My Birthday at Mt. Hood with Electric Car Charging

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Below are remarks I delivered today at an event at the Mt. Hood Ski Bowl, the first ski resort in the country to host a DC fast charger for drivers to get back and forth to the mountain on electricity:

Today is my 35th birthday. Thank you all for a great a party. Of course, today’s event was originally scheduled for December, but has been postponed twice, due to lack of snow. I’m not from Oregon, but I gather lack of precipitation during winter is not a normal problem in the greater Portland area.  Of course, the fact that an event at which I was asked to speak about climate change was postponed twice because of weird weather was not lost on me.  I’m an attorney, but when I was ten years old, I dabbled in empirical climate science.

For my 4th grade science fair, I constructed a large cardboard box diorama of the countryside where I grew up, put a heat lamp over it, measured the temperature, then sprayed a bunch of CO2 over everything (which was a blast for a ten-year old), let the heat lamp do its work and measured the temperature again. I’m not sure my mom’s insta-read meat thermometer could be characterized as a laboratory quality instrument, but the experiment demonstrated the process by which heat-trapping gases do just as their name would imply.  However, you don’t have to rely on my empirical research from 1989.

In its latest comprehensive report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its boldest pronouncement on the science to-date, stating “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and the “(h)uman influence on the climate system is clear.”  This represents the collective consensus of more than 600 researchers from 32 countries, relying on more than 9,000 peer-reviewed studies.

We are conducting an experiment at a scale that is significantly larger than that of my fourth grade science fair project. Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have increased 40 percent since pre-industrial times, changing the fundamental chemistry of our air and our oceans.  This will have inestimable impacts on life on this planet.  It’s time we stop this experiment.

Thankfully, we know what to do and have the tools to do it. If you want to reduce emissions of heat trapping gases, you need to tackle the two largest human sources: power plants and vehicles. We’re making progress on both fronts.  The Obama Administration recently adopted standards that will double the fuel efficiency of passenger vehicles by 2025, saving consumers $1.7 trillion dollars, and cutting oil consumption by 3.1 million barrels per day.  On the power plant front, the administration recently proposed the first-ever carbon limits on new and existing plants.  Combined with other air quality standards, state renewable energy requirements and energy efficiency programs, this means the electricity sector will be getting significantly cleaner over time.

These federal and state policies are critical, but you might ask: “What’s the single biggest thing I can do to reduce my own impact?” Many of you got here in the answer —electric cars.  Driving on the national average electricity mix emits half as much carbon pollution as driving the average new gasoline vehicle.  In states with cleaner than average electricity, the benefits are even greater. In Oregon, driving on electricity emits just over a quarter as much as driving the average new gasoline vehicle.

And that’s today.  As the electrical grid becomes cleaner over time, largely as a result of the policies I mentioned earlier, the benefits of driving on electricity will only increase.  In other words, your electric car will only get cleaner as it ages, which isn’t something you can say about cars that rely on petroleum, which is only getting dirtier as oil companies go after more unconventional resources, drilling and fracking everywhere they can.

Electricity isn’t just cleaner than gasoline, it’s a lot cheaper. Driving on electricity in Oregon is like driving on dollar-a-gallon gas.  Even better, unlike the price of gasoline, which jumps up and down every time there’s violence in the middle east or a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, the price of electricity has been steady at the dollar-a-gallon equivalent mark for the last 40 years in real dollars, and it’s forecast to stay that way for the next three decades.

Tired of pain at the pump and want to significantly reduce your own carbon footprint? Try plugging in, and while you’re at it, enjoy some great snow. Treasure it. The mountain needs you, just as much as you need the mountain.

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