Seattle’s Clean Transportation Electrification Blueprint (via the Seattle Times):

Seattle will lead the transition to an electrified economy, supplying residents with clean electricity via a reliable, carbon free electric grid. In this fossil-fuel free future, the air is clean. People will take electric buses, ferries, or light rail to work, shopping and other destinations. A robust bike lane network will make it easy for Seattleites to leave cars behind and use bikes, e-scooters, and e-cargo bikes or walk. Ships at port are plugged in, every package delivered to your doorstep comes on an electric van, truck or e-bike. Silent, clean, electric trash and utility trucks will service neighborhoods.

Sounds great! Also perhaps a bit ambitious for an administration that kills bike lanes and prioritizes car traffic at the hint of neighborhood opposition. Or a city council that hemmed and hawed last year about whether to add an additional five-hundredths of a percent to a sales tax for transit.

Congestion pricing, once the mayor’s big idea for mode shift, has been relegated to a sentence or two. Overall the thinking in the report is more in line with the current Democratic Party approach, which has de-emphasized painful tax schemes (less necessary in a world of cheap money) and prioritized the so-called troika of “standards, investments, and justice.”

In the spirit of justice, the report welcomingly acknowledges that the city’s past focus on EV charging infrastructure was inequitable and that the community preferred electric public transit to electrifying private infrastructure.

However, Metro is scaling back it’s electrification and expansion plans, so the city may have a problem securing the copious bus service this plan assumes.

And yet! And yet! The Biden administration is handing out billions to transit agencies. A national infrastructure bill is on the horizon. The politics of climate change are shifting. The Seattle electorate is changing. We’ll have a new mayor next year. And whatever shortcomings this “blueprint” has, it’s a more ambitious decarbonization initiative than has been proposed by any other U.S. city.

42 Replies to “Seattle’ ambitious electrification goals”

  1. My dad (late 60s Midwestern progressive) was super excited to tell me about Biden’s plan for money for transit and electric vehicles last weekend. I was, sadly, less than enthusiastic. We, honestly, will never get away from fossil fuels – whether that’s coal-fired power, petroleum-fertilized bio fuels, or gasoline & diesel automobiles – before we address efficiency. And, a big part of efficiency in the US is land use and commute patterns. If Seattle (or any other city) wants to attract thousands of high paying jobs to downtown & SLU, that’s great, but then there needs to be a place for the workers to live that doesn’t require 2 to 3 hours of daily commuting. Places like Gary or South Bend or Youngstown or Detroit may not be an ideal place to live, but they have tons of affordable homes, many of them vacant, with a rate of home demolition without reconstruction that would blow anybody’s mind. The infrastructure – the roads, water, and sewage – is already developed, and in many cases, the traffic is light. The high pay jobs could have lifted a lot of underemployed local workers out of poverty by pumping money into local restaurants and service businesses. I’m quite disappointed that Amazon didn’t develop an HQ2 in a struggling city. Bezos had the capacity to do a lot of good and chose not to.
    At any rate, I don’t think you can pat Seattle on the back without looking at King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties as a whole. What is the average carbon footprint of a resident here? What’s the average commute? Just because the ultra-wealthy within the city limits can afford to drive a Tesla and has put up money for electrified neighborhood buses, doesn’t mean that it is doing its part. How about the waitress at your favorite restaurant? Or the cashier at the Ballard Fred Meyer or Wallingford QFC? How about the hundreds or thousands of nurses and techs at Swedish, Virginia Mason, Harborview, and UW, and Seattle Public School Teachers? Without them, Seattle doesn’t exist. And, where do they live, and what is their climate impact? Yep, most of them, especially the young ones, are living quite far from work. Many of them have to drive a car. Along with the climate impact, they are sacrificing time with loved ones and often their physical and mental health. Without addressing land use, it means nothing.

    1. I should point out of course that those employers you mentioned all provide parking for employees that need it, and I believe they’re all outside of the proposed congestion pricing zone. So…Next?

      Good point about the underutilized cities in America. Some of those places have the “bones” to be a livable, low climate footprint place to live. Unfortunately, many of them have leadership that denies climate change is a problem and at any rate just wants to “stick it” to the other political party, so little or no interest in investing in infrastructure to attract more developers, businesses, and residents to the cities. Unfortunately, national partisan politics projected onto the county/local level really is holding us back as a nation.

    2. I’m quite disappointed that Amazon didn’t develop an HQ2 in a struggling city. Bezos had the capacity to do a lot of good and chose not to.

      One doesn’t become the richest person in the world by choosing to “do a lot of good”.

      Bezos could also have contributed a pittance to fix issues with the city that enabled his fortunes, but openly chose not to.

  2. Is it counterproductive to release a plan with unachievable goals?

    All of these plans can be summarized as reducing xx by yy% by 20zz. It doesn’t really matter what x, y, and z are because the goalposts will move in 5 years when we determine that the targets will not be met.

    Very basic questions are always left unanswered. 90% of personal trips are zero emission. Great, what does that mean qualitatively? How many miles of bike lanes are needed to reach that target? How many miles of BAT lanes? How many SOV lanes will be removed? How does this plan change the design for the West Seattle Bridge replacement? The plan says 65-75% reduction in SOV trips, so we surely don’t need a giant high bridge after 2035, right?

    As for federal funding…it’s always an arbitrary carrot dangling over the plans that will somehow jump in to rescue the failing plans in the final hour. But we are never told what the funding gap is, because there is no concrete plan to reach the xx target.

    Sadly, our expectations for climate policy are so low that we manage to find a way to celebrate that Seattle has finally put the right language in its 10-20 year plans. I see no reason to commend them for setting unachievable goals when there is no pathway to deliver results.

    1. “Is it counterproductive to release a plan with unachievable goals?”

      That’s what they’ve been doing for years so it’s not likely to be worse than the other failed climate plans.

  3. I’m sorry, Frank, but that Vox article was written by someone in Oregon’s new Psilocybin Therapy system. It’s overflowing with My Little Ponyisms presented as “policy”.

    A high and steeply increasing tax on Carbon, made revenue neutral or nearly so through low-bracket income and employment tax reductions, is the ONLY way to achieve these goals.

    Sure, regulations on new construction would help with heating and cooling efficiencies going forward, but they won’t get the enormous stock of existing housing retrofitted without nosebleed increases in the price of fossil electricity and natural gas.

    Similarly, without $10/gallon or greater costs for fuel [constant dollars], regulations about new car and truck construction will just make the United States into a huge version of Cuba with people nursing 60 year old ICE cars.

    And finally, without prices for the asphalt and concrete that comprise them that would bankrupt local and state jurisdictions, sprawl roads will still be built by smiling politicians pointing to the failed phantasmagoria of “regulations” failing to rein in emissions as proof that “We are turning the corner on climate change!”

    1. To be clear, I wasn’t advocating for it, just noting that the change in priorities fits within a larger narrative.

      I like carbon taxes too. But clearly people like you and me have thus far failed to make our case. Carbon taxes keep failing at the ballot and/or being set too low to make a real difference. Perhaps it’s time to look at alternative approaches?

      1. I understood that you weren’t advocating, but instead bringing in a different perspective. And yes, I agree that we have been unsuccessful.
        That we have not been successful is a not just great disappointment but a catastrophe in the making.

        What I am saying that “alternative approaches” will be gamed until the cows come home. They won’t actually reduce emissions very much but everyone will bellyache about them and spend Sisyphean effort to circumvent them. Until and unless it becomes really, really expensive not to change, people won’t.

        In short, they’ll be Yet Another Political Football. Homo economicus is indeed “just a model”.

  4. I see two different objectives:

    – reducing carbon footprint by reducing vehicles powered by fuel that they carry.

    – reducing carbon footprint by getting a giant mode share shift.

    I think the first will reduce the carbon footprint much more than the second will. Technology almost always gets better results than individual behavioral changes do.

    I could even see that getting owners to replace private vehicles for electric ones could suppress the need for changing modes. The owners of new electric vehicles could feel like they want to get full value from investing in a replacement vehicle and start driving more!

    1. Personal anecdote here: I am hoping to change to eV for my next vehicle, but I’m not rushing out to replace the one I have prematurely. And I wouldn’t want to drive it any more than I do now. Traffic congestion and hazard and my sanity beat out any motivation for me to drive any more because I don’t have to fill up the gas tank every 1-2 weeks.

      Arguably, the first option takes much longer because fleet replacement is a multi decade process, most people probably won’t prematurely replace their cars. Meanwhile, Seattle has shown that bus and light rail ridership can increase in a matter of year, and Paris has proven that bicycle use can explode *within* one year.

    2. Except the problem of road capacity never goes away.

      You might be reducing the carbon footprint by going electric, but the cost associated with just building highways large enough is the real question.
      Who’s going to pay for that?

      Toll roads? (sounds like the perfect ‘user fee’ to me)

  5. As I understand it, 90% of the air pollution from modern cars is actually from wearing down the brake pads and tires. So electrification, while a good thing, will not lead to as much reduction in pollution as we might hope for.

    1. In the context of this article and carbon free transportation, the air pollution in question is greenhouse gasses, principally carbon dioxide, of which brake pads and tires contribute zero, since they wear down to dust, not gases.

      A brake pad weighs about 1 lbs and lasts about 35,000 miles in urban driving. A tire weighs about 20 pounds and lasts about 70,000 miles. So in 70,000 miles tires and pads produce less than 88 lbs of air pollution, since they cannot wear down to nothing in use. Over 70,000 miles a car getting 50 mpg will use 1,400 gallons of gas weighing 8,820 lbs, and produce some 28,000 lbs of carbon dioxide, which is possible because the weight of all of the oxygen comes from the air not the gasoline.

      It is possible that tires/brakes produce 90% of some subset of air pollutants (such as a particular size of particle, or pollution with some kind of metal in it) but on a mass level brake pads and tires contribute less than 0.3% of pollution, and again 0% of greenhouse gasses.

      In my opinion the whole “brakes and tires pollute” line is a reaction to the widespread availability of electric cars by people who really just don’t like cars. For decades people and groups have been dreaming about if all cars were electric and pushing action to make it happen and reduce pollution (Remember the movie “Who killed the electric car”? Remember the angst when people found out Prius’ in Japan had an electric-only mode, but those in the US did not?).

      Now, when all cars being electric is almost reality instead of fantasy suddenly many of those same people and groups are claiming that the cars still pollute almost as much? Brake pads on trains produce dust just like cars, and that dust is contained if in a tunnel, yet the people worried car brake pollution raise no health objections to riding U-Link, in fact they encourage it as the alternative. This doesn’t add up.

      1. Pacific Northwest salmon would have a word or two to say about this (well, if they could talk). Additionally, studies show an increased occurrence of respiratory medical conditions within close proximity to major highways. This is due 100% to particulate matter and 0% due to CO2! So that “90% of some subset of air pollutants” does have a significant impact.

        This is not accounting for noise pollution, which has been shown to affect mental health. It even affects real estate value–the market “knows.”

        This said, it can be argued that C02 pollution is the biggest crisis–a threat to humanity itself–and it makes sense to prioritize it. Even so, we don’t really have enough time to wait for fleet replacement (likely several DECADES, even with Biden’s push for it and a future Republican administration not rolling it back) to get enough eV’s on the road to make a difference. We would have had to start doing that in the 1990’s! Mode shift can actually be accomplished faster than fleet replacement. Seattle increased bus and light rail ridership in a matter of years. Paris dramatically increased bike usage *within a year.* So, in fact, the reality of this crisis demands mode shift as a “short term” answer, and eVs are part of the “long term” answer.

      2. Most EV’s have regenerative brake systems. Onux is correct tire compounds as salmon pollutants is rather new, and was first raised on The Urbanist around the time EV’s started to look viable, undercutting climate change as a reason to fund or favor transit, or eliminate cars.

        Of course buses use tires too, and due to much greater weight produce much more tire degradation per vehicle, equal probably per rider with cars.

        The real issue for salmon is the culvert repair the state is addressing under court order, and is a $3.5 billion cost from the transportation budget. All vehicles produce residue on the roads, and the key is to prevent the storm water from reaching Puget Sound. I imagine tire compounds could be changed if the pollution is proved to be harmful.

        It is hardly surprising that blogs like The Urbanist and STB have proponents who want cars eliminated. But the fact is citizens like cars. Which is why Seattle alone has 460,000 cars.

        I always thought it was a mistake for transit advocates to marry transit with climate change, or to oppose cars, because transit’s interests and needs are not always in line with climate change.

        For example, Metro now feels compelled to electrify its fleet by 2026 which will reduce service levels significantly due to the costs. Is an electric bus and the relatively small reduction in global CO2 emissions more important than frequent bus service in poor and disadvantaged communities, or feeder service to light rail? I don’t think so. Too bad climate advocates never asked poor bus riders which they felt was more important in their lives.

        The fact is no matter the taxes, costs, lane diets, insurance, congestion, parking taxes, and so on citizens don’t appear willing to give up their cars, or change their zoning.

        It is unfortunate IMO that transit advocates feel the need to pursue unnecessary and tangential issues like zoning, parking, cars, or climate change to support transit, and like Onux I think other emotions are behind some of these tangential goals that don’t necessarily benefit transit, when in the end transit comes down to funding.

        Build 90 miles of “commuter” rail through undense areas when future population growth in the three county ST taxing district now looks to be flat and it is going to cost a fortune in feeder bus service to get those riders to rail, and Metro instead is pursuing electrification and equity. It doesn’t help that ST’s ridership estimates won’t be met for 30 or more years.

      3. –>It is unfortunate IMO that transit advocates feel the need to pursue unnecessary and tangential issues like zoning, parking, cars, or climate change to support transit<–

        Climate change really is the most important issue of our time and transportation is one of the leading drivers of climate change. Transit, zoning, cars and parking are not tangential or unnecessary issues when it comes to fixing the mobility challenges for our future.

      4. Daniel,

        You’ve made many of the points in your comment above before, but you raise a clearly false one in this latest disquisition. While you may be correct that Seattle’s growth will falter as employment moves out of its downtown, you are dangerously, egregiously, and breathtakingly wrong about “the three-county taxing district”.

        It is destined to triple in population at the very least within the next thirty years. Yes, you read that correctly. Triple in thirty years (actually twenty-nine).

        Right now there are a bit fewer than 4 million residents in the three counties. Climate change in the “sunbelt” states will push it to at least twelve million by 2050. Where will they all fit? It will be solid city from Mount Vernon to Centralia. It would reach Bellingham except for Chuckanut Mountain.

        That only requires that eight million of the nearly twenty-five million people living in the LA/San Diego area and the southern part of the Central Valley of California move here. Not to mention the contribution from Central Arizonans who won’t have had a decent drink of water for ten years by then.

        Nobody; none of us, including me, really understand how terrible the world will be after reaching two degrees average warmer temperatures. Given all the whistling past the graveyard going on in China, India and Africa, it will happen no matter how diligent we are in North America.

        That inevitability is certainly not a reason to give up our efforts; if we continue our current levels the world will be two and quarter to two and a half degrees (C) hotter. Remember that C02 is cumulative and every ton we put in the atmosphere is there next year and the year after that and four millenia after that. Assuming that there are any trees left to suck it out at that time.

        Am I an alarmist? Guilty, guilty, guilty, but in a good cause.

      5. And by the way, who exactly are these nefarious “transit advocates”? Folks here on the blog? The Amalgamated Transit Union? The writers at The Urbanist?

        Come on, name some names. Roy Cohn is eager to get some more names.

      6. Tom, you deep concern in the last post about dense development in west Milton makes much more sense in the context of Seattle’s population tripling.

      7. Daniel, the intersectionality of these issues (climate change, transit, affordable housing, zoning) makes it impossible to separate them. And of course many of the issues — zoning in particular — have systemic racism built into them.

        Reversing these wrongs is so daunting that it’s difficult to even imagine where to start. That’s why leaders default to what’s easy–set ridiculous targets in these climate blueprints and try to make incremental progress where possible.

        Most people I talk to in Seattle drive personal cars because it’s easy. People want to bike commute but don’t feel safe doing it. People want to use transit, but don’t because it takes too long or is unreliable. Yes, some people will show up at public comment periods and vehemently defend cars and parking, and we all know the city gives them more weight in these discussions than they should.

        In my view, the #1 thing Seattle can do is build housing. Make Seattle as dense as possible. That will make solving many of the other issues easier. Seattle can’t really solve climate change and even if we could, electrification is only one piece of the puzzle and is less important than density.

      8. I don’t think anyone is saying that there should be no more cars. They serve an important purpose for getting out of town. The problem is when cars get overused, to the point where people think they need one for every single trip out of the house, and demand capacity for everyone to park or travel in the same place at the same time.

        There are numerous lifestyle advantages in living in an area that where you are not totally dependant on cars. You save a lot of money. You’re not stranded when your car breaks down. You get exercise going places. You get to meet people on the street. Kids can travel independently without having to be cheufurred by their parents everywhere they go. You can walk or ride a bike and not get run over. You also get a much greener city that has grass and trees, rather than acres and acres of parking lots.

        In car dependent areas, the only way to limit the number of cars is to limit the number of people, which leads to people opposing apartments or even duplexes, when the real issue is simply wanting light enough car traffic for their kids to play in the street. Limit car dependency, you can get the benefits of density without many of the drawbacks.

      9. Thanks, AJ.

        I get that I sound like Cassandra, but the water situation in the belt of land supplied by the Colorado River is going to be catastrophic.

        Yes, the region can go big on solar desalination, and I hope it does. But there will be millions of people who just won’t want to live there when water is a daily concern added to the hassle of getting around. Since our winters are getting milder and the other seasons distinctly more Californian, they’re going to come here.

        The region needs to plan for their arrival.

  6. Okay here’s the biggest issue with electric cars and everybody seems to forget their electric. You have to generate the power somehow. solar wind and water do not produce enough electricity for every single person in downtown Seattle to own an electric car. Another issue is the infrastructure. We live on 100 amp system. Electric cars are built on a 75 amp system there is just not enough power to charge every single electric cars battery overnight in your home. You would only have enough electricity for most neighborhoods to only charge three vehicles a night otherwise you overload the system and run the risk of blowing every transformer.

    Next we have the problem of lithium batteries that cannot be recycled. The reason for this is a components used in order to create the battery once bonded together cannot be unbonded so they end up filling up landfills.
    Another problem with green energy is the need for silver in the construction of solar panels there’s not enough silver on the planet to meet the needs of constructing enough solar panels to be viable. And finally wind power again we run into the issue of being able to recycle the blades you that windmills use. like lifting batteries once the compounds are bonded together and order to create the blades for the windmill they cannot be unbonded so again they are cut up and dumped into the ground where they will not I repeat not decompose. So until we can develop fusion power which produces practically zero radioactive waste we will be using fossil fuels.

    1. There are some good numbers on efficiency of extracting kwh from fossil fuels in specially designed turbines versus geared internal combustion engines. If you have to use a powered vehicle of any sort, in terms of greenhouse gasses, electric vehicles take the cake. Walking or biking (or e-biking) is the clear ideal, though, in terms of pollution.

      Anti-nuclear environmentalists make me sad for the reasons you raise, but nuclear fission as a power source is off topic for a transit blog. Fusion has been 20 years away for 50 years, and I don’t expect that pattern to change.

      Fundamentally, there’s a certain amount carbon that had be sequestered underground for geologically significant periods of time. Now, we’re dumping all that carbon back into the atmosphere in a geological instant. While battery technology and recycling methods for sustainability are still under development, it’s worth making as much effort as possible to push that development rather than continue to burn millions of years-worth of fossil forests.

    2. So clearly then we have a choice. We can “clear out the underbrush” of humanity by strict limitations on births or let Mother Nature slaughter us wholesale.

      Since the folks who think that the Creator of this beyond stupendous Universe is obsessed with the praises given It by one particular species on a suburban planet in a middling galaxy out in the relative sticks of a small local group have a lot of political power, the chance of number one is vanishingly small.

      So number two it is!

      1. Climate change itself is a tricky issue…there’s the targets that scientists have told us we should aim for as a society (1.5 or 2 degrees C) and then there’s the realistic target that we’re heading for which is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 +/- 0.5 degrees C. The city of Seattle is insignificant in the global carbon budget and our policies mostly serve to set an example to other cities rather than actually do anything to move the needle closer to 2 rather than 3 degrees C.

        That’s part of why it drives me nuts to see policies that are aimed at strict CO2 emissions targets when, frankly, there are more important targets than CO2 emissions at the city level. I would rather see Metro aim for ridership targets instead of electrification targets. Saving the salmon likely requires removal of hydroelectric dams, which might briefly increase CO2 locally but have much better long-term benefits to the region. And, as James notes, a strict CO2 target completely ignores the externalities such as lithium batteries and recycling. So a reduction in vehicle miles is a more noteworthy target than an electrification target.

        The problem of course is that it’s much easier to simply sub in EVs and call it a day, but fortunately for everyone cars are limited by space constraints in big cities and rebuilding cities around transit/bikes/pedestrians makes sense independent of climate change. That’s the direction policy should go and the climate benefits will simply follow without much additional effort. If we aim for CO2 targets we’re all going to be sitting in gridlock in our self-driving EVs 30 years from now, and the climate will be no better off and potentially worse.

      2. As I said, since nothing is going to work (except maybe a nosebleed global Carbon tax) we have to get the worldwide population down to a billion, tops.

        And, since Americans have the second greatest GHG footprint per capita behind pretty small Australia, we’re going to have to lose the most people per current capita. That will be done voluntarily — and there are those praisers of that vain God digging their heels in on that — or the rest of the world will gang up on us and do the job the quick way

    1. Now THAT’s some nuclear power I can get excited about!

      “Nuclear power you say? This is geothermal!!!”

      Ah, but have you not wondered why the inside of the Earth is still molten after four and a half billion years? Yes, it’s a Really Big Ball! But over that long it should have lost enough heat to be solid now; we have no primary around which we revolve like Europa, Enceladus and Callisto, warping our rocks constantly.

      Because of natural fractionation, it is likely that there is a pool of semi-liquid Uranium at the center of the Earth squeezed sufficiently by the pressure of the rocks above sufficiently to sustain a controlled nuclear reaction. This keeps the core hot enough to sustain volcanism lo tgese many billions of years later.

      Mars likely cooled off because it wasn’t large enough for full fractionation and creation of the Uranium puddle. Once it cooled it lost its protective magnetic field and eventually its atmosphere.

      1. Yikes, as a professional geologist I’m gonna put the kibosh on the “liquid uranium in the inner core” theory – plus, it’s [OT].

        Geothermal works great where the geothermal gradient is high, and unfortunately our nation’s greatest geothermal resource is also it’s favorite and first National Park (Yellowstone). Otherwise, it’s way too expensive and has similar wastewater injection problems to fracking. Renewables with energy batteries (either physical or chemical), and baseline nuclear are the obvious best choices.

      2. Really, why? Seismic waves passing through the core show strange anomalies near straight across, and the sphere would only have to have been a couple of dozen miles in diameter to get started with U-235 and Thorium. That would have “bred” the U-238 into PU-239 over the millennia. In a nickel-iron slurry, Uranium would sink to the “bottom”

        How do YOU explain the continued liquid core?

      3. By the way, I do sgree that we need base-load nuclear as a transition, but without breeding and even with Thorium, it’s only good for a few hundred years.

      4. Nathan, I found a Scientific American article which said a neutrino detector in Japan identified a nuclear flux from within the Earth that explains 24 of the observed 44 Terawatts of energy lost from the molten core as arising from ordinary radioactive decay. The article mentions “heat retained from the Earth’s original melting” and “other sources” for the remaining 20 Tw.

        So tge central “reactor” would only be providing a minority of the necessary heating. That does not mean there isn’t one though.

      5. The core is (most likely) 90+% crystalline iron – only recently confirmed with shear-waves being detected passing through the core. Uranium doesn’t mix with a ferrous liquid – it likes silicates and hangs out in the mantle and crust. A “puddle” reactor of liquid uranium is highly unlikely, and almost certainly not contributing a significant amount of heat if it were to exist.

        Evidence of naturally occurring fission reactions due to high concentrations of uranium in the crust have been recorded (in Australia, iirc).

        Fission (splitting of nucleus) is not the same process as decay (ejection of particles to reach a more stable nucleus).

        Also, Tom, your “clear out the underbrush of humanity” is eugenical bunk and has no place here.

      6. Thank you for recent information about the inner core. There are/were people who believe that it’s possible and as of 2008 when I read about it in several articles researchers were asserting that seismic results did not rule it out. If more recent studies have, then fine. I take it from your comment that the iron is held in a crystalline state even though it’s mind-bendingly hot down there.

        Locating the source of heating in radioactive decay — and even localized fission reactions — occurring in the lighter rocks in the crust does beg a question, “How does the heat from that decay and local fission then penetrate the core and keep it melted?” I understand that there are convection currents in the magma, but don’t know anything in detail about them. You would of course. However, if the top of a convection column were hotter than the bottom, would it continue to convect? Generally warm/hot things rise and cool/cold things fall.

        Which leaves us with a 4.5 billion year old semi-liquid core with no “central heating system” as it were.

        This is a topic about Metro electrifying buses and Mike mentioned geothermal energy, presumably as a candidate for powering them. I don’t think it was “[OT]”, and anyway isn’t it the staff’s place to be making that call?

        Perhaps my other comment was [OT], but in any case “underbrush” was not intended to mean any particular group or class of humanity, but simply the overwhelming “weediness” of the mindless human “growth at any cost” population. That’s all of us, including me.

        Human society generally speaking has the same ideology as an invasive weed or cancer cells: “Get out of my way!”

        I realize it will never happen, so nature will take things into her own hands. But in a sane world, reduction should eventually be attained by a proportionately distributed reduction of 6/7 of the current population, That would of course occur over natural life spans, not be attained by killing. I did not intend to propose any for of unnatural selection. However, I admit that using “underbrush” was not wise because people would take it in the wrong way. I apologize for using it.

        For the Earth to sustain both technological human society and other non-domesticated life long-term we need to reduce human population to a billion or less and keep it there. Our impact on every species other than those we nurture to feed or entertain ourselves is almost universally damaging. It is a very sad thing to admit, but true nonetheless.

      7. Your supposition that we need to liquidate 6/7ths of humanity to survive ONLY holds if you refuse to address the rampant overconsumption in the West.

        And quite frankly even suggesting it is eugenicist, racist, imperialist, fascistic and sickening.

      8. For further reading, I suggest “How to Build a Habitable Planet,” a surprisingly readable general geochemistry textbook.

        The inner core is solid despite the temperatures because of pressure. The outer core is liquid and is the likely source of the dynamo effect, but we haven’t figured out a good way to prove it. The mantle is solid but hot enough to be plastic and move around, giving us plate tectonics on our eggshell-thin crust.

        Radioactive elements in the crust serve to feed heat back into a system as the plastic mantle slowly convects. A reminder, though, that we’ve only been able to find geochemically-legible rocks from about 200 km down (The Earth’s radius is ~6,300 km). The Kola Borehole quit at 12 km. All knowledge of the Earth’s lower mantle and core are derived from very clever studies of asteroids (figuring out what the solar system is made of) and earthquakes (figuring out the general structure of the Earth).

        Bringing it back to the topic of sustainable energy generation, geothermal is an interesting “renewable” energy source because it would be many millennia before we impacted the heat of the planet – and in theory could be strategically used to calm some volcanoes down. The hard part is actually managing all that hot water as it carries dissolved minerals back up to the surface – Iceland likes to just let it percolate back through the surface (hence the world-famous Blue Lagoon), but they have to move the ponds as the pores of the basalt plug up with salts. In the USA, we typically reinject the water after filtering out the dissolved minerals and metals, but eventually you end up having to redrill or refurbish the injection and extraction wells as water flows through and the wells scale over. They try to avoid this by finding kind of goldilocks fields but there aren’t very many of them around, and they usually aren’t conveniently sited to be near metropolitan areas, or have limits on the amount of energy you can extract due to formation limitations or local water supply.

        The one thing I remember from a time I saw Elon Musk speak live at a geology conference was the use of the term “indirect fusion” to refer to renewable energy. Basically, for the near-term civilizational future, we’re going to have to switch to fission and “indirect fusion” to collect energy, or the world will continue to become a very different place than the one our species came to dominate the planet in.

  7. “Right now there are a bit fewer than 4 million residents in the three counties. Climate change in the “sunbelt” states will push it to at least twelve million by 2050.”

    The most likely scenario is another million or two people by 2050. The PSRC estimates have been pretty accurate, so they will probably continue to be. That will put the population at around 6 million, and it might overshoot to 8 million (the Bay Area). If there’s a major climate influx to the northwest beyond that, the PSRC will adjust its projection upward. So we can plan for another million or two, but we can’t recklessly build infrastructure another 8 million (New York City) that will probably not materialize.

    California and Florida are disasters waiting to happen, with California severely outstripping the Colorado River and Florida’s coastal areas becoming uninhabitable. But that doesn’t mean they’ll all move to the northwest. They’ll move to the entire rest of the US. Many will remain in the state or in an adjacent state. After Hurricane Katrina, the largest chunk of New Orleanders moved to Houston, and only a small number moved to the northwest. (I knew one of them.) And many people can’t afford to move so they’ll die in place.

    The northwest can’t absorb twelve million more people. Our water is already getting limited some years. Warming is causing the glaciers to recede and the spring runoff to melt more suddenly rather than gradually. A gradual meltoff sustains us all summer. A sudden meltoff is too much to store so it just causes floods and drains uselessly to the ocean.

    Also, California has a latent water supply in the overallocation to old farmer families. It could adjust this with a constitutional amendment, to make allocations reflect population. And farmers could maybe switch to less water-intensive crops. Some of it is just luxury excess because they get water for practically free so they might as well use it. The northwest doesn’t have this misallocation, but the corollary is we don’t have a latent buffer of water to tap.

    If twelve million people try to move here, the cities will mishandle it the way they’ve always done (keeping zoning restrictive), and housing prices will go through the roof, and most of the theoretical influx won’t be able to afford to live here (or current residents either). This happened in the Bay Area, where the population almost doubled since 1970, and housing growth per capita was even less than here, so rents are now twice as high as here and the average house price is over a million dollars. This would happen here, with rents doubling, tripling, or quadrupling. That would put it out of reach of most of the would-be incomers. So they’d either go elsewhere like Detroit and Cleveland and Houston, or add to our homeless tent clusters and be cycled through jails. Not just the small tent clusters we have now but entire shantytown neighborhoods, both in Seattle and Bellevue and Sammamish and other burbs.

    In 1970 ninety percent of the region’s population was in Seattle. The Eastside, south of Renton, and Snohomish and Pierce Counties were negligable. And Auburn, Tacoma, and Everett were mostly separate job markets from Seattle. So Forward Thrust was mostly a Seattle project because that’s where the population was, and an Eastside project because that’s where they were channeling growth to, and all in King County. We would have been better off if Seattle and the tri-county area had stuck to that model. That would have meant allowing Seattle to densify as Boston, New York, and Chicago had done a half-century or more earlier. So that the average dwelling was a row house or apartment with corner shops within walking distance. Instead of an ever-larger house, on a lot twice as large as prewar ones (cf. NE 65th Street or N 130th Street vs Mt Baker or N 80th Street), and with retail banished to a few villages scattered here and there. Then Seattle could have absorbed more of the growth. It could have done that again in the 2000s if the city had allowed it to grow to a million. Northgate could have been zoned to allow another Amazon-sized headquarters and housing for its employees. But Pugetopolis is currently resistant to this, and the suburbs and exurbs even more so.

  8. Mike, thanks for replying. I wasn’t saying “Build infrastructure assuming that population will reach 12 million”, but instead “DON’T build infrastructure assuming it will grow only a million or two”, because it’s going to exceed that by a crippling amount. PSRC adjusting its projections is a bit like shooting at a supersonic jet after you’ve heard the boom.

    Someone mentioned the older cities of the Rust Belt as a place to go. That’s an excellent idea, and I hope they fill right back up with the Floridians and Texans who abandoned them. But folks from California aren’t going to move to Toledo (well, maybe Toledo, Washington once the UGB encompasses it….)

    1. And also, if it gets as bad as it very well might, people will come here and be grateful to live in shantytowns rather than perish in 130 degree mid-days.

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