Sunday, August 21, 2022

Full speed ahead for electric vehicles


There is much support in Portugal for the European Union’s proposals to demand that from 2035 all new cars, vans and trucks must be electric powered.

While there are national differences of opinion among the 27 member states, all broadly agree with the 2035 deadline in order to hugely reduce automobile CO2 emissions and thus help limit climate change.

The transition to electric involves not only banning new combustible engines, but also hybrids, battery electric and hydrogen vehicles. 

The aim of the proposals,  put forward by the EU Commission and backed by the Parliament in Brussels, is to boost the production of electric vehicles as well as the installation of 3.5 million public electric charging stations for cars and vans across the continent by 2030 and 16.3 million by 2050.


Hopefully all this will go a long way to reducing present CO2 emissions by a half over this decade and by almost 100% by 2035. “The transition to electric vehicles is going much faster than anyone had anticipated, but then we are under an obligation to create the right incentives for that,” says Frans Timmermans, the EU’s head of climate change policy.

The Reuters news agency has reported seeing a leaked document showing that Portugal and four other EU countries wanted a five year delay for some vehicles. The other four countries were Italy, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. The document was leaked in June this year, but as early as January last year Portugal’s centre-left Socialist Party had reportedly proposed a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2035. Some other EU countries have been considering setting their own deadlines between 2030 and 2040 for phasing out fossil fuelled motors, but the pandemic interfered with decisions.  

The EU Parliament has only narrowly backed the 2035 ban. The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association has serious reservations about it, while some green advocates want ever stricter measures. The EU Commission’s proposals will continue to be negotiated and it may take up to two years before they are finally signed into law.

Normal car sales dropped during the worst pandemic period. Even so, electric and plug-in hybrid sales surged. It’s anticipated that buying and driving zero-emission automobiles will be cheaper than their traditional equivalents.

And by the way, as a reminder that automobiles must play a part in limiting climate change, the fierce heat waves this summer have caused many road surfaces around the world to melt, expand, crack and buckle, presenting obvious dangers to drivers.

That’s the last thing muscle car owners want. For those unfamiliar with this auto breed, muscle cars are high velocity, two-door coupes that roar into action and can accelerate at very high speeds. The Dodge Motor Company in the United States seems to be ahead of the game in that it has just unveiled the first new electric muscle car that should be on the market by 2024.  It’s called the Charger Daytona and it will replace their premium diesel-fuelled Challenger and Charger muscle cars. The new electric one will feel as good as ever in that, unlike other electric cars which are quiet, it will be as loud and maybe accelerate even faster than its non-electric predecessors. 

 Dodge's electric super car





Saturday, August 13, 2022

Heated clashes over the climate

Amid the wildfires and droughts in Portugal and across the European continent, there has been no sign of a return to China’s co-operation agreement with the United States in combating global warming.

   The wildfires and droughts exemplify the ever-present danger of climate change, but the surprising breakdown of the agreement signed by China and the US last year has raised more alarm about saving our planet.

   China and the US are not only the world’s two biggest economies, but the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas polluters. They are jointly responsible for about 40% of the global emissions.  

   The collapse of their co-operation seems rather petty as it was apparently caused by the brief visit by the US politician Nancy Peloci to the Taiwan, which China claims as a province of its own overall territory.  

   Climate scholars say there is little chance of averting calamitous heat increases without China and the US working together.

   Growing tensions between the superpowers has made them increasingly distrustful and thus made it more difficult for non-political scientists to share climate research information across borders. 

   The latest clash between China and the US occurred just as the American Senate, after much wrangling, was on the brink of passing a package of legislation that included more than $300 billion in climate investments.  The unprecedented proposals have now passed through Congress and are expected to be signed into law this week.

   Elsewhere, however, major governments are dithering and still not doing enough to limit warming to 1.5C.

   China and the US agreed to boost co-operation for the rest of this decade in a joint declaration during the COP 26 conference organised by the United Nations in Glasgow last November. That commitment was made with delegates from almost 200 countries present. It was perceived as a very positive achievement in an otherwise disappointing conference. Much hangs in the balance for COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from 6th to 18th November.

   Meanwhile the Reuters news agency has firmly scheduled an “impact” discussion aimed at mobilising businesses to deliver on climate action. More than 300 top executives and government officials will take part in the event in London on 3rd and 4th October. .

   No one cares more about advancing action on this subject than the young who have most to fear. The European Court of Human Rights is expected to rule this autumn on the claim by a group of six young Portuguese citizens that the climate protection policies of 32 European countries are inadequate. This legal clash has been building for five years, but has now been referred to the grand chamber of the court where it will be considered by 17 judges.

   The Portuguese group have taken on this legal battle because they say the climate crisis interferes with their right to life, their right to respect for their private and family lives, and their right not to be discriminated against.  

   The six Portuguese claimants are represented by 10 barristers from various UK chambers. The 32 defendant countries include France, Germany, Spain, the UK – and Portugal.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

The funny side of climate change


Former Portugal prime minister, now United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, came out with another of his extraordinary dire statements last week.

   Referring to the war in Ukraine and Western tensions with China, Korea and Iran, he said that humanity was “just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.”

   Here are some of his other most notable remarks this year.

   “The only certainty is more uncertainty.”

   “Mistrust among world powers is reaching fever pitch.”

   “The information superhighway is clogged with hatred and lies, giving oxygen to the worst impulses of humanity.”

   “From global health to digital technology are outdated and no longer fit for purpose.”

   “Unless governments everywhere reassess their energy policies the world will be uninhabitable.”

   Guterres obviously doesn’t mince his words, but the reaction from many people is merely a weary shrug of the shoulders. Others take such grim warnings so seriously that it causes mental health problems.

   During the COVID-19 pandemic and the social isolation than came with it, a great Increase in the number of individuals in Portugal and elsewhere were experiencing feelings of loneliness, stress, anxiety and depression. Several psychological studies concluded that this led to a profound short-term and also long-term damage to societies. 

   A survey conducted by the Ricardo Jorge National Foundation showed that in every ten Portuguese citizens quarantined during the pandemic, seven were revealed to have psychological distress. The majority were young adults or women. They showed symptoms of moderate to severe depression.

   Concerns about the present and future consequences of global warming were foremost among the young before the worst of the pandemic. They still are in 2022, which has been designated by the EU as the  ‘European Year of Youth.’   

  The young and plenty of oldies too, find the goings on in the world today simply preposterous. For example, United States senior politician Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, apparently unaware it would immediately infuriate the mainland Chinese, who promptly launched a massive military exercise involving cruise missiles over Taiwan, that heightened the chances of another war between nuclear superpowers.

   Only after months of infantile bickering has the export of 50 million tons of cereals been allowed to proceed to impoverished parts of Africa where every day so many people are dying of starvation. 

   “The height of irresponsibility” was one polite way of describing Russia’s launching of missiles from around a captured Ukrainian nuclear plant.

     In the words of a Bloomberg report, “burning fossil fuels can power the world 24 hours a day, sending electricity almost anywhere near instantaneously. Unfortunately, this very effective source of power is pushing ecosystems, animal species and human civilisation closer to catastrophe.” 

   It’s serious stuff, but on the pretext that we don’t laugh enough, lots of people are said to be asking why the end of humanity should be so depressing when there is always a funny side to life?

   Can we laugh about something as dire as climate change? Yes, if you agree that humour is a way to reach people who haven’t thought much about climate change. Research shows that comedy is a great way to break down defences; a great way to have people listen to truths that they might otherwise have missed. Comedy is said to be good for your mind.

   There are already quite a number of silly jokes  online, but now a group of nine comedians from around the United States are learning from climate experts and collaborating to pitch jokes for future performances and videos starting in October. They hope audiences will be learning, laughing and leaving feeling inspired.

   We’ll probably all be able to watch on YouTube. Whether António Guterres finds it amusing remains one of life’s less serious uncertainties.