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Electric Vehicles

What a Vote in Tennessee Would Mean for the UAW

On a unionization effort at Volkswagen, the troubles with LCA, and a Mexican election

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Current conditions: Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are possible from Nebraska to Baltimore It’s 109 degrees Fahrenheit in Vadodara, India, currently the hottest city in the worldHeavy rain is forecast for Indianapolis, but won’t dampen celebrations of #1 WNBA draft pick Caitlin Clark to the Indiana Fever.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Tennessee Volkswagen factory poised for historic unionization

The Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will vote this week on whether to join the United Auto Workers, a decision that labor activists say could give the union the momentum it needs for a “legitimate comeback” after its successes last fall — or, if the vote fails, take the wind out of its sails.

If successful, VW would become the only foreign commercial automaker to be unionized in the United States, and it would be the first Southern plant to unionize through an election since the 1940s, Bloomberg and The Washington Postreport. While prior efforts to unionize the Tennessee plant in 2014 and 2019 failed, the current organizing committee claims to have a supermajority heading into the vote. Local Republicans have nevertheless painted the unionization effort as “inconsistent with the people of southeast Tennessee” and as a de facto vote for President Biden, especially as former President Donald Trump has continued to bash electric vehicle manufacturing as a job killer and the UAW as a “hopeless case” on the campaign trail.

2. Life cycle analysis will ‘jeopardize global climate goals,’ researcher warns

Life cycle analysis — the process of measuring all emissions related to a given product or service throughout every phase of its life — has long been the foundation of the climate economy. But in a new paper, Arizona State University climate scientist Stephanie Arcusa claims we’re “kid[ding] ourselves thinking that we’re going to have numbers that we can hang our hats on.”

Speaking with Heatmap’s Emily Pontecorvo, Arcusa elaborated that the impossibility of collecting all the data necessary for life cycle analysis leads us to get “so far away from reality that we can’t actually tell if something is positive or negative in the end.” As she explains:

[...It’s] almost entirely subjective, which makes one LCA incomparable to another LCA depending on the context, depending on the technology. And yes, there are some standardization efforts that have been going on for decades. But if you have a ruler, no matter how much you try, it’s not going to become a screwdriver. We’re trying to use this tool to quantify things and make them the same for comparison, and we can’t because of that subjectivity.

3. Frontrunner in Mexico’s presidential election plans nearly $14 billion in energy projects

Former Mexico City mayor and leading Mexican presidential nominee Claudia Sheinbaum on Monday outlined a plan to invest $13.57 billion in new energy infrastructure and modernization through 2030, Reuters reports. The proposal focuses largely on increasing wind and solar generation, updating hydroelectric plants, and adding miles of new transmission lines, and notably sets her apart from current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has been criticized for pouring billions into propping up the state oil and gas company, Petroleos Mexicanos.

Sheinbaum’s proposal would not completely abandon fossil fuels, calling for new gas-burning plants as well. But she described it as “the possibility and potential to develop Mexico in a way that generates investment with well-being” and “at the same time … does not have to negatively impact the environment.” Sheinbaum said the proposal would add 13.7 gigawatts of electricity to the grid by 2030.

Mexico’s general election is June 2, and marks one of many national elections this year that put climate front and center on the ballot.

4. California hits major renewable benchmark

Monday marked the 31st time in 39 days that wind, solar, geothermal, and hydropower topped 100% of demand on California’s grid, an event that Electrek described as a “major clean energy benchmark.”

Stanford University civil and environmental engineering professor Mark Z. Jacobson, who first shared the finding on Twitter, described it as “unprecedented in California’s history” to The Independent. Though supply did not exceed demand for the length of a full day — Jacobson looked at instances where it topped 100% from a quarter of an hour to six hours per day — it was the consistency that he described as noteworthy, pointing out that until recently, supply did not exceed demand more than a few days in a row. “This is getting so easy, it’s almost boring,” he added. “Just need offshore wind and more solar and batteries to get to 100% 24/7.”

5. Climate change is causing cold water ‘killer events’

You’ve probably already heard about the ocean’s crazy heat. However, cold water “killer events” are causing mass mortality for marine life, too, a new study published Monday in Nature has found.

The researchers report that “climate-change-driven shifts in ocean currents and pressure systems” are increasing and intensifying instances of “upwelling,” when deep, frigid water is pushed to the surface. Such events imperil migratory species like bull sharks, which attempt to avoid colder areas by swimming outside their normal routes or closer to the ocean’s surface. “You’d think they would have swum away but they got squeezed” by the upwellings, Ryan Daly, one of the authors, told The Guardian. “They couldn’t escape.”

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THE KICKER

150,000 years. That’s the combined amount of time New York drivers, bus passengers, and subway riders could have saved if the MTA had adopted congestion pricing back in 2008, when it was first proposed.

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Jeva Lange

Jeva is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Her writing has also appeared in The Week, where she formerly served as executive editor and culture critic, as well as in The New York Daily News, Vice, and Gothamist, among others. Jeva lives in New York City.

Climate

AM Briefing: Displacement Fears

On the Biden administration’s carbon removal investments, the climate refugees of Brazil, and more

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Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: More storms and possible tornadoes are forecast to hit Texas and the Plains, where millions of people are still without power • Cyclone Remal, the first tropical storm of the season, killed at least 23 people in India and Bangladesh • Brazilian authorities are investigating up to 800 suspected cases of waterborne illness following unprecedented flooding over the past month.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Biden administration invests in carbon removal

The Department of Energy on Tuesday gave $1.2 million to companies competing for a chance to sell carbon removal credits to the federal government. These 24 semifinalists, which were each awarded $50,000, include nine direct air capture projects, seven biomass projects, five enhanced rock weathering projects, and three marine-based projects. Up to 10 of them will be offered federal contracts amounting to $30 million. “The Department of Energy hopes that by selecting 24 companies that have been vetted by government scientists, it’s sending a signal to the private sector that there are at least some projects that are legitimate,” Heatmap’s Emily Pontecorvo writes, referencing struggles in the broader carbon credits marketplace.

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Technology

Carbon Removal’s Stamp of Approval

The Department of Energy is advancing 24 companies in its purchase prize contest. What these companies are getting is more important than $50,000.

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The Department of Energy is advancing its first-of-a-kind program to stimulate demand for carbon removal by becoming a major buyer. On Tuesday, the agency awarded $50,000 to each of 24 semifinalist companies competing to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere on behalf of the U.S. government. It will eventually spend $30 million to buy carbon removal credits from up to 10 winners.

The nascent carbon removal industry is desperate for customers. At a conference held in New York City last week called Carbon Unbound, startup CEOs brainstormed how to convince more companies to buy carbon removal as part of their sustainability strategies. On the sidelines, attendees lamented to me that there were hardly even any potential buyers at the conference — what a missed opportunity.

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Economy

Tom Steyer Is Baffled By Warren Buffett’s Oil Bets

“In the case of fossil fuels, he doesn’t seem to recognize how quickly our ability to develop and deploy clean energy is growing — and how cheap that energy is becoming.”

Tom Steyer and Warren Buffett.
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If you’re looking for a relatively optimistic read on the fight against climate change, Tom Steyer’s new book is out today. Called Cheaper, Better Faster: How We’ll Win the Climate War, it dives into the billionaire’s perspective on the state of the climate crisis and the clean energy solutions helping the world decarbonize. Steyer’s perspective is informed by the many hats he wears — investor, philanthropist, long shot 2020 presidential candidate, Yale man, and co-founder of the investment firm Galvanize Climate Solutions.

I chatted with Steyer a few weeks ago about his book, his guiding investment principles, and how and why people become environmentalists. Here are three things I found noteworthy:

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