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Davis, California

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

NASA analysis shows 2020 is tied with 2016 for the hottest year on record

Many UC Davis researchers are studying transportation methods to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere

According to a NASA analysis, 2020 is tied with 2016 as one of the hottest years on record. The average temperature of 2020 was 1.84 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the mean between 1951-1980. As many climate science studies have shown, Earth’s rising temperature over the last 150 years is nearly all due to greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

         Many researchers at UC Davis are working to address climate change through the lens of transportation. Joan Ogden, a professor emerita from the department of environmental science and policy, is interested in alternative fuels that can be produced from renewable energy instead of carbon. Ogden retired from teaching in 2018 but still leads research with the Institute of Transportation Studies and the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis.

         “Most of my research has been aimed at looking at lower-carbon and low-pollution-emitting transportation technologies and fuels,” Ogden said.

         Ogden also directs the Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways program at UC Davis, which encourages graduate, Ph.D. and post-doctoral students to look at different options for reducing carbon emissions in the transport sector. The program is still running today and is supported by many state and federal agencies of energy, transportation and environment.

         These agencies include the California Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the California Air Resources Board and car companies such as Toyota, Ford and Honda that are developing new electric- and hydrogen-powered vehicles. 

         Ogden came to California 18 years ago to lead the Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways program at Davis. She believes California has very future-oriented policies on implementing zero-emission vehicles to reduce greenhouse gases. She hopes that, by 2030, there will be a continuing trend in California to decarbonize the electric sector and increase the use of solar and wind energy as renewable sources of electricity. Worldwide renewable energy is growing more rapidly than any other source of electricity, according to Ogden.

         “California has been a national leader in implementing policies that support those [renewable energy] developments,” Ogden said.

         Ogden has worked with energy for about 40 years and has seen firsthand that changing the energy system takes a long time, especially with the frequent purchase of long-lasting cars. She is optimistic that by the year 2050, the goal of zero-carbon-emission technology will be close to accomplished.

         Even with zero-carbon emission taking place, there would be continued effects of climate change due to the atmosphere’s long response to increased greenhouse gases. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere will remain there for a significant amount of time until removed by natural processes, according to Ogden.

         A solution termed the “stabilization path” refers to lowering the carbon emission to have the carbon concentration stable in the atmosphere. After stabilizing, climate change will continue its course, though hopefully not as drastically, and humans can live in a habitable environment.

         “It will cost us a lot less to deal with it [now] than it will to deal with the consequences of unchecked climate change,” Ogden said.

         Mollie D’Agostino, a policy director, is working with a program called Three Revolutions Future Mobility under the Institute of Transportation to decrease carbon emissions. The institution is led at UC Davis by Daniel Sperling, a professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering.

         D’Agostino’s work with the Three Revolutions Future Mobility program is tied to slowing the effects of climate change. The three solutions the program endorses are shared mobility, automation (driverless vehicles) and electrification (electric cars).

         “We see those three revolutionary forces together as a blueprint for a new, sustainable and equitable transportation future,” D’Agostino said.

         Susan Handy, a professor in the department of environmental science and policy, studies travel behavior, including the quantity of people driving and how they make the decision to bike instead of drive. According to Handy, driving is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in California and many other parts of the world. Her research brings to attention the different types of strategies that might be effective in decreasing how much an individual chooses to drive.

         “The public needs to understand that the decisions they make every day—about transportation but also food, energy and consumption in general—does indeed matter in the effort to slow climate change,” Handy said. “We are all a part of the problem, and we all need to be a part of the solution.”

Written by: Francheska Torres — science@theaggie.org


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