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More Progress on the Road to an Electric Future

Sustainability Outdoor
by Noelle Alejandra Salmi Oct 29, 2021

This is The Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.

In advance of the UN-sponsored COP26 SUMMIT, which starts on Sunday, corporations, institutions, and local governments have made big announcements about their moves towards a sustainable future. This week, we look at major initiatives to move away from fossil fuels and into an electric future.

EV road trips are here, today

This week, the rental car giant Hertz announced a $4 billion deal with Tesla to buy 100,000 electric cars for its US and European customers, creating what will be one of the largest fleets of electric rental vehicles. If your Thanksgiving travels will take you to Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, or Washington, DC this year, Hertz will have Tesla Model 3 sedans available to rent in those locations. And if you prefer not to drive in a new city, it’ll become even easier to use your Uber app to travel in an electric car — as Hertz then announced a deal with Uber to rent half of its Teslas to Uber drivers. Hertz’s customers will be able to use Tesla’s network of Supercharger stations.

That brings us to another announcement this week: On Tuesday, General Motors said it plans install 40,000 electric-vehicle charging stations in the US and Canada, as Reuters reported. The follows GM news last spring about deals with several EV-charging providers to access over 60,000 charging stations in those countries.

Once a major concern for potential buyers and renters of electric cars, the availability of EV charging stations is rapidly becoming a non-issue. As we reported in this column last year, Electrify American has established a network of charging stations along interstates 15 and 70, so you can easily drive your EV from LA to the nation’s capital, if you want to go that far.

Fossil fuels take another financial blow

Yet another major university announced it would divest from fossil fuels. The University of Toronto said Wednesday that it will begin to sell off all its fossil fuel investments from its $3.2 billion endowment. That follows Harvard University’s overdue announcement, after years of protest by activists, about divestment last month. Harvard notes that fossil fuels represent only two percent of its investments, but when you consider the endowment is a whopping $41.9 billion, two percent is no small number.

Harvard was hardly a trailblazer here, seeing as Oregon’s small Unity College announced oil and gas divestment nearly a decade ago, as writer Bill McKibbon, who has long rung the climate alarm bell, wrote in the New York Times this week. But as the oldest university in the country, Harvard helps set the agenda for others to follow.

To paraphrase David Attenborough, if you’re investing in the future, you shouldn’t put your money into activities that are destroying that future. But it seem money managers were single-mindedly focused on short-term dollar signs. As McKibbon notes, they made a bad bet. In the past five years, the market has increased about 16 percent annually, while the fossil fuels sector has sunk by three percent year over year. As money for oil and gas companies gets tight, so does their ability to maintain operations at current levels.

And divestors (that’s a new word) are including ever more companies, schools, foundations, and even religious institutions. These include several Catholic ones, following Pope Francis’s repeated calls — most recently yesterday via the BBC — to address the climate emergency. Put together, these divestors manage assets worth nearly $40 trillion, a very big number.

No more noisy leafblowers

With more on the move from gas to electric, California this week became the first state in the country to say it will phase out gas-powered lawn equipment by 2024, reports The Washington Post. This is a big deal since as The Post notes, California’s Air Resources Board says that the tiny, two-stroke engine of a leaf blower pumps as many particulates into the air in a single hour as Toyota Camry would on a 1,100-mile drive from LA to Denver.

It’s also great news for the health of those people who use these highly-polluting two-stroke engines. The California Legislature is backing up the move with funding that will help the country’s biggest lawn-care manufacturers go fully electric in the future — something that is already underway.

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