At the end of June, professionals, community leaders, and other stakeholders gathered in Portland, Oregon for the annual Forth Roadmap conference to discuss the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead as we course our path toward deep transportation decarbonization. Session topics ranged from the practical to the political, with some conversations centering on the impacts of redlining and how highway construction continues to connect predominantly rich white suburbs to economic centers—driving an even wider wealth gap, and leaving communities of color isolated, divided, and burdened by pollution. Many fear this issue will remain unaddressed and exacerbated with the Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia vs. EPA. This recent decision which leaves environmental regulation in the hands of a divided congress likely means that these same overlooked and underrepresented communities will continue to bear the brunt of vehicular pollution and the current and future impacts of the climate crisis. Progress is not guaranteed.
As we face these difficult truths, optimism can be scarce but in regards to transportation, we face a historic opportunity to right some of our past wrongs. Electrified transportation has the potential to make our communities cleaner and quieter while also lowering the cost of transportation. We are starting to see leadership from the Federal government in setting standards, allocating infrastructure funds, and improving coordination between OEMs, utility companies, the Dept. of Energy and the Dept. of Transportation. We applaud the governmental leadership to align these efforts as it results in a more mature industry and consistent experience.
Building an inclusive clean transportation future
Many conference panelists and speakers encouraged those responsible for facilitating the shift to electric to engage the community to fully understand the transportation needs of residents of every cultural and socioeconomic status. Our communities face wide-ranging challenges and the tunnel vision focus on electric vehicles insults what makes our communities unique. Our cities are too highly dependent on passenger cars and don’t prioritize human-powered transportation or bus rapid transit which serve a critical need of inner-city communities. Residents in rural areas encounter EV range anxiety, increased highway travel, longer electric outages, and a lack of suitable vehicles that make EVs difficult to integrate. The pleas from experts such as Erika Meyers, executive director at CharIN North America, are to take the time to understand the problems and to follow Avoid, Shift, Improve (ASI) principles to address them. After all, the most decarbonized mile is the one not driven and to be successful within a community, you must slow down so you can go fast.
Fresh from the ACTExpo from a few weeks ago, a conference with a focus on shiny new chrome trucks, and seamless technological solutions, powered by big and small companies ready to change the world, I found myself wanting more. I felt a real absence of a just transition-centered conversation at ACTExpo. I was looking toward businesses to lead the conversation, to question the conventional wisdom from automakers and EV charging companies, and to search for deeper value than just “Total Cost of Ownership.”
“We really need radical vision that spans across sectors and political frameworks. Let’s put dollars in the hands of communities,” said panelist Queen Shabazz, Coordinator of the Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative.
As I consider these many complex challenges, I reflected on my own transition from working for a big energy company to 3Degrees, a mission-oriented B Corp. One of the primary reasons for making this shift was to work with passionate people and clients that are unsatisfied with doing the bare minimum—who question the status quo. My hope coming out of this conference is that I can learn from these experts and bring some of these questions to our clients that are looking to decarbonize. Through candid conversations and deep introspection, we can help our customers understand their role in their communities, engage local leaders and stakeholders, and choose to pursue solutions that strive to address multiple problems rather than just one. Importantly, it’s about building relationships that result in lasting change and continued progress.
The keynote speaker at Forth Roadmap was Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr., president &CEO of Hip Hop Caucus, and he reiterated that racial and climate justice are inextricably linked with transportation. And as the famous quote goes, “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity”. Our opportunity lies with rethinking transportation, including EVs. The EV industry is new, but with progress being eroded at the highest levels of government, it is critical to steer our collective future on a path toward equity.
For support in exploring decarbonized transportation options like LCFS, EVs, hydrogen, or what grant opportunities exist, please reach out to me and our team here at 3Degrees.