Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Is your home at risk for wildfire?

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A new tool shows the threat wildfires pose to every American home — both today and through the hotter and more dangerous forecasted future of 30 years from now.

The data is available for free — alongside a given property’s flood risk — through a program called Risk Factor from New York-based nonprofit First Street Foundation.

“The lack of a property specific, climate adjusted wildfire risk for individual properties has severely hindered everyone from the federal government to your average American,” First Street founder and director Matthew Eby said in a statement.  

According to First Street’s data, about 72 million homes have some level of wildfire risk in 2022 — a number expected to rise to nearly 80 million by 2050 due to the impacts of climate change.

And as of this year, the study found that some 10 million homes have a “major,” “severe” or “extreme” risk of burning by 2030.

With climate change driving more frequent and severe fires, the new tool “will prove critical in ensuring everyone has the insights they need to understand their personal risk to avoid and protect against the devastating impact of a wildfire,” Eby said.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. Subscribe here.

Today we’ll look at new features by Uber that aim to bring the ride-share company one notch closer to its goal of a global electric fleet. Then we’ll explore how cutting tailpipe emissions and the use of heating and cooking fuels could save tens of thousands of lives — and hundreds of billions of dollars — every year.

Uber expands electric vehicle options

Ride-share customers in some California cities will now be able to summon rides in “premium” electric vehicles (EV) like Teslas and Polestars, Uber announced Monday. 

Where it’s available: The new Comfort Electric feature is rolling out this week in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, as well as in Dubai.  

Busy summer: The company is launching the feature at the beginning of what Expedia has predicted will be the busiest travel summer on record — along with two new updates that seek to help nudge Uber drivers toward EVs. 

An added option: “Comfort Electric” is a higher-priced addition to the existing Uber Green feature — a feature that allows riders in many cities to order low-emission “Green” rides, which can be filled by either hybrid or EV drivers. 

One competing option: Riders in Austin and Nashville can’t yet order EVs on Uber  but they can do it on competitor Earth Rides, which maintains Tesla fleets in those two cities, according to Forbes. 

That’s a niche Uber wants to close: The new feature is part of a push by the ride-hailing giant to expand its electric offerings as it seeks to ensure that its U.S.- and Europe-based fleets will have zero emissions by 2030 — with the broader global fleet following by 2040. 

In other words, it wants to make the company’s upstart competitor Earth Rides’s motto — “Like Uber but with Teslas” — erroneous.

NUDGING DRIVERS TOWARD ELECTRIC

Building a global ride-share fleet means that Uber needs more drivers in more electric cars, and the firm has announced new features to help nudge drivers in that direction.

Providing information: Uber’s driver platform now incorporates a “one-stop shop” of information on how to “save money by going electric,” according to the company.  

The platform includes a tool that allows drivers to make side-by-side comparisons of the lifetime costs of specific gas and electric cars, as well as links to local tax incentives.

For example: A version of the software reviewed by The Hill included information on cost-saving programs for turning in old vehicles, incentives for buying chargers and state subsidies or rebates for purchasing electric cars, like the California Clean Vehicle Rebate Program. 

Charging maps coming soon: This summer, Uber will integrate maps of EV charging stations — complete with speed, number of available spots and type of charger — into its driver maps alongside other nearby services, like gas stations, restaurants and restrooms. 

One potential hiccup: A quarter of EV charging stations are broken in San Francisco — one of Uber’s new EV-request pilot markets — according to a study published last week in the San Francisco Chronicle. 

An Uber spokesperson said the company works with charging providers to ensure drivers have the most up-to-date information about charging locations and speeds. 

Building on existing work: Last year, the company signed a deal with rental company Hertz to make 50,000 Tesla Model 3s available to rent for drivers with a rating of above 4.85 stars and more than 100 trips. 

Uber has also earmarked $800 million to help drivers go electric. These funds help pay $1 per-ride bonuses for EV drivers — which can net them up to $4,000 a year, the company added.

Cutting particle pollution to save lives

Eliminating air pollutants generated by energy-related activities in the U.S. could prevent more than 50,000 premature deaths and save the economy more than $600 billion each year, a new study has found. 

The study, published in GeoHealth on Monday, explored the potential gains of removing the fine particles that are emitted into the atmosphere through electricity generation, transportation, industrial operations, heating and cooking.  

Some sources pollute more than others: Cutting residential and commercial fuel use — such as heating and cooking — and on-road vehicle particulate emissions would lead to the greatest reduction in premature deaths, according to the study. 

Helping people breathe, helping the climate: These activities are also major contributors to climate change, the authors noted. 

That’s because they burn fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases, in addition to generating dangerous fine particulate matter. 

How do particulates impact health? Exposure to fine particulate matter — particles with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less — can contribute to a variety of health problems. 

Among the illnesses cited by the study:  

  • Heart disease 
  • Stroke  
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 
  • Lung cancer 
  • Lower respiratory infections that can shorten life expectancy 

Profits from paring down particles: The scientists determined that cutting these pollutants would save about 53,200 lives annually, while boosting the economy with about $608 billion from avoided health care costs and loss of life. 

Near- and long-term benefits: “Shifting to clean energy sources can provide enormous benefit for public health in the near term while mitigating climate change in the longer term,” lead author Nick Mailloux, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, said in a statement

Added benefits: The study, he explained, serves to provide “a sense of the scale” of these benefits, which “could accompany deep decarbonization of the U.S. energy system.”

REGIONAL DIFFERENCES

While the authors found that a nationwide effort to cut particle emissions would be ideal, they acknowledged there’s always the possibility that individual regions could act alone — and that most regions would reap the majority of benefits from doing so.

The scientists determined, however, that the effects of such independent action could vary widely, based on regional differences in energy use and population size. 

Most regions would retain the benefits: The authors found that on average, slightly more than two-thirds of the health benefits associated with reducing particulate emissions would remain in the region where the cuts occurred.  

Five of the 10 regions would retain more than three-quarters of the benefits from removing particulate emissions — while just two would retain less than half of the benefits, according to the study. 

The Southwest would fare well: This region — which includes Arizona, California and Nevada — would preserve 95 percent of the benefits if it alone chose to eliminate fine particle emissions, the study found. 

The Mountain region less so: In this area of the U.S., only 32 percent of the benefit would remain in the participating states, according to the study. 

“This is partly because there are large population centers downwind of the Mountain region that would also benefit,” Mailloux said. 

Some areas need a national effort: The Great Plains, meanwhile, would get twice as much benefit from nationwide efforts than if the region acted alone, the scientists found. 

“The more that states and regions can coordinate their emissions reductions efforts, the greater the benefit they can provide to us all,” Mailloux added. 

Motivating climate action: Jonathan Patz, senior author and a University of Wisconsin–Madison professor, stressed that the study supports recent calls from the United Nations “to transform the world’s energy economy.” 

“My hope is that our research findings might spur decision-makers grappling with the necessary move away from fossil fuels, to shift their thinking from burdens to benefits,” Patz added. 

To read the full story, please click here.

Motor Monday

Fears of flaming scooters, a rise in electric snowmobiles and a nationwide shortage of pilots. 

Electric scooters in India are bursting into flames 

  • A recent surge in electric scooter battery fires is alarming Indian buyers and prompting recalls, The Washington Post reported. Scooters — both fuel- and electric-powered — are the most popular form of transportation in India, the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. But a recent survey indicated that some 17 percent of consumers wouldn’t buy an electric model due to safety concerns, the Post reported.  

Electric snowmobiles, mowers, boats gain traction 

  • Electric snowmobiles, lawn mowers, boats, bicycles, scooters and all-terrain vehicles are increasing in popularity — and in some categories, are gaining traction quicker than electric cars are in the automobile world, The New York Times reported. California has banned gasoline-powered mowers beginning in 2024, while the Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico has equipped its resort with electric snowmobiles, according to the Times. 

Pilot shortage adds to coronavirus travel chaos

  • A lingering nationwide shortage of pilots has left airlines scrambling for solutions on the brink of a busy travel summer — and they’re cutting training hour requirements, lowering educational standards and recruiting bus and train drivers to make up the gap, NBC reported. “We never fathomed attrition levels like this,” said Jonathan Ornstein of Mesa Air Group, which contracts with United and American airlines.

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.

VIEW THE FULL VERSION HERE.

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