Your take-home message:
Flip the Fleet should express Greenhouse Gas emissions avoided in easily understandable and human-scaled terms that allow participants to understand their LEV’s contribution to climate change and its mitigation. However, such calculations are complex and technically difficult, so must be calculated and communicated with extreme caution to be scientifically defendable.
This month’s poll:
Our eighth 1-click survey invited your response to the following statement: “Flip the Fleet should report kg of greenhouse gases avoided by my EV in terms of other contributions to climate change and its mitigation e.g. number of cows and tourist visits supported, flights compensated, virtual trees planted, etc.” • The poll was sent on 10 June 2017 to 104 Electric vehicle owners who are testing Flip The Fleet’s software • 65 people responded by 17 June • 29 members provided 50 reasons for their choice.
What makes you Click?
A majority (60%) of the test drivers of the Flip the Fleet dashboard think that we should express Kg of GHG emissions avoided by LEVs in terms of other contributions to climate change and its mitigation. These participants were particularly enthusiastic about calculating the benefits of Low emission Vehicles (LEVs) in terms of the equivalent sequestration of trees, or the amount of air travel compensated for. Some expressed their concern about being seen as singling out farmers or tourist industry operators by calculating offsets for their industries, whereas others saw drawing attention to these polluting industries as a necessary, even if uncomfortable, comparison to make.
Even though a majority want to re-express kg measures of CO2 emissions avoided by LEVs in other ways, nearly a third (31%) of respondents are equivocal, and a minority (9%) are either opposed or strongly opposed. Some consider financial benefits and LEV’s engineering and performance credentials to be more important than reducing GHG emissions as their reasons for buying electric vehicles. Some think kg of emissions avoided as an adequate measure. Others caution about the complexity and technical difficulty of calculating scientifically reliable equivalent measures as equivalent climate change impacts and offsets.
We propose to proceed with caution by expressing GHG emissions avoided by your LEV as both Kg of CO2-e and in terms of a restricted set of equivalent impacts (air travel) and mitigation (virtual trees planted). Calculations of emission offsets will be scientifically evaluated as outlined in our project rationale report and design reports (see www.flipthefleet.org/resources). The assumptions and scope of the offset measures will be clearly stated as part of any public statements from the project, and emphasis will be on positive and balanced selection of such alternative equivalent measures. Environmentally-oriented measures of LEV benefits will complement rather than displace a whole suite of measures of financial and social benefits. More varied environmental offset measures may be deployed later provided that the early examples are well received and expert peer review judges them to be scientifically reliable.
Your comments in detail:
One of you said: “To me, this is both a fascinating and complex question”. We agree and think that this has been one of our most useful debates so far. Below is an edited summary of your comments. Please now add discussion to this blog to sharpen our collective strategy for accelerating LEV uptake.
Getting a grip on numbers: “3.5 gazillions of CO2″ doesn’t mean anything to most people. Is that a lot? Is that not enough? Comparison to other everyday activities/industries gives the number a meaning” • “Kgs of CO2 avoided is a somewhat meaningless figure when we don’t know how to see and feel it’s magnitude in human terms. So please let’s include these proxy measures to enliven our conversations” • “Reports should present understandable units – as opposed to tonnes of carbon or other units people can’t comprehend- these other types of measure will create better understanding of impact of EVs” • “People often need comparisons to understand the effects of their emissions reductions”
Cater for different audiences: “We have to talk different languages for different people if EVs are going to be taken up across the board. It’s all very well to report Kg of carbon to scientists, but that’s not going to liven up the debate over the dinner table on why EVs are so good. Bring on some comparisons that people can see and feel”.
GHGs and climate change deserve our attention: “A key decision to go electric was based on the savings made in emissions that are detrimental to the environment and ultimately our home planet” • “This would help to show the benefits of EV use for reducing CO2 levels and greenhouse warming”
Prioritisation for a climate smart future: “These relative metrics help us prioritise action for a climate smart future” • “It’s helpful to know simply with recognisable measures how much difference it makes by owning an EV, but there’s not really a true offset. We shouldn’t do the polluting stuff at all really!” • “We shouldn’t pull our punches – if we are going to combat climate change we need to confront the inconvenient truth, so bring on some of the politically hard stuff”
Offset comparisons help change behaviour for combatting climate change: “Expressing GHGs saved by my EV in terms of equivalent emissions from flying to London and back was a real wake-up call – Flip the Fleet showed that my wife and I blew almost 4 years of GHG savings by flying to Europe and back last year!” • “After joining Flip the Fleet and learning about how much greenhouse gasses we saved (e.g., 50% of flight from Auckland to London), we realised how bad air travel was for the environment. Now we are more reluctant to travel using airplanes because we don’t want to offset the good we are doing by driving an EV. So having other means of appreciating greenhouse gas emissions on the website might help people learn new things and change”
Putting our efforts into context: “If I read that I avoided a tonne of GHGs, that’s cool, but it would be more rewarding to know what this impact is in terms of trees that I’ve “virtually planted” – puts our efforts into context!” • “These alternative measures will make our EV community more humble by realising that owning an EV is only one of many steps that we individually and collectively need to take as part of NZ’s economy to achieve a low carbon future” • “They’ll help keep EVs in perspective for taking the bigger systems challenges” • “EVs are just one part of the solution”
Trees rule, but be careful with cows and tourists: “Virtual trees are good idea” • “Calculating the number of virtual trees we plant as we tootle across the landscape in our EVs sends a really positive message” • “The number of cows etc may give unexpected outcome (e.g., deepening the divide between the urban and the rural by leading urban people see farmers as bad) – so we need to be careful” • “We’ll need to be careful to not make it seem like we are picking on dairy farmers or the tourist industry – so use positive language and solution-oriented messages when we publicise the results” • “I don’t agree that we should be supporting cows — there are too many of them for the health of our land let alone the planet, so we should start to cut down on our dairy and beef as well as use EVs” • “I know the reporting of air travel contribution to GHG has made us very aware of air travel. I am guessing the number of cows we support would be very enlightening and probably make one very grumpy about the super-dairifcation of our land”
Emphasise the positive, eliminate the negative: “I think the positive impact that EVs can have should be promoted” • “It helps to understand that one person can make a difference driving an EV when what we are NOT pumping into the atmosphere is highlighted!! Any positive reinforcement is welcome!”
Numbers matter to some, but not to others: “I don’t need to see the figures to know I’m doing the right thing” • “It’d be a good stat to have at ones fingertips” • “As more EV owner’s information is put together and presented to the public, hopefully more people will see the sense in going electric rather than continuing with ICE vehicles, although I feel in the short term, there continues to be a need for ICE” • “This kind of approach leaves me cold; like carbon tax, there is no transparency, and it comes across as a big fiddle by politicians and businesses. I want to see fewer cows, fewer tourists, real trees planted!”
“It’s not just about climate change: “I bought my EV for the engineering style, quietness and quality of finish. Plus I wanted to use our own PV power. I don’t care about emissions. In fact the first thing I did was remove all the zero emission badges. I would hate anyone to think I had anything to do with the Greens!!” • “Is there a broker who knows what company can provide the best financial deal for my EV requirements?” • “The biggest resistance to EVs seems to come from perceived cost and ridiculous statements about battery pollution, wastage etc, so maybe we need to report measures for these as well?” • “It’s all a bit meaningless to most people. I’ve been doing this on Solar PV for years, but nobody cares. People take notice of savings on petrol. Show them that!” • “This question requires accepting the assumption that kg of carbon matter economically. While environmentally minded people have no issue with this, it doesn’t carry weight with the general public. They are more interested in the bottom line i.e. how much does it cost me (in my opinion.)” • “This sort of information is likely to be helpful for at least some people when they make decisions about vehicle ownership. Others are probably less concerned about these things or less influenced by them anyway”
Be edgy to get the message out: “If we are going to get our message out to all possible EV owners, we are going to have to have the help of media and social networks – so we have to be news worthy. So go for some of the politically dangerous comparisons to get the conversations going beyond our EV community. Otherwise we will always be preaching to the choir” • “It’s the kind of figure that ‘greenies’ can relate to” • “if you count the aeroplane emissions to get tourists to NZ, I suspect the tourist industry has just as much responsibility as dairy farmers to do all they can to mitigate climate change by encouraging EV uptake. Good on AirNZ for making a start”
Keep it simple: “kg CO2 is fine” • “People can find it [Kg CO2] difficult to put in context but it remains a useful measure.
Where do you define the boundaries of your calculations? “To begin with, how do you calculate tonnes of CO2 saved? If solely by tailpipe emissions, by my calculations, the average Kiwi motorist would save around 2.2T CO2 a year by going electric. If taking the embedded costs of getting petrol to the pump (exploring, drilling, piping, trucking, shipping, refining, piping, trucking) then it more than doubles. Of course, very difficult to get the figures as the oil industry hasn’t published them for over a decade but, by my calculations, this amounts to more than 5T/CO2 for average Kiwi motorist. Unfortunately, our government isn’t so interested in the embedded costs because it wrongly believes most of them are created overseas and so is just an accounting problem for those countries. But by far the biggest single component of embedded costs is the refining, which takes place at Marsden Point, here in Northland. Again, by my (and other people’s) somewhat dodgy calculations, based on somewhat dodgy information, an EV can go further than a petrol car using the same amount of electricity that it takes to refine oil for the ICE”
It’s complex: “What constitutes a tonne of CO2? A visual interpretation is helpful because not many people can imagine what a tonne of invisible (highly poisonous) gas looks like, but challenging because, for example, if using trees, the number can vary according to age, species, size and maturity. 45 (nearly fully grown) trees to a tonne per year seems a standard measure. A couple of other comparisons I’ve seen recently (courtesy of New Scientist) for 1T CO2 are: Return flight from London to Chicago (roughly equivalent to Auckland to Bali return); and 3 square metres of sea ice (don’t ask me why ‘square’ instead of cubic metres but maybe it’s from an aerial/topographical point of view). That last one is quite scary as the average Kiwi emits 18 tonnes of CO2 a year, meaning they remove 54 sqm of sea ice. NZ might be a smaller player in terms of emissions, as politicians like to point out, but we are removing about as much sea ice as the country’s largest sheep station a year” • “.. can of worms … requires all sorts of assumptions e.g. what are the cows fed on, how fast does the tree grow etc etc. kg CO2-e is fine! Could provide a wee guide perhaps …. perhaps we could try and see how much of the governments “de-electrification of the main trunk” we have mitigated ….
Stick to your knitting: “Showing people how much CO2 emission they have avoided is great. But you need to be extremely careful in doing so. There are a lot of assumptions that go into determining avoided emissions and if you start talking about that, you will open yourselves up to all sorts of critisism on how you do the calculations. What do you assume for fuel efficiency for a non-electric car? How do you determine the emissions from an electric car – just the electricity used, the lifetime emissions (with all its own assumptions), etc? And once you try to compare with emissions from other source types, it gets even more complicated. Flip the Fleet is doing a great job compiling statistics. Let others who have the time and resources use your statistics to make these kinds of connections”
Trial it: “Worth trying as a pilot but depending on the comparisons chosen might not be a highlight for future presentation”
Keep on keeping on: “Btw, Flip The Fleet is great! Keep up the good work guys! :-)”
What should we ask the members next? Please suggest questions to ask of your fellow EV owners in future 1-click surveys – email your requests to Henrik at email@example.com or Dima at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Henrik Moller & Dima Ivanov
17 June 2017