Think Critically about Solutions

September 11th, 2019

The chief cause of problems is solutions. (Eric Sevareid 1970)

            Last month I wrote about my search for, and finding of, an electric vehicle after our Plug-in Prius was destroyed in a collision. I received messages that made me reconsider if the future of vehicles is, indeed, electric.

            There are many advantages to a vehicle that is solely powered by electricity, or a hybrid with both a gas engine and an electric motor. Being somewhat of a “technonerd”, I have enjoyed learning about Electric Vehicles. Getting 74 miles to the gallon of gas in the Prius was rewarding, but that figure is far surpassed by the mileage of its replacement, the Honda Clarity. Because I can recharge it at home from a solar array, and because it hasn’t yet roamed far from home, it is getting about 300 mpg with nocarbon emissions!

            Let’s first look at the good side of EVs. They emit less pollution and fewer greenhouse gases than their fossil fuel cousins. The decrease in air pollution will make us healthier and promote longevity. Because EVs are more efficient than internal combustion engines, this is true even if the electricity to recharge an EV is generated using coal. It is also true that electric components need little or no service, as opposed to internal combustion vehicles. Furthermore, the price of EVs is dropping and the technology and performance are improving by leaps and bounds.

            Unfortunately, as Sevareid pointed out, there are difficulties that keep EVs from being the perfect solution to travel. For instance, I keep wondering what would happen if an EV is recharging and there’s a lightning strike nearby. Is there protection against a big electrical surge? People who drive a pure EV may have “range anxiety”; what happens if the battery runs out of juice away from a plug? Unless you own a Tesla and a Supercharger is convenient, you can waste a lot of time waiting for the battery to recharge. Our new Clarity takes several hours to recharge in the summer heat, and I can hear its battery’s cooling fan coming on repeatedly. Do local mechanics know how to repair an EV if something goes wrong?

            EVs are so expensive most people would have trouble affording one. Federal and state rebates bring down the price of an EV, but that only applies to the original purchase.

            Although the heart of an EV—the battery and electric motor—are miracles of modern engineering, they require elements that are in limited supply. Furthermore, production of those elements sometimes conflicts with human rights or with care for the environment.

            For instance, there are large deposits of lithium, needed for batteries, in South America. The environmental effect of lithium production is a concern, especially in places where it is plentiful and environmental regulations are lax. Are EVs environmentally friendly if ecologies are irreparably impacted by our need for this element?

            The motors of EVs need magnets that are much stronger than those we played with as kids. They require elements such as cobalt, nickel and the rare earth elements neodymium and samarium. There are good reserves of cobalt, but half of it comes from the politically insecure Democratic Republic of Congo. This country is so unstable that even doctors trying to save Congolese lives from Ebola have come under fire. At best, the conditions of mines in Congo are atrocious, both for the workers and for the environment. The reserves there may be used up in just a few years. Other materials, including copper, needed for EVs are in limited supply and may become very costly in the future. I hope that all these building blocks are recycled when a vehicle is no longer drivable!

            Although EVs are better than fossil-fueled vehicles, they aren’t a perfect answer to reducing pollution and slowing climate change. Nevertheless I think that we will be seeing more of them on the streets of Durango. Already there are a few charging stations around town and more in the works, including at Fort Lewis College. The City of Durango is asking for input about putting charging stations at the library and at the rec. center. Please comment at: www.durangogov.org/virtualcityhall

            Consuming less is important for climate change and our environment. This means driving less and walking or biking more. Most important, however, is slowing population growth. Politicians seldom talk about climate change, let alone the connection between reproductive rights and climate change. As the political campaigning heats up, please keep your eyes open to this connection.

 © Richard Grossman MD, 2019

Look to the Future of Vehicles

August 18th, 2019

            Last month I wrote about the car accident that has changed Gail’s and my lives. I want to thank the engineers who designed the Prius; it gave up its life to save ours.

            To review, we were driving on Highway 160 when we were hit by a pickup truck that had crossed into our lane of traffic. Our worst injury is a bad fracture of Gail’s left knee. One person’s carelessness has left her with months of pain and a long recovery. We have hiked and skied together for years; we don’t know if Gail will be able to even walk without pain in the future.

            What does our personal tragedy have to do with overpopulation? Killing more than the current 37,000 people who die on our nation’s highways each year would be a terribleway of reducing human population. Fortunately this number is decreasing. I am happy that we were not among this sad number of fatalities.

            The number of people Earth can sustain is not absolute, but rather related to our individual impact. Living more efficiently can reduce our impact, and technology can help. Technology can increase or decrease impact, and part of my goal in choosing a new vehicle was to minimize impact.

            The Plug-in Prius was only 5 years old and I hadn’t planned on replacing it, but it’s junk now. Several people who saw the wreck told me they thought whoever had been in it must have been killed. We are indeed lucky.

            We installed solar panels on our carport to generate electricity to charge the Prius’s battery, and I was anxious to replace the wrecked Prius with another Electric Vehicle (EV)—if not one that totally ran on electricity, at least another plug-in hybrid. Of course another criterion is safety. There was time pressure, too, since federal tax benefits for purchasing an EV decreased at the end of June.

            We drive to Denver occasionally since one of our sons lives there. An all-electric vehicle would need a battery that could take us 300+ miles, or have a way to recharge quickly on the way. Teslas can be recharged with superchargers in Poncha Springs in only a few minutes, but that is the only brand that can recharge there so rapidly. Teslas are the sole battery-only EV for a practical trip to Denver, but their price is 2 or 3 times what I can pay. Therefore I concentrated on what’s available in plug-in hybrids. With them, when the battery is discharged, the gas engine takes over.

            There are dozens of EVs now, including many plug-in hybrids, according to the listing at www.plugincars.com. Some are exotic (e.g. the Lucid Air), many are way too expensive and most will only travel a short distance on their battery. I narrowed down the choice to just a few, and started investigating by visiting local car dealers. My former front contender, the Chevy Volt, is no longer made. Although Kia makes plug-in hybrids, they cannot be sold in Durango. The same is true for the Subaru Crosstrek, leaving the Toyota Prius Prime as the only plug-in hybrid available in town. Unfortunately, the battery range of the Prime is only 25 miles.

            I selected a vehicle I’d previously never heard of, the Honda plug-in hybrid Clarity. It touts a longer range battery—48 miles, which is one of the reasons that I chose it. Its safety features also helped sell it.

            I’ve driven the Clarity over 1200 miles now, mainly back and forth to the rehabilitation unit where Gail has been recovering. It still has a half of the original tank of gas—that’s about 300 miles per gallon! Of course it also consumes electricity, which we get from the sun. I’ve clocked it driving 60 miles on a single charge of the battery, significantly better than Honda’s claim.

            Electric vehicles are more efficient than regular vehicles, and they are less polluting—even if powered by non-renewable electricity. Fortunately Colorado is recognizing the growing wave of EVs and has benefits for EV purchasers, and promises to build more recharging stations. However, we have far to go before we can catch up with Norway, where almost half of new cars sold so far this year were fully electric.

            The most effective action that an individual can take to minimize their carbon footprint is to have a small family. However, there are other actions that can help slow climate change, including minimizing driving—but doing it in an EV.

© Richard Grossman, MD, 2019

Create and Enjoy Community

July 1st, 2019

            Many years ago our son Dave wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Herald about the importance of community. As I remember, he praised the new benches in downtown Durango as a way to promote community. I was reminded of that after the events of the last few days.

            My wife and I were headed to a music festival on June 7th. Gail was driving and I was reading the Herald when she said something that grabbed my attention.

            I looked up and saw a white pickup truck headed right for us, in our lane. The next thing I remember clearly was being surrounded by the car’s airbag (which had already deflated, and finding pieces of glass. A couple from Odessa Texas peered through my window and asked if I was ok. I don’t remember exactly what I said—but was happy that there were people there, and that I could respond. I started to feel faint, but was able to recline my seat back and felt better.

            About that time another friendly face appeared at my window. David Austin, a first responder, had been a neighbor at Heartwood and is well known for his sense of humor—but then he was very serious. He asked questions to determine if I was oriented, then swiftly evaluated my physical status. Soon he was replaced by his wife, Sue, who is a nurse in the Centura system. Sue reassured me that I didn’t have a hemopericardium because my neck veins weren’t sticking out. That condition, resulting from chest trauma, can cause faintness, then death if not promptly treated. I was able to walk a few steps and eventually got into an ambulance.

            Gail and I were both taken to Mercy where CT scans showed we both had broken ribs and other minor, but painful, chest trauma. Gail didn’t fare as well as me. She has a fracture of left leg behind the kneecap—the tibial plateau. The “jaws of life” were needed to remove the doors on her side of the car, and there’ll be no walking for her for months.

            We have had amazing support from the many communities in which we are fortunate to participate. A partial list includes the Rotary Club of the Pine River Valley and the Pine River Library (both in Bayfield, Colorado, near where we live). People in the Durango Choral Society with which we both sing, Four Corners OB-GYN and San Juan Basin Public Health where I worked also sent cards or flowers. I’ve had calls and messages from the Friends Meeting (Quakers) to which I belong. Gail has had lots of visitors who have been wonderful to cheer her up.

            We are very fortunate to live in a community that has been supportive, Heartwood Cohousing. Recently I have been able to walk Ty, our dog, but neighbors have helped out at first and when I am not at home. Other neighbors are doing our community jobs for us and are helping to care for our plants and old horse. 

            The medical care has been excellent from the scene of the accident to Mercy where Gail had surgery to place an external scaffolding which immobilizes the affected knee. She was then moved to Cottonwood Rehab where we were greeted by friends and by strangers who soon became friends. She returned to Mercy for the expert surgery on her knee, and then back again to Cottonwood—it was like coming home. They permit Ty to visit (so long as he’s on a leash) and allow me and other guests to join Gail for meals. Gail enjoys the laughter of visiting kids in the in the common areas. The State Patrol Trooper who has been investigating the accident has been wonderful to deal with.

            This has little to do with issues of human population—except for one gratifying letter from someone I don’t know. It affirms the value of these columns. It reads, in part: “I hope you and your wife Gail have quick recoveries from the accident. I have followed your newspaper column for years and [value] your views on women’s rights and world overpopulation. Thank you for your service and educating all of us. Get well soon.” 

          Thank you, Tim W., and the many communities who have supported us.

©Richard Grossman MD, 2019

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States.