EPA Proposal To Require 60% Of New Cars To Be EVs By 2030
The EPA released a set of proposals this week that would cap C02 emissions for new cars. In order to meet the new stricter targets automakers would need to ramp up electric vehicle manufacturing substantially. By 2030, 60% of new cars would need to be electric.
Ira talks with Casey Crownhart, Climate Reporter for the MIT Technology Review, about the new EPA emissions proposals and other top science news of the week including predictions of a bad mosquito season and turtles basking in the moonlight.
Casey Crownhart is a climate reporter for MIT Technology Review in New York, New York.
IRA FLATOW: This week, the EPA released a set of proposals that could cap emissions for new cars. And in order to meet those targets, automakers will need to ramp up electrical vehicle manufacturing by a lot. Some 60% of new cars would need to be electric by 2030.
Joining me now to talk through these new rules and other top science news of the week is Casey Crownhart, climate reporter for the MIT Technology Review. And she’s here with us in our New York Studios. Welcome. Good to see you, finally.
CASEY CROWNHART: Yes, in person. Thanks so much for having me.
IRA FLATOW: All right, let’s get right to this. What’s in these new EPA emission rules?
CASEY CROWNHART: These are basically new tailpipe emission rules. And like you said, they mean that carmakers are going to have to really ramp up their EV production. These rules would take effect in 2027, and ramp up from there.
And the EPA is basically telling carmakers, look, of all the cars that you put out on the road, there’s a cap on how much pollution they can put out. And some of that is CO2 pollution. And if they don’t, they’ll be penalized. So it means we’ll see a lot more electric vehicles on the road.
IRA FLATOW: That’s the only way to get up to the cap, then?
CASEY CROWNHART: Basically. You could technically do fuel cell cars, but those are really, really rare still.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah. And so how do you shake up the auto industry to make them get on board with this?
CASEY CROWNHART: Yeah. So I mean, this is adding to a growing ecosystem of EV policy. So you might remember last year, the Inflation Reduction Act passed, with all of those tax credits for new electric vehicles. And so this adds to that. And it says, hey, automakers, you need to meet these rules, even though this was going this way anyway.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah. And in order to get to that goal, we’re going to have to add a lot of charging stations, aren’t we?
CASEY CROWNHART: Mm-hmm. I wrote about this this week. There are a lot of potential barriers to getting up to the levels of EVs that we need to– battery materials, for example. But I think chargers is one of those big challenges that people are really aware of today. We have less than 150,000 public chargers available. By some estimates, we’ll need to have a couple of million on the road by 2030.
IRA FLATOW: And President Biden’s act will actually help fund those, right?
CASEY CROWNHART: Yeah. So there has been some legislation passed that helps to fund that. But even the Biden administration’s goals, they want to get half a million chargers on the road by 2030. And that probably won’t be enough.
IRA FLATOW: Wow. Wow. Wow. 2 million, and 10 million personal chargers in your homes.
CASEY CROWNHART: Yeah. Lots and lots of plugging in to do.
IRA FLATOW: A lot of work for electricians.
CASEY CROWNHART: Yes.
IRA FLATOW: Hey, the story you brought us also is about the water usage disparities in Cape Town, South Africa. Researchers found that rich people used a lot more water than poorer people. Tell me about that.
CASEY CROWNHART: Yeah, this was a pretty surprising finding. We know that climate change and population growth are affecting water supplies in cities. But this new study found that economic status was almost as big of a factor. So these researchers looked at Cape Town in particular. And they found that, though the richest people made up only about 14% of the population, they were using over half the water in the city. So it was a pretty striking difference.
IRA FLATOW: Wow. Shocked rich people use more water. I mean, I’m shocked.
When you think about things that they spend their money on, like golf courses or big lawns, it should not be that surprising. And it should be applicable to the rest of the world.
CASEY CROWNHART: Yeah. The researchers said that they’re not exactly sure how the specific numbers will translate, but this should be true in a lot of other places, too. And this finding could help policymakers figure out how to better address water shortages around the world.
IRA FLATOW: Did they have a number for how much more rich people use water than poor people?
CASEY CROWNHART: It’s like 10 times more.
IRA FLATOW: 10 times?
CASEY CROWNHART: 10 times more. So it was like around 500 gallons a day for the richest people. Less than 50 gallons a day for the lower income groups.
IRA FLATOW: A lot of swimming pools and lawn fountains and things like that, yeah.
CASEY CROWNHART: And irrigation, yeah.
IRA FLATOW: And this week, here in New York, it feels like we’ve gone straight from spring to summer. I mean, it’s like almost 90 as we speak.
CASEY CROWNHART: Yeah.
IRA FLATOW: And you know what that means? Of course, I already experienced this last night. I got my first mosquito bite.
CASEY CROWNHART: You did?
IRA FLATOW: Yeah. I was just sitting outside– of this season. And this could be a bad season for mosquitoes, right?
CASEY CROWNHART: Yeah. I saw this story this week from an outlet called Heatmap News, and it’s happening already. This season could be really bad for mosquitoes. They need standing water and temperatures above about 50 degrees to start their breeding cycles and crawl out of the woodwork, so to say. And this year, because we’ve seen record pack in the West, that is a good indicator that it’s going to be a bad mosquito season.
IRA FLATOW: I would have never thought of that.
CASEY CROWNHART: The flooding. So when it melts, it comes down the mountain and it floods, and then you’ve got a bunch of standing water around.
IRA FLATOW: And it doesn’t take much standing water, does it?
CASEY CROWNHART: No, it’s not like it needs a pond. There can be little puddles and things. And that’s where mosquitoes can breed. So it doesn’t take a lot.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah. I heard that, even in a bottle cap turned upside down–
CASEY CROWNHART: Really?
IRA FLATOW: Yeah. I remember talking to mosquito experts. That’s all the water you need to get mosquitoes hatching.
CASEY CROWNHART: Oh, my gosh.
IRA FLATOW: So it could be a bad season, especially with the high temperatures. They’re out and they’re working.
CASEY CROWNHART: Yeah, it could be bad.
IRA FLATOW: And not only mosquitoes, but ticks are spreading beyond their usual habitats, right? Tick-related diseases, on the rise?
CASEY CROWNHART: Yeah. I’m bringing you all the bad bugs news this week. I’m so sorry.
We’re seeing more tick-borne diseases. Cases reported to the CDC more than doubled between 2004 and 2019. The majority of that is Lyme disease, but there’s all kinds of diseases that ticks can spread– alpha-gal syndrome, that red meat allergy, a few other ones as well. And there are a few reasons for this. Deer populations are expanding. We’re seeing warmer weather. All the usual culprits.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah.
CASEY CROWNHART: It’s that time of year. So if you’re going outside, check for ticks.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah, especially Lyme disease, right?
CASEY CROWNHART: Yeah. That one is, I think, in some places in West Virginia especially, cases are exploding by like multiple hundred percentage points.
IRA FLATOW: That’s amazing.
CASEY CROWNHART: So in certain areas, it’s becoming much more of a problem than it ever was.
IRA FLATOW: So wear long socks up to your knees if you’re wearing shorts.
CASEY CROWNHART: Yeah, long pants if you can, long sleeves, wear bug spray, and check when you get home is the biggest thing.
IRA FLATOW: Oh, yeah, bug spray. And because those Lyme disease ticks are so tiny, you really have to check.
CASEY CROWNHART: You have to check carefully. Because they’re small when they attach to you, until they swell up with blood.
IRA FLATOW: OK. We’re going to be dosing bug spray this summer.
CASEY CROWNHART: Right.
IRA FLATOW: All right, let’s get away from these pesky insects and arachnids. Let’s talk about some undeniably charismatic creatures.
CASEY CROWNHART: Yes.
IRA FLATOW: And let’s start off with turtles, often found sunning themselves on a log. But you’re going to tell us that turtles also bask in the moonlight.
CASEY CROWNHART: Isn’t it romantic?
IRA FLATOW: I hear the music. What’s that song about basking in the moonlight?
CASEY CROWNHART: Yeah.
IRA FLATOW: I hear that. So tell us about that.
CASEY CROWNHART: Yeah. Like you said, a lot of reptiles, turtles included, they’ll bask in the sunshine. It helps them regulate their body temperature. But some researchers started to notice that turtles seem to be doing this at night as well.
So they put together this massive study, tracked turtles in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and they took hundreds of thousands of photographs, tracked 29 freshwater species of turtle. And they found that turtles, mostly around the equator, tend to get out of the water and bask in the moonlight.
IRA FLATOW: That’s crazy. Because, I mean, turtles bask in the sun to regulate their body temperature.
CASEY CROWNHART: Mm-hmm.
IRA FLATOW: Are they getting heat from the moonlight?
CASEY CROWNHART: It seems like maybe, because it is happening in the warmer places, so it might also have something to do with temperature regulation, but the researchers want to figure out why they’re doing this, and which kind of turtles are more likely to bask in the moonlight.
IRA FLATOW: Wow. So you could go out at night now and maybe see turtles basking in the moonlight?
CASEY CROWNHART: Mostly if you’re close to the equator, but yes.
IRA FLATOW: Well, then, let’s take a trip on that.
CASEY CROWNHART: Let’s take a trip.
IRA FLATOW: The final story you have is– this is another delightful animal behavior– and until I saw it– or you say, go watch the video on this– you’re not quite sure how this can happen. And this is an elephant at the Berlin Zoo figured out how to peel a banana.
CASEY CROWNHART: Yes.
IRA FLATOW: I can’t think that your feet– the elephant feet– could be fine enough to peel a banana, but that’s not how they do it?
CASEY CROWNHART: No. She does it with her trunk. So she picks it up by the end and sort of flicks it. This is not a common elephant behavior. It seems like she picked it up from her caretakers that raised her and would feed her peeled bananas.
My favorite part of the story is she doesn’t do it all the time. She only does it when the bananas are yellow, with some brown spots on it. So only certain bananas she’ll peel.
IRA FLATOW: So she knows when it’s ripe?
CASEY CROWNHART: Yes. She can tell when it’s ripe. And she won’t do it around other elephants, either. It’s just like she’ll eat the bananas with the peel on when she’s with other elephants. And then she’ll save one and go and peel it later by herself.
IRA FLATOW: Is she showing off for people? Do people actually at the zoo watch her do this?
CASEY CROWNHART: I don’t know if she’s done it in front of guests at the zoo, but the researchers got video of it. Which is what I’m saying– you need to go see this video. It’s wild.
IRA FLATOW: And so how does she do it in the video? What does she do in the video? How does she actually peel it?
CASEY CROWNHART: She picks it up with her trunk by the end of it, and she kind of flicks it so that a piece of the peel comes off. And then she repeats the process. Kind of like how you would peel a banana. You take one chunk of it and you peel the peel down. She’s basically doing the same thing.
IRA FLATOW: Her next act, peeling a grape maybe.
CASEY CROWNHART: That I would like to see.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah. We have a few minutes to talk with you. What other kinds of projects are you working on? What’s your next story that you might be working on?
CASEY CROWNHART: Oh, I actually just published one this week that I had a lot of fun working on. It was about a new way that people are trying to store energy in heavy industry. So a lot of manufacturing processes, they need a lot of heat to run, whether it’s food processing or making steel. And a lot of that is fossil fuels today.
So a couple of companies, what they’re doing is they’re taking renewable electricity when it’s available, like when the sun is shining, and they’re using it to heat up stacks of bricks.
IRA FLATOW: Stacks of bricks?
CASEY CROWNHART: Yep. It stacks of bricks or other kinds of blocks that are made out of other materials. And so these bricks can get super, super hot, like over 1,000 degrees Celsius. And then they can use the heat later on.
IRA FLATOW: So are the bricks in the room with you or are they–
CASEY CROWNHART: They’re in a separate container. It’s a very well insulated steel box, basically.
IRA FLATOW: Because I’ve heard about water. Water is a great story. There are people making columns of water in a room, and the sun will come in. It’s like passive radiation. This is not passive, though?
CASEY CROWNHART: It’s not passive. It’s sort of like the mechanism that’s in your toaster. You run electricity through the toaster coil and it heats it up. It turns electricity into heat. It’s the same sort of thing. So it has a little coil in there that heats, and then the heat radiates through the bricks.
IRA FLATOW: Is this just in its testing phase? You can’t go out and buy a brick heater?
CASEY CROWNHART: You can’t buy a brick heater just yet. There are a couple of companies that have pilots running or they’re working on it. There’s one called Rondo Energy, out in California, that just started up their first commercial pilot system.
IRA FLATOW: I love to watch necessity forcing invention, right?
CASEY CROWNHART: It’s fascinating. What I love about it is it’s such a simple idea. It’s a stack of bricks. And that’s it. It’s just one of the possible solutions.
IRA FLATOW: There you go. Thank you, Casey. Great way to top off our discussion.
CASEY CROWNHART: Thanks so much for having me.
IRA FLATOW: Casey Crownhart, climate reporter for MIT Technology Review.
Shoshannah Buxbaum is a producer for Science Friday. She’s particularly drawn to stories about health, psychology, and the environment. She’s a proud New Jersey native and will happily share her opinions on why the state is deserving of a little more love.
Ira Flatow is the host and executive producer of Science Friday. His green thumb has revived many an office plant at death’s door.