EV chapter 1

Today is an exciting day as we just added a ‘new to us’ electric vehicle to our family. With teenage kids who have their own busy schedules, it became more and more desirable to add a 3rd vehicle to simplify transportation. I think adding the vehicle might actually decrease the total miles we drive as a family, an adding an electric vehicle will reduce our overall emissions and fuel spend.

There was much deliberation and debate on what vehicle to get and when to execute. The Tesla Model 3 we pre-ordered was slotted to arrive late summer of 2018 which seemed too far away when thinking about the kids having summer jobs and such. We weighed leasing and buying traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles and every flavor of hybrid and electric. In fact, several months ago I would have guessed that it would be a used Nissan Leaf and that I would title this blog entry “turning over an old leaf”. After much deliberation and debate, we ended up purchasing a certified pre-owned (CPO) 2014 Tesla Model S. One of the core decisions in going with Tesla was the mitigation of range anxiety; being able to do 99% of charging at home while maintaining the freedom to take longer trips leveraging the supercharger network. We chose CPO because of the added comfort of a fresh warranty and similar. It is a decent time to be in the market for a used Tesla as there a lot of private sale options and the market has a lot of low mileage lease returns as well. Make no mistake, they hold their value well and it is a financial commitment, but it is one I am glad we were able to prioritize. It is important to me to vote with our dollars and live our values and this is another positive step in that direction. If you find yourself in the market for a vehicle in the future and want to talk it through, I am very willing to share my experiences and opinions.

I think it is still a stretch to justify purchasing most electric vehicles based on cost alone, but things are definitely trending quickly in that direction. I am looking forward to no oil changes or worrying about the various other parts of an ICE vehicle which typically wear down or require maintenance. Electricity prices are far less volatile than oil prices and our overnight electricity rate for the car is almost half the cost per kWh of our normal rate. I anticipate our electrical bill going up about $60 per month based on my preliminary estimate of miles we will drive the Tesla. At current fuel costs and the reduced electricity rate for overnight charging, for every 100 miles we drive the Tesla we will save over $6 in fuel costs compared to our other vehicles.

Our electric cooperative also participates in the Revolt program which allocates wind power renewable energy credits on our behalf. Energy comes from all kinds of sources here in MN (wind, natural gas, coal, etc.) so there is no way to say the electrons that go in to my car actually came from a wind farm, but this program dedicates wind energy on our behalf and more importantly (in my opinion), sends a clear message of what is important to me as a consumer, and steers my provider towards leveraging more renewables.

Thank you to all of the family and friends who helped make this a reality, especially my wife Andrea who as our family’s chief financial officer was able to make this happen. I think she would agree that the picture at the top should say ‘Zero Emissions, Some Compromises (kitchen remodel, new carpet, family vacations, etc.)’. Below is an actual picture featuring our 2014 Tesla model S flanked by our 2006 Toyota Prius which has over 200k miles on it.

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Smarter than ants (part 2)

 

In yesterday’s blog post I stated that I think before discussing possible solutions to tragedies like what happened in Las Vegas, that we should agree that investing time in thoughtfully discussing the opportunities for minimizing the loss of life was of value.  If you disagree and think we should do nothing more than shrug our shoulders, build a memorial, and use the phrase #<insertcitynamehere>Strong for while then please read no further.

 

Too often in discussions like this we assume others have extreme positions and we fail to have an honest and thoughtful dialog where we really listen, compromise, and leverage our common ground.  So for the purposes of any responses to this post, please resist your urge make assumptions, call names, and behave like an idiot.  I will moderate comments if needed.  My friend Mike made a Facebook comment on my blog from yesterday about how he thinks open air events like the one in Las Vegas should be eliminated due to the inability to protect attendees from a vertical threat and how those wishing to do harm and commit mass casualties are paying attention.  As opposed to knee jerking and assuming here is another guy who does not want to change anything with guns, lets recognize that Mike makes a very valid point.  The landscape has changed and we need to adapt our safety protocols and update our thought process because somewhere out there right now there is someone planning to set a new “record”.  Physical security is a lot like computer security, we do our best to patch and be secure from the beginning but when something is exploited we need to update our defenses and mitigate for future variants.  Our approach going forward needs to be more comprehensive than just dealing with a weapon problem.  As an example, look around at your neighborhood school at how they have adapted their entrances and security protocols, and how kids now have practice code red drills and so on.  Sure, it is a sad that these are needed, but in reality those types of things save lives.  Sadly now we need to think differently about open air event gatherings and vertical threats.  I guess my point is that if you are still reading this, you would like to minimize the loss of life like what recently happened in Las Vegas and that is common with anyone else who may comment or offer an opinion so please be respectful.

I am not a gun owner but I would say it is not out of the realm of possibility that I will be someday.  I am not an expert on the second amendment, I am not a lawyer, I am not an extremist who wants to take everyone’s guns away; I am a self-defined tree hugger and my only political agenda is to get a revenue neutral Fee and Dividend policy implemented so the true costs of emissions are recognized and our planet has an opportunity to improve its health.  As it relates to this issue, my core belief is that we can do better, that we can find common ground and both “sides” can realize they are less far apart than they think and compromise.  I choose to use the following as a baseline for my thoughts on this topic:

  • The focus of any legal changes as it relates to weapons should focus on the problem.  The problem is not the hunter or sportsman, the problem is not the gun collector who has hundreds of guns, the problem is not the enthusiast who likes to shoot a variety of high powered and unique weapons in an appropriate place, the problem is not the person at the grocery store who you never knew had a permit for his/her concealed handgun; the problem we are trying to solve is people who thoughtfully plan mass murders.

  • There is no solution that will prevent every scenario and the goal of any new policy should be to increase the potential for preventing and minimizing the loss of life.  This is incredibly important to not lose sight of.

  • States should be allowed to add their own additional laws if they desire but there should be an updated baseline federal law.  If we leave this to the states it will only lead to a scenario similar to fireworks where I can simply drive to Wisconsin and get “real fireworks” and numerous other issues.

Given that, here are my current thoughts on a path forward in order from least to most complicated:

  • Bump stocks should be made illegal.  I had never heard of them before this week but my generic understanding is that they crudely make a semi-automatic rifle behave more like an automatic rifle.  Given that they are an accessory and not a weapon themselves, an argument could be made that legal changes to their status is not really protected under the second amendment.  Regardless, it appears as though this notion already has momentum so getting more specific on a path forward is in order.  The end goal of any legal changes to bump stocks should have a focus on making them more difficult to obtain.  I see a few options:

    • Bump stocks are declared illegal to purchase or sell going forward.  The ones in circulation today are left to die on the vine so to speak and they will be coveted by collectors and enthusiasts and the price of purchasing one will continue to increase.  Over time, less and less of them will function and continue to exist much like civilian owned machine guns did after 1986.  They could need to be legally registered or similar.

    • Bump stocks are declared illegal for civilians to own.  This gets a little more complicated but some sort of buyback program might incite some owners to turn them in but certainly some would remain in circulation.

  • High capacity magazines are reviewed.  Again, I am not an expert in this area but I think minimizing the amount of ammunition a weapon can fire without needing to be reloaded would increase the probability of saving lives in situations like this.  I am uncertain what a reasonable amount of ammunition is to have in a single magazine but my opinion is that for the average gun enthusiast and owner, this is not a huge inconvenience as long as the capacity compromise is reasonable.  Like bump stocks, a decision could be made to make them illegal to purchase or sell going forward or make them illegal and introduce some sort of buyback or similar to encourage a reduction in the current circulation.

  • Criminal background checks should be required for all firearms sales and they should be tracked.  Today licensed firearms dealers require an ID and leverage NICS but this does not cover other scenarios.  Today, if I were to go buy Sudafed I would need to swipe my drivers license.  If I were to drive to a dozen pharmacies and buy one box at each, some sort of alarm would go off somewhere and I would need to get an exception or follow a more rigid process to purchase in bulk.  I think a similar program could exist with firearms so that if someone were purchasing dozens of high powered rifles in a short period of time, a few questions would be asked to vet the person, their intent, and legitimize the purchases as appropriate.  The goal of the program would NOT be to eliminate the right to make bulk or consistent purchases, it would simply be to ensure those who were making the purchases were vetted and determined not to be an imminent threat much like with Sudafed where the goal is to ensure I am not a meth dealer.  This one would require some real compromise to accomplish.

    • Is there a way to ensure concerned gun owners that this is not a path towards some sort of national gun registry that will later be used to confiscate their guns or similar?  Can that be written in to law or somehow or an amenable compromise be made?  Given that Equifax cannot even secure our most prized financial and personal information, how would this data be secured and who would have access to it?  What would the criteria be that “triggered” an alert on purchases? Etc.  Many questions would need to be answered to gets folks on board but working through those specifics would be a valuable investment of time in my opinion.

It is an easy argument to make that if a bad person wants to do harm, they will find a way.  That is absolutely true but if we go back to my baseline statement that the goal of any new policy should be to increase the potential for minimizing the loss of life then this holds weight.  If someone has to jump through a few extra hoops or do unconventional things, then they are more likely to be caught or have the amount of damage they do diminished.  In turn, if law abiding citizens need to step through an extra hoop for the greater good, then so be it, we do it every day in many other scenarios.  Another common argument is that implementing anything like this leads down a slippery slope and that it will be the start of numerous other actions against gun owners.  I wonder if there is a way we can write something in to law to mitigate that fear or perhaps through thoughtful dialog that focuses on the areas most people find common ground, we can move past it.

That is it, those are my thoughts today.  I welcome your respectful ones and am genuinely interested in protecting the rights of gun owners while trying to add some common sense ways to decrease unnecessary bloodshed.

Smarter than ants

 

After the recent hurricanes we heard Scott Pruitt and others talk about how now is not the time to be talking about climate change, how we should be focused on helping the people who need help.  After the devastating loss of life in Las Vegas many of our elected officials expressed the same sentiment related to talking about gun control.  These types of deflections and deferrals are incredibly frustrating.  With climate change enhanced storms, fires, floods, and mass shootings becoming common events; that deferral approach will never provide the time for real discussions, but perhaps that is the point.  If you kick over the sand on a sidewalk ant hill, the ants will immediately begin working to rebuild and fix their home.  They will not stop and ask themselves if there are any actions they could take that would improve the sustainability of their home nor put critical thought in to how to prevent further disruption.  As humans, we do stop and ask questions and this has led to countless advances in society that have increased our safety and lifespan.  If we had always taken the ant approach, our life expectancy would be like that of a caveman.

 

The other thing we as humans often do when domestic terrorism happens is shrug our shoulders with a sort of ‘oh well, if someone wants to do bad things they will find a way’ attitude.  This is absolutely true, but I strongly disagree with the complacency, dismissiveness, and acceptance of the statement.  Throughout history we have implemented countless new precautions and policies to help thwart and minimize the loss of life.  After the Oklahoma City bombing, federal buildings were modified so they are set back from the street, have blast resistant glass, are engineered so the floors do not collapse, and have cement flower planters or similar that prevent vehicles from getting too close.  After 9/11 there were countless security measures implemented to increase the safety of air travel.  So when it comes to gun violence, let’s try and find common ground and agree that exploring the opportunities for preventing and minimizing the loss of life is a valuable investment of time.  Once we have agreed on that, then we can move on to a more interesting dialog about what those potential solutions could be.  So whether it is fighting climate change, domestic terrorism, gun violence or anything that is a deep threat to life itself; let’s be smarter than ants.

 

Defeating excuses

As you might recall, last February I began a new program to begin to improve my overall health. After losing thirty pounds in 6 months, I have spent the last month maintaining that but not inching any closer to my end goal. I have been eating pretty appropriately but not getting in much exercise. My bike had been sitting on the garage hooks for several months and I kept finding myself too busy or distracted with other things to get it down. So, on Thursday I purposefully painted myself in to a corner and had the kids drive themselves to school despite me planning to attend my sons school soccer game 15 miles away. This left me one free option, to ride my bike. Thursday morning my brain started randomly producing excuses about why I should just stay home. These included the unusual heat and humidity, that is was too far and unsafe, that my bike should have a tune-up first, and my favorite – that I would likely get some chaffing, In and amongst those, I put air in the tires, lubricated the chain, prepared an appropriate song playlist, and began to pre-hydrate. Since Bing currently lacks an integrated bicycle mapping solution (vote for it here), I turned to Google. It showed the path I should take and estimated it should take 90 minutes on a bike to go the 15 miles. My first thought was to give myself 3 hours and if I was running ahead of schedule I could stop somewhere on the way, but as the day wore on I settled on 2 hours, sprayed some arm and hammer powder to alleviate chaffing concerns, put on my ear buds, and was on my way. For the first few miles, the excuses and doubts continued to creep in but I kept peddling and was eventually to a point where it would be less effort to keep going towards my destination rather than turn back. I arrived at the game 30 minutes early which was spot on with the Google estimate. I wonder if Google knew I was a middle aged somewhat out of shape man riding a fat tire trail bike.

Sometimes we need to push (or pedal) through our doubts and excuses and stop letting fear, uncertainty, laziness, or complacency hold us back. It has been several months since I have written a blog entry, in part because of an underlying feeling of despair. I have watched many of the decisions that our current U.S. elected and appointed officials have made related to environmental protections and have been truly saddened for future generations who will feel the impacts much greater than I will. The current status quo is unsustainable and the global scientific community has been telling us this for decades. We have been treating the sky like it is a limitless expansive sewer, where we dump 110 million tons of man made global warming pollution every day, when in reality there is a thin shell of an atmosphere less than half the distance that I biked yesterday. It is no coincidence that 16 out of the 17 hottest years ever recorded on planet Earth have occurred since 2001. I could go on and on but to simplify what you hopefully already know, the problem is complex and the solution is simple. My good friend Tim said it well, we need to fix the market bug and have taxpayers stop subsidizing the very things that we turn around and socialize the costs of.

The good news is that there is growing bi-partisan support for addressing this issue head on but we need to keep the momentum. Today there are 56 US House of Representative members (28R / 28D) in the Climate Solutions Caucus working on economically viable options to reduce climate risk and protect our nation’s economy, security, infrastructure, agriculture, water supply, and public safety. While 56 is a good number, it is not like being past the halfway point on my bike was. We need to keep peddling and push through any discomfort, go up some hills, avoid some potholes, avoid some distracted drivers, and eventually we will have enough momentum that moving forward will be easier than turning back. You can use the previous link to look at who is in the CSC and easily ask your representative to join the caucus as well as thank the current members. Please take a few moments to nudge your representative. As we have seen, addressing climate change with partisan solutions is not sustainable because a change in leadership after an election cycle can quickly negate progress in that area. Mother Nature and Climate Change do not care about your political affiliations and neither should you when it comes to this topic. We need to embrace our representatives with a positive mindset and find common ground with them to move forward.

195-3

Today was a historically sad day as POTUS announced he is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord.  I watched his speech announcing this with frustration and anger but am now residing myself that maybe it is for the best.  My frustration and anger stem from the flawed logic and false narrative that are being used to justify the exit.  The primary focus was about the agreement being a bad deal for the U.S., how it is a ‘massive redistribution of wealth to other countries’ and how if the U.S. remained it would ‘become the laughing stock of the world’.  He went on to boast about our existing “natural” (fossil fuel) energy sources and the value of using those to drive our energy needs.  He went on to paint a picture of ‘brown outs, black outs, and businesses coming to a halt if the U.S. were to remain in the agreement’.  Sometimes I think POTUS chooses to undo things his predecessor did or do the opposite of them just to stick it to him and then creates a narrative to support that, as opposed to critically thinking about what is truly best for our country.

In my opinion, if we were not already, we most definitely are now the laughing stock of the world.  We join Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations not to be signed on to the Paris Climate Accord.  Ironically, Nicaragua is not on board because they felt the goals were not aggressive enough and Syria has other priorities as you can imagine.  Scott Pruitt (EPA) got to follow on and mentioned how ‘America finally has a president who answers only to the American people and not to special interests’.  Which American people does he answer to when making such decisions?  It is not the hundreds of U.S. based companies who asked him to remain in the accord, it is not the leaders of organized religions, it is not the countless U.S. scientists, and it is not the majority of Americans who support remaining in the agreement.

Consider that in the U.S. the clean energy sector is growing at 10x the rest of the U.S. economy.  The idea of making America great again by reviving the coal industry, fracking, and drilling is short sighted and today marks the most irresponsible act of this president to date in my opinion.  The silver lining is that had the U.S. remained in the accord, we would have been a total PITA for the other nations under the current administration.  Now, they can forge ahead uninhibited as they have declared they will.  As other nations adopt a clean energy economy with a carbon fee and dividend policy, It is logical to assume that the U.S. will at some point in the future face tariffs, sanctions, and taxes on our exports to account for the cost of carbon used to create those.  If we follow the current MAGA mantra, the U.S. is certain to be left behind and let a huge opportunity to be world leader and innovator pass us by.  It is sad that we cannot count on our own government to protect the habitability of our beautiful planet, but perhaps we can get this done via cities, states, and businesses until such a time that we have a leader with common sense and courage.

Do great things

One of the things I admire about former president Obama is his ability to speak diplomatically and thoughtfully.  In his first post presidency speech a few weeks ago at the University of Chicago, he gave some advice to the young crowd and one statement in particular struck me.  He said “Worry less about what you want to be, and worry more about what you want to do”.  I think this is an interesting distinction to think about.  In society we often ask kids what they want to be when they grow up and we often hear firefighter, athlete, doctor, president, etc.  Imagine the child who says ‘I want to be a police officer’ having the self awareness and change in mindset to be able to say I want to make critical decisions, hold people accountable, and provides important services to others.  Or imagine the child who wants to be a professional athlete being able to say ‘I want to compete physically on a team that has a strong sense of comradery’. Thinking about what you want to do broadens the opportunities for success.

When I reflect on myself, it is easy to categorize myself as being an environmentalist but the reality is that what I want to do is to help ensure the sustainability of the planet for future generations and focusing on the “do” should help me maintain a more positive mental attitude (PMA as my dad refers to it).  The former president closed out the speech with “do great things” and that is a good reminder for us all. Regardless of the complications that might creep in to any situation, if you do great things with the opportunities you might not always be what you wanted to be, but you will be who you wanted to be.

Sustaining Changes

In my efforts to get healthier, I have changed some habits which are having positive results; most notably what and how much I eat.  It is clear that if I sustain these changes, it will continue to benefit me by reducing my likelihood of some diseases, making clothes shopping less depressing, and in aligning me closer to my self-image.  Making these changes has been a challenging endeavor which requires a heightened sense of consciousness to avoid falling in to old habits.  As an example, yesterday I went in to a gas station to say hello to a neighbor who works there and I needed to fight my urge to buy some junk food and a sugary beverage which is exactly what I used to do.  I browsed around the store and ended up buying a small pack of almonds and refilling my stainless steel water bottle.  As I drove home and ate my almonds, I thought they tasted delicious and that is one of the more notable things with my efforts, the foods I am eating taste better than they used to.  Some days I am tempted by unhealthy foods but mostly I do not miss them.  I miss the habits and situations that used to accompany them, so I am making new habits and new associations, ultimately re-training my brain which is an iterative process with it’s up and downs as you can see from my daily weigh ins above.  Some days I take a few steps up the down escalator but most importantly, the escalator has continued in the desired direction.

Today, Earth Day 2017, I was thinking about the importance of sustainable changes like the ones I making towards better health.  The mindset required for making more environmentally conscious decisions also requires a sense of consciousness and will require breaking some old habits.  This can mean different things to different people but what is one sustaining change that you can make to help improve the long term sustainability of our planet?  I am genuinely interested in your ideas and resisting my urge to list a plethora of examples / choices.