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"the petition from Forecast the Facts calling on GM to stop giving money to the Heartland Institute, a major player in climate change denialism, is having an effect. GM hasn’t promised to end its funding of the Institute’s School Reform News publication, which is dedicated to covering news about things like charter schools and vouchers, but GM CEO Dan Akerson recently told the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco that he is a believer in global warming and that he is committed to “taking another look at” the money that GM gives to Heartland.

The GM-Heartland connection came to light when internal Heartland documents were leaked by the Pacific Institute’s Peter Gleick. From them, we learned that the General Motors Foundation (GM’s charitable arm) made a $15,000 donation in 2011. In San Francisco, Forecast the Facts spurred the Commonwealth Club to ask Akerson about the connection through Facebook and in-person activism.

In response, Daniel Souweine, the director of Forecast the Facts issued a statement that said:

We are encouraged that CEO Dan Akerson has committed to review GM’s funding of the Heartland Institute. We hope that review leads to the result that more than 10,000 GM owners have been asking for: a public commitment by GM to stop funding Heartland immediately.”

More at Green Autoblog w/video interview with GM’s CEO Dan Akerson.

"Confessions of a Chevy Volt Owner." A surprising, frank interview with an owner of a Volt after one year of driving.

  • 203 miles per gallon in the first year at 16,000 miles. Not a typo. His previous car, a Volvo, got 18 miles per gallon. (I get about 28 mpg in my ol’ benz.)
  • "I wish I bought the car. I absolutely love it." He leased it because he was skeptical of owning it. But, wishes he bought it.
  • "I didn’t buy it to save money." The biggest surprise here. He bought it to help eliminate the need for oil.
  • "My home electricity bill is about the same as when my daughter lived here in high school." After a year of plugging it in to his home, his electricity bill remains the same and didn’t go up as expected.
  • He responds to the common criticism, “The Chevy Cruze is cheaper.” "Well, a bicycle is even cheaper and saves more gas than the Cruze. So is a used car. So is walking. Look, this isn’t about money, it’s about oil."

The interview is short and surprising. Have a look.

UPDATE: Life Cycle Analysis suggests that electric vehicles produce the same emissions as a small car. Savings begin after about 80,000 miles. See here.

UPDATE II: See this short paper by German researchers comparing hybrid vehicle technologies. Concludes that EVs have built-in pollution problems at the supply chain side, which offset any savings on the consumer side. Couldn’t find a specific LCA on the Volt, though. Electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid energy efficiency and life cycle emissions (PDF).

Thanks man! Below, The Callus responds to me about GM’s new green campaign. The issue ties into GM contacting me to plug their green campaign called “Carbon Stories” on my tumblr. I posted something last month about it, publicly questioning various aspects of their intent and sincerity. Privately, though, I complained to their PR contact that 1) the public would be confused by some of the content, and 2) that enviros would double down and criticize GM on hypocritical grounds. In addition to Carbon Stories videos, GM is now labeling some cars as being environmentally friendly. USA Today’s Wendy Koch covered the labeling issue, calling into question effectiveness.

Have a read below, and follow thecallus


You talkin’ ‘bout the car or the cash?

The excellent author of Climate Adaptation asked for my take on GM’s new green branding. Specifically, GM is rolling out new labeling on its Chevrolet brand, starting with the Chevy Sonic. The label is designed to indicate that the manufacturing processes used to produce the car are “green”:

The company said the Ecologic label, which will appear on the rear driver-side window, is the first of its kind in the automotive industry to detail how a vehicle is made, saves fuel and can be recycled. In the Sonics’ case, it says the engine and transmission are built in a factory that sends zero waste to landfills, and its final assembly plant (located in the U.S.) is cooled and heated 20% by landfill gas. Also, it says about 85% of the car is recyclable.

Do you have any idea if those statistics indicate that the car is “green”? I haven’t the faintest clue. My suspicion is that neither do consumers. The most likely outcome, cognitively, when certain people see the labeling is to preference the green products without much of a basis for comparison. We see this time and again with Energy Star labels or “certified organic” labels, which are often subverted to drive marginal profit rather than eco-conscious consumption.

So why is GM doing this in the first place? It’s pretty easy to accuse GM of maybe using this label to eke some more margin out of its Sonic, which is a low-end car in a traditionally-weak segment for domestic automakers. The likes of the Aveo and Focus have traditionally been unable to take on Fits, Accents, Versas, Civics, Souls, Corollas, etc. because of GM’s higher price points. It also burnishes that “Buy American” cred while enhancing the General’s Volt-lead (and entirely unearned) “green” branding.

Maybe it isn’t so bad; after all, a label is a good step toward consumer education about how their cars are made. Of course, they chose Chevy because Cadillacs get assembled in Mexico - I wonder how that sucker gets refrigerated? This is the sort of thing that should be imposed on manufacturers globally and incorporated into trade discussions. Without standards, selective labeling is more about deception than education. It’s about getting 20-somethings who want to “be green” to pick a Chevy Sonic over cheaper options with better gas mileage and powerful brand histories of reliability and safety.

After all, GM’s Chinese growth in its joint venture with SAIC is a big story too. Less so the pollution pouring into the sky over China, and how Chinese corporations in conjunction with Western partners helped kill the Kyoto Protocol. I’m not inclined to believe that a company with a history of lobbying with Exxon against international anti-pollution agreements is somehow reformed thanks to a car no one buys with a lithium-ion battery that destroys the environment and a couple of green stickers on cherry-picked best-behavior cars. You still make all your money on big cars, Detroit; don’t blow green smoke up my tailpipe.

In other, more obvious words, color me skeptical.

(via thecallus-deactivated20130520)

More excellent coverage of “denialgate.”

In the wake of reports linking theHeartland Institute to an alleged anti-science campaign, several scientists, as well as the President of the Union of Concerned Scientists, are publicly asking Heartland to to desist from spreading misinformation and attacking scientists. This news comes as 19 public corporations have been identified for supporting Heartland.

Scientists speak up:

  • At 3:24pm EST The Guardian published a report that linked to a letter from a group of climate scientists who have personally been on the receiving end of attacks from Heartland and bloggers funded by the thinktank, and whose email was posted online after a notorious 2009 hack, for Heartland to “recognise how its attacks on science and scientists have poisoned the debate about climate change policy.”
  • Also on Friday afternoon in the United States, UCS President Kevin Knobloch published a blog post on the Heartland documents that finishes with this quote: “Heartland called for ‘common decency and journalistic ethics.’  I couldn’t agree more.  But an even-handed application of either or both would never lead an organization to dream up a middle- and secondary-school curriculum that deceptively undermines the truth.”
19 Corporations revealed for supporting to Heartland
  • At 2:00pm EST Think Progress Green published a report revealing that the climate-denial think tank Heartland Institute received funding from at least 19 publicly traded corporations in 2010 and 2011. The companies’ combined contributions exceeded $1.3 million for an array of projects.
  • Some companies have issued statements about their contributions, but none have committed to ending their support for the Heartland Institute.
  • Diageo provided a small contribution (nearly two years ago) to Heartland Institute – related to an excise tax issue,” a spokesperson said. “We vigorously oppose climate skepticism and our actions are proof of this. We will be reviewing any further association with this organization.”
  • GSK absolutely does not endorse or support the Heartland Institute’s views on the environment and climate change,” a Glaxo Smith Kline spokesperson said. “We have in the past provided a small amount of funding to support the Institute’s healthcare newsletter and a meeting.”
  • General Motors defends the Heartland Institute as “careful and considerate,” even though the radical think tank has accused “Government Motors” of “corporate welfare-sucking” and told people to “never again buy a GM car or truck.””

Via TreeAlerts

GM donates money to the Heartland Institute, which was just caught financing climate deniers. Sign this petition to tell GM to stop funding deniers. 

Tough cities and economic development on my mind today.


“Flint is where the American automaker General Motors was founded in 1908. The city grew as a company town, with several generations of workers and families benefitting from the coast to coast appetite for automobiles that followed both World Wars. Forty years ago, Flint was still home to 190,000 people, with 80,000 locals employed in GM plants. When community leaders imagined the future, they did so with confidence, envisioniong a Flint, their “Vehicle City,” with 250,000 residents. This was, this would be, a place that mattered…

…Flint is fading. With the loss of so much of its industrial base, the economic picture for post-industrial Michigan is pitch-dark. There is less and less governmental support for schools, public transportation, family assistance. “We can no longer afford to live outside our means,” said the new mayor in early 2010, and soon enough there were layoffs in the police and fire departments, the closing of fire stations, and a drop-off in garbage pick-up from weekly to biweekly. People are at the brink, ready to act out. On March 25, 2010, the day before the latest rounds of police and firefighter lay-offs were to be announced, nine houses were set on fire. According to a report by WEYI-TV, the fire battallon chief said: “All the fires seem to have been set intentionally. … It also seems very suspicious, since the fires are happening the day before firefighter layoffs. I think they’re trying to make a point and I think they’re going about it in all the wrong ways…

…On my first trip to Flint, in 2006, I spoke with a community activist on a summer day. She said, “Sorry the building is so hot. Our air conditioner was stolen this week. When I called the cops, they said, ‘If we find yours, we’ll probably find ours.’” The police department’s air conditioner had been lifted that same night.”

The entire article is a fantastic case-study of a declining Rust Belt city and some of the people who call it home.  It’s a compelling read written from the view point of a professor of architecture after spending some time getting to know a once thriving city.

(via suchisthecity-deactivated201303)