Charging Where You Find It

This weekend, I had an unusual schedule. I played short musical sets for two different events–one each day–in the same building at a local college! In fact, I stood not more than 10 feet away from my Saturday show when I did Sunday’s. I played different basses, too,for different kinds of music.

But this isn’t about music. It’s about a charging opportunity. Normally, I charge the car at work, or occasionally, at home. Home is slow, at Level 1 household current, but it helps top off the tank, so to speak.

However, when I pulled into my musical destination this Saturday, I was looking for a parking spot close to the door. I saw one, and when I got close, realized it was for electric charging! I could plug in to ChargePoint while I was playing. Hooray! As it turned out, I filled the battery to 100% while I was playing my 12 minutes with my band, Tablues, and listening to the other bands in the 53rd Annual Hayward Battle of the Bands.

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Today, Sunday, I performed with the Castro Valley Chamber Orchestra in a classical show featuring Bizet and Strauss. This time, I knew where to park, and snagged a spot. I even had a 500e companion! That’s 2 for 2. It’s lucky when you can use your car’s down time to charge up.

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Interesting side note. Today, as I drove to the college where the music was happening, a woman in a Lexus waved to me as we were stopped at a light. I rolled down the window. She asked me how I had driven my little electric Fiat 500e all the way from Michigan! You see, Fidelio, my test car, comes from there and wears a Michigan rear license plate. He was trucked here before being turned over to me. Of course, driving an electric car that’s not a Tesla across the country would be nearly impossible–or certainly very challenging. Funny.

Fidelio the Fiat 500e – The Bonding Begins

Part of the reason for borrowing an all-electric car for three months instead of a week was to not only evaluate the practicality of living with it, but also to see how my feelings would develop. And, as I kind of expected, with my daily driving of a little light-blue Fiat 500e named Fidelio, I am getting attached.

And why not? For driving to work, the car’s superb. Errands–excellent. I’ve traveled 15 miles to the vet, 20 to the hair stylist, 11 miles to the shopping center. My trip to work is 36 miles round trip. So, other than an occasional need to go further, I’m happy.

Here’s how the day works. Because I charged Fidelio at work the day before, when I start him up at 7 a.m., he’s got 45-55 miles of range on the clock, without on the home charger overnight. That means he’s normally facing in toward the garage. If he’d been on the home charger, I’d have backed him in to get the charging socket closer. It’s on the right rear fender, where the gas filler is if you have an engine instead of a motor.

I walk out my gate and there he is. What a cute little car. I’m glad I ordered the retro blue paint and white trim. I push the bottom button on the key fob and open the little hatchback. I place my briefcase back there on its side and close the lid. I pull out 5 dollars for the bridge toll, open the door, and slide in. He’s facing out below–must have been on the charger!

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Yes, I could use Fastrak and ride in the carpool lane, but this little test car isn’t mine and I don’t have the California stickers. It’s OK.

The way to work is pretty much all downhill or level, so the range gauge–a digital display at the bottom of the large circle speedometer–barely changes for the first few miles. In fact, it’s sometimes higher at the bottom of the hill to my house than at the top.

As always, the motor barely emits a sound–just a slight whine as you accelerate. That means that Sirius XM Satellite radio or FM–or Bluetooth streaming from my phone–is crisp and clear. The audio system in the Fiat 500e is pretty good, with woofers in the door and tweeters on the front windshield pillars.

Fidelio flies along through traffic. It does start to get congested as we get closer to the approach to the San Mateo Bridge. But, unless I have an early appointment, I just relax. The white, black and chrome dash is very pleasant to the eye. I especially like the little blue crescent of door trim that’s at the corner where the door and the dash meet. Of course, you can’t see any of the outside of the car from inside, with the short, sloping hood and white, rather than blue, mirrors.

Today, I noticed a dark gray 500e ahead of me. I hoped to catch the driver’s eye and wave to a fellow EV driver, but to no avail. I did get a dark gray Tesla launch itself into traffic a few minutes later, in front of me. He waved–probably to “thank” me for letting him cut in front of me.

We finally get on to the bridge approach, and it slows to a crawl again. No problem. It means I’m charging the battery every time I touch the brake pedal, and I’m using nothing while I’m sitting immobile. Traffic opens up again near the tolls. I drive up to pay my money and always hope the toll taker will say, “Nice car,” or “Is that an electric car?” They never do.In fact, today’s guy literally let out a big yawn! I think that job must be one of the worst.

Even the other electric drivers usually don’t seem to want to display the sense of shared coolness that I feel. I feel less like a journalist and more like a pioneer. There is a sense of being part of a secret society when you drive an all-electric car.

So few of us are driving them now, but we’re right in the heart of traffic, with everyone else. Our cars look normal, especially if there’s a standard gas version available, like with the Fiat 500. But under the hood, they’re really different, and drive with a smooth, quick, silence that’s enjoyable and environmentally cleaner. Some day, we’ll be the norm.

I feel a special sense of camaraderie with Fiat 500e drivers, and belong to a Fiat 500e Facebook group, but we really are more united by the kind of car we drive–and the decision that informed the acquisition–than by the brand. That doesn’t stop me from proudly wearing my FIAT cap, of course.

My exit is approaching and I slow down to take the curve. I can see my office building now ahead, with our company’s name at the top. The six chargers stand at attention along the side as I approach, and I smile when I notice that most of the spaces are free. I back into one, wave my little card in front of the ChargePoint charger, plug in, and I’m off to work. So pleasant, despite the traffic.

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The fueling pattern is different with an electric car. I plug in every morning at work, five days a week, to top off the battery. It normally takes a little over two hours to charge. I usually receive a text message from ChargePoint in late morning telling me Fidelio appears to be full, so I run down and move him out so another EV driver can use the charger. It’s EV etiquette–we have more than a dozen EV and plug-in drivers at my company sharing six spots.

The thing is, with a gas Fiat 500, I’d probably drive through the gas station once a week and spend five minutes filling up. So, the amount of time I need to do something with my EV is minimal, but it’s spread out over the week, and takes advantage of times the car is just sitting there. It’s the same with home charging, except that for me as an EV borrower, not owner, I still don’t have Level 2 240-volt charging at home. So, it takes more like 11 hours to do what 2-1/2 hours will do at work. But the car is just sitting in the driveway, so who cares?

I really like my blue baby. I may even love it. It’s cute, it’s comfortable, it’s nearly silent, and I feel good about cutting my emissions so much, so easily. I have carried my basses and my amplifier to gigs and rehearsals. The only issue that could come up is if I decide to play both kinds of bass at the same gig–or if the gig is 40 miles away. But I’ll work that one out. The other band members all have gas cars I can share. Meanwhile, it’s a pleasure to drive electric now.

What’s MPGe? Why Should I Care?

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When the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began measuring the fuel economy of cars decades ago, they created a miles-per-gallon (MPG) rating. It was designed to be posted on the Monroney (window) sticker, so consumers could compare different cars when they were shopping.

However, what happens when you have a car powered completely or partially by electricity? How do you measure a “gallon” of volts? The agency had to find a way to measure all energy, as a “measure of the average distance traveled per unit of energy consumed.”

So, in 2010, in response to the arrival of the new Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and the Nissan Leaf all-electric vehicle, the EPA came up with the MPGe rating–miles-per-gallon-equivalent. See this Wikikpedia entry for more detailed information.

I went to my favorite comparison/information hangout online–fueleconomy.gov–and set up a comparison between four kinds of cars, including my Fiat 500e. The Fiat represented a pure electric vehicle, I listed the Chevrolet Volt as a plug-in hybrid, the Toyota Prius as a regular hybrid, and the popular Honda Civic sedan as an efficient “regular” internal combustion engine (ICE) car.

Here’s what I got. Check it out for yourself. There are lots of numbers there, but here’s what I take away from it all.

  1. Electric cars have only the MPGe/MPG score, and it’s much higher than the MPG scores. The Fiat was tops in this comparison, with the Volt just below, with the two non-plugin cars way below. Use this number to compare all-electric cars to each other (and check the range, too).
  2. Hybrids are much more fuel efficient than regular cars. Keep in mind that the Prius has the best fuel economy of any hybrid car, and the Civic is one of the most fuel-efficient ICE cars.
  3. Driving the Volt in electric mode–keeping your trips within the battery range and recharging regularly–delivers nearly as good a rating as the Fiat. Driving it long distances using only gasoline isn’t much better than the ICE Civic. But if you’re the typical driver, and make sure to charge up regularly, and you’ll get the best of both worlds.
  4. Hybrids, like the regular Prius, don’t plug in (there is a plug-in version too). They’re given an MPG number based on overall performance, because they switch back and forth between gasoline and electricity, depending on driving conditions. The numbers look pretty good, though.
  5. The Prius, in this four-car comparison, saves the most per year compared to the average car. Remember, there are lots of other factors, though. Still interesting.
  6. Notice there’s a “per 100 miles” measurement in the same box that contains the MPGe and MPG number? That’s where the “equivalent” comes in. The Fiat, for example, shows 30 kWh per 100 miles while the Honda shows 2.9 gallons per 100 miles. The question then comes–how much does it cost for 2.9 gallons of gas or 30 kWh of electricity? My experience, using a public charger at work, is that I can get around 15 kWh (about 50 miles worth) for a couple of bucks. Gas, in California now, is currently running about $2.25 a gallon. Doing the math, the Honda costs roughly $3.50 for gas for the $2.00 the Fiat runs. Charging my car at home, at night, would likely run a bit less.

Are you enjoying that comparison chart? Good. Now, click the Energy and Environment tab and you’ll see where electric cars come out on top for greenhouse gas emissions. The Fiat gets a lovely zero grams per mile. The Volt is mighty good at 51. The Prius more than triples that to 170, while the Civic gets 256. Many larger cars can emit 400 or 500 grams per mile. So even downsizing from a large to a smaller ICE car is an improvement.

Yes, it’s true that an electric car must use electricity that’s generated someplace using some method that could cause an environmental impact. And there’s the fuel that went into the tank of the transporter truck that delivered your EV to the dealership. Ideally, you generate power from solar panels on your roof, although remember, some energy was consumed to produce the panels. If your power is generated using hydroelectric, wind, or a giant solar farm, you’re good. Natural gas–not as good. Coal–not good at all. Here in California, there are no  coal-powered plants (as far as I know), but PG&E, the utility, could  buy power from another company that used coal to generate it. We have some nuclear power generation here, too.

Still, at this point, there are many fine reasons to drive an electric car, if it fits your lifestyle. But even driving a Prius cuts your carbon footprint down significantly. If you work it right, a plug-in hybrid, like the Volt, would be even better than the Prius (the more you use the electric and the less you burn fuel). And if all else fails, you can still drive a Civic instead of a Cadillac and reduce your environmental impact a bit.

Until we have affordable electric cars with a 300-mile range, these other options–plug-in hybrids, hybrids, and highly efficient regular gas-burners, will have a place in the automotive market.

 

 

 

 

Fidelio the Fiat 500e – One Month Report

I’ve now had my test Fiat 500e for a month. The quick review is–I love it!

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This image tells the statistical side of the story. I’ve traveled 821.6 miles, in 37 hours and 52 minutes of commutes and short errands.. My average economy is 128.1 MPGe. The official numbers are 121 City, 103 Highway, for 112 Overall. So, I’ve beaten the numbers.

From the comfortable leatherette and cloth bucket seat, the car is everything I’d hoped it would be. It’s incredibly quiet, whether I’m on the freeway or side street, and seemingly regardless of surface. There is practically no tire hum or wind noise, and the car’s excellent insulation prevents most ambient noise from disturbing the serenity of the cabin.Of course, electric motors don’t make any significant noise other than a slight whine during acceleration, and are vibration free.

Inside, the audio system did a great job of entertaining me, with no-look fingertip controls on the back of the steering wheel making a shift of medium, volume, or station effortless. I used the hands-free dialing feature for a couple of phone calls, and it worked OK. Today, I had to nearly yell out a phone number to my local pizzeria, but the call went through.

The electric motor pulls the car along with surprising enthusiasm, although I’ve been careful to keep the color-coded curved bar on the right side of the central gauge in “Eco” territory (green) or Charge (blue). I think the hundreds of pounds of battery mounted low in the car increase its stability, because it corners flat, and there’s no noticeable dive or squat during braking or acceleration. It feels quick and light on its feet.

It may not seem very manly, but the bird’s egg blue paint and significant stretches of white in the interior make the car pretty and cute. That may not be for everyone, but I love it. It feels happy to me.

I’ve gotten into an easy routine with charging. I use one of the six Level 2 (240-volt) ChargePoint chargers in front of my building at work, and it takes two or three hours to top off the battery. I then pull the car away promptly, leaving room for another of the approximately 15 people at my office who drive electrics. There are three Fiat 500e’s, including another blue one (but he has black trim). The other one is a brilliant orange–probably my second choice. I share the six slots with Teslas, Ford Focuses, a Chevy Volt or two, and at least three Nissan Leafs.

I also charge at home, with a cable tucked under my garage door to the car, which I back into the driveway. Someday, my garage may be clean enough to accommodate the car–if I’m lucky, during this extended loan period. Even though it takes many hours to fill up, it’s normally time I spend in the house, relaxing with the family, writing, or playing music (or sleeping).

I’ve gotten more relaxed about charging as I’ve learned what my limits are and what to expect on my trips. So, if the car has 45 miles or range on it, or around half a charge, I’ll wait and not plug it in at home that night, planning to just charge it all up at work the next day. So I’m not bound by having to charge every time I park it.

I have had to use our gas car for a couple of longer trips, but otherwise, the 90-mile range of the Fiat is just right for everything else I want to do. The hatchback configuration means I can carry my big upright bass or my electric bass and amplifier. I can’t take both, though.

Groceries are no problem, and neither was a new amplifier or a TV. Normal size people will fit in back, but I wouldn’t put them there for a long trip. But, of course, the car isn’t meant for those anyway. 🙂

In the next two months, I expect more of the same. I plan to meet up with electric car enthusiasts as much as I can. So far nothing has materialized, though.

I got, and proudly wear, my FIAT hat!

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The little Fiat is happy in rain and in the dry weather. I haven’t felt like it was pushed around by storms, although I felt bad a few days ago when I opened the door and a blast of  rain wetted the dashboard, door panel and floors. It wasn’t too bad, but it sure felt like it.

My new friend at work, Moris, says Italian cars are the most beautiful. I will say that Fidelio is not the most dramatic or glamourous  car, but his details are well sorted out and he successfully evokes the original car.

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Here’s the morning dew on the silvery tail logo. Almost like an impressionist painting!

 

 

 

Typical Weekend with My Electric Car

After a week of easy, pleasant commuting, Fidelio, my little blue Fiat 500e, proved excellent at taking me on some weekend errands.

On Saturday, I started out at Safeway, for some groceries and household items.

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The rear area is great for small trips, without having to drop the back seat. I hope those 12 rolls of paper towels last a while. 🙂

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Next, we drove a couple blocks to the Post Office.

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I got a good place in the lot in front, between two hulking SUVs–a Ford Explorer and a Chevrolet Tahoe.

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That was easy. Next, I drove home and picked up my bass and amps for a band practice at Ed’s place. Ed has lots of room for cars in his yard.

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All my gear fits into the back, as long as I drop the rear seats.

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I’d say that was a successful Saturday of schlepping around without using an ounce of gasoline.

On Sunday, I took Fidelio down to Pete’s Hardware to buy a few screws to fix my amplifier head. That was easy.

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Ha ha – looks like my little car is getting sawed!

Sadly, when it came time to go to San Jose, 40 miles away, I had to leave him home and take my wife’s regular old gasoline car. The errands had used up just enough range to make an 80-mile round trip, mostly high-speed freeway driving, a little too close for comfort.

Fiat 500e – Range Budgeting

When you’ve got an electric car and lots of things to do, you need to plan accordingly. Yesterday, I would have taken Fidelio, the little blue Fiat 500e, on my errands around town, but I had to top off his battery so he’d be ready for a 30-mile trip today. Also yesterday, while my wife, son and I drove to a family dinner 80 miles from home, he remained here in the driveway, tethered to the charger. I think he looks a little sad, but it could just be the camera angle and the rainy weather.

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Today, he gets a nice freeway cruise into Oakland. I’m expecting little traffic, so there won’t be much chance to regenerate power. With a full battery, this should be no problem.

I’m sure this range business will be part of my life as long as my three-month test lasts, and it takes thinking and planning–something you don’t do with a normal gas-powered car. But I’m already finding that it helps you reduce driving in general, and cleverly combine trips to maximize economy. As long as you have a petroleum-drinking second car around, it’s all possible.

 

Fiat 500e – Home Charging

Well, it’s been a great week of commuting and charging at work, but now that I’m home for the weekend, it’s time to plug in in my garage.

I wish my garage wasn’t so full of accumulated junk, but it is, so I have to use the method I’ve used with my other electric test cars–I plug in the charging unit inside the garage, attach the charging plug into the socket inside the “gas” door on the right rear corner of the car (backed in, of course), and then lower the garage door down to about an inch away from the concrete.

This is easy in clear weather, but is less pleasant when it’s raining. I did check, though, and the water doesn’t seem to want to drain into the garage. With Fidelio, my blue 500e, visiting into the springtime, I really need to clean out the garage so he can sit inside.

Since Fidelio came to me new, with just 79 miles on the odometer, I am the first journalist to drive him, so I got to take the charger out of its original plastic bag from the factory.

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It came with a slim User Guide, but I’m an old hand at home charging, so I left it in the bag for future journalists.

Fiat provides a sturdy, and long-enough, cord. You’re cautioned not to use any extension cords when charging. Most are probably not rugged enough to handle the job.

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When it’s plugged in, you can see it working by the movement of the green lights in the bar above the Fiat logo. There’s also a light inside the car, on the top of the dashboard, that shows an approximate level of charge in the car–kind of like the five dots on a Fitbit Flex.

So, I set it up and that was that. Sadly, home current, at 120 volts (known as Level 1 charging) is very slow. My level 2 ChargePoint chargers at work (240 volts) are much more efficient.

Here’s a record of my four visits to the chargers this week from the ChargePoint phone app. Fidelio had a partially full battery when I plugged in, but was topped off by lunchtime (on Wednesday through Friday).

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The first charge, on Jan 19, was in the afternoon, and the battery was 2/3 full. The others were typical, and show the amount of estimated range, time, and cost for the charge for each session. Interestingly, the addresses vary, although the six chargers are all right next to each other. 🙂

 

 

Fiat 500e – Small Doesn’t Mean Cheap

The Fiat 500, in any form, is a very small car. Granted, the 500X crossover and 500L are a little larger, but still, the regular 500 is dinky. But don’t assume that being diminutive means being Spartan or uncomfortable.

Nope, my little 500e, Fidelio, is a very pleasant place to be. Granted, the rear seats aren’t spacious, but I did fit my 5-11 son back there last night (for a short trip). It’s the other things that lift the 500e up.

One thing is the leatherette seats, which are soft and stand up tall. The two-tone black/white look is chic, blended with the overall black/white theme of the entire car (a $395 option, and worth it). Cheap cars are all black or gray. White is a fancy color. The plastic panels on the dash evoke the painted metal of the 500’s 1950’s ancestor, as do the chrome rings around the gauges and round control buttons. Nice.

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From a modern point of view, there’s SiriusXM Satellite radio, and it’s easy to manage from the steering wheel controls. They’re on the BACK of the wheel, as in all Fiat Chrysler Automobiles products. I love that feature–you never have to look away from the road. Also, the white leather (with red trim) on the steering wheel itself is upscale. Oh–the sound from the audio system is surprisingly good, too.

A real luxury is how you hear that audio. With no vibration or noise from an engine, the 500e is blissfully quiet. On the freeway, you may get a little noise from rougher road surfaces, but in town, it’s almost eerily silent, and the music comes in sharp and clear.

The 500e has climate control–set it and forget it style. Without a radiator or a hot engine to generate the heat, I’m not sure where it comes from, but it’s a hearty blast when you start out in a 42-degree morning. Heated seats (one level only, though) are common these days, but are often lacking in a “cheap” car. You get ’em here.

Having a display on the instrument panel for each individual tire’s pressure is nice. The Audi A3 I drove recently didn’t even have that.

The 500e may be narrow, but it’s tall, so you don’t feel claustrophobic. The colorful. friendly instrument panel and small but effective center screen convey lots of useful information, and keep the black-and-white environment cheery.

With an electric motor, your car feels more like it’s rolling down the road rather than being dragged along. Stepping on the accelerator (don’t call it “the gas”) generates an immediate push forward. With 111 horsepower and 147 lb.-ft. of torque, the 500e is never poky, even going up the steep hills in my neighborhood.

Here’s to many more great (short) trips in Fidelio, the little blue EV.

 

 

Regeneration Gives Extra Miles

When you’re driving an all-electric vehicle, you probably spend more time looking at the range number than the miles-per-hour indicator. If the number on it is close to the distance you’re planning to drive, it can be nerve wracking. Luckily, regenerative braking adds to that number.

For example, today, I drove 18.6 miles to work in stop-and-go traffic. I started out with 46 miles on my cute little Fiat 500e’s dashboard screen. Amazingly, halfway through the trip, it was at 45–just one mile down. At trip’s end, I pulled into my parking lot and saw 40 on the screen. I regenerated enough juice to take just 6 miles off the battery for an 18-mile ride. Nice!

Conversely, if I had gone the entire 18 miles at a steady 70 mph, it would probably read 28–or lower. It’s all a balance.

Electric cars use MPGe instead of MPG (miles per gallon). I earned 138.6 for this morning’s trip. 🙂

Paris Is Just the Beginning

I’m excited about the Paris Climate Agreement, and think it’s a great start. But that’s just it–a start. In itself, the agreement won’t solve the problem.

My personal focus on carbon reduction is car-related, so I’ve been thinking more about what we can do now to make an impact.

You can buy an electric car, if you want to. There are lots of choices, and lease rates are cheap. Unless you opt for the super-luxury-priced Tesla, though, you’ll be out of luck if you want to drive your e-car everywhere you take your current gas model. Range is less than 100 miles, except for the 2016 Leaf, which is claiming 107. Still, the point is made.

But I was wondering. What if we got, say, even half of the driving population to switch to electric? We still need to create the electricity. Where we get it would make a big difference. If it’s from a coal-powered plant, we’re still pushing out CO2.

And what happens to all of those old gas cars? Someone else would buy them and drive them. That just transfers the problem to a new owner.

Not too long ago, the Federal Government instituted a “Cash for Clunkers” program to buy up old superpolluters for more than they were worth and give the seller a few bucks to go buy a newer, cleaner car. What if there was a program for folks to turn in their old car and buy an electric (or hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, when available)? Then, the old car gets crushed and all the materials in it are recycled. That might help a little. The cars that don’t get crushed will have to be retired, too, as soon as possible.

It’s hard to see ahead 35 years to 2050, when we will need to have succeeded in our Paris commitments to limiting the temperature increase since pre-industrial times to 2 degrees Celsius (3.7 Fahrenheit). 1.5 degrees would be even better, scientists say, but it’s a really tough goal, according to what I read.

We need to start now, and not wait around. But I’m just like everyone else. I like my lifestyle and I don’t want to be limited or have to make changes. But, if I don’t, how can I expect anyone else to?  And if WE don’t, the temperature will just keep on rising.