G7 Leaders Up the Ante on Climate Action

(3BL Media/Justmeans) When the leaders of the world’s largest economies, United States, Germany, Canada, Japan, Great Britain, France, and Italy, otherwise known as the G7, met last week to discuss the global economy, climate and energy were high on the agenda, given the heightened level of concern and the major climate talks coming up later this year in Paris.

The group took a bold step, pledging to completely phase out greenhouse gas emissions by the century’s end, and to cut somewhere between 40 and 70% by 2050. Can they back it up? Not by themselves. These seven countries currently represent about a third of the world’s GHG emissions. That means they can have a significant impact, but they can’t do it without help, especially from rapidly growing economies like China (now the #1 emitter), India (#4) and Russia (#5). That will not be easy, considering that even among those in the G7, consensus did not come easily. Both Canada and Japan pushed back before finally agreeing to sign on to the statement that said, “We commit to doing our part to achieve a low-carbon global economy in the long-term including developing and deploying innovative technologies striving for a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050 and invite all countries to join us in this endeavor. To this end we also commit to develop long term national low-carbon strategies.”

However, if the goal is to limit global warming to 2 degrees or less, the goal of eliminating emissions by the end of the century is not enough. Even the 40 to 70% cuts mentioned by 2050 will fall short, even at the higher end, according to some sources. The carbon calculus shows that we have used up about two-thirds of the total emissions limit of around 3,200 gigatonnes that must be maintained if we hope to keep the climate from spinning out of control. At the current rate of emissions, we will run through that in the next 27 years. That’s a frightening thought when you consider that, at this point, the rate is still going up (albeit more slowly than it was a few years ago). That trend has to be dramatically reversed if the goal is to be met. Keep in mind that most greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for a hundred years or more, so even when we stop emitting, it will take a while for the concentration to begin falling. It also means that when we stop, we need to stop for good, or at least the next hundred years. Given the way that these emissions accumulate in the system, the sooner we act, the better.

Tomorrow's Engineers Push Fuel Economy Limits in Shell Eco-marathon

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Last week I wrote a guest post on GM's Fast Lane blog on the future of transportation. The post examined some concept vehicles that GM has been testing that can communicate with each other enabling them to move down the road in synchrony, like a flock of birds or a school of fish might. This would not only improve safety but could also speed things up quite a bit while saving energy at the same time.

Over the weekend, I took another peek into the future as a visitor to Shell's Eco-marathon in Houston. Even if the slick little cars I saw quietly parting the sultry Houston air do not represent the shape of vehicles to come (though I suspect some will), I'm pretty sure I saw some of tomorrow's engineers and innovators in action in the paddock area, working feverishly to get their cars ready to compete. The students designed and built the cars entirely themselves, though they were allowed to work with mentors. The contest goal was to achieve the highest fuel economy.

There are two vehicle categories: prototype and urban concept and six eligible fuels: gasoline, diesel, ethanol, gas-to-liquid, battery electric, and hydrogen fuel cell.

The event goes back to 1939, when two shell engineers wagered over who could build the most fuel efficient car. The winner managed a respectable 49 mpg. This year's winners did quite a bit better.

Montreal's Université Laval’s Alérion Supermileage team took the top spot in a gasoline-powered car that achieved a fuel economy of 2,824 miles per gallon with their prototype vehicle. That would allow you to circle the globe at the equator on a little under 9 gallons, though I can't say it would be a particularly comfortable ride. As impressive as that sounds, it did not top the record set by the same team last year which was 3,587 mpg.

The urban concept category also saw a repeat by last year's champs, Mater Dei High School of Evansville, Indiana, who did manage to set a record in that category of 901 mpg.

All together some 126 teams participated from 5 countries. This was the Americas version of the event which also has counterparts in Europe and Asia. The 94 prototype vehicles consisted of 63 combustion type (including ethanol, diesel and GTL), and 31 electric (including fuel cell). There were also 32 urban concept vehicles.

Sustainability in the Spotlight

stopshellWe all love to find out that our favorite actors and movie stars are also committed to the environment. Hollywood has its fair share of greenies. Woody Harrelson is a committed vegan eco-hero, and used to run an organization called Voice Yourself to promote sustainable, organic living.

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