I’ve been thinking a lot about “sustainability” the last few weeks and intended to write about it. But that would take me down a sort of dark road, and in these strange times I feel a need for something positive, lighter, hopeful. So here is some news that intersects with the climate crisis that fits that description.

The impulse to pull together in a crisis, to come together as a community in support of each other, of everyone in the boat rowing synchronously in the same direction towards the same destination, is fundamental to responding to that crisis. In the case of COVID-19, we don’t seem to have the same situation; instead, we are asked to practice social distancing, to isolate ourselves, in an effort to flatten the curve of infection while scientists pursue a vaccine. The strategy is appropriate, and it casts a spotlight on actions by individuals and businesses that aggregate into a community response.

One example of this is the decision, announced by the Edison Electric Institute, speaking on behalf of the energy utilities in the U.S., that many utilities have halted service disconnections, are waiving late fees and setting up flexible payment schedules for their customers. I don’t know who said this, or if the number is precise, but it has been claimed that a number of our fellow citizens exist with a significant financial vulnerability such that a loss of $400 in income could make the difference between having food and shelter or not. Not having to worry about a utility bill is not an insubstantial thing for many folks. PG&E is one of the utilities that have placed a moratorium on service disconnection for both residential and commercial customers.

Also affected is the voting process. Gathering to cast a ballot at your neighborhood polling place is one of the activities disrupted by social distancing. A couple of states have already postponed their presidential primary elections, many are re-evaluating the historically common use of assisted-living facilities as polling places, and, given that the average age of poll workers is over 60, all are wondering whether they can continue to rely on elderly people to staff polling places on election day.

Most states (including California) permit any voter who wishes to vote by mail to do so rather than coming to a polling place. And currently, more than half do vote by mail. Efforts to increase the number of vote-by-mail voters have the welcome benefits of convenience to the voter and reduced or eliminated reliance on senior centers for polling places and seniors needed as poll workers. Vote-by-mail is something any of us can do to respond to social distancing and, as an unintended but important result, it means fewer vehicle trips and fossil fuels consumed on Election Day.

Next up in the positive news department, a federal judge recently rejected the Trump administration’s claim that California’s Western Climate Agreement with Quebec is, in effect, a treaty and therefore unconstitutional because states can’t negotiate treaties. The judge found that the Cap-and-Trade system is a non-binding good-faith deal between two parties to further their mutual goal of reducing carbon emissions. Though not the final say in this state versus federal fight, since the decision can be appealed, it’s a major victory for California’s efforts to lead the way in the climate crisis.

Good news is also bubbling up on the subject of electric vehicles. Back in February, the city of Pasadena celebrated the opening of the largest EV charging station in the United States. It’s located in a parking lot in downtown Pasadena and includes 24 Tesla Superchargers and 20 more that can be used by other electric vehicles. These fast chargers can bring a car’s batteries to 80 percent in approximately 20-30 minutes.

While 44 charging stalls at one station seem like lot, and it is, a station in Norway recently installed 102 stalls. And Germany has established a National Control Center of EVs to both standardize the process so that charging is “as uncomplicated and natural as with a cell phone”: predictable, easy and efficient. Their goal is 1,000 quick-charging stations on routes favored by distance travelers. Tesla claims it has superchargers available to 99 percent of the population in the U.S. that can provide 75 miles of charge in 5 minutes, and more than 12,000 stations worldwide.

Closing the book (for this article) on electric vehicle charging, the Oregon Public Utilities Commission recently approved a plan by Portland General Electric that gives them what they describe as an “overall, North Star” direction for the company. According to the utility, “We see that there is a large market forming and a lot of investment on the auto manufacturing side. Utilities like us have a role in making sure we get infrastructure out in a manner that benefits all customers and reduces costs to serve the vehicles coming.”

PG&E estimates that there are more than 25,000 emissions-free vehicles in its service territory and that this will grow to 100,000 by 2025 and “up to a million by 2050.”

Talk about getting ahead of the game.

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears the first and third Wednesday of each month. Please send comments to johnmottsmith@comcast.net.

Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise

Published online on March 18, 2020 | Printed in the March 18, 2020 edition on page A5