New US Postal Service Trucks Should Be Electric!

By Steve Schaefer

Not attractive, and should be electric!

I read last week that the US Postal Services had selected a bid to replace their old trucks with new ones that are gasoline-powered. I believe that this is a big mistake. President Biden has stated that he wants to electrify the government fleet, and this is the time to do it with the USPS trucks.

EVs make perfect sense for a stop-and-start daily route vehicle. There’s no reason to replace them with updated versions of 20th-century trucks. While an individual may worry about taking their car, which is usually used locally, on an occasional long trip, this would never be a concern with a vehicle that drives a local route every day. And who wants trucks spewing pollution in our neighborhoods when it’s not necessary?

The familiar old trucks need replacement–with electric vehicles!

The current fleet has been around for three decades, so whatever we do now will be with us for a long time, so we need to choose wisely and make the investments we need for the future. If we buy gas trucks now, they would continue as gasoline vehicles for a long time, even when most of the auto and truck fleet has transitioned to EVs.

The announcement about the Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (NGDV) from defense contractor Oshkosh Defense, states that these vehicles could be converted to EVs later. However, that is not practical and would likely never happen. Vehicles that are designed as EVs use a different kind of platform, since they don’t need gas tanks, large engines, radiators, and even transmissions. It makes more sense from a technical and a financial standpoint to build them as EVs in the first place.

Now is also the time to create the infrastructure to support these electric postal vehicles. It can be done as the trucks are phased in, with charging stations in the lot and solar panels on the post office roof to feed them.

What You Can Do

When I heard this news, I immediately wrote to my two senators and my congressman. You can go to their websites and fill out an email template to communicate that you want electric postal trucks. It takes five minutes.

I also looked up the Department of Transportation, where Pete Buttigieg is now the secretary. I didn’t find an easy email address, but you can call them at 202-366-4000 or send them a letter at:

Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation

U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE

Washington, DC 20590

Moveon.org is circulating a petition that you can sign.

The most important thing is to invest in electric postal trucks at the beginning, and we’ll have vehicles that fit in with the electric fleet of the future, will be part of an overall climate strategy, and be much more economical to run for years to come.

I’ll be following this story as it unfolds.

BMW Takes the Middle Path to Electrification

By Steve Schaefer

BMW EVs — note upcoming i4 in the middle, MINI in the foreground.

The auto industry has been slowly transitioning toward battery-powered transportation, but each company has its own way of doing it. BMW, which jumped in early with the all-electric i3 and plug-in hybrid i8 in 2014, has been slow to move to pure electrics, but now offers plug-in hybrid options on several popular models, including the midsize 530e sedan and X5 xDrive45e crossover, which I recently tested.

Three Different Paths a Company Can Take to Move Towards Electric

Before diving into the two Bimmers, let’s look at the different ways that car companies can approach the gasoline to electricity transition, from all-in to not quite ready yet, or the middle path. I’m just hitting high spots here to make the point.

All-in is how Tesla, a California startup, has done it since day one. First, they electrified a small two-seat sports car on a borrowed Lotus platform. Then, they took what they learned and introduced their mass market flagship Model S sedan. The smaller, more affordable Model 3 sedan and Model Y hatchback followed, putting Teslas—every one all-electric—into the hands of a much wider clientele.

The middle path recognizes that electric cars are not profitable yet, but companies like General Motors, Ford, Nissan, and Volkswagen don’t want to be left out in the future. Things started rolling about a decade ago, when Nissan bravely introduced the all-electric LEAF and GM brought out the clever Volt plug-in hybrid. Ford and VW electrified existing compact hatchbacks, replacing engines with motors in the compact Focus and Golf, respectively. There are other examples, such as Mercedes-Benz’s B-class EV and more recent offerings from Audi.

Things have moved forward for the mainstream companies over the decade. GM debuted the all-new Bolt EV four years ago, and recently announced its all-electric future, with some desirable cars in the works, from GMC/Hummer and Cadillac as well as the Bolt EUV crossover. Ford is debuting its beautiful and powerful Mustang now and has put a hybrid in the F-150 pickup, with a full EV version on the way. VW is finally rolling out the excellent ID.4 crossover. The Nissan Ariya crossover is imminent. So, there’s progress.

Another way to take the middle path is to avoid EVs but proliferate hybrids. Toyota has taken this approach, spreading its pioneering Prius hybrid technology across its model mix, including the Avalon, Camry, and Corolla sedans and RAV4 and Highlander crossovers.  

A few years ago, the Korean brands introduced the Hyundai Ioniq and Kona and Kia Niro models that let you choose hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or battery electric flavors. Both companies have recently committed to full lines of EVs over the next few years.

On the “just getting started” side you’ll find worthy manufacturers like Subaru and Mazda, who don’t have the cash to build an all-electric car. However, they can collaborate with big companies and join the party eventually, as Subaru has already done with Toyota on its Crosstrek Hybrid. Mazda has just introduced an electric version of its MX30 crossover, but it’s not available in the U.S yet. It will be Mazda’s first EV in America when it arrives.

BMW’s Plug-In Hybrids

Getting back to BMW, they have their plug-in hybrids and plans for new all-electric models, including the i4 sedan and iX crossover, and currently offer the iX3 small electric crossover in Europe. Today, you can contact your American BMW retailer and buy or lease a 530e or X5 xDrive45e plug-in hybrid. I drove both over the last few weeks.

Unlike Tesla, BMW has no identity to establish. Since the 1970’s they’ve built a reputation as “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” and while that may not really apply anymore, the brand still retains a lot of desirability and panache. So, while they slowly introduce new members of their electric “I” vehicles, they have taken popular models and cleaned them up a bit.

Both the X5 xDrive 45e and the 530e plug-in hybrids retain gasoline engines and the components that support them, like radiators, motor oil, and exhaust systems, while installing a motor, battery and an extra port to charge it. But unlike standard hybrids, which have small batteries that charge only when you step on the brake pedal, a plug-in hybrid lets you actively charge your car like an EV—for a limited range.

The 530e has an official EPA electric range of 21 miles; the larger battery on the X5 provides 30. What this means in real life is that if you’re willing to plug in your car  regularly, for most driving you can go electrically, since statistically, most people don’t drive more than 40 miles a day.

The upsides include lower CO2 emissions, smooth, silent driving, and no range anxiety. Once you get past the local electric range, the car converts into hybrid mode and uses gasoline or electricity as efficiently as it can. That means on a freeway trip, if you’re not in stop-and-go traffic, you’ll be using mostly gasoline, while in town, with frequent braking, you may be mostly electric, even if the electrons you put into the battery overnight are used up.

The X5 xDrive45e Crossover

Second generation X5 xDrive is more powerful and has more than twice the electric range.

My Arctic Grey Metallic test unit came packed with extras, making it a seriously luxurious ride. Inside, it wore the ivory White Vernasca Leather—“non-animal-derived “SensaTec” is standard.

The 2021 X5 xDrive45e is a second-generation model, updated significantly from the previous X5 xDrive40e. A more powerful six-cylinder turbo engine replaces the 2.0-liter four from the old car, and the battery doubles in size to 24 kWh. That means you get up to 30 miles of electric-only range vs. just 12 before (I saw the gauge read “32”). That’s significant, because it means  a lot more of your local driving will be electric-powered.

The combined horsepower, with the electric motor, is 389 horsepower, a bump of 81 from the old car. Torque jumps as well, to 443 lb.ft., a rise of 111. That lets the 5,672-pound hauler sprint from 0 to 60 in just 5.3 seconds.

It takes four hours to charge the battery from empty to 80 percent and 5.3 hours to fill it to 100 percent using a level 2, 240-volt charger. Using standard household current takes considerably longer (13.3 and 17.7 hours respectively). As a plug-in hybrid, it will never need an emergency charging stop while traveling.

The crossover comes standard with BMW’s Intelligent xDrive all-wheel drive system and an eight-speed Sport Steptronic transmission. It’s smart enough to adjust for your route and driving situation. The double wishbone front and five-link rear suspension are designed for comfort as well as traction when surfaces are less than ideal. The two-axle air suspension balances loads.

The interior looks rugged and luxurious like a BMW crossover should. It features Live Cockpit Professional, with 12.3-inch screens for the instrument panel and in the middle of the dash, where you can control all the sophisticated BMW driving and entertainment options.

My test week was during a quiet February, and with nowhere to go, I took no long rides. But, with its gorgeous chairs, crystal shift knob, and sparkling trim, the car felt quite posh when I did.

Three Drive Modes

Choices–I picked Electric, but Hybrid is the default.

There are three drive modes—Hybrid, Electric, and Sport. Hybrid, the default, electronically monitors the route and the road and selects the most efficient or performance-oriented balance of gas or electrons. Electric—my choice—is selectable from a center console button, and I had to do that every time because of the default Hybrid setting.

The car can go up to a law-breaking 84 mph on electricity alone, so short freeway hops work just fine. On longer trips you’ll end up in Hybrid mode. If, for some reason, you want to storm back roads for fun, the Sport setting keeps the engine on all the time for extra power.

Since this is nominally an offroad vehicle, you can set five levels of ride height. Although I had no need to use this, it could come in handy for clearance when you leave the highway.

Fuel economy per the EPA is 50 MPGe when you’re using electricity and it drops way down to 20 mpg with gasoline.

The X5 xDrive45e base prices at $65,400, but my tester, loaded up with numerous options, plus $995 shipping from the Spartanburg, South Carolina factory, came to $81,695. That’s a lot, but it’s a lot of car, too.

The luxury crossover segment is becoming highly desirable these days—low slung sedans are no longer the rage. This car, with its rugged but sophisticated styling and pretty much anything you could want, will fill anyone’s needs and then some. As a plug-in hybrid, if it spends most of its time on local runs and gets charged up regularly, it will function as an EV much of the time. But with all-wheel drive and a gas engine, it will take you to the ski destination of your choice painlessly.

The 530e Sedan

7th generation 5 Series offers a plug-in hybrid, gets some visual tweaks for ’21.

The BMW 5 Series has enjoyed a long and happy life in the BMW lineup. The 2021 model marks the seventh generation of the “executive size” sedan that debuted in 1972. Larger than the compact 3 Series and smaller than the grand 7 Series, it’s perfect for any driving occasion.

The 530e brings plug-in hybrid power. While both the standard 530i and the 530e have 2.0-liter gas engines, the 530e gets an electric motor with 107 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque, making the “e” more powerful, with a total of 288 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque. The “e” gets from 0-60 0.2 seconds faster as well, at 5.7 seconds.

While the EPA gives the 530i gas-only car fuel economy numbers of 25 City, 33 Highway, and 28 combined, the 530e gets 64 MPGe with electricity and gasoline and 26 miles per gallon with gas only. EPA Green scores are 7 for Smog and 8 for Greenhouse Gas.

The 12-kWh battery is tucked out of sight, but it does steal 4 cubic feet of trunk space, while adding weight that makes the 530e about 450 pounds heavier than the 530i.

However, it’s still the same 5 Series experience, except you can drive locally without burning gas! With 21 miles of range, the car functions as an electric car around town and for short freeway commutes. You can charge it up at home, at work, or while shopping at Whole Foods.

Option it Up the Way You Want it

My tester wore a brilliant Phytonic Blue Metallic and featured Ivory White Nappa leather within. BMW leather always smells nice and conveys a premium feel. My tester had a number of packages that added to the luxury and comfort. Driving Assistance Plus includes Extended Traffic Jam Assistant, which, as I am working from home, I didn’t get to try. The Shadowline Package adds extra lighting. The M Sport package brings performance and design upgrades, including variable sport steering, the M Sport suspension, special 19- or 20-inch upgraded rims, and an aerodynamic kit. The Parking Assistance Package would have made parking easy, if I had needed it. The Premium Package includes pleasures like a Harman-Kardon audio system and gesture control.

As with any BMW, you can go wild with optional features. My tester base priced at $57,200, but with options plus shipping came to an eye-opening $70,485. For comparison, the base price of the fossil-fuel-only 530i, pre-shipping, is $54,200, $3,000 less than the 530e.

All 5-Series models receive some subtle updates this year, including a larger, taller set of twin kidney grilles along with resculpted LED headlamps up front. Trapezoidal tailpipe finishers perk up the tail end. Inside, Live Cockpit gives you generous 12.3-inch instrument panel and dash center screens. This blends modern computer screen controls with some of the classic feel of the BMWs drivers have loved over the decades.

Most EVs, being silent, can surprise unsuspecting walkers. So, BMW offers Acoustic Protection for Pedestrians, which makes what BMW calls an “unmistakable sound” at up to 19 miles per hour to warn the inattentive.

The 530e does its electric driving subtly, but cruising in it in silence can put you in your happy place, even if it’s not for an extended time. But soon, you’ll be able to enjoy an all-electric midsize sedan from BMW—the i4. Stay tuned.

Ford Mustang Mach-E – A Horse of a Different Color–Electrified

By Steve Schaefer

Muscular heritage styling.

For an EV enthusiast—or any American car shopper—the Ford Mustang Mach-E is one of the most intriguing and important auto debuts in years. As an all-electric SUV, it’s as revolutionary as the original 1965 Mustang was in 1964 and points the way to the future, while intimately linking to Ford’s most iconic brand.

Origins

The original Ford Mustang, a low-slung sport coupe and convertible based on the compact Falcon platform, offered excitement and affordability, and was the right car at the right time. Hundreds of thousands were sold from the starting gun, invigorating Ford and creating the “pony car” segment.

Over the years, the Mustang has had its great and not so great moments, growing hulking in the early 1970s and shrinking down to Pinto size as a reaction to mid 70’s fuel shortages. It found its footing in 1979 with the form it would hold onto for decades, rounding out in the 1990s and surviving to this day. You can still get a reasonable model with a 2.3-liter EcoBoost Turbo or grab a V8-powered Shelby or other supercar variant.

The Mach-E is Different

But the Mustang Mach-E is different. It’s got four doors, for one thing (although the “E-latch” handles are hidden). It’s all-electric. While its length and width are comparable to the regular Mustang, it stands nearly 10 inches taller, and boasts 101 cubic feet (cf) of interior volume versus 83 cf for the coupe. Sitting in the spacious rear seat, I looked up through the panoramic glass roof and thought of how fun the Mustang would be for four people to take on a long trip.

E-Latch pops open when you approach the car.

Ford’s EV history is not impressive so far. They sold the competitive Fusion plug-in hybrid for years (particularly nice in the later design) with the Europe-designed C-Max minivan sharing the drivetrain. Ford offered a 76-mile-range Focus with a $40K price tag that was a California compliance car. The new hybrid version of the F-150 pickup has just arrived and I spent a week with it recently. But the Mustang Mach-E is a new milestone in the company’s movement into the electric vehicle future.

So, what makes the Mach-E a Mustang, and not just Ford’s first serious all-electric car? It’s styling and performance.

Surely there were prolonged and heated discussions in the Ford boardroom about “diluting the brand” but I believe that in the end, they decided to spend a little of their amassed brand equity in order to bless this car with everything they could muster to make it successful. People love SUVs these days and have no problem thinking of them as desirable, sporty vehicles. They are not the truck-based Jeep and International Harvester wagons that were around when the original Mustang debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

The running horse is inside and outside of the car–including this puddle lamp.

Mustang styling cues include a long and curvaceous hood, muscular sides with rear haunches, a Mustang face with piercing eyes (and a big filled-in grille) and, of course, those tri-bar taillights. There is the running horse logo, of course, seen on the nose and tail, inside on graphics and the screens, and as puddle lamps at night.

Famous tri-bar taillamps.

Unlike with the coupe and convertible, with the Mach-E you step right in, not down. The sporty bucket seats are covered in “Activex” – an animal-free “leather.” You sit in a typical crossover position, riding high. Legroom front and rear is generous, and headroom is amazing. Just a side note—the Mustang coupe is one of the very few cars that will not hold an upright bass. With the Mach-E, you could just drop the second-row seats and slide that bass right in, with nearly 60 cubic feet of cargo space. With the seats up, I filled the cargo hold (29.7 cf), with groceries on a rare venture out.

Electric Power

The Mach-E’s motor puts out 346 horsepower (428 lb.-ft. of torque) in the standard form and 480 hp (634 lb.-ft.) for the upcoming GT version, due this summer. With the silent powertrain, instant electric torque, and responsive steering through a fat leather-wrapped wheel, I had a blast taking the car on back roads as well as cruising through town. It feels strong and grounded, with the heavy battery pack providing the 64-inch-tall Mach-E with a low center of gravity for road-hugging stability.

Electric cars are rated by the EPA in miles per gallon equivalent—MPGe. The Mach-E gets 105 City, 93 highway, and 105 Combined. Compare these numbers to other EVs’s stats.  Weighing between 4,400 and 4,900 pounds, depending on battery size and rear- or all-wheel drive configuration, the new Mustang is not the most efficient EV, but it’s comparable to others of its size and purpose. Of course, the EPA Green scores are a pair of perfect 10’s for Smog and Greenhouse Gas.

The range between charges varies depending on battery size and the number of drive wheels. The rear-wheel-drive car with the standard 66 kWh lithium-ion battery gets 230 miles per the EPA. The 88-kWh extended range battery brings it up to 300 miles. Add all-wheel drive and those numbers drop to 211 and 270 respectively.

The liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack sits below the floor and between the axles in a waterproof case with crash absorption protection. That location, preferred for cars designed specifically as EVs, means interior volume is uncompromised.

One of the benefits of EVs is the ability to use one-pedal driving. This means you press on the accelerator to go forward and lift off to slow down using regenerative braking—even coming to a complete stop in some cars, including this Mustang. You can choose not to use it if you wish. I enjoyed one-pedal driving during my three years with my Bolt EV, and with a gearless car, it approximates downshifting with a manual transmission. It also means your brakes pads will last a long time—EVs are known for needing virtually no service.

Modern but Familiar Interior

Modern screen with classic Mustang cues.

The Mustang’s interior blends Mustang cues with the modern, simplified design made popular by Tesla. There’s a 15.5-inch vertical screen in the center of the dash that houses the latest version of Ford’s SYNC system, and it works pretty well, although it obscures the traditional twin-cove Mustang dash design.

Along the screen’s waist are a half dozen boxes that you can swipe and select for entertainment, information, navigation, tire pressure, and so on. Tap a box and the upper half of the screen fills in with easy-to-read information. Touch a spot on the top of the screen to open up a place to configure multiple setups. Ford promises over-the-air updates of its SYNC system, just like you-know-who.

Unlike Tesla, the Mach-E provides a small rectangular instrument panel behind the steering wheel, with a digital speedometer, a long blue bar displaying battery range (essential to monitor, impossible to miss), and a few other bits of info, like transmission setting. There’s also a tiny image of the car at the left above the range bar, and a humorous “easter egg”—it says “Ground Speed” under the digital speedometer. A head-up display appears in the windshield as well.

Hard to miss that blue range bar, with Easter eggs.

The FordPass phone app lets you go without a key fob (a la Tesla). I tested it, and while the doors locked and unlocked (with an annoying several-second delay), I was unsuccessful at starting the car with it. In fact, with the fob inside my house, I touched the car’s Start button and a screen message demanded to have the fob nearby and started honking the horn! Surely this would get worked out if you owned the car. The app displays lots of helpful info as well, including charging locations, with 13,500 charging stations included in the FordPass network from third parties.

The multi-featured FordPass phone app.

Pricing for the Mach-E starts at $42,895 for the Select. My test car, the next level Premium in Carbonized Gray Metallic Paint with Black Performance Activex interior, had a base price of $47,000.  With the optional extended range battery ($5,000) and $1,100 for destination and delivery, the sticker said $53,100.

How the Mustang Competes

Certainly, the Mustang Mach-E, in its premium configurations, is aimed at folks considering cars like the upscale Porsche Macan and Audi e-Tron, but the big target is the Tesla Model Y. Both cars offer standard and performance editions and rear- or all-wheel drive. The Mustang sits on a 3.8-inch longer wheelbase than the Model Y but is 1.4 inches shorter nose to tail. It is an inch and a half narrower but stands a tenth of an inch taller. Weight is similar. So, the cars are essentially the same size.

The Tesla offers significantly better EPA green scores, but both cars are pure EVs. Interestingly, the EPA calls the Mustang Mach-E a “Small Station Wagon” and the Tesla a “Small SUV.”

How the Mach-E Takes on the Tesla Model Y

So, what DOES the Mustang offer? It’s style. The Model Y looks like other Teslas—pleasantly rounded, but subtle, with a grilleless face, generic-looking taillamps, and soft contours. The interiors are spartan Danish Modern in their sober restraint, with only a big, wide screen to interact with. The Mustang, however, is notably muscular, wears its traditional livery well, and inside, feels more like the cars we know and love.

A Mustang face for a new era.

This could be the Mustang’s most important role—using its emotional appeal to entice folks who admire Teslas but love the cars they remember and have enjoyed. Everybody knows what Mustangs are. Ford, who put America on wheels with the Model T, has had numerous other hits (1949 sedan, 1960 Falcon, Thunderbird, Taurus, Explorer) and a few misses (Edsel). This gives them more than a century of brand equity and tradition that Tesla can’t offer. So, if Ford can match Tesla’s performance and approximate the tech but offer more style and curb appeal, not to mention an expansive national dealership network, maybe they’ll bring new buyers into the EV fold. A successful Mustang Mach-E can then lead to more electric Fords as we leave fossil-fuel-burning cars in the dust over the next 10-15 years.

Fantasmo – Mapping Cities for Micromobility and Autonomy

By Steve Schaefer

Paris building face, as seen by Fantasmo’s CPS.

Micromobility—including scooters—is the latest quick and clean way to get around urban areas. But one big problem is managing where the fleets of shared scooters go and where they’re parked. Fantasmo has a solution—camera vision-based positioning. Fantasmo enables it by first mapping cities at the ground level, and then scooter riders use the camera on their phone to accurately record their exact position when it comes time to park.

A bit of history. When the first scooter fleets started operating in Santa Monica, California, riders took an end-of-ride photo that roughly placed their location. GPS was used to create a geofence in the city to say, keep scooters out of parks, but was not very accurate. When other cities started having scooter fleets, their biggest issues were bad parking and clutter and sidewalk riding. GPS mapping was too blunt of an instrument to monitor it effectively. Now, cities like San Francisco and Chicago simply require e-scooters to be locked to posts or signs to keep them out of the walkway.

Fantasmo’s technology solves this issue by providing the granularity to make accurate tracking of scooter parking possible. It will also come in handy for future applications, such as tracking delivery bots and use by the visually impaired.

Fantasmo is a seven-year-old US-based startup that’s backed by investors including Unlock Venture Partners, Freestyle Capital, TenOneTen Ventures, and LDV capital, among others.

The company recently partnered with major European micromobility operator TIER to map more than 85 cities through exclusive partnerships in Europe and the UK, including Paris, France and York, England.

Jameson Detweiler

I spoke with Jameson Detweiler, co-founder and president of Fantasmo, about his company and the software and hardware that make this possible. Educated at Drexel University in Material Science and Engineering, Jameson also has plenty of startup and leadership experience. He previously co-founded LaunchRock, an idea launching product, was founder and CEO of GreenKonnect, a human-powered search engine for the green building industry, and he co-founded LED lighting startup Summalux.

Fantasmo began as Fantasmo Studios. They were looking for the technology to create augmented reality games like Pokemon Go, which superimpose the game onto your actual surroundings. But it soon grew into much more.

“We wanted to combine alternate reality games with machines to better understand the real world and how to assist humans,” said Jameson. “We decided to focus on the next generation of mapping technology.”

Positioning from satellites, GPS is used by many applications, but the problem in cities is that buildings, trees, and other objects can block the view of the street. This causes inaccuracies when the signal bounces off of these objects. Fantasmo’s solution is to build a 3D map of cities at the ground level, collected using cameras and sensors similar to those found on EVs. Once a city is mapped, Fantasmo can determine someone or something’s position by pinning camera footage to that digital map using its Camera Positioning System (CPS)—an alternative to GPS.

“We can create a visual fingerprint from the surroundings, like a big QR code, and use advanced math to interpolate from the images,” said Jameson.

Fantasmo maps a city using the 22-pound Fantasmo Explorer backpack, which a Fantasmo employee wears as they walk down the sidewalks of the target city.

Mapping on foot with the Fantasmo Explorer backpack.

Fantasmo recently mapped 1,800 kilometers (1,118 miles) of Paris by foot, and is now working in York, with more cities on the way (under the TIER partnership). By taking the images from the sidewalk, it can target exactly where the scooters are at the end of a ride, when the rider uses their camera to take a few seconds of video images of the surrounding buildings.

The Paris project employed six backpacks, each shared by two people working shifts for a few weeks. The French capital enjoys high scooter usage, and with limited sidewalk space, has designated 2,500 mandatory parking corrals for them. Fantasmo mapped these areas first and will eventually map the entire city.

The high-tech backpacks are set up with shoulder and waist straps, like good backpacking gear. They bristle with two lidar “pucks” and six cameras, like the ones used on autonomous vehicles, and are a little like micro-sized, wearable Google mapping cars. After a couple hours of training, the employees follow their assigned missions for the day, using iPads to communicate with the backpacks.

A scooter corral in Paris.

Now, when a French scooter rider is ending their ride, they will use the TIER app to scan the surroundings for a few seconds and the app tells them if they are in a designated parking area, to an accuracy of 20 cm (just under 8 inches). If they are not, then they must move to one before they can end their ride. No physical infrastructure is needed.

Fantasmo manages the entire mapping project for a city for TIER or any other client. This means that they visit the target city and use their mission planning tool to draw the boundaries and create walking routes to cover the whole city. Once those routes are queued up, they can be assigned to the walkers. Fantasmo’s system monitors progress and can fill in any gaps that may occur.

Naturally, there are changes in a city over time, but the software can flag changes when riders use it, so new images can be taken, say, if a building is torn down. However, the initial backpack mapping creates a  “substrate layer” that doesn’t need much updating. The images use solid, permanent items like a building’s windowsills, so changes in signage, for example, don’t affect the accuracy.

“It’s a dynamic situation,” said Jameson. “We recently had to skip mapping a section in York because it was flooded,” said Jameson.

Jameson sees the future in self-healing maps, and the use of data from more sources.

“For the next generation, any device can take images, masking out personal data, and create a digital twin of a city,” said Jameson. “This will be good for autonomous solutions for micromobility, pedestrians, and cars.“

He also sees a time when the technology will live on the scooters themselves.

“We’ll know where the scooter is 100 percent of the time,” said Jameson. The scooters will be as smart as robots.”

Jameson believes that accurate positioning is a steppingstone to real autonomy in cities. Every device will be aware of itself, its location, and other vehicles, scooters, bikes, and people. And thanks to the shared mapping, it will be able to “see through buildings.” The goal is zero accidents and maximum efficiency. Fantasmo’s applications also work with mobile, auto, and robotics, so there are lots of exciting things coming.

When will the company come home and start mapping American cities? There are plans, and Fantasmo will announce them when it’s time.

Autonomy and micromobility are essential to the health of our cities, and Fantasmo’s mapping technology is in the middle of it, making it happen.

Moving Closer to the EV Tipping Point

GM and Biden Target 2035

By Steve Schaefer

The 2022 GMC HUMMER EV will make a big impact.

It was a week of good news for EVs and climate action, as General Motors and the new U.S. president announced ambitious plans to tackle global warming. Both set a goal fourteen years out, which, although it’s later than the often-cited 2030 target from the Paris Agreement, is a profound move forward.

General Motors Makes a Commitment

Years ago, Charles Wilson, President of General Motors, and Eisenhower’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, famously said, “What’s good for the country is good for General Motors. And vice versa.” Democrats on the committee focused on the vice versa part of the statement, but in the modern case, it may actually be true either way.

When GM first stated its intention to move toward electric vehicles and rolled out its vision of Zero Crashes, Zero Emissions, and Zero Congestion, I was skeptical. After all, this is the company that makes its money on gas-guzzling pickup trucks and Chevy Tahoes and has promoted Corvettes and Camaros. But they did introduce the worthy Bolt EV and were dabbling in green tech with the plug-in hybrid Volt before that.

With Tesla in their rearview mirror (or maybe now seen through their windshield!), one of America’s “big three” has officially put their bets on electric cars and has announced their plan to have a 100% electric fleet by 2035. GM will introduce 30 new EVs by 2025, including a new all-electric Hummer! They are developing a new flexible platform and the Ultium battery, which they will produce themselves. And they are putting $27 billion on the table to do it. With their long-established cross-country dealer network and factories in America, they have a good start.

Last night, I watched a recording of GM President Mark Reuss talking with Malcolm Gladwell at CES 2021 for GM Exhibit Zero. He said all the right things and laid out GM’s plan for 30 EVs by 2025 and all the rest. GM CEO Mary Barra has been quite forthright about the company’s plans, too.

Biden Steps Forward on Climate Change Action

Meanwhile, America’s new president put forward his plan, and it’s just what many of us have been waiting for. Immediately putting the U.S. back in the Paris Agreement and cancelling the Keystone XL Pipeline were signature acts, but Biden’s announcement of moving to an all-electric fleet was an eye opener. It goes along with California’s 2035 target of no new light-duty internal combustion engine vehicles sold starting in 2035. The Golden State has been leading the charge towards lower emissions for decades. It also fits nicely into GM’s plan.

Ford is Planning and Releasing EVs, Too

Ford Mustang Mach-E is arriving imminently, chasing the Tesla Model Y.

Ford is investing more than $11.5 billion in electric vehicles through 2022, and  zero-emission versions of some of its most popular nameplates are on the way, including the Mustang Mach-E, which starts arriving in dealerships this year, as well as a Transit Commercial EV and fully electric F-150 coming within 24 months.

The company previously announced its plan to use 100 percent locally sourced renewable energy for all its manufacturing plants globally by 2035. That means energy would come only from sources that naturally replenish – such as hydropower, geothermal, wind or solar.

However, as builders of America’s favorite vehicle for more than four decades, the F-150 pickup, Ford can have a big impact by putting an electric motor under its tall hood. And, leveraging the reputation of their most iconic vehicle, the Mustang, they have just introduced the category-bending, all new Mustang Mach-E, an all-electric four-door crossover that has the Tesla Model Y in its sights (with a heavy dash of Mustang traditional styling and performance). If these two pillars of Ford’s product line move the sales needle, Ford will be making an impact, too, and can start introducing more electrified vehicles.

It’s easy to see America’s two surviving American-owned car companies jumping in and writing big orders for all those electrified U.S. government fleet vehicles and making those American factories hum with green-tech jobs. It has win-win written all over it. Of course, making this huge transition will not be easy or instant, but the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence tells us we must do it now.

When Mark Reuss answered Malcolm Gladwell’s question, “Why now?” during the interview, he said it was because it was the right thing to do, and that he wanted a safe, healthy world for his three grandchildren. As a grandparent myself, I wholeheartedly agree.

Bold initiatives by corporations, states and national governments have proven effective in Europe and China, and now the U.S., under new leadership and in cooperation with its auto manufacturers, is approaching the EV tipping point. I have more faith now that we can and will make this happen. In the middle of the next decade, it will all seem like it was meant to be, and once-skeptical buyers will be sold on the new, cleaner, better technology. For now, I’m doing whatever I can to push us to and beyond the EV tipping point.


Aptera – Wingless Design, Incredible Efficiency

By Steve Schaefer

Like a wingless airplane.

In the growing world of EVs, the Aptera stands out, for its unusual design, incredible range, and the company’s plucky chutzpah. I attended a fascinating Zoom presentation by Jason Hill, the company’s designer, where he kindly provided details and shared his excitement.

Company History, in Brief

The company was founded in 2005 by Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony, but faltered and closed down in 2011. But—hope springs eternal, and after a circuitous path, Aptera rose again in 2019 under the original founders. They and their team worked quietly behind the scenes, including a painstaking redesign of the car as a full electric vehicle. In December of 2020 they introduced the Aptera 3 and announced a crowdsourcing campaign, which quickly generated 3,000 deposits from eager customers.

Jason Hill, Designer

Jason Hill remembers seeing the extremely aerodynamic original Aptera on the cover of Popular Science magazine. When the company restarted, the founders went looking for a designer, and through a friend Jason was offered the job.

Jason is founder and president of Eleven LLC, a design studio whose clients include Subaru and other automotive entities. He was the first designer at Porsche’s American design studio, working on the exterior of the Porsche Carrera GT show car.

“I support the vision of the efficiency model and what that means for mobility, transportation, and vehicle design,” said Jason.

Jason found that they had never really stopped working on the car, but he believes that now is the right time to produce it.

“The technology, processes, and general environment have caught up to where Aptera can be a leader in this space,” said Jason.

His task as designer is to mix the engineering with the aesthetics and uphold the company’s design ethos.

The Shape

Aptera means “wingless” in Greek, and is a great name for the car, because it really looks like a wingless airplane. The company likes to translate Aptera as “wingless flight,” but is not taking inspiration from the actual wingless flying insects to whom the term is applied.

Design Is at the heart of Aptera, as Jason explained in detail during his online session for investors, journalists, and other interested parties.

The car has room for two people, and the designer’s goal was to maximize vision, comfort, and the “reach envelope” for the activities inside the car.

“We wanted the perfect shape for aerodynamic functionality, low weight and a high level of design,” said Jason.

Packaging

The design goal was to tackle the question of housing both people and the powertrain, including the batteries. Jason says that for the Aptera 3 redesign, they started on the inside and worked their way out, rather than designing a perfect body and trying to fit the pieces inside it.

“We started with the base of batteries and balanced that with the needs of the shape for the best balance,” said Jason.

They put the batteries into smaller, higher-density packs, so they could fit them more precisely into the vehicle.

The overall design process, per Jason, is to seek the best advice, and not defer to a single decision or direction.

“If it fits, it goes that way,” said Jason. “Nothing is superfluous, and nothing is left out.”

That comes down to a “rightness” from having the best user functionality, where the reach to the controls, cupholder locations, materials, colors and finish have a premium feel but are cost effective to produce.  As seen in other EVs, recycled materials appear here, and per Jason, there’s a much greater variety of sources now from which to procure them.

The Right User Experience

Simplicity, elegance, and recycled materials.

No matter what the shape of a car looks like, most of the human interaction with it is inside, so it has to be right. Jason has given this much thought.

“Functionality—needs and wants—has to balance out,” he said.

For instance, the original interior design had a single screen with all the information on it, and three rear vision cameras. Jason says they can do better now. He listens widely to the words he hears from leadership and tries to match them to the vision.

“That’s exactly what I was talking about,” is what Jason wants to hear when he unveils a new design.

The Aptera is designed to accommodate most people, so it’s designed around the 95th percentile human—typically a 6-foot-2 adult male—and for short people too.

The design ethos is about engaging the driver and passenger.

“We wanted it to be free of hassle and clumsiness,” said Jason. So, there’s no key fob, and not a bunch of buttons and distractions. We wanted it to feel clean and luxurious, but not to be missing anything.”

Unique Interior Features

The Aptera features a center console cover, which incorporates a phone charger. There’s also a soft glovebox that sits on the dashboard, not in it. Drivers can store items safely in a backpack that lives on the back of the seat. The rear storage area will be convertible into a camper with a new tent feature that’s being designed with a “tent developer.”

“We wanted to give freedom of mobility and heartfelt limited use of resources—to go far using little,” said Jason. This includes traveling to out-of-the-way places.

The steering wheel started out quite square but has evolved into a more rounded shape. Jason paid special attention to how it feels in your hands, aiming for the right thickness and providing adjustability.

The rear-view mirrors use a video camera system, with high-fidelity feedback—better than a regular mirror. You can also select a standard mirror with a click. The regular rearview mirror is tied in with side cameras for a wider field of vision.

A Different Exterior

Cars are starting to use phone apps as your key—a la Tesla—and the Aptera adds something special—three round lights on the side near the upper part of the butterfly-style doors. They provide a visual cue for locking and unlocking the vehicle. The owner waves their hand over the door pillar and the lights  display sequentially upwards for unlocking and downwards for locking. The Aptera logo next to them remains lit all the time.

The Aptera looks a little like a stripped-down hotrod, with its exposed wheel linkages. The wheels are covered with wheel pans, which move with the wheels when turning. Design and engineering are working together to make sure changing a tire will be easy.

Solar Technology

The surface and dashboard top of this latest Aptera are covered with solar panels, laid out in an elegant diamond pattern. Jason found that turning the square panels at an angle allowed more of them to be placed on the car. These panels generate up to 41 miles of range per day, so since most drivers drive less than that, you could technically never plug the Aptera in. This would be the first EV to be able to claim that distinction.

Why Three Wheels?

Three wheels instead of four eliminates some weight while maintaining stability. Of course, having the batteries at the bottom of all electric cars provides a lower center of gravity, reducing the risk of turning over and enhancing handling. Jason said they will consider different wheel sizes and widths that are most efficient and also can adapt them for different markets.

Jason Sums it Up

“The process is so rewarding—to be part of setting goals and seeing their manifestation,” Jason said. “The style part is one thing but mixing it with efficiency is even better. This gives us freedom of mobility.”

Order Yours

Tempted to have one of your own? Aptera’s website claims up to a 1,000-mile battery range at the top level, with a  $44,900 price. The entry-level model, with a 250-mile-range, starts at under $26,000. You can get on the order list with a $100 deposit.

KoBold Metals Tackles EVs’ Biggest Issue

By Steve Schaefer

Climate scientists tell us we must limit the earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius to reduce the risks of various catastrophic events. To do it, we need to lower our CO2 emissions by half in the next decade and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Replacing our fossil-fuel-powered auto fleet with electric vehicles is crucial to success. This change will be difficult and take time, but there is one big issue—the mining of battery components—that has been EVs’ dirty little secret.

Kurt House, Ph. D, CEO/co-founder of KoBold Metals

KoBold Metals is a San Francisco Bay Area high tech startup, with Andreesen Horowitz and Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a climate technology fund backed by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, as major investors. KoBold has developed an artificial intelligence (AI) machine learning solution for the sourcing and mining of the precious metals used in our current batteries—lithium, cobalt, and nickel. I met with KoBold’s CEO and co-founder, Kurt House, Ph. D to discuss what they are doing and the impact it will have. House is a serial entrepreneur with an educational background in physics and math and a career curriculum vitae in energy—both oil/gas and sustainable energy. He is also an Adjunct Professor in Stanford University’s Energy Resources Engineering Department.

The move to EVs is accelerating, and major auto manufacturers like Tesla, GM, Ford, Volkswagen, Hyundai/Kia, Mercedes-Benz, and others, are stepping up new EV introductions. However, for mass production of EVs, we will need a mass of the battery ingredients. And according to House, there isn’t enough metal around now to build the initial stock of EVs.

“To beat global warming, we need to electrify everything,” House said. “And we need to do it all in the next 30 years, so we need to build renewable like mad.”

Per House, there are about 1.3 billion cars around today, of which only 10 million are EVs. That total could be 3 billion vehicles by 2050. That means a lot of these metals need to be mined now.

However, while the mining industry does find some new materials every year with traditional methods, it isn’t moving at the pace needed to provide the materials for the batteries in a short time frame. There has to be a better, more efficient way that’s also sustainable and ethical.

House says there are two approaches:

  • Spend more money
  • Do better with the same money

The second approach obviously makes more sense.

“We need to find ore systems that can be mined with minimal impact, in reliable jurisdictions,” said House.

Unfortunately, much of the known cobalt is in Congo, where it is highly concentrated, some of it right at the surface and some in deep mines. Workers, often children, can dig it up by hand and bring it in for a few dollars—which in the poverty of the area is enough to be an incentive. This is obviously not a good long-term plan.

“We are trying to create a diversity of supply,” said House. “Major OEMs and battery manufacturers would rather have a sustainable, ethical choice in where they source their materials.”

That’s where KoBold’s Machine Prospector technology comes in. Here’s what KoBold’s website says about it.

“KoBold’s Machine Prospector technology combines never before used datasets with conventional geochemical, geophysical, and geological data in statistical association models to identify prospects… KoBold’s technology accelerates exploration by efficiently screening large regions and makes our search more effective by identifying the most promising locations.”

This means that KoBold uses AI and machine learning to look at all of the data, from 80-year-old maps to satellite data, to find the most likely sites for drilling.

“It’s aggregated from all over the world and structured into universal data schemas that can be interrogated by our algorithms,” said House.

What they are seeking is “compositional anomalies”—large chunks of rock that can be mined. As an example, House said that if you drilled for nickel under, say, your house, you would probably come up with dirt with 70 parts per million (ppm) of the ore in it. To extract the nickel from that would cost 100 times the current price for the ore. They want to find where it’s at 25,000 ppm, which would make it very economical to extract and process the ore.

So, why hasn’t anyone done this before?

“They couldn’t do what we’re doing even 10 years ago,” said House. “We are standing on the shoulders of trillions of dollars of high bandwidth computing networks that enable us to spin up and spin down dramatically large computing resources.”

KoBold’s Machine Prospector technology first makes predictions about where the ore is concentrated, and then collects additional data that helps to decrease uncertainty. The goal is to quickly eliminate any places that have a low chance of success so that when they do drill, it’s much more likely to hit paydirt.

Today, KoBold has field campaigns on three continents. Unlike many software companies, they do not license their technology to other companies—they use it themselves and partner with companies to do the actual drilling when they have decided on a location. Some projects they own 100 percent, and some are partnerships.

So, what does the market look like and what’s the best plan? Because battery components are nearly 100 percent reusable, they allow for a circular economy, which fossils fuels decidedly do not. House says we need to get all the metal we can in the next thirty years.

“With a circular economy, the metal stays in the system,” said House. “Circular economies require full renewable energy, so we just mine a bunch for a few decades and then we’re done.”

The manufacturers building the coming fleet of EVs want to ensure they have enough precious metals for the batteries they will need, and the battery manufacturers do too. KoBold, by locating safe, accessible locations and providing focused, high-percentage, sustainable extraction methods, helps assure that we can convert to an all-electric fleet in time and with as little environmental impact as possible.

Public Transportation: From the Tom Thumb Rail Road to Hyperloop and Beyond

Review by Steve Schaefer

This 2020 children’s book by Paul Comfort presents a charming and informative history of public transportation, from its origins almost 200 years ago to a look into the future.

Public transportation interests me, too. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by cars, but also by buses and trains. My sons were, too. I rode on the Santa Fe Super Chief at six years old and had my first bumpy airplane ride at around the same time on a propeller DC3. I rode the old Muni streetcars in San Francisco on the way to college and took BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) when it first opened in 1972. I’ve taken a long Greyhound Bus trip, flown across the world on giant jetliners, ridden the trams in Amsterdam, and climbed the hills of San Francisco on the historic cable cars. More recently, I rented scooters and mopeds in San Francisco. Kids need to learn about this stuff.

Written by transportation writer Paul Comfort and crisply illustrated by Sudeep KP, Public Transportation keeps it simple, displaying a bright, colorful image of one transport method on each page with a one- or two-sentence description. The quality of light expertly mimics a sunny day and makes the images come alive, and cute, smiling children and happy adults appear in most of the images.

Balloons with “Did You Know?” and “Fun Facts” add interesting details for older children—and adults—to learn from. You could look at the pictures and point with a one-year-old or use it as a stepping-off point for a teenager.

The book engages children from page 1 with a bus to color. The Tom Thumb Steam Train, part of the B&O Railroad in Baltimore, Maryland, is the first character and dates back to 1830. It’s an enormous steam boiler in a rustic cart pulling men in top hats, but it loses a race to a horse when it breaks down. Transit has become much more reliable since.

Horses are the mode of transport itself on the next page, pulling multi-rider carriages. The book then moves on to a massive steamship, subways, and the historic transcontinental railroad in the U.S. with its famous golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah in 1869. Hard to believe that subways go back even further, to the London Tube in 1863!

Then, cable cars, trains, and trolleys take center stage, with unusual projects like monorails showing a future that hasn’t panned out (except at amusement parks). After checking out city and school buses, Comfort introduces a global positioning satellite—the beginning of today’s high-tech transportation options.

Children get an introduction to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which explains why buses they may encounter have wheelchair ramps or lifts to allow everyone to ride.

Moving into environmentally friendly transport, we see racks of rentable bikes and learn about electric buses. A page discusses mobility apps and high-tech ways to pay our fares, such as mobile phone apps and wearables. There’s even a nod to autonomous vehicles, featuring the first AV in regular service—Switzerland’s Trapizio.

Futuristic Maglev high speed trains would likely not be seen by American children unless they vacationed in Japan, China, or Europe, but they appear here, followed by a look ahead with the Hyperloop train and electric vertical takeoff and Landing (VTOL) passenger drones.

Before you know it, the book’s over, but reading it is a fun ride in itself and helps prepare kids for a future full of public transportation options.

For more information, see: www.futureofpublictransportation.com and www.paulcomfort.org.

The Future We Choose – Surviving the Climate Crisis

A review by Steve Schaefer

The year 2020 was a difficult one. But now, it’s 2021, and I’m ready to renew my commitment to ensuring a safe, healthy, and happy future for my children, grandchildren, and everyone else who will be living in the second half of the 21st century, after I’m gone.

Clear, actionable prose helps you take action.

Reading an inspiring book is a great way to light the fire of climate action in your belly. So, I pulled The Future We Choose—Surviving the Climate Crisis off my bookshelf. Its two authors, Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac have excellent climate credentials—they were the architects of the 2015 Paris Agreement. They are also cofounders of Global Optimism, an organization focused on bringing about environmental and social change.

I ordered the book last year when it came out, but for some reason, I only got through the first two parts before putting it aside. I got distracted and disturbed by the COVID-19 lockdown and six months of job searching, among other things. But with the U.S. about to re-enter the Paris Agreement under our new, climate-action-focused president, it seemed like an appropriate book to read right now. The book’s 210 pages went by fast, as the message is expertly written in clear, actionable prose.

Two Scenarios for 2050

Part 1 of the book, Two Worlds, offers a brief introduction and two views of life in 2050—one if we don’t act and one if we do. They are jarringly different scenarios, and of course, we want the second option. Chapter 1 opens the book with a brief review of the now familiar basic science of climate change. Chapter 2 presents a dystopian tale of rising temperatures and oceans, more powerful storms, mass dislocation, droughts, political unrest, and the other scary topics that Al Gore clearly laid out in his An Inconvenient Truth slideshow. Chapter 3 offers the alternative future, where we had the right vision and  took action, keeping the earth a good place for people to live. In a way, it follows Mr. Gore’s slideshow’s template—education—emotion—action.

Three Mindsets for Success

In Part 2, Three Mindsets, the authors lay out three ways of thinking we need to practice in order to be good citizens of the earth and do what’s necessary to succeed. The introduction begins with a warning that we too often start “doing” before first reflecting on “being”— knowing who we are and what we personally bring to the task and what other people can do. The authors quote Gandhi, who said we want to be the change we want to see. It reminds me of ideas I heard in my college philosophy classes. It’s certainly important to be centered, grounded, and know what our goals are.

They also say that we need to make a total shift in our thinking. Part of why we’ve done so much damage to the planet is that we don’t see and feel how we are intimately connected to all of nature in everything we do, from the air we breathe to the food we eat to the materials we take from the earth and the waste we leave behind. We need to move to an attitude of connection and stewardship, away from one of exploitation and disposal.

The three mindsets are:

  • Stubborn Optimism
  • Endless Abundance
  • Radical Regeneration

Stubborn Optimism

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale and the complexity of the climate crisis, but the authors urge us to not feel helpless. By recognizing our thought patterns, we can start to transform them, and move towards optimism. Optimism, in their definition, means an intention to see beyond the immediate horizon, have comfort in the uncertainty of the outcome, and make a commitment to keeping this mindset.

We want to focus on positive thoughts, while also clearly seeing the real issues, remembering that another future is possible, but not promised. We can use the power of hope to create a new reality.

“Optimism is about having steadfast confidence in our ability to solve big challenges. It is about making the choice to tenaciously work to make the current reality better.”

Endless Abundance

Picturing the world as a zero-sum game gives us a perception of scarcity, even when there isn’t any. This leads to competition and self-centeredness, which historically has been very damaging to the planet. However, with a rapidly expanding population and reduced resources, the earth is now approaching actual scarcity, so collaboration is now our only option.

“The practice of abundance starts by shifting our minds away from perceived scarcity to what we can collectively make abundant.”

Radical Regeneration

Regeneration here means two things. In one sense, our planet can no longer support one-directional growth, with continued extraction without restoration. One example of a solution is rewilding, where areas of the planet are allowed to return to their natural state. The other meaning of regeneration applies to us. The authors suggest meditation and mindfulness to stay personally grounded through the challenges of climate action. Also, time spent in the natural world is restorative, especially with so many of us inside suffering from “nature deficit disorder.”

Ten Actions to Take

In Part 3 Figueres and Rivett-Carnac lay out ten actions we all should take. They believe that while having the right mindset is crucial to success, we have to manifest it in our actions as well. It’s also important to reject the cycle of blame and retribution we get when looking at the past and embrace the shared endeavor while “transforming our priorities to an everyone-everywhere mission.”

“The time for doing what we can is past. Each of us must now do what’s necessary.”

Here are the ten actions.

Action 1: Let Go of the Old World

Fossil fuels have built our society, and brought a lot of people out of poverty, but it’s time to move on. We have to avoid nostalgia for the good old days and focus on where we’re going, not where we’ve been. It’s time to challenge our assumptions.

Action 2: Face Your Grief but Hold a Vision of the Future

With an uncertain future, we need to muster as much courage as we can. We need a vision, not simply goals, while keeping our eyes on what’s to come. It helps to believe that the world is worth saving and that a regenerative future is possible.

Action 3: Defend the Truth

In the internet age, there is plenty of disinformation and lies out there. We have to beware of “confirmation bias,” where we see truth in things that reinforce our existing beliefs. We should verify sources and learn to distinguish between real science and pseudoscience. We can make a positive impact by interacting with and listening to climate deniers to learn where they are coming from and find ways to communicate with them.

Action 4: See Yourself as a Citizen, not a Consumer

It’s crucial to resist the rampant and unsustainable consumerism of today, where “the good life” means constantly consuming new things. When you do buy things, be a good consumer and support companies that make their products sustainably. Even better, work to dematerialize.

Action 5: Move Beyond Fossil Fuels

This is a favorite of mine, as an EV advocate. Beyond moving to electric cars, the authors suggest making an energy audit of your home and systematically reducing your carbon footprint. And we can all demand 100 percent renewable energy from our utilities. We need to make the transition in a planned and measured way to keep the economy intact, but we must do it now.

Action 6: Reforest the Earth

Trees are natural, non-tech CO2 absorbers, and they are cheap and safe. By letting nature flourish we can undo a lot of damage. Trees help cool cities, too, where temperatures are already heading upward. Scary: 80 percent of the deforestation of the rainforest in Brazil is for raising beef cattle. Going to a more plant-based diet has a big impact. We can boycott products from companies that are contributing to deforestation.

Action 7: Invest in a Clean Economy

We need to move more in harmony with nature, repurpose used resources, and minimize waste. The book proposes moving away from using the GDP as a measurement of success—it’s based on extract, use, and discard. Places like Costa Rica and New Zealand are moving away from this model.

“We need to reorient our underlying sense of value toward quality of life.”

Action 8: Use Technology Responsibly

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a powerful tool and has exponential potential if deployed and governed well. It’s important, however, to apply the technology to a society that’s already moving in the right direction. Using AI to extract coal faster obviously isn’t the way. Redesigning energy grids and preventing methane leaks from pipes are good uses of technology. Find out what your government and local community are doing.

Action 9: Build Gender Equality

It turns out that women are better leaders during a crisis. They are more open and sensitive to a wider range of views and are better collaborators. Opening up educational opportunities to women worldwide leads to smaller, healthier families, which is crucial for limiting a growing world population. Project Drawdown has made this point clearly, as well. We need all the deep listening, empathy and collective wisdom we can get.

Action 10: Engage in Politics

We need stable political systems to be responsible to the planet’s changing needs and citizens’ evolving desires. Sadly, corporate interests have captured our democracies. Although climate change action is a higher priority for more people now, it needs to become the top priority. Peaceful civil resistance and civil disobedience are the moral choice and historically have proven to be very effective. It only takes a small number of people (3.5% of the population, according to the authors) to move change in a society.

The Conclusion

The book winds down by making two points, and then proposing an action plan. The points are:

  • We still have a choice—and every action matters
  • We can make the right choices about our own destiny

The action plan is a checklist called, “What You Can Do Now.” It proposes actions for right now and far into the future:

  • right now
  • today or tomorrow
  • this week
  • this month
  • this year
  • by 2030
  • by 2050

Thinking about these categories and planning what you will do helps you understand that your actions today matter, and that you need to be thinking long term, too. By 2050, those of us who are still around will know if our actions were successful.

Next: I’m going to fill in my What You Can Do checklist.

Figueres, Christiana and Rivett-Carnac, Tom. The Future We Choose—Surviving the Climate Crisis. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2020.

Climate Action in the Land of Denial and Distraction

by Steve Schaefer

Today, armed Trump supporters stormed the sanctity of the nation’s Capitol and rioted, personally egged on by their toxic narcissist sore loser leader. This is just the latest outrage in the country where COVID-19 is labeled a hoax, mask-wearing is seen as a sign of weakness, and, yes, climate change is called a hoax, too.

I’m sitting in the San Francisco Bay Area, in California, so I am far away physically and politically from this uproar, but I am deeply concerned about the future of the United States of America and the world.

The U.S. was a leader not so long ago. We have been a beacon of hope for acceptance, fairness, and democracy. We had elections where the loser called the winner to congratulate them, and then helped in a peaceful transition. We led by example.

Yes, our history is tainted with injustices to native people, minorities, and the poor. Our capitalism claims that anyone can be successful, but over time has reinforced class structures, with the wealthy getting more so, the poor losing protections, and the middle class having stagnant earning power.

Now, the world needs leadership to battle climate change—along with the worst pandemic in a century. This time, thanks in part to the reign of Donald J. Trump, we are unprepared to lead.  

In 2018, I spent three days at the Climate Reality Leadership Training with Al Gore and other leaders and learned how to present the story of climate change. The former vice president is famous (and was awarded) for his An Inconvenient Truth slideshow. At the training, he showed us how to do our own version of it. The PowerPoint starts with basic climate science, then segues to some truly frightening photos of fires, floods, and droughts, and then some hopeful images of windmills and solar panels. The sections are “Must we do it?,” Can we do it?,” and “Will we do it?.” The “Will” section shows shots of the Paris Agreement and peaceful demonstrations.

Since late 2018, I have given nine Climate Reality presentations, including one just a month before COVID-19 crippled our ability to meet in groups. My personal focus, as an auto writer, has switched to electric vehicles, and I test and promote them enthusiastically.

The problem I see, though, is that in this social climate, presentations like this and simply reporting on electric cars may not be enough to get the job done in the short amount of time we have to make an impact. Today, a vast number of people are fed disinformation and lies, and last November, were willing to give a second term to an obviously dangerous COVID-19 and climate change denier. Away from the coasts and urban areas, there’s a vast distrust of science—you might even say a loss of reason—in the population. With social media, anyone can find a like-minded believer of any conspiracy theory, and right-wing media has promoted an alternative universe of beliefs and “facts.” It’s hard to know what’s the truth anymore.

But facts are facts, and one of them is that the earth is continuing to warm, and that it will lead to drastic changes, including coastal flooding, more powerful storms, droughts, loss of species, and a general disruption of what has been, for ten millennia, a stable climate. Unfortunately, while a small group toils to fix, update, improve, and change the situation, most people either don’t care or are too absorbed in their own lives to act. I know, because even as a trained Climate Reality Leader, I spend a lot of time doing things that either hurt or don’t improve the climate situation. And I know better!

What’s the answer? How can you teach even basic science, such as the basics of climate change or the essentials of disease transmission, to minds that are closed to being educated and whose emotions are focused on illusory things?

Do climate leaders, some corporate CEOs, and some nonprofit organizations have to be the parents who take care of all of these wayward children? How can we reach out across the wide political divide, and get everyone on the same page? We could have had our “World War II” moment with fighting the COVID-19 virus, but thanks to our disengaged, lying, self-centered chief executive, we are behind most other countries. There is no talk of sacrifice and no feeling of shared responsibility. My mask protects you! Why is that so hard to grasp?

When we are finally back to being physically together, how do we heal the wounds that we’ve suffered from this disruptive chapter in our history? Are Climate Reality presentations relevant anymore?  

We need to act quickly, in a way that gets the message across. But what is it?