that gives rise to rent extracting public-private “partnerships”, a socialism for the rich if there ever was one.

      1. Ed

        Greens, bike advocates, and pedestrian advocates should be very sceptical of programs that add inconveniences to drivers without enabling people to reduce their dependency on cars, since they have a tendency to be primarily revenue raising schemes/ scams for local governments.

        1. different clue

          Or more likely, scams to use those local governments as conduits through which to direct the revenue streams to the private rent-taking senior partners/owners of those local government. Or more specifically, of certain key personell at key pressure-points withIN those local government. Such as Rahm Emmanuel in neo-liberal occupied Chicago, as described above by OIFVet.

    2. Carolinian

      Having lived for awhile in NYC I seem to recall plenty of “Idaho stopping” by pedestrians. Back then we called it jaywalking. The rule of thumb was that as long as you made it to the middle of the road before a car happened along it was their fault for hitting you.

      As a cycllist I see both sides of this and agree that current solutions are not very good. In Denmark they have completely separate roads for bicycles which is probably the best way. Here’s a new cycle road that is pretty cool.

      1. OIFVet

        I don’t know the traffic laws of NYC. In Chicago, pedestrians have the right of way when they are in marked cross walks even if there are no other traffic control signs or devices (excluding light-controlled intersections of course). Half the drivers obey the rule, the overwhelming majority of bikers do not. I have had my fair share of confrontations with obnoxious bikers who have run into me in a crosswalk or even on the sidewalks. The bike culture that characterizes Amsterdam and Copenhagen is simply lacking here, bikers are basically acting like entitled jerks once in the saddle. “Hey look at me, I am saving the environment so get the hell out of my way, pedestrian”. To me, mandatory licensing and insurance for bikers would go a long way in forcing bikers to obey the rules of the road. As things stand now, the majority thinks the rules do not apply to them.

        1. Carolinian

          It is a different culture in the north Europe lowlands where people are used to biking for transportation. Many converts to the current US bike craze are jock riders who think they are in the Tour and may be commuting as a sideline. While I will defend some practices like riding on the sidewalk (with pedestrians not present) and even running through empty intersections, I do think these sport riders should use common sense and at least slow down in mixed use situations like bike trails or busy city streets. On the other hand if you are riding on a street with cars you need to go as fast as possible to avoid being cut off. So the cyclist’s prime directive–don’t get run over–may be hazardous to pedestrians entering the street. It is a problem and one that in the end may only be solved by separating cars and bikes or cars and bikes and people..

          1. OIFVet

            Dunno, sound too much like “Separate but equal” to me. You just know there will be designated winners and designated losers in such enterprise, and that it will be the designated losers who will be stuck with the tab. In any case, the experience in Chicago points to drivers and pedestrians as the designated losers. As Emanuel says, “the creative class bikes so we ought to make Chicago attractive to bikers”. Designated winners, IOW. This is why I can’t help but to remain sceptical of such plans when it is corporatists who come up with them.

            1. Carolinian

              Hey lucky you for having such a swell mayor. People must have known how it would go (the corporatism) when Rahm decided to run. Couldn’t he have been stopped?

              If it’s any comfort NY and LA are also centers of bike controversy from what I read. In less congested places it’s not much of an issue–certainly not where I live. Bike use here has increased greatly in the last few years but mostly for recreational purposes.

              1. OIFVet

                The Chicago Democratic Machine is still a force to be reckoned with, so Emanuel was inevitable. His reelection next year might be looking shaky though. Will see, perhaps people are fed up enough to defeat the Machine.

    3. Etreju

      Hey, I am one of “those people” and I am sick of being “othered.” I bike everywhere and I stop for every yellow light and stop sign. I see at least one motorist blow a red light every day, and I am holding you, DJG, responsible for every one of them, because I know how “you people” are. Maybe some day we will get you people to observe basic traffic rules–basic rules of etiquette.

  14. Paul Tioxon

    part 1

    One of the most overlooked practical solution is to change the building codes. Model legislation introduced at the state level, county level and municipal level would create a new standard of construction that must include net zero-energy goals, meaning buildings that produce more energy than they consume. Design to produce buildings that do not need central heating systems, eliminating the #1 source of fossil fuel demand in the home and incorporate a building code that includes passive solar design features along with roof top PV just as the building codes demand indoor plumbing with toilets connected to water treatment facilities. Some small towns have done just this in America, but in Spain, following the lead of Barcelona, the entire nation has adopted solar energy building codes. That is on top of a national transportation plan around the high speed rail connections that serves as their interstate highway program. The Spanish planners explicitly compare the Eisenhower era Interstate Highway System as a choice in national infrastructure planning that connected America by car and brought with it economic development. The public transit system of
    Spain is their major infrastructure program of this generation, along with their shift to solar power. All energy comes from the sun, including wind power driven by the storing power as thermal mass for the surface of the planet to create wind currents.

    In Philadelphia, the regional transit authority Septa, is converting its 1400 diesel bus fleet to hybrid electric/diesel. The republicans in the state capital wanted to take state budgeted funding for Septa if they did not buy natural gas powered buses, as part of the fracking lobby that wants to provide a market for the natgas coming from the Marcellus Share gas wells. So far, that has been beaten back. Of course the city at one point had an all electric public transit system of trolleys. Here there were 2 kinds of trolleys on the street, trackless and the kind most people are familiar with and what much of the outside world calls light rail. I call them trolleys. But all of the tracks and over head wire systems had not been destroyed. All of West Philadelphia. the city West of the Schuylkill River uses an extensive all electric trolley systems throughout the neighborhoods which all converge in Center City as underground or subway transit at City Hall.

    Outside of West Philly, there is still a very small remnant of the trackless trolleys which are electric buses that can maneuver around traffic and pull over to the curb to pick people up, without them walking to the trolley in the middle of the street because they stuck to trolley tracks. Here are pictures of trackless trolleys so you can be jealous of cool and I mean cool, these are air conditioned public vehicles set at meat locker temperatures which is one reason why Septa is really appreciated as an oasis of frigid air in the humid summer. They also are well heated in the winter, WHAT A COUNTRY!!

  15. TarheelDem

    As long as we are thinking big, about massive deployment of infratructure, maybe its time to resurrect Bucky Fuller’s idea of connecting the electric grids of the Eastern Hemisphere and the Western Hemisphere for global load balancing.

    The rub is the politics of the construction and operation of these public-serving utilities. That is a huge conceptual problem in a period of history in which the only meaningful government activity is the massive destruction of infrastructure. Witness Gaza, Iraq, Ukraine. And the widespread deterioration across a world captive to St. Austerity.

    1. different clue

      How much eco-devastation would it require to ram the right-of-way and then the lines over that whole distance? And if such lines were built with all the attendant eco-destruction, wouldn’t the pre-existing presence of such lines be used as an excuse to finally build NAWAPA ( which I am sure many Canadians have heard lots and lots about). Also, then too, wouldn’t the existence of such lines give someone the bright idea of building power plants around the Tar Sands so as to mine and burn all the Tar Sands in place for generating electricity to send it into those oh-so-handy Buckminster FullerLines?
      I hope they never get built.

  16. trish

    “what has gone missing in the neoliberal era, that has redirected the power of government to serve primarily the most privileged and wealthy, is the use of government power, innovation, and investment to solve or significantly ameliorate the climate crisis.”

    1. OIFVet

      It hasn’t gone missing, the answer is that the government and corporations are still fine-tuning the optimum ways to monetize amelioration. “Want clean environment? Pay up corporation X, with whom the City of Chicago is proud to partner to save you money by emptying your wallet.” It’s neoliberalism 101.

  17. trish

    “…while state and local governments would need to raise tax revenues, perhaps from registration fees on gas guzzlers”
    I remember hearing a piece on NPR a number of years ago and the interviewee (if I recall correctly) suggested a chip somehow used (I’m tech-ignorant) so that at gas stations guzzlers would begin paying a higher cost per gallon after a certain number of gallons.

    also, anecdotally, I worked with a librarian here once whose husband pushed hard and successfully within the city DOT to begin using cleaner city buses, bike-loading, better service and he was so earnest about the environment he cycled to work rain or shine, took home & composted fellow employees lunch remains, etc. Truly admirable.
    Unfortunately this area is replete with high-end SUV tanks (love the hybrid tanks) with eat local and love-nature bumper stickers and and spewing pickups with guns/god/america ones (the rolling coal trucks are popping up more often) and a few efficient (relatively) “green” cars affordable by the upper income, there’s of course been no incentive (across the nation) to give up your god-given-right to drive your guzzler. And many of the poor who need public transport can barely afford to ride the bus, and the infrequent runs into the outlining areas where they have to live (city expensive) make for more hardship…

    and for cyclists here, while popular it’s more dangerous than necessary because no investment in bike lanes. none.
    There’s a lot of all-about-me style love of the outdoors/environment/organic here.

    This is a really excellent and important piece. thanks for posting.

  18. vegeholic

    You can argue about the specifics of Mr. Hoexter’s ideas, and I agree with many of them, but the real problem is that this topic is not admitted to a place at the table by the very serious people who control the agenda. The media, local, regional and federal politicians, and leaders of academia and industry just cannot conceive of alternatives to their car culture, and therefore don’t consider such ideas worthy of discussion. Traveling to Amsterdam or Copenhagen to see the many virtues of bike culture and public transit is beneficial, but all of the serious people either do not travel or else travel only to view other cultures as quaint theme parks. The current paradigm in North America rests on the false belief that cheap energy will last forever. An intelligent species would use the last few years of cheap energy to build an infrastructure that would be appropriate for the coming world of expensive energy, but that would require some kind of anticipation or clear-eyed planning that apparently we are no longer capable of. Furthermore, America has never fully recovered from the civil war and equates government activism with confiscation of their personal wealth to squander on minorities and immigrants. It is difficult in this sclerotic environment to see pathways to reform.

    1. sd

      Lost opportunity…after the collapse, Obama could have pushed through a massive jobs program building infrastructure that included dedicated bike paths tailored to local needs.

      1. different clue

        That was not an opportunity “lost”. It was an opportunity carefully prevented. One of Obama’s several missions was to make sure that no such thing be done or even attempted. He was successful in preventing such a thing from being done. Senator Whomever from Maine was used as a handy excuse/ provider-of-cover to allow Obama to say he “couldn’t” get such a program through.
        “Bi-Partisanship” was the pre-selected filter by which such a program could be blocked based on such an excuse.

        1. different clue

          Oh, and . . . . this success is one of several successes for which Obama expects to be paid several hundred million dollars over the years after he leaves office. And future Presidents will be watching to see if he really does get paid or not. If he does not get paid, future Presidents will see and wonder why they should trust any implicit promise to be paid in return for all the right actions.

  19. jfleni

    I grew up in Boston just after WW2.

    1947: Slob-UV’s existed, but were extremely rare; personal cars were uncommon; public trasportation was the way to get anywhere important. Supermarkets (always small and local), delivered groceries to their elderly customers.

    2003: Large local (multi-state) supermarket chain opens a warehouse for grocery delivery, by telephone and fax and early Internet, an idea that seemed quite forward-looking and useful to shoppers.

    Customer response was very enthusiastic, but the business only lasted about six months. Excuses included lack of profits, and business doubts about merchandising (How could Mom be persuaded to buy the crap on sale in Aisle 7, and Sis to buy the pretty Kewpie doll in Aisle 9!).

    But the most important reason was the direct declaration of war against the Korea-Jap-Euro-slightly-domestic car-makers and their dealer-parasites (not forgetting all the other scammers along for the ride too)! It is and will be a continuing war: and right now we are losing badly.

    It’s still impossible to get your grub, except by directly begging some plutocrat to take all your money! Peapod, Amazon, and several others have tried hard and always failed.

    Don’t even bother asking “How do I get to work”, or anything equally dumb!

  20. kaj

    Great piece;;; thanks for mentioning electric bikes and scooters;;; We badly need electric buses. I know that the Swedish truck company Volvo (not to be confused with the Car company now owned by the Chinese) is testing electric buses in Sweden and Brazil, even in France and other parts of Europe. I wish some of the other truck manufacturers like Mercedes (the largest) and VW, one of the largest would become more active.

  21. Jeff N

    how much carbon is put out by major cities, compared to rural areas, where it seems like everyone drives gas guzzlin’ pickup trucks?
    also, I’ve read that the US Military puts out an equal amount of carbon compared to US civilians’ output.

  22. Carl

    Don’t have time to read all of this, so sorry if redundant. The centrality of car-use in the US is declining amongst the youth. The age at which millennials are getting driver licenses is increasing, vehicle ownership is down (not solely because of poverty), and those who can choose how to live are seeking urban settings with transit and walkability. Unless you make cars, this is profoundly encouraging.

    The New Urbanists have studied these issues closely. See what happens to property values once a streetcar line is proposed – a side-benefit that does not come with buses.

    Here’s one study on the matter, HAS MOTORIZATION IN THE U.S. PEAKED?:

    1. financial matters

      Yes, Gar Alperovitz has similar thoughts in his “What Then Must We Do?””

      “Some of the most interesting examples of what might be called ‘development socialism’ occur when a city develops and leases land it owns in and around entrances to publicly funded mass transportation subways and light rail systems. Land values go up dramatically at such locations, and cities used to simply let developers grab the publicly created opportunities — and then try to tax back whatever they could. Now many cities routinely maintain public ownership of the land, directly capturing the increased values the public investment creates.”

  23. indio007

    Why is this important again?
    So much for “settled science”.
    It’s not really news that a 98% scientific consensus can be incorrect.
    When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently requested a figure for its annual report, to show global temperature trends over the last 10,000 years, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Zhengyu Liu knew that was going to be a problem.

    “We have been building models and there are now robust contradictions,” says Liu, a professor in the UW-Madison Center for Climatic Research. “Data from observation says global cooling. The physical model says it has to be warming.”

    1. sd

      From the article:
      The scientists call this problem the Holocene temperature conundrum. It has important implications for understanding climate change and evaluating climate models, as well as for the benchmarks used to create climate models for the future. It does not, the authors emphasize, change the evidence of human impact on global climate beginning in the 20th century.

    2. different clue

      If the data from observation says “cooling”, then why are the various icecaps/icefileds/snowpacks “melting and shrinking”? Doesn’t it take HEEEEEAT to melt ice/snow? And if ice and snow formations are in fact MELLLLLL-ting as the data from observation says they are, doesn’t that mean that MORE heat is being fed INTO the earthsurface-sky-ocean system?

      1. Paul Tioxon

        What is NOT included in any of the models that the scientific consensus is particulate pollution from burning fossils fuels, coal and oil in particular. The soot, to use a more popular word, settles on the pristine white snow, if in small amounts, but enough amounts to cause the pristine white snow to darken enough attract sunlight and all of it melting properties to a greater degree than when the snow and ice were 99 and 44/100% pure, as the proverbial new driven snow. Instead of reflecting the sunlight, a virtual cycle of ensuring steady temperatures in the vast snow packed areas due to heat reflection, the particulate pollution causes an ever so increasing coat of darkening material reversing the virtuous cycle and replacing it with heat absorbing thermal mass, however so slight. Over the range of miles of ice pack, it is a huge solar gathering net, making the ice melt accelerate to degree not calculated. In other words, the methane release and CO release causing a greenhouse effect is one punch of a two punch combo. The as yet not as broadly studied but known second punch is particulate matter, soot, covering and darkening the ice pack creating a thermal mass which attracts light, stores heat and accelerates the icepack melting. That is one of the reasons why the observable shrinking ice pack might seem to not be on the climate change models schedules, and it all looks like melting is moving faster than what the theory behind the models predicted. Factor in particulate pollution covering and you get a situation that is happening right now, much worse than was expected by the models.

        1. different clue

          Good corrective. I keep reading about the black carbon sooticles settling on ice and snow and then I keep forgetting about that. So reminders are always good. Black carbon soot from hundreds of millions of incompletely combusting smoky sooty cooking fires locally upwind from the Greater Himmalaya Area and lightly carbon-blacking the snowfields and icefields has been advanced as a reason for the meltback of those ice/snow formations. If that IS a major cause, the replacement of several hundred INcomplete combustion cookfires with several hundred million comPLETE combustion cookfires should cut down on the black carbon soot particle fallout and allow the snowfields/icefields to re-whiten and re-brighten themselves with new snow un-sooted upon. That should enhance reflectivity and froze-water persistence.
          Since I suspect that soot is not contact-driving the thawing of the Tibetan permafrost (or other permafrost) and certainly not driving the meltback of froze-water in the no-soot zones like Andean South America and the melting edges of Antarctica, I suspect there is still major heat-input at play. Which would again raise the question: if we are in a cooling, where is all that heat coming from?

  24. craazyboy

    I think electric bikes are pretty cool. Batteries are still fer sh*t, but at least they are a smaller problem for a bike.
    The way the roads are now, I refuse to ride my peddle bike on them. I need my 3500lb armor for protection, and still I can be dwarfed by 6000lb “vehicles”, usually being piloted by only one person.

    1. sd

      Word of advice. Watch out for Lexus drivers. Next time you get cut off, check and see if its a Lexus. I don’t know what it is but they always seem to be the worst. Makes me wonder if the cars have really bad blind spots.

  25. washunate

    Great read. I think the big picture about changing government is the key. Small local initiatives are, unfortunately, rounding errors compared to what public policy has been doing to the planet.

    Personally, I do quibble though with making buses such a central part of the solution. To make buses work in many places at scale, you have to do a lot of infrastructure and cultural/logistical changes anyway. Why not just advocate passenger rail. To me, implementing the best option is a much simpler sell.

    And of course, the more fundamental problem in American commuting is how much of it Americans have to do. Reduce work and the pollution magically falls, also. I mean, society doesn’t exactly end when there’s a three day weekend. Most people have this bizarre reaction where they actually enjoy it.

  26. susan the other

    I was so busy this morning I only checked in an hour ago. And I loved this post. Thank you Yves and thank you Michael. You are both my godchildren. This prospectus for a bike-nation is so good and reasonable, and practicable. I love it. And I know it is true because I have lived a long and vaguely miserable adult life driving my car long distances for only tiny reasons. I’d much rather have ridden my bike shorter distances for good reasons. When I was 22 I had big time insomnia. I used to give up around 1:00 am and just go for a bike ride. Which was always so unbelievable exquisite. The air, the coolness, the stars. I have never forgotten how I felt about biking. It got to the point back then, when I was young, that the thought of riding in a car actually made me sick. Really. And I want you all to know that despite my advanced age (68) I would still love to get on a bike-trike and peddle to the grocery store.

  27. Abe, NYC

    Is Toyota’s new hydrogen car about to ‘change society’?

    Toyota’s car will go for about 7 million yen ($67,500); a decade ago, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were estimated to cost around 100 million yen.

    “We have finally developed a car that can change society,” Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada told Shinzo Abe in mid-July, when the prime minister visited a hydrogen fueling station in the western city of Kitakyushu.

    This is only the most recent article I’ve seen on the subject, but there have been many others. It looks like fuel cell vehicles are really on the verge of breaking into mainstream. I haven’t seen clear comparisons but I understand the environmental footprint of a fuel cell much smaller than a traditional electric battery. It has other advantages too: for example fuel cells are much lighter than traditional batteries while refueling time is similar to gasoline vehicles.

    The main obstacle, again, is distribution network. But New York, for example, has taken the lead on environmental issues; most of the taxis and buses are now hybrid. It could potentially build a city-wide network of hydrogen stations and replace the current generation of buses with those powered by fuel cells.

    Unfortunately, this also reflects the uncertainty about which technology will win out in the end. Elon Musk came out strongly against fuel cells but it seems he’s talking his book.

    1. craazyboy

      Problem always was, and still is, we’ve got no good way to make hydrogen. 95% of current production is from fossil fuel, and 5% from a very expensive electrolysis process used to make very pure hydrogen for semi wafer production. Scientists have suggested we can “crack” water at high temp in a nuke reactor. Woopie Dooo!

      Fuel cells, up until now were too big to fit in cars. They were targeting buses. So Toyota shrunk them down it looks like.

      But from a carbon cycle/ GW standpoint – no help. And if GW wasn’t a concern, we can go from coal to diesel fuel cheaper. But in fuel cell buses maybe we get more people-miles per hydrogen, or something like that.

      1. craazyboy

        Also, looking at conversion effy, a fuel cell is 50% efficient and would drive an electric motor and control that has probably 80% efficiency. Multiply the two together gives 40% efficiency. Clean diesel is 35%, so there is very little improvement here.

        So a paid person at this point would want to go all the way back to basic resources, coal for hydrogen, and oil for diesel and total up all conversion efficiencies, costs, and pounds of carbon.

        Then I imagine we would have a big fancy report, spreadsheet and charts to look at and make a wise decision.

        And the right kind of buses would drive around our big cities happily ever after!

        1. craazyboy

          Also, a hybrid clean diesel would get significantly better mileage in start-stop bus operation than non – hybrid buses. But hybrid works for fuel cell too – and it already has the main drive motor that can be easily used in regenerative braking mode and all you need to add is a smallish battery. That approach sounds interesting.

      2. Abe, NYC

        But electricity for battery-powered vehicles still needs to be produced somehow, the question is whether it is more efficient to convert thermal to hydrogen to electricity, or thermal straight to electricity – taking into account distribution losses, fuel/battery cell efficiency, and fuel/battery cell environmental footprints.

        No time to read the linked article now to refresh my knowledge, but I would think once demand for hydrogen is sufficiently high, technology will catch up. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in nature, perhaps it can be produced with bacterial reactors: if algae and bacteria can produce complex hydrocarbons, surely methods can be developed to produce pure hydrogen. Genetic engineering could serve a useful purpose for a change. Finally, there is quite a bit of research into safer nuclear power such as traveling wave and thorium reactors.

        For existing alternative sources, converting electricity from wind/solar into hydrogen for storage and distribution removes most of their disadvantages.

        1. craazyboy

          Yes, the right way is to start with basic resources and go thru all possible chains of energy conversion, with your target end goal in mind.

          In my town they are putting in an electric street car, like they had for a century in San Francisco. It will just cover a small area, but electrified rail eliminates the battery storage problem, which is probably the weakest link in the whole thing. I think they call them subways in NYC and El Trains in Chicago.

          Solar and wind may work, where they may work. I hear it’s getting close in the sunny SW, but don’t know the prospects for NYC.

          Hydrogen has been pretty well thrashed out ever since they tried promoting the “Hydrogen Economy” in the early 2000s. After lots of initial hype, the DOE went cool on the idea after not finding any good industry prospects for making hydrogen.

          Since then a few companies seem to be making headway on bio fuel engineering. One has success with algae producing corn ethanol and bio-diesel. If that can be scaled, I can do the shortest, cheapest path in my head – sun – bio diesel – hybrid bio diesel bus. Maybe it’s possible to come up with something that bubbles hydrogen, but I don’t know if anyone is working on that.

          Then the other consideration is time to market. We don’t need to go to zero carbon, zero fossil fuel immediately (or more accurately, we can’t) so cobble together what you have for the interim. The hybrid bus is not bad.

          Then of course conservation – get the gas guzzlers off the market at least.

  28. juliania

    I’m a little old lady and I walk wherever and whenever possible, thankful for public transportation of any kind, (electric would be wonderful of course.)

    And I love bikers because they are the same as me, hopefully polluting the air less than all who must use cars (as some must where infrastructure and practicalities of life insist.) I love bikers the way I love teachers – sure there are some not so good ones, but it is very shortsighted to badmouth the profession in general.

    Sorry, car drivers, of whom I have been one, our time should have passed already. We should have been phased out as the economic dinosaurs we most surely are.

    Look for me. I’m that insistent bag lady who trundles for groceries. You’ll be seeing more of me. And bless you, bikers. I’m breathing cleaner air because of you.

  29. MrBobo

    So, where, pray tell, does one get the electricity for these million new electric buses? Coal?

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