Access and Equity Must be at the Forefront of Canadian Electric Vehicle Policy

The biggest barrier to electric vehicle uptake in Canada is cost. But the Canadians facing this barrier are also the ones who would receive the most benefits from going electric. Clearly, something needs to change- and fast.

The Canadian government has set a target to have 100% of new vehicles sold be electric by 2040. If successful, this would make an enormous dent in our 2050 emissions reductions targets, as transportation accounts for the second largest portion of Canada’s carbon pollution- just 1% behind oil and gas. Yet if we don’t place a much greater value on ensuring all Canadians can afford an EV, and have access to charging, we will simply not meet the target. It’s a major opportunity that will require updates to federal and provincial EV policy, as well as the work of all local governments to ensure clean transportation is equitable in their communities. 


Background: An “elite” climate solution

Thousands of families across Canada still struggle to pay basic bills, including energy bills, which have a higher burden for low-income households. Low-income households also often spend a much greater proportion of their income on vehicle-related costs annually. Canadian Urban Sustainability Practitioners (CUSP) estimates that one in 5 Canadian households suffer from “energy poverty,” spending more than 6% of their after-tax income on energy. Owning an EV is therefore not only absent from these Canadians’ priority lists, it is simply not a possibility for them. These same households would also benefit most from taking diesel cars and trucks off the road, as they are often located closest to high-traffic corridors and freeways shipping commercial goods. A recent International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) study underscored that “savings from EVs relative to income are significantly higher for low-income households, non-White households, and households in areas with higher levels of pollution.”

Despite the dramatic fall in price tags on most EVs over the past five years-  the cheapest new EV, Volkswagens’ e-golf, is now $24K CAD after rebates – many still view EV’s “as climate solution mostly for the elite”.  And despite several commendable federal and (some) provincial efforts to combat this with various incentives, including a $5000 federal rebate, this discourse remains veritable.

The truth is in the numbers. One can find a decent used Nissan Leaf in Canada for ~$10K CAD (note rebates are irrelevant for this price as used vehicles don’t qualify for federal rebates nor most provincial rebates). Add in an extra ~$2000 for a Level 2 home charger installation. Used EVs will also have to have their battery replaced earlier (although they typically last for a good 10 years).  For wealthier Canadians, the difference in total cost of ownership of an electric vehicle- i.e. including fuel and maintenance costs, which are negligible for EVs- compared to a gas vehicle, makes a huge difference in savings over a long time period. But for lower-income Canadians, the upfront cost of the vehicle and charger is the only thing that matters. And a $12,000 total upfront cost of a used EV still doesn’t compare to the millions of used gas cars being spewed off dealership lots or sold privately at $3K CAD a piece. A friend recently sold her old Toyota for a resounding $1200. Why wouldn’t low-income and disadvantaged families be forced to choose this option time and time and again?

To make matters worse, current statistics and polling on EVs don’t reflect the income barrier reality in Canada. In a 2021 survey conducted by KPMG, 68% respondents said they were likely to purchase an EV in the next 5 years. But statistics like this are likely to reflect a wealthier urban population- and, to date, there has not been enough polling in remote as well as lower-income communities.

A 2021 study by the ICCT showed that by 2029, EVs will have reached upfront cost parity with the average vehicle bought by a low-income household. For the wealthier household, this cost parity will be reached almost a full two years earlier. As automakers get their parts in gear and ramp up EV production to as much as 100% by 2030, a greater supply of EVs will also become more attractive to lower-income households. But if Canada has any true hope to achieve it’s “100% of EV sales by 2040” target, EVs must be made available to lower income and disadvantaged households much sooner than 2030. And that means targeted policy at both the federal and provincial levels. To date, access and equity around EVs has largely amounted to an acknowledgement of the issue by governments, but limited real action has been taken. For instance, the Federal 2020 Fall Economic Update “recognized” that public funding for EV charging will benefit high income EV owners, but so far no concrete steps have been taken to address this. An Electric Autonomy article stated in April that Natural Resources Canada  (NRCan) had assured them it is working with all levels of government to address identified gaps. Yet NRCan’s current EV and E funding programs do not currently intentionally allocate resources towards disadvantaged communities and households.

Fortunately, some provinces and municipalities are starting to make headway. The 2021 BC Budget earmarked $94 million in addition to $40 million invested in 2020/21 to transition existing incentives program to an income-tested rebate model (described further below) in 2021-2022. And PEI, Nova Scotia, and Quebec all have rebates for used EVs as well as new, expanding access for lower-income purchasers. Other provincial governments should follow this lead. At the local level, Vancouver is leading the way with a variety of impressive, innovative equity-based policies around EV charging infrastructure (also see below). Momentum is certainly building across the country with some governments driving their own initiatives. But it is not nearly enough, and in most places EVs remain far out of reach for millions of disadvantaged Canadian families. Targeted, equity-focused EV policies will expand access to a wider demographic and get more EVs on the road, while supporting a just transition in Canada- which, so far, has been a lot of talk and not enough walk.  

 Provincial and Federal EV Rebate Systems Require Two Targeted Updates:

  1.  Rebates for used EVS:
    • Ironically, the smallest province in the country, PEI, also has the greatest rebate for used EVs; purchasers of both new and used EVs are qualified for a $5000 rebate. Quebec provides up to $4000 for used EVs. But not a single other province currently has a used EV rebate. Other provinces should follow PEI and Quebec’s leads- and also ensure the rebate is at point-of-sale so lower income buyers don’t have to wait months for the discount. This policy need is especially salient considering it is largely up to provincial governments to address social inequity. Moreover, all provincial and federal incentives available should be listed next to the EV’s upfront sticker price both online and at dealerships.
  1. Income-adjusted rebate system
    • Lower-income EV buyers in California receive an additional US$2,500 on top of the US$7,000 used EV rebate. And higher income households above a certain threshold are not eligible for either a new or used EV rebate. A number of studies show evidence for improved equity following targeted EV incentives towards low-income households. In addition, the overall incentive program can be made more cost-effective, as higher-income households are more likely to purchase an EV in the absence of any subsidy.  Canada’s federal purchase incentive program is not currently adjusted for income- and it should be if we are to get 100% EVs on the road by 2040. Moreover, the cost of purchase incentives born by governments will become politically challenging as EV sales grow, so why not better distribute these costs by scaling the system to income? It will be exciting to see how BC’s current trial of an income-tested model plays out in the next two years.

The MURB Challenge: EV Readiness Plans

One of the biggest EV equity challenges in Canada is ramping up charging stations in multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs), which is currently no less than a disaster in much of the country. In Vancouver, 62% of homes in 2016 were apartments. Lower-income families tend to live in multi-unit dwellings- and are thus “garage orphans” lacking a space to install their own EV chargers. And yet there is significant red tape to installing chargers in MURBs: changes to buildings in BC have to be approved by 75% majority of building’s owners, then the owners must hire a contractor to determine if their building can even handle the extra power needs. The cost of installing just a few chargers in parking floors can also be upwards of $15,000, including subsidies. Fortunately, BC Hydro has made good progress on this challenge with EV installation programs that include feasibility studies and EV Readiness studies for each building. EV Readiness Plans are crucial to ensure that families in apartments and townhomes have access to EV charging: other utility programs across Canada should incentivize this or require it. Plug in Drive also offers education and resources for helping building and condo owners become EV ready. Some municipalities have also mandated that all new buildings have the capacity to accommodate charging stations-CUSP provides strong resources for policymakers and building owners. Reports from Pollution Probe and Deli on garage orphans can also help policymakers and utilities identify where these families are across Canada and target charging infrastructure here.

Chart Source: Canadian Urban Sustainability Practitioners


Municipal governments have a key role to play in achieving EV equity

Local governments have a critical role in ensuring equity in their communities. Yet they also have the least amount of money of all levels of government. More funding support from provincial governments and investments in municipal programs would allow local governments to implement targeted equity policies in their communities. Local governments can also work with community groups and organizations to spread education and excitement about EVs in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

Municipal governments can use excellent resources such as the Canadian Urban Sustainability Practitioners’ Integrating Equity into City Electric Vehicle Programs” to inform targeted equity policies.

CUSP defines equity as:

  1. Procedural (Inclusion)- ensuring development and implementation processes of any policy is fair and inclusive
  2.  Distributional (Access)- ensuring benefits and resources are prioritized to those who most need them first.
  3.  Structural (Intergenerational)- commitment to correct past harms and prevent future, by institutionalizing accountability and decision-making structures that sustain positive outcomes.

Integrating Equity also teaches local governments to consider equity in each a: “geographic context (rural-urban compositions, composition of housing stock, existing EV infrastructure, who has the longest commutes?), economic and policy context (to whom are EVs least economically viable, what are city’s long term economic development goals and how do these relate to access to new EV infra?), and utility regulatory context (does the city’s utility have EV-specific policies, what are the community’s avenues for engaging the utility in EV programs?)”

City of Vancouver: Leader on Equity-Focused EV Policy in Canada

The City of Vancouver highlights how local governments can be pacesetters working at ground level with their communities on EV equity and access. Vancouver’s new Building Code has been incredibly powerful: 100% of stalls in new multi-unit residential buildings must be EV-ready. Vancouver’s new Climate Emergency Action Plan also uses an equity-based approach for charging installations for low-income, to be rolled out in the coming months. The City is also experimenting with installing chargers on utility poles (a la Europe) and smart cables tied to an LED retrofit program. The City of Vancouver should be commended for its efforts at the grassroots level to expand electric vehicle access across its communities- and, with sufficient funding and support- other municipalities across Canada should follow suit.


 Potential for Equity Mapping to Inform EV Equity Policy 

Equity mapping involves sweeping data collection and synthesis on environmental exposures- such as diesel pollution- that specific communities face. Transforming this data into an interactive, dynamic digital mapping tool, an equity map shows how these vulnerable communities are distributed geographically and spatially, and how their environmental risks overlap with other social, and economic exposures (like income level and energy burden). In other words, an equity map provides a powerful, real-time tool to educate policymakers on where the communities most threatened by environmental, social and economic exposures are across the country. Policymakers can then direct greater resources towards these communities to both prevent further harm and, in this case, ensure a just and equitable energy transition. See my blog post on equity maps and an impressive first-of-its-kind equity map recently developed in the US on a national scale. Equity mapping often focuses on communities’ proximity to toxic release facilities and how this interacts with other economic exposures, but they can be translated to focus on transportation as well.  A good example would be mapping out where all garage orphans are in each province, to inform targeted public EV charging infrastructure policy. Within its EV  strategy,  the City of Toronto is already developing a transportation-focused “equity toolkit” that includes equity mapping. (see figure below). Other Cities- or NGOs- across Canada could do the same. Equity mapping takes time and resources but is well-worth it to provide both electric vehicle access, and benefits of the clean energy transition, to communities who need it most. 

Source: CUSP, Integrating Equity into City EV Programs 


Conclusion

Combine a domino effect of automaker announcements to ramp up EV production- and some of that production will be in Canada– with the continuing downfall of battery costs, you have two key ingredients to stamp out Canada’s current reality that electric vehicles are a climate solution for the privileged. But federal and most provincial government policy, with a few notable exceptions, has so far simply not aligned with these developments. The Trudeau government has announced a goal to reach 100% EV sales by 2040, which would be an enormous support in our country’s fight against climate change. But we are so far leaving a significant portion of our population behind in our race to electrify transportation. A recent paper defines sustainable mobility as “the need for deep reductions in GHGs and air pollutants while also being affordable and accessible to the full population”. Governments at all levels across Canada should heed this statement and use it as the backbone for clean transportation policy, which, in most cases to date, has ignored the need for a just and equitable transition. 

The two policy directives of 1. used EV eligibility for rebates, and 2. a tiered-income rebate system, are recommended by leading clean energy policy groups like the ICCT and Clean Energy Canada, and should be considered by the Federal and Provincial governments immediately. 

At the municipal level, local governments in Canada can learn from the City of Vancouver’s leadership. For equity doesn’t just benefit from a local government approach- it requires it. City leadership can start by working with community groups and conducting equity mapping, or a similar approach, to identify where needs are, and then target EV infrastructure and charging accordingly. To support these equity initiatives at the local level, provincial governments should provide targeted funding flows to municipalities. Meanwhile, utilities can also cooperate with cities on charging infrastructure, learning from Vancouver and BC Hydro’s partnership. Decision makers on all levels can be educated by resources like CUSP’s “Integrating Equity into City Electric Vehicle Programs” as a requisite for sound and effective equity policy. 

Canada is making important strides towards our critical 2050 climate targets, as we committed to in 2015 at the Paris Agreement. And with climate change right on our doorsteps- deadly heatwaves in Toronto, wildfires in BC, increasing morbidity from air pollution, extreme weather patterns increasing across the country- we are realising these strides need to come fast and furious. We are also seeing the giant economic opportunities laying in plain sight with a transition away from fossil fuels towards cleaner energy sources. But it is simply not enough to charge ahead with solutions to combat climate change if those solutions benefit only a few. Canada must face the reality that the households who would most benefit from the clean energy transition are also those who are being most left out of it. Equity must therefore be at the forefront of every conversation about our clean energy transition, and that includes electrifying the way we move around. There is an immense and decisive opportunity here, and Canadian policymakers should take it- for the sake of not only our climate targets, but for all Canadians.

Equity Mapping: A Powerful Tool for Environmental Justice Across the US

What if digital technology and large-scale data could be harnessed to visualize key social and economic inequities across America- in one map?

Enter federal equity mapping– a groundbreaking digital tool that environmental justice groups across the US are advocating for as the incoming Biden Administration presents long-needed hope for climate action and social justice. From Kamala Harris to Deb Haaland, Biden’s chosen team speaks for itself– there is light on the path to righting historical wrongs and ensuring social and environmental justice is at the forefront of US federal policy.

What is an Equity Map?

The purpose of an equity map is to conduct sweeping data collection and synthesis on environmental exposures that specific communities face- such as being located in coastal areas in danger of rising sea levels, or near toxic waste facilities, or power plants. Transforming this data into an interactive, dynamic digital mapping tool, an Equity Map shows how these vulnerable communities are distributed geographically and spatially, and how their environmental risks overlap with other social, and economic exposures (like income level). In other words, the Equity Map provides a powerful, real-time map to educate America’s policymakers on where the communities most threatened by environmental, social and economic exposures are across the country. Policymakers can then direct greater resources towards these communities and prevent current policies from causing further harm.

This kind of digital tool can be of immense importance to the incoming Biden Administration, as over the next four years it works to make good on its promises of sweeping climate action and social justice policy. The starting point: Biden has promised 40% of his $2 trillion climate plan’s funds towards social justice.

“As the United States prepares for a future fundamentally marked by climate instability, it is an economic and moral imperative to build true climate justice today.”

Evergreen Action, “Designing a New National Equity Mapping Program”, October 2020

A History of Profits Before People is as Abominable and Ugly as it Gets

“In many cases, environmental justice represents deeper patterns of unequal access to political power, justice and capital”

– Evergreen Action, “Designing a New National Equity Mapping Program”, October 2020


All across the country, people of color disproportionately reside in communities that are located close to toxic release facilities (ranging from the chemical, mining, paper, to oil and gas industries). The few policy acts that attempt to protect these vulnerable communities from environmental exploitation were weakened by the Trump Administration and now must be repaired. See my followup blog post on many fantastic environmental justice groups- both new and well-established- across America whose voices and work are incredibly inspiring and paving the way for a sustainable and just society. For the former simply cannot exist without the latter.


Evergreen Action’s Push For a First-Of-It’s-Kind, Federal Equity Map

Evergreen Action is a group of former staffers and supporters for Washington State Governor Jay Inslee who ran in the 2020 Presidential Race- with climate action as the basis of his platform. Evergreen was formed in 2019 with a mission to “elect a new president to build support for an all-out national mobilization to defeat the climate crisis and create 8 million jobs in a clean energy economy.” Evergreen is carrying on Jay Inslee’s impressive legacy, to put climate action at the top of America’s agenda, in the form of an Action Plan for national mobilization. One of Evergreen’s top priorities is ensuring the Biden administration addresses climate change through the Action Plan’s roots in social justice and economic inclusivity.   

Image Source: Evergreen Action

To this end, in October 2020 Evergreen published a proposal for a national “Equity Mapping Program,” to help the new Biden Administration form a path to climate justice in America. The idea of their mapping program is to “identify communities that face environmental injustice, using lessons learned from state equity mapping programs.” To read further on Evergreen’s federal equity map proposal, and learn why the Biden Administration-and its new domestic climate Czar- should learn from it, click here.

Equity Maps are an important tool that can be adopted by states to geographically identify disadvantaged communities across the US. California, New York, Washington and Maryland have already developed an Equity Map. Evergreen is now calling for the new federal government to adopt a nation-wide Equity Map to “track the cumulative impacts of exposure to pollution, health disparities and economic instability.”  Something like this tool exists federally already, called EJSCREEN. However, Evergreen notes EJSCREEN’s significant limitations particularly in failing to analyze the cumulative impacts of the link between pollution and social disparities.

Enter groups like Greenlink, a partnership of environmental consulting and data analytics, who in 2020 unveiled the very first of its kind large-scale equity map across the US.  

Greenlink’s Groundbreaking Equity Map Spanning 50 US Cities

The Greenlink Equity Map was developed in partnership by Greenlink Analytics, an Atlanta-based energy consulting organization, and Upright Consulting, a platform to advance racial equity, economic justice and deep sustainability. These two organizations have recently developed a first-of-its-kind tool to evaluate over 70 equity indicators at the neighborhood level across 50 US cities. I can only imagine the monumental effort and collaboration that went into this remarkably informative and dynamic project. See Greenlink’s snapshot of the equity map below, including various indicators on the lefthand sidebar.

IMAGE SOURCE: https://www.equitymap.org/equity-map

From Greenlink’s Website: Range of Indicators Provided by the Equity Map:

“When these GEM maps are coupled with stories of communities’ experiences, the resulting shared data analysis can serve as a foundation for unlocking strategies to close racial equity gaps. It can also help create solutions for climate preparedness, public health, and other crises”. 

Greenlink- https://www.equitymap.org/equity-map


The incoming Biden Administration would be wise to take heed to leading environmental justice groups like Evergreen Action and the Greenlink Partnership, among others, advocating for this kind of digital mapping platform, alongside first-hand stories of communities unique experiences.

It will be exciting to see such powerful and informative tools as this leveraged by policymakers, as- finally, finally!- dawn breaks on a new era of climate action and social justice reform.


To support Evergreen Actions work, click here

To support/for more information on the Greenlink project and the 50 US cities it involves, click here

The Kelp Diet: Mitigating Methane from Agriculture

Author’s note: this post overviews a potentially ground-breaking strategy for reducing methane emissions from agriculture. In the broader context of agriculture and climate change, my personal views remain in full support of the human population moving towards eating as little animal meat as possible, for both ethical and climate change-related reasons. Also important to note that the kelp diet discussed below will be used for dairy cows as well as meat livestock. Vegetarianism is certainly on the rise, but the world is not likely to stop consuming dairy any time soon. I for one have a hard time imagining a world without cheese!

Can seaweed help stop climate change?

In the context of groundbreaking climate solutions, it may seem strange to compare seaweed with, for example, wind turbines- each of which carry a staggering 164 tonnes of weight to generate power from the wind. However, dive deeper into the world of kelp and you’ll learn of its many miraculous properties, one of which could help neutralize a dangerous and potent greenhouse gas emitted into our atmosphere: methane.

Livestock such as cattle, pigs and sheep are responsible for 44% of all human-caused methane emissions. Put in other words, by burping, livestock release almost as much methane into the atmosphere per year as the entire European Union. How does this happen? Well, these animals have complex microbial digestion systems that break down whatever comes down the pipe to meet their needs. This process creates beneficial byproducts for the cow- but it also creates a waste product, methane, which the animals burp out.

So why is methane such a problem for climate change?


Image source: BC Farms and Food

The Global Warming Potential of various greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane is determined by two factors: how long they remain in the atmosphere, and their ability to absorb energy. Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than that of carbon dioxide, which is why CO2 poses such a threat to our climate. Moreover, methane from animal agriculture also only comprises 5% of the total greenhouse gases emitted by the United States. Much, much more comes from CO2. However, when looking at just a 20-year time period, studies from the IPCC have found that methane is in fact 86 times more potent than CO2. Meaning, in the short term, methane has the ability to warm our earth by 86 times as much as CO2!

Notably, the main component of ruminants diet, grass, is considered actually relatively inefficient for the animals to digest. This results in more methane burps than alternative diets. This fact is well known by scientists, and thus for years scientists and policymakers have been looking at different ways to alter the diet of ruminants to lower the methane they produce. However, the great challenge has been how to do this in an ethical and sustainable way, that doesn’t alter milk or meat quality.

Up to 12% of what cows eat is lost to methane production.”

Asparagopsis Taxiformis

Asparagopsis taxiformis. Image Source: ABC

 In 2015, scientists in Australia encountered a breakthrough in ruminants’ diets by experimenting with a type of tropical seaweed called Asparagopsis taxiformis. Known to be a favorite seaweed of the Hawaiian diet, Asparagopsis is grown on reef edges where water is consistently in motion The scientists discovered that this form of algae had the capacity to lower the production of methane by 99%. However, this initial research was done in a lab- and therefore needed to be applied to animals to ensure efficacy in methane reductions. Just a year later in 2016, Australian scientists did just that, and soon discovered

The addition of dried seaweed to just 2% of sheep and cattle feed could lower methane emissions by over 70%”.

What exactly is the relationship between Asparagopsis taxiformis and the methane produced by cows’ digestive systems? This type of seaweed produces a compound named bromoform, which prohibits the production of methane by reacting with Vitamin B12 during digestion.

This was a brilliant scientific discovery and has the potential to fundamentally alter the link between livestock and methane emissions. And yet thinking about the 1.2 billion cows currently being raised as livestock globally, that is a lot- and I mean a lot- of kelp needed to have a real effect on methane burps. How to grow and cultivate this much kelp remains the key challenge to scaling up this groundbreaking strategy for mitigating methane emissions. Scientists such as Alexander Hristov point out that “to be used as a feed additive on a large scale, the seaweed would have to be cultivated in aquaculture operations- harvesting wild seaweed is not an option because soon we would deplete the oceans and cause an ecological problem.”

However, most experts are still confident the kelp diet is possible and could be a significant breakthrough for mitigating methane. According to Future Feed, an Australian research team focused on Asparagopsis taxiformis, “millions of tons of seaweed are already cultivated and harvested each year, so it should be possible to grow this seaweed as well.”

Image Source: Washington Post (Original Image: Sea Forest)

Another challenge is longevity: in an interview with OnPasture and Alexander Hristov, dairy nutrition expert at Penn State, Hristov commented that adding seaweed to ruminant’s diets has been proven effective in the short term, but there is still much uncertainty about long-term effects. For instance, many cow feed additives in the past have been adapted to by their digestive microbes and effectiveness just disappears. Therefore, more longer-term studies on the kelp diet are needed.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Ana Wegner, one of the team continuing this important and exciting work at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia says- “We know the chemical composition of Asparagopsis and we know the chemical compounds that actually reduce methane production in cows, so now we want to maximise the concentration of that chemical so we can use less seaweed for the same effect.”

In addition to building massive machines of steel and silicon (and don’t get me wrong, we absolutely need wind and solar!), wouldn’t it be quite something if we could harness the great power of seaweed to help fight climate change? I for one can’t wait to see what science further uncovers for this climate solution- while allowing us the great privilege of enjoying that gruyere.


Watch this excellent video on the kelp diet from CBC News:

Methane Digesters

Methane Digesters

(Aka Anaerobic Digesters)

The Methane Problem

Methane gas was discovered in 1776 by Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, as he observed what appeared to be flammable air rising over muddy Lake Maggiore. However, it wasn’t until a century later that scientists would finally understand the link between decaying vegetation and the formation of methane gas- Volta’s flammable air.  

Today, methane gas is known as a “greenhouse gas” that contributes to global warming by trapping incoming radiation from the earth’s surface. Methane is in fact 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over a 100-year period. Therefore, to keep climate change at bay the world must control both CO2 and methane emissions, which come predominantly from organic waste created by agricultural, industrial and human digestion processes (see figure below). Some methane is also emitted from wetlands and other natural sources- hence the “marsh gas methane” discovered by Volta.

The methane source you’ve likely heard about is “cow burps”- which is a very real and significant contributor to global warming. When cows burp they emit methane, which then rises and remains in the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. When you think of how many millions of cows are raised every year for human food, that’s a lot of burps that are harmful to our climate.

 Methane concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by 150 percent from pre-industrial times, and continue to grow. Finding ways to reduce or remove methane will, therefore, have an outsize and fast-acting effect in the fight against climate change”.

The Conversation academics & researchers, First Post , May 2019
lmage source: Global Carbon Project

Fortunately, as with other climate mitigation strategies, innovation and technology for reducing and capturing methane emissions is coming swift and sure (though importantly, as with CO2, these methods are not any substitute for government methane reductions policy). Education is also improving steadily and surely, on how fossil fuel use and large-scale agricultural practices effect our planet.

There is an incredibly simply answer to the question of reducing methane emissions from livestock such as cattle: the world can simply stop eating as much meat. Luckily for the climate, this is already a growing trend as the ratio of vegetarians verses meat-eaters globally is growing, in tandem with the number of meat-alternatives. This trend will only continue as more and more people shift their protein choices for ethical, environmental or personal reasons. However, at the same time we also will not wake up tomorrow, or in five years or even 30, to find that no longer are livestock raised for human consumption. Therefore, as is the case with CO2, new agricultural practices and technologies must be embraced by the industry- and by consumers– to keep methane emissions at bay. Watch for my followup post on the highly intriguing and potentially groundbreaking “The Kelp Diet” to come. The Methane Problem is a big one and like all other climate change challenges, there is no one silver bullet to solve all. For the purposes of this post, I will overview one such exciting and promising strategy for reducing methane emissions, that involves turning waste into a fuel of the future.


Anaerobic Digestion

As organic waste- whether food waste, agricultural waste, or human waste- decays, fugitive methane is emitted into the air. Yet it is also possible to harness the process of decomposing waste for good use. As waste decays, microorganisms within soils can also break down the biodegradeable material, in the absence of oxygen, and transform it into something completely different. This weird and wonderful process is called anaerobic digestion. Fermentation used to make food and drink products uses anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic digestion also occurs naturally in some soils and in lake and ocean sediments. As Paul Hawken puts succinctly in Project Drawdown,

“Anaerobic digestion provides thoughtful management for organic wastes as they decomposeshit happens“.

Project Drawdown

Technological advancements have also allowed for the development of special tanks called “anaerobic digesters” that literally transform scraps and sludge from organic material into useable byproducts. Digesters are very efficient and can function continuously, as long as the waste feedstock is maintained and the microorganisms are healthy. The useable byproducts created in this process are biogas, and digestate.

Image source: New Green Business Ideas

Byproducts of Anaerobic Digesters: Biogas and Digestate

As the above diagram of a digester shows, once the waste is broken down by anaerobic bacteria, it is transformed into 1. A mixture of (captured) methane, CO2 and other gases called biogas, and 2. High-nutrient sludge called digestate. Now, these may not seem like very appealing byproducts, but both are in fact incredibly useful. The gas mixture can be used to create renewable energy, acting as a fuel for electricity generation. For instance, this biogas can be used to power vehicles that would otherwise use natural gas (much less climate-friendly). Biogas can also be used for heating in homes.

“Biogas can reduce demand for wood, charcoal, and dung as fuel sources and therefore their noxious fumes, which impact both planetary and human health.

Paul Hawkin, Project Drawdown
Biogas Production- Abyewardena Graphics

The second product of anaerobic digestion, digestate, can be used as fertilizer in place of fossil fuel-based fertilizer. Moreover, it is actually healthier for the soil, as it provides moisture retention and organic content, which can break down even further in the soil. Digestate also protects soils against erosion and provides nutrients for plants. Now that’s some good news to digest! Recent trials have shown positive results of digestate (as a product of anaerobic digestion of waste) being used as a fertilizer for crops.

Digestate produced by members of the “Digestate Certification Program” in the US– (check them out!)


Due to technological advances and lower capital costs, many countries have began experimenting with anaerobic digesters to harness organic waste as an energy resource. Germany leads the world today with almost 8,000 methane digesters as of 2014. North America is increasingly following suite- especially as governments and the public become more and more aware of how climate-threatening methane emissions are.

Paul Hawkin and the Project Drawdown team estimate that “the cumulative results [of methane anaerobic digesters] would range from 6.2-9.8 gigatons of greenhouse gases emissions avoided, at marginal first costs of $173-285 billion“. And,

“By 2050, small digesters can replace 57.5 million inefficient cookstoves in low-income economies.”

Project Drawdown

Social Justice and Climate Change: My Recommendations for Pacific Power’s Blue Sky Program

(From October 2020)

Pacific Power is one of the United States’ largest power utilities, serving customers in Southern Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. Like a great wave of utilities across the globe, Pacific Power is steadily increasing the amount of its power it receives from renewable sources. Pacific Power is also a North American leader in its partnerships with local businesses, supporting them in increasing their own renewable energy share. These partnerships in turn help fund community solar projects. Check out Pacific Power’s Blue Sky Program for more info on this awesome initiative.

In October 2020 I decide to develop a few ideas for the Blue Sky program, and others like it, that are already doing fantastic work to get local businesses on board with clean energy, as well as bringing solar and wind power to communities across the U.S. What I thought was missing from programs such as the Blue Sky, are targeted, equity driven initiatives to bring more of the share of clean energy benefits to disadvantaged populations– who are often the most affected by climate change and fossil fuels in the first place. I need to note before going on here that above all else, I do not pretend to be any kind of expert in social justice and climate change, or a just energy transition. I still have much, much to learn and understand about racial and social injustice and the deeply rooted systemic issues our society is steeped in. It is with every sincerity I say I can only take- knowing I may make mistakes and deeply eager to correct them- what I have learned so far, and apply it to my knowledge of the clean energy transition. I can also pledge, as I have done, to incorporate social justice into every element of my climate change work, and continue to learn, unlearn, and listen. It is not one of us fighting the climate fight, or one group of us. Nor should we think it enough for disadvantaged and BIPOC communities to only have a voice at the table- it is critical we recognize these communities as important leaders in our clean energy transition, and in our fight against climate change.



Gregg Small from WA-based Climate Solutions recently stated eloquently, “out of sickness and death, economic disruption, and social isolation has emerged a new focus on what is important in our lives, visibility into racial injustice in American society, and a new willingness to pursue systemic change to address the challenges we face- including the climate crisis”. The Brookings Institute estimates that the bottom fifth of US counties ranked by economic vitality will experience the largest damages from climate change, facing losses equal to nearly 7 percent of GDP after 2050, if no policy action is taken today. Let’s hope that the next U.S. President will be one with a sound and actionable climate plan- huge progress would be made as Joe Biden plans to allocate 40% of benefits from his climate plan to front-line communities.  

Even with a positive election outcome, the U.S. will still have a long road ahead in ensuring the economic and health benefits of our clean energy transition reach those most in need- vulnerable and highly impacted populations. Solar and storage projects are more competitive than extending the grid in rural communities, and are growing in number thanks to initiatives from companies like Pacific Power, government grants and innovative financing solutions. And yet, as Cisco DeVries, CEO of demand-response startup OhmConnect says,

“There is still not nearly enough attention paid to lower-income [and] moderate-income folks and renters related to the energy transition. When we talk energy transition, most people’s minds shift right away to solar on household roofs and an EV in the garage.”

Many disadvantaged families across the US are not home-owners but are renters, making rooftop solar and EV access even more difficult. Even further compounding on this issue, these demographics are disproportionately affected by high concentrations of diesel pollution, found in high traffic corridors, seaports and bus depots.

Leading power companies like Pacific Power who are already investing in clean energy should ensure their impressive 2020 Energy Vision targets disadvantaged communities. For example, if Pacific Power’s 2020 Energy Vision and Blue Sky program are expected to create hundreds of construction jobs and add millions in tax revenue to rural economies- the company has a powerful opportunity to ensure these construction jobs and the projects themselves target disadvantaged demographics. I was fortunate to volunteer with a fantastic renewable energy startup in Canada called Iron and Earth, who targets its hiring within First Nations communities in Rural Alberta.

I propose three ideas for Pacific Power’s Blue Sky program that will push it further in supporting climate justice in the U.S.

1. The Blue Sky program could have a targeted initiative to ensure two outcomes:

A) A certain percentage of its community projects are in disadvantaged and BIPOC communities.

  • Projects could target both schools and public buildings but also Multi Unit Dwellings. Existing and new MUDs constructed to support affordable housing, have high potential as sites for solar + storage and also passenger EVSE (see #2 below) that targets a lower-income demographic.
  • There are many other innovative ideas Blue Sky can consider here, by like one I recently read about from Southern California Edison, who is equipping medically qualified, low-income customers in high-fire-risk areas with small batteries sized to power the customer’s medical devices. The batteries also come with solar panels to charge from.

 B) Targeted equity-driven hire policy:

  • The Blue Sky program could ensure a certain percentage of contractors for your community projects are people of color, Indigenous, women, recent graduates from low-income families, and other disadvantaged groups. This condition would also provide a backstop to the equity challenge that many of these families cannot afford to install rooftop solar, or purchase an EV themselves.
  • I also recommend a partnership between Blue Sky and  groups like the NAACP’s west coast chapters, that already have solar initiatives in place. Nonprofit GRID Alternatives also has great initiative called SolarCorps Fellowships. This program has enabled Native Americans from reservations across the US to spend a year installing solar.
  • One of their recent graduates, Wyatt Atkinson, said: “When I found out about GRID’s SolarCorps, it was like the universe came into alignment and placed a stepping stone to my dream right in front of me: the chance for a meaningful job after college that would give me the skills I would need to help make my reservation energy independent”. Blue Sky would benefit greatly from having a story like Wyatt’s on your website, showing your commitment to a just transition.

2. Incorporating electric transportation to the Blue Sky Program.

  • I am so inspired by the community projects featured on the Blue Sky website. Companies like Pacific Power are leading the way for rural communities to join the energy transition through solar power, and ensuring these projects are not just about low lease cost, but about generating value in the form of economic and health outcomes.
  • Additionally, including clean transportation projects in the Blue Sky program could be of great value to these communities. Pacific Power already offers grants for EV charging infrastructure in WA, OR and CA-it could link this funding up with the Blue Sky program community projects. For instance, funds from the Blue Sky could go towards procuring electric school buses for the community, in tandem with applying for Pacific Power’s EV grants.

3. Expanding educational opportunities in disadvantaged communities.

  • Blue Sky’s website says, “these community projects also provide educational opportunities for community members to learn about the benefits of renewable energy.” This is so important, and I hope to hear more on how Blue Sky supports and facilitates this learning.
  • Particularly in disadvantaged communities, many adults are not even aware of how dangerous air pollution from diesel can be, and yet their family’s access to clean transportation may be a life or death matter. Blue Sky may be doing this already, but it could support local community centers or schools in organizing an educational town-hall evening. Or, a pub night at a brewery who is a Blue Sky customer, that could also serve as a fundraiser to apply for your EV grant and procure a few electric school buses for the community!
  • The Blue Sky program could partner with fantastic and little known groups like EVHybridNoire, who “educate underserved and diverse communities about the benefits of EV ownership…and advocate for increasing access to the public charging infrastructure to more diverse communities.”

The above three practical ideas would allow Blue Sky to elevate its promotion of the program to the following: “customers can not only lower their bill each month but contribute to clean energy solutions- and a just and equitable energy transition”.

Finally we hear how Jeff Bezos is spending the first chunk of his impressive climate fund- and the results are predictable.

Last February Jeff Bezos announced what the environmental community- and a growing wave of generally climate-concerned citizens- had been long waiting for from the richest man in the world; he was finally giving a sizeable chunk of his wealth to climate change efforts. With no details on how this 10 billion would be allocated following the announcement, we knew we were likely to be holding our breath for quite some time until these decisions were made. Barely a few weeks after the words “10 billion” and “climate” were out of his mouth, the harrowing month of March arrived, and suddenly it was almost- almost- easy to forget that a billionaire had finally “eclipsed the total sum spent by American philanthropists on climate change”. Bezos himself was quite otherwise occupied during the next six months, with the pandemic and lockdown orders instantly transcending Amazon from its already behemoth global status to the e-commerce overlord of our new daily lives.

But although the pandemic still claws at us, grim and unrelenting, climate wise there is cause for hope, progress and planning. The Biden Presidential win provides a sense of overall relief that until now was almost unfathomable, and that relief will be felt no less by mother nature. Biden’s climate plan was the most comprehensive and most robust out of all Presidential candidates, except Jay Inslee. Although it is also important to note that Biden’s impressive climate plan will also face great challenges if the Democrats can’t flip the Senate in January. But still, better a climate plan and heartfelt intent to address the crisis, than the reverse which has made us seethe with despair for the past four years. And, just a few days before Biden’s win, we also learned that Jeff Bezos is not about to back out of his big climate promise, made seemingly eons ago.

Now the question beguiling the minds of climate activists and concerned citizens alike- which organizations are on the receiving end of the most amount of money in America ever given to addressing the climate crisis?

Hint: “The Sunrise Movement, which boisterously supports a Green New Deal and electioneers for Democrats, is not among the groups I’m told will receive funding. Nor is any racial or environmental-justice group, nor any other organization that prioritizes climatic reconciliation as of a piece with racial equity”

Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic

However, these first few grants, while significant in themselves, only comprise 7% of the total 10 billion. Let’s hope that:

  1. This first chunk of money will be put to good use in the hands of these major, well-established environmental organizations, and
  1. Bezos will expand his scope in that impressive brain and pocket of his to fund two other types of climate initiatives, working just as hard on climate solutions with even more vigour and momentum- climate justice groups, and the youth movement.

Find out more- including which organizations are first in line for the Bezos Earth Fund- from The Atlantic

The New North American Dream

The Tesla is a damn sexy car. Even though they are almost as ubiquitous as lockdown sourdough starters these days, there is no arguing against their alluring, near unfathomably sleek exterior that glides past you, smoother and more effortless than wind. Or that coveted silver “T” that gives the world the head-nod that you’re not only in the electric vehicle club- you’re in the Tesla club.

And yet. For all its well-deserved glory, can the Tesla Model 3 or Model S carry you masterfully up a skihill in December, with all your gear- and your four buddies’ gear- in toe? Can it cruise jovially over the bumps and bruises of the gnarly, forested backcountry in summer? Forget pitching a full-on tent and camping setup on the car, its backseat barely fits your work gear, let alone anything bound for the great outdoors. For many with city lifestyles, the Tesla 3 or S will stand the test of time, and there is no more to be said for this above-the-rest ride, that will play out in history as one of the most ingenious inventions of the 21st century. But for others, there must be something more than sexiness and a battery. Perhaps, you are willing and even eager to support the environmental cause by going electric, but want to do so in a way that lets you live the life you do. A life of adventure, and exploring the world around you, whether close or far from home.

Enter the New North American Dream: Electric Big Rigs.

 “There is direct, complex link between vehicle owners and their vehicles. If all we needed was basic transportation that would get us to work and back every day, a Yugo would suffice. Or even a godawful East German Trabant would get the job done, or an early Hyundai Excel.”

Steve Hanley, Clean Technia

Stay Tuned- this blog is to be continued…!

For now, see more at:

Adventure Journal’s “The Future of Electric Off-Road May Be Here”

as well as Road and Track’s “The Electric Truck Wars are Here” and

https://cleantechnica.com/2020/09/17/electric-ford-f150-is-a-game-changer-for-fleets-with-a-40-lower-cost-of-ownership/

Climate Change and The American Public

In 2018 fifteen year old Swedish Greta Thunberg- now arguably one of the most influential women of our time- made history by refusing to go to school in protest of global inaction on climate change. Fast forward a mere two years- a drop in the historical bucket- after Greta’s courageous stand. Climate change has suddenly become a significant ballet box issue in the Presidential Election of the world’s most powerful country. Joe Biden ran for US President in 2020 with climate change as a major component of his platform. And just yesterday (what a day that was!) President-Elect Biden included the critical need to address climate change in his acceptance speech. Imagine a US President doing that forty, even thirty years ago? The very thought seems absurd!

So why was it only this far into the 21st century– a time where flying taxies can be seen in Europe and global poverty levels have dropped more than 50% since 2000- that the climate movement finally gained full traction across the globe, including in the US? Americans from North to South have been vocal on numerous other issues and crises over the past century, from the Vietnam War to national security (Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction) and national oil interests (Kuwait). So why did it take until just a few years ago, following decades of scientists’ warnings and data showing clearly that the climate was warming, for climate change to become a serious public issue in America?

“When I first started doing this and I would talk about climate change, it was just another subject like geology, hydrology, meteorology, and it was well-received.

And then at some point, it got politicized.”

Drilled: A True Crime Podcast about Climate Change”, Oct 21 2018

Snapshot from consulting project analyzing a “History of Climate Change and the American Public”:



Fast Forward to 2020: Things are Changing in the Public’s View

Many of the phenomena predicted by climate science are finally too obvious to ignore – overall warming in all seasons, some areas becoming much drier (with increased wildfires), some much wetter, sea level rising, more powerful storms, etc. This has aroused the public’s interest and made climate change an important election issue, as seen recently in both Canada and the US.

A very encouraging sign of this was the ability of Canada’s Liberals to win the 2019 federal election on a carbon tax platform. Places like California and Washington State also represent progress. Both have implemented strong climate change regulations, thanks largely to Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was governor, and Jay Inslee now – they listened to the scientists, and the public are listening to them.

“Several converging developments may soon help humanity reach a tipping point beyond which our global deep decarbonization efforts will accelerate. One of these developments, albeit not a happy one, is that GHG impacts are intensifying, making it increasingly difficult to delude people about the climate science”.

…Just like the previous shift in public beliefs about the cancer threat from smoking, several decades of evidence are gradually shifting public views, and thus the public’s readiness to accept more serious government efforts to cause an energy transition.”

Mark Jaccard, from “The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success: Overcoming Myths that Hinder Progress.”

Electric Vehicle Adoption in BC

In 2018 I was contracted by Clean Energy Canada to answer the following research question: demand for zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) was on the rise, no doubt- globally and in Canada. And yet in British Columbia, ZEV sales numbers just didn’t match this fact. In fact, BC’s ZEV sales were shockingly low. What was the cause of this mismatch? Was demand for these vehicles not as robust as thought? Or was it an issue on the supply side? Did dealerships have a lack of incentive to sell electric vehicles compared to gas vehicles in the first place? To investigate these intriguing and important questions, I put on my Nancy Drew hat and went under cover as a prospective EV buyer, setting out to interview all dealerships in the province certified to sell ZEVs.

Image Source: Clean Energy Canada

My conclusions: the lack of EV sales in British Columbia was not an issue on the demand side. In fact, demand for electric vehicles was greater in British Columbia than we expected. Dealerships told me that waitlists for not only Teslas but Chevy Bolts, Volkswagen Golfs, and Nissan Leafs were hundreds of names long, and wait times could extend beyond a year. Nor was it a lack of incentive on the dealership side to sell these vehicles- most of the dealers I spoke to were actually on board with the ZEV “revolution”, with only a few hints of hesitancy from dealers in remote, Northern areas.

The real problem? Canada simply wasn’t importing-or manufacturing- enough Zero Emission Vehicles to keep up with rising customer demand. Clean Energy Canada was able to identify a policy need, and use its expert policy team, to push BC to instate an “EV Mandate.”

The result of my investigation, and Clean Energy Canada’s subsequent report; in April 2019, BC Premier John Horgan announced that by 2040 all new vehicles sold in BC would be electric.

Image Source: Clean Energy Canada “Batteries Not Included”, October 2018
Image Source: Clean Energy Canada “Batteries Not Included”, October 2018

Carbon Capture: Current Global Landscape

Both the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency state clearly that the world’s 2050 climate targets will not be reached without carbon capture. Technology to suck CO2 directly from the air or from a power plant exists, and like other strategies within the climate solutions bucket, its costs are falling steadily.

But although carbon capture has become an important piece of the climate change dialogue, what is the current state of carbon capture globally, what are they key differences between its many different branches, and who are the innovators, the leading engineers and scientists pioneering this fascinating technology?

Moreover, what is the “coal conundrum” that carbon capture has been unfavourably associated with in the environmental community? For many believe the world should be focused only on building renewable energy capacity, and not the carbon capture strategy, that leads to a “moral hazard” of allowing fossil fuel companies to operate business as usual- just with lower emissions.

KEY LEARNINGS:

The IPCC and the International Energy Agency outline a Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) that shows explicitly the following: the below-2 degrees scenario will not be reached by 2050 without carbon capture. Within the SDS, Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS) provides 9% of total cumulative emissions reductions by 2050.

Direct Air Capture (DAC) is a newer area than CCUS, with technology still developing. However, DAC will also be necessary to achieve the below-2 degrees scenario; thus, investment in both DAC and CCUS is needed today.

Many other CCUS projects offer co-benefits to climate change and these will be exciting to keep an eye on. A good example of CCUS projects that provide co-benefits is CCUS applied to hydrogen production. Hydrogen will play an increasing and potentially game-changing role in decarbonization, and CCUS can allow for the production of “clean” hydrogen that is affordable and scalable. Another example of CCUS with co-benefits is carbon utilization (the “U” in CCUS). Many smaller-scale but highly innovative companies are finding “value added” use for captured carbon, instead of storing it or using for enhanced oil recovery.


Snapshot of project analyzing Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) and Direct Air Capture


Snapshot of Leading Companies and Innovative Carbon Capture Projects in North America and Globally: