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Environment

The Hidden Prejudice of Climate Change

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It’s National Hate Crime Awareness Week, and the spotlight is being turned on violent prejudice to receive the condemnation it deserves. Equality and accessibility are rightfully demanded in every area of day-to-day life – so why are they being overlooked when it comes to environmental policy? Kate Hawkes, a blogger and marketing assistant with Irish eco-business Celestial Green Ventures, writes.

The facts surrounding climate change point towards an acceptance of marginalisation from the highest levels of influence. In a recent article I explored how, to my outrage, man-made limitations are making women more vulnerable to the effects of climate change – but the global climate gap runs wider still. Countless studies on global warming note that ‘climate change is having the largest impact on the world’s (…) most vulnerable people’. Primarily, this is due to poverty, insufficient education and limited mobility, but these in turn are often the result of restrictions and stigma attached to aspects of identity, including disability, age, ethnicity, or indeed gender. What most studies ignore is why this vulnerability to climate change is allowed to continue – and what this reveals about attitudes towards diversity.

To blame vulnerability on physiology is to give up too easily. With regards to age and disability, physical factors may alter the way that climate-induced natural disasters have to be approached, but they certainly don’t present an unsurmountable barrier. The social model of disability states that a person is disabled by society’s expectations and lack of provision, not by their impairment. A wheelchair user may be disabled from entering an emergency shelter accessed by stairs, but given a ramp they are perfectly able to do so. Similarly, whilst an older person with impaired hearing might not be alerted by an earthquake warning siren, an adapted system that uses a visual signal enables them to receive the same urgent message. The disabling factor putting individuals at risk is the lack of accessibility provision, rather than their age or impairment.

Yet, despite authorities echoing the need for provision to suit these groups, many who have had first-hand experience complain that disaster response teams are unsure how specifically to put this into action, or lack the equipment to do so. One New York resident was trapped in her apartment for six days during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, unable to be evacuated because there was no transport available that could handle her wheelchair, and no electricity for her to power it.

As ever, it comes down to cold, hard cash. Alternative, accessible solutions are available, but at a price, and often those who need additional support are amongst the lowest income groups. One of the reasons that older people are less able to adapt to extreme weather such as heatwaves or snowstorms is that many live in older, poorly insulated properties with low energy efficiency, and can’t afford to adequately heat or cool their homes. 20% of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people are disabled in some way, and estimates suggest there are around 785 million disabled people globally. These numbers are set to rise: many of the world’s wealthiest countries have aging populations, and the potential consequences of climate change, including conflict and malnutrition, could cause people to become disabled.

Clearly, it makes sense to be investing the time and money sooner rather than later. “When they’re building up the infrastructure, including after a natural disaster, they should make it accessible,” notes Sophie Mitra, an associate professor of economics, “That’s much easier and cheaper than retrofitting it.” Investment in these areas could also help slow the progress of climate change by reducing emissions. The oldest members of society currently have the highest climate impact per pound spent, because high-emissions home heating represents 40% of their carbon footprint. Disabled people are often forced to use private transport because the lower-pollution option, public transport, simply cannot accommodate their needs.

Despite the logic behind building specific solutions, a Global Partnership for Disability and Development (GPDD) e-discussion on the Impact of Climate Change on People with Disabilities noted alack of international guidance, through the international coordination mechanisms’. A UN briefing document from the 2012 Conference on Sustainable Development encouraged an approach to climate change that is ‘sensitive to impacts on vulnerable populations including the poor, the elderly and the persons with disabilities.’ This generalising view doesn’t inspire confidence in specific solutions that are not merely sensitive to differences but effective in coping with the individualities of each scenario.

The term ‘vulnerable’ is often used to neatly sidestep the issue of where this susceptibility arises from. An increase in global temperatures would expose each of us to similar risks, discriminating only according to geography. ‘Actual vulnerability is socially constructed,’ the GPDD report concludes, ‘i.e. it is dependent on (…) socio-economic conditions and the available resources and infrastructure’. Parallels can also be found with regards to ethnicity, albeit with sparse research on the topic so far, possibly due to its particularly sensitive nature. However, a 2013 study suggests that minority ethnic groups in the United States experience increased heat-susceptibility due to ‘social and economic disparities, living conditions, language barriers, and occupational exposure’.

If the capability exists to protect everyone against the effects of climate change, regardless of age, disability, gender or other aspects of identity, it leaves the uncomfortable question of why it isn’t being put into practice. This silent prejudice seems to boil down to the fact that those who are going to be hardest hit are also those who are able to do the least to protest against it. Having a low income and limited mobility not only puts people in the line of climate change, it also puts them out of sight of policy makers, who seem to have decided that climate change is already complicated and expensive enough, thanks. National Hate Crime Awareness week is an ideal time to recognise the discrimination that is happening by default because we are allowing it to remain hidden behind the term ‘vulnerable’, and to continue forming the shaky foundations of environmental policy.

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Environment

Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family

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Greenest Vehicle
Licensed Image by Shutterstock - By Mascha Tace -- https://www.shutterstock.com/g/maschatace

When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?

What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?

As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.

Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.

5 Good Options

As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:

1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country

Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.

2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.

3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.

4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.

5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel

If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?

Putting it All Together

You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.

You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.

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