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Jeff Bezos climate change plan unveiled – buy 100k electric vans. (cnbc.com)
96 points by gshakir 26 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 91 comments

I'm glad to see that there's deliberate movement in this direction. However, it's a little dismaying that the headline is implying that we can address climate change by Consuming More Stuff; that's how we got into this mess in the first place.

Some consumption is good, i.e. replacing and old appliance or a car with a more efficient one, or you can buy a video game on Steam rather than driving to a picnic. It is not always apparent what behaviour is the most energy-wasteful. For example airplanes emit tons of CO2, but if the same 300 people in a plane drove the same distance it could be much worse.

Advanced economies have grown their GDPs, but have also reduced their emissions since about 1990.

The best policies to counter climate change like carbon taxes and schemes like cap and trade, which align people's incentives to emit less, but also don't damage the potential for growth and consumption as much.

> For example airplanes emit tons of CO2, but if the same 300 people in a plane drove the same distance it could be much worse.

Technically true, however airplanes provoke a rebound effect. By making travel so efficient and fast, it makes people travel more. If airplanes didn't exist all people would simply travel less, not drive more.

And not to be pedantic, but when the above poster said "or you can buy a video game on Steam rather than driving to a picnic", that discounts the amount of times the game developers had to drive to work to create said game. As well, replacing an old appliance or car isn't a straight-forward net savings, you need to take into account the materials harvested and factories that need to be built to produce those new items.

The average game on Steam sells 32000 copies. It takes some seriously poluting developer to offset the picnic of thousands of people.

Also (pedantic but you started it), the society we currently live in is based around work. So if games weren't being developed it is more likely the developers would still travel to work.

That's only if you cut out games. An overall lifestyle change of much less consumption would slash jobs.

I think you are underestimating how much people travelled before airplanes were a thing. First of all pre airplane there was a lot of sea travel, which was accomplished by burning ludicrous amounts of coal to generate steam power.

And long road trips used to be a cultural pass time. This is why Route 66 is to some extent still such a cultural / historical icon. It used to be that American middle class families loaded into a gas guzzling vehicle to drive cross country for vacation.

I've thought as far as congestion is concerned cheap electric and self driving cars could make things worse. Especially if is as expected the price of EV's drops below the price of gasoline powered cars. Probably not that make effect in the US but in countries like India and China on the other hand.

yes this (traveling and growth) is great. Also, amount of energy consumed historically correlates with quality of life.

Emissions are bad, but technology plus well thought-through policy has a potential to reduce them dramatically while both stimulating growth and energy consumption (nuclear + renewables and storage, electric cars, trains, etc.)

I would travel the same. Just with a car. I do three big trips a year of around 1,600km one way.

There was recently a CCC talk [1] about sustainability of software,... there was mentioned, streaming a video is almost as toxic as driving 20 km forth and back.

For sure, this is super vague, but i guess it's still good to consider all those internet traffic. local internet-caching could be a good solution to keep things more regional...

1: https://media.ccc.de/v/thms-49-ber-die-nachhaltigkeit-von-so...

> Advanced economies have grown their GDPs, but have also reduced their emissions since about 1990.

Isn't there an element of offloading their emissions to the 'less advanced' economies who make all of the new energy efficient nuggets?

Production of traded goods account for about 20% of GHG emissions. So, significant but not decisive.

> Some consumption is good, i.e. replacing and old appliance or a car with a more efficient one

Isn't buying a used (ICE) car better for the environment than a new EV one?

Counterfactual reasoning can be tricky. We do want electric vehicles to be manufactured instead of other kinds of vehicles, and they won't be if nobody buys them. So, maybe you're doing your bit to make sure they're successful, versus less efficient vehicles? If you buy used then you're accepting other people's decisions about which new cars should be successful.

On the other hand, maybe you're thinking the total number of cars to be manufactured should go down, and this will happen if people stop buying them.

While I largely agree with you, decades on it seems that if the message factors down to "quick, everybody stop doing stuff", it's hard to get political traction.

Every step in the right direction is a good one. Perfect is the enemy of good.

Unstated major premise: Buying electric vans is a step in the right direction in the first place.

I'm thinking here of the lessons we've been learning recently about recycling: It would appear that we now need to come to terms with the possibility that recycling has done far more harm than good, by making it easier to justify excessive packaging waste while at the same time mostly only giving consumers the impression that what they put in the recycle bin wasn't going to waste.

I could see something similar happening with electric delivery vans: Perhaps, by ostensibly greening the most consumer-visible part of the process, they can make them feel better about buying into a way of getting their consumer products that relies on a much less efficient supply chain than the one used by the system it's supplanting.

Perhaps, if we dig into it, we'll discover that Amazon is being pennywise here, because properly dealing with the pounds would require rolling back the "free 2 day shipping of pretty much anything to pretty much anywhere" guarantee that underlies so much of Amazon's current business model.

How would increasing the delivery time reduce the amount of gas it takes to get an item to my doorstep? Considering that the items ship from a warehouse about 15 miles from my house.

I suppose that if an occasional item ships from across the country, then it would be less impactful to go by truck for 5 days, so if that is the case then any item that falls under that category could have a selection item on the checkout screen that says "Delay shipment by 3 days, to save 3 lbs of greenhouse gasses". That may influence consumer behavior.

BTW, what is the greenhouse gas emissions difference between one delivery vehicle making the rounds, vs several hundred people each driving to a store to buy something?

Batching deliveries could result in massive energy savings. Right now, Amazon's vans tend to hop around neighborhoods (at least that's what their delivery tracker shows me). If deliveries were batched, the delivery density would be much higher, reducing the distance a single vehicle would have to travel to empty a full load of packages.

Absolutely - imagine if there was a system where you had one delivery a week which consisted of all the items from all the shopping you'd done, instead of piecemeal deliveries throughout the week. The savings could be immense, but I can't imagine such a system being popular.

Sorry, I wasn't clear - I meant across all delivery services, not just Amazon.

It'd be interesting to see how many people actually use that option to consolidate a significant amount of items on Amazon, though.

You're picking a rather particular example. Most people don't live within 15 miles of an Amazon distribution center. To pick my particular example for contrast, I'm also relatively close to an Amazon facility, but it's still over an hour away by car. And I imagine that, for most people who drive to get around, the nearest big box store is close to their route home from work.

There's also an unstated major premise that packages never come from any further away than the nearest Amazon distribution facility. I suspect that the truth is rather far from that. It at least isn't true for me - I kept an eye on my Prime orders from last year, and 1/3 - 1/2 of the things I ordered originated from a more distant Amazon warehouse, and getting it to me within 2 days involved burning a whole mess of jet fuel. I suspect that the GHG emissions from doing that end up being a massive portion of Amazon's overall pollution.

> Most people don't live within 15 miles of an Amazon distribution center

May not have a huge impact on your overall point, but bump that number up to maybe 20 miles and I actually would bet that the majority of Americans at least do live that close to an Amazon distribution center


Yes, this is all about speed/efficiency tradeoffs in long haul shipping between rail, highway, and flight. It's hard to say what fraction of Amazon orders aren't stored in delivery distance of your house but it's probably most of them.

It's possible. But even if that part is true, the large investment might spur faster growth in electrification which might then be good enough to outweigh that initial downside.

Unintended consequences are hard.

I'm just getting a little fatigued with the fearful "don't do anything, it might make it worse" coupled with the "stop all the everything" approach to environmentalism that seems to becoming ever more dominant. I just don't think that's going to work. Doing nothing won't help, and convincing people to do without doesn't work, so ?

I wasn't really going for "don't do anything, it might make it worse" so much as calling attention to what I suspect is an act of greenwashing.

As far as convincing people to do without goes, IMO the root cause of the problem is consumerism, and anything that fails to contend directly with that is bikeshedding.

I'd put a stronger argument: if everyone suddenly stopped doing stuff, the global economy would collapse, most people would starve to death, all our technology would rot and disappear in couple decades, and the few survivors would live with medieval-level technology on a thoroughly broken planet with no chance of regaining any advanced tools for thousands, or tens of thousands of years (as all dense energy sources accessible without XXI-century tech have been used up).

There is an often unmentioned extra constraint on dealing with climate change: we have to do it in a way that doesn't break technological civilization.

It's a typical strawman. An average US consumer could easily forego half of what they buy (aside from groceries) and they'd still be fine. One would argue that this needs to happen for us to really make progress on reducing emissions. People blame "corporations" and "the rich", but it's like blaming a Mexican cartel for making drugs. They wouldn't make them if there weren't any buyers, and unlike with drugs, pointing out that people just buy too much shit is not "victim shaming".

I'm not talking about any kind of "victim shaming" here. Just pointing out the fundamental fact that thoroughly breaking economy is game over. Think for a moment why we want to fight climate change? It's not because of some deep love to the pile of space rock we happen to inhabit.

I was addressing the problem with ideas that people should "just stop doing things", or that we should be drastically reducing consumption, or halting economic growth. These things, "consumption" and "growth", aren't just luxury goods and high valuations of bullshit companies. It's peace and prosperity and a hot meal on the table. It's scientific progress and all the technologies needed to fix the mess we've made.

Since bring up blaming: sure, "an average US consumer could easily forego half of what they buy (aside from groceries) and they'd still be fine". But good luck making them do that. When dealing with climate change, we need to talk about what's possible, not about what would be possible if we were living in a fairy land where every human is a perfectly rational actor prioritizing good of the many over the good of the few, and coordination problems didn't exist.

I agree with you that standard of living is an important thing to maintain for things to actually gain any traction. But first world standard of living is carbon-heavy and fundamentally at odds with the environment. I get downvoted every time I point this out, but it's true. Avocadoes and fruits flown in from Mexico and Chile year round are problematic. Eating meat every day is problematic. Chinese shit that breaks in a month is problematic. New phone every year is problematic. 3000+ sqft house is problematic. "Traveling" is problematic. Luxury cars are problematic (even Tesla - according to an estimate by Swedish researchers, even before you start driving, your Tesla has already emitted up to 17.5 _metric tons_ of carbon dioxide - you need to drive a gas car for 8 years for it to emit this much).

So no, not "stop doing things", but not buying shit you don't really need would be a good start.

I think you are overlooking that the US has optimized policy for this excess consumption in areas like capital formation, agriculture, labor, healthcare, etc. If there was different policy the economy would reallocate capital to other purposes.

Climate change is not about consuming less. It is about not taking carbon from the ground and putting it in the atmosphere.

Large quantities of carbon are taken from the ground and added to the atmosphere in the manufacture, transportation, sale, use, and disposal of consumer products.

Which is going to happen regardless.

What would you rather they consume, an internal combustion engine that spits out a deadly exhaust or an electric vehicle that uses power, presumably from a nuclear or less toxic fuel source?

>>> Which is going to happen regardless.

It's not "happening," it's being done. By us. We can choose to stop.

We consume more thing sthsn ever before. Surely if 100 yes ago we could consume less why could we not reduce consumption now? :)

Hence, climate change is about doing these things without carbon (or only with carbon that's already in the atmosphere), rather than not doing those things at all.

To be fair proper "infastructure" (in quotes because things like farming equipment also qualifies) is the one form of consumption that actually helps - it may be worse than a "nirvana" but it is practically the only way to advance. Better is better: it is a tautology but an important one.

Ironically China saw improvements in air quality by moving people from huts with fire cooking to apartments with gas or coal fired electric.

> implying that we can address climate change by Consuming More Stuff

We certainly can address climate change by consuming more stuff. We could spend $100 - $200 per ton of carbon to sequester all of our carbon emissions. And it wouldn't wreck our economy to do so, the costs are similar to that of the Apollo missions or the war in Iraq, not the level of commitment that WW2 was. It would approximately double the price of gas if we paid for it the rational way.

Sequestration doesn't have all the secondary benefits that reduction has, like improvements in air quality, but it could be done.

Exactly. Obviously we can't expect Bezos to meaningfully address climate change outside the bounds of people buying as much shit as possible whether they need it or not or whether they need it delivered next day or not.

But it would be nice if the overton window at least included the idea of rethinking how we consume. To the point where Bezos' plan could be considered for what it is.

Why does this cause more stuff to be consumed?

I think the implication is that it doesn't seem like the path taken by Bezos is to have people consume less, but to make deliveries more carbon neutral.

I mean - less consumption is a topic even bigger than Amazon. The US economy has consumption as its very foundation. It’s not clear what we would turn to.

Step 1 is to do what you’re doing now but in a more sustainable way. Remember, our current state is we are debating whether we even ought to make change in the first place.

The larger shift to less consumption overall isn’t something we can achieve in 5 years. It’s more of a marathon that’ll take 20-30 years.

I think it's because the environmental cost of making a brand new electric van has a higher environmental cost than just driving the van you already have until it dies. Basically the world would be better off if people stopped buying new vehicles tomorrow completely, and just drove whatever they have, no matter how polluting it is - it's still better on the planet than making a new one. Of course our economy doesn't work that way and it's a completely unworkable solution for now - so replacing ICE vans with electric ones is second best solution.

Well, you'd have to do the math on manufacturing emissions vs operating emissions, factoring in remaining lifetime of the ICE vans. If they are driven enough miles EVs would come out ahead over a certain period of time.

Also, they could just buy no more new ICE vans and replace them with EVs when they get to their normal end of life.

On top of all that, you'd also have to consider that the ICE vans would be sold into the market and not destroyed.

I think this argument is more true for personal vehicles that sit idle for 99% of the time -- they don't consume gas when they don't move.

For commercial vehicle that spend most of their life on the road, energy savings from running a more efficient vehicle recoup the energy used in making that vehicle pretty quickly.

Reduce reuse recycle. It’s greenest and most efficient to eliminate unneeded consumption first. Then reuse through repair, buying used, hand me downs. Then comes investing in green machinery. Finally there’s recycling to recover raw materials.

Well, they're not really buying more if they were going to add 100k vans to the fleet regardless? Assuming that's the case, it's just that those will be electric instead of ICE.

Also, they invested in Rivian, so by purchasing 100K vans, they’re guaranteeing revenue that will undoubtedly make Rivian more successful. And, no doubt, these electric vans will be cheaper to operate over the long term - no oil changes, no engine maintenance, etc.

It's unfortunate that this post links a bad CNBC summary, rather than the actual Amazon press release. There's a lot more to Amazon's announcement than just buying electric trucks:


> headline is implying that we can address climate change by Consuming More Stuff; that's how we got into this mess in the first place.

It definitely possible to address climate change by "Consuming Different Stuff" if that different stuff is produced (and transported) in ways that emit less carbon.

This is a big deal because it increases the critical mass towards electrification of transportation, even moreso than the carbon offset by the vans. Right now early adopters are okay with ChargePoint and tolerating some uncertainty with the next charge, but we need 1) more renewable grid input and 2) much more "refueling" infrastructure (public 40 and 80 amp charging).

Amazon clearly wants Rivian to succeed: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/15/rivian-announces-700-million...


And that is fine, in my opinion. I don't think it's self dealing. If you think climate change is an urgent issue, you fund solutions. When you fund solutions, you choose the best option. When you're ready to act on it, you choose the best option.

Well, it's not as if there are 100k electric vans ready for purchase, Rivian needs their investment and their orders to scale up to 100k. Amazon's creating its own demand and supply here.

Yup. Just comes with the territory of the scale they are operating at. Looking at Renault Kangaroo ZE and Nissan e NV200 sales its possible 100k electrics vans is more than have ever been produced, cumulatively, period.

While I applaud any move towards decreasing negative impacts our our environment, I also encourage people to take advantage of Amazon's option to pick a delivery day and get all your stuff at once.

Even without that option, Amazon has some work to do on their route planning - I should never need 3 different deliveries from 3 different drivers on the same day, and that has occurred at my house.

Consider this: shipping is free for you. Sending more trucks to deliver packages many times per day is annoying for you, but it's expensive for Amazon.

That's a huge incentive to do that as rarely as possible.

Those three trucks would be inefficient if they only delivered to you, but they could have saved trips by arranging it that way.

I forget where I read it, but there was an explainer that showed how all those deliveries with one huge box for one tiny item saved gas and packaging on the scale of the entire delivery network.

Logistics is weird.

How can you meet Paris commitments early when you are working on helping oil & gas companies extract fossil fuels from the ground even faster?


> Bezos said the first electric delivery vans will be on the road by 2021

I strongly doubt this will happen. Their truck still isn't in production and they haven't even built a concept van yet. The chances of them producing vans in two years is very low.

I thought this about a year ago when they came out of stealth, however; Rivian has all the magic in their sleeves. 1: They actually did the work, the prototype trucks are rather far in development for their announcement. Seemingly they are almost R&D-complete. This is different from most other EV startups like FF or Lucid as they pretty much just showed off mockups.

2, and this is what really matters:

They got major investments from established ICE manufacturers (Huge investment from Ford) with agreements to cooperate on building the factory and making products together. This is the real barrier to entry on EV startups and they executed on it by spending years figuring out the powertrain issue and then going off and getting help by those with the institutional knowledge on manufacturing them. This is why I think they will win.

3: It's a van, a skateboard with a metal box on top, likely borrowing heavily from already developed designs. Note that the van appears largely production ready lacking all the normal concept drawing details and lacking any form of wild 'FUTURE!!' details. Boring Ford van mirrors, standard marker lights, correct size tires and rims. This is a production-ready design, not a concept-car, that likely makes use of the Ford production machine for all the little bits. Think of it like building an app with Angular or React, they know what they want to do and what they want to use other sources for.

I appreciate the optimism and hope you are right but there is plenty of talk/hype in this space and there are not many EVs that are not compliance cars actually in production in the US.

>delivery vans from vehicle manufacturer Rivian

is Rivian really a vehicle manufacturer? or a startup? I though you have to actually manufacture something to be called manufacturer.

They already have their Truck and SUV on display at the motor shows, 0-60 in 3 seconds, towing 7700 lbs, 700hp, 400 mile range. They said shipping in 2020. But I dont see any mention of vans on their website.

Amazon is a financial backer of Rivian, so this makes sense.

They've been showing the truck for years. It's still vaporware. They've yet to build a single production vehicle.

Rivian is the best American EV maker out there.

Is it? They are not even in the hands of consumers yet.

The shareholder proposal may have been defeated, but this is a sign to me that it _worked_ to bring this problem to the forefront of Amazon's agenda. This is a good thing.

Wow talk about win-win. Amazon gets electric vans and Rivian gets ~$10B in expected revenue, which increases the value of Amazon's stake in Rivian.

Also, Amazon gets to pay fewer taxes due to accrual...

we can't "electric van" our way out of the climate crisis because it makes too little of a dent over too long of a timescale. bezos' plan is far too weak to even be worth media coverage.

mediocre quarter-measure plans like this one will keep us moving at full steam towards catastrophe. if bezos wanted to put a dent in climate change genuinely, he'd take the path of least resistance: subsidize a meaty discount on goods that emit the least CO2 during their production and use as measured by a third party authority. this would create a virtuous economic cycle of manufacturers competing for lower emissions.

instead, he's found a way to accomplish little other than self-enrichment while appearing to make an effort. well, bravo. bezos is well on the way to being the richest man on an uninhabitable rock of a planet.

He also stated the goal is to be carbon neutral by 2040, that's a solid goal. So it goes beyond the vans.

AWS profits something like a million dollars an hour so it's pretty unambitious to need 11 years to make AWS be fully green. $100+ billion in profit will accrue from AWS in that time. It doesn't take 11 years to claw back 1900 workers' health care.

Yet another plan. Great. When will we finally start seeing media reports on actual emission reductions? In 2020 I want to read "Amazon has reduced its total emissions by 5% compared to 2019".

The most upvoted comment on HN would be how this 5% reduction is just meaningless marketing, probably because Amazon will have increased sales by X%, meaning the products delivered maybe had a higher carbon footprint.

I'm rooting for Rivian, if they make a true small SUV after their initial R1S launch I'd be all over it.

These will be mostly Rivian pick up trucks. Kinda smart move. $700 million investment will help Amazon.

For cities it would make sense to deliver packages to neighborhood hubs in vans and from there deliver them using cargo bikes to the recipients. That would probably safe more energy, but cost a bit more as a bicycle worker can transport fewer packages per day.

What about the strain on the environment from sourcing and disposing batteries for these vans?

Because dirty diesel has no ill effects?

Did I say that? I'm wonder if sourcing and disposing batteries on a mass scale will be any better than burning fuel.

Is there any chance this will make Rivian Trucks cheaper? I really want one.

The company has been around for 10 years without shipping a product. To me the bigger question is whether you'll ever be able to buy one. By contrast, Tesla started in 2003 and shipped the Roadster in 2008 and the Model S in 2012.

Counter point: They have major investment and signed contracts from real manufacturers like Ford (which is the real issue with starting an EV company, sure you can design an electric truck but can you build them?) The fact of the matter is that they now have the tech, solid R&Ded designs and the best people on earth to help them make them, this is not what any other company has ever had at EV manufacturing, not even Tesla.

Where I live UPS trucks have been plug-in hybrid for years now. They are powered entirely by battery when driving slowly through neighborhoods. So I'm not sure how much difference this would _really_ make.

as expected, sections of the bourgeoisie are trying to barely solve CO2 pollution while continuing to maximize every other kind of resource consumption and concomitant non-CO2 pollution. or at least, pretend that they are trying to solve it. either way they will run into the concerted resistance of the bourgeoisie who depend on CO2 pollution as a business model, and who are extremely powerful.

the alternative to this shitshow is to democratically plan resource investment, and get away from the insanity of a road-and-small-vehicle-based city system (aka, establish socialism). I'm optimistic we'll get there after the youth watch rich people vacillate over climate change for a few more years :)

Because every place that did implement socialism did SUCH a great job of preventing pollution and protecting nature!

As they say, the only thing History teaches us is that History teaches us nothing.

this is awesome and makes a lot of business sense (Amazon is an investor in Rivian). kudos to Amazon!

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