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Al Gore: Coming to a theater near you

An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary about Al Gore's quest to raise the alarm about global warming (covered in Grist here), has been picked up by Paramount and will be distributed worldwide -- it opens in the U.S. on May 26. Gore and Powerpoint? I smell March of the Penguins numbers here people! (Amusingly, the movie poster actually features penguins -- as opposed to, you know, Al Gore.)

Organic arugula, Lake Tahoe, and poverty

In kicking off its seven week series, the talented and witty team at Grist pondered the paradox of U.S. environmentalism: "In much of popular and political culture, the movement is dismissed as the pet cause of white, well-off Americans -- people who can afford to buy organic arugula, vacation in Lake Tahoe, and worry about the fate of the Pacific pocket mouse." This perception, and how the environmental community responds to it, will determine whether it becomes a movement for everyone, or just for those with a Nalgene in every cupboard and a Gortex in every closet. Many Americans, environmentalists included, see poverty as a necessary evil, a "by-product of civilization" that will always be with us. In other words, its existence is natural. This analysis of poverty may seem pragmatic, but it morally justifies the continuation of a social system that provides comfort and extravagance for a few, while leaving others to scrape, toil, and struggle to meet their basic needs. The environmental movement has a sophisticated analysis of environmental degradation, eco-systems, and the political forces influencing the planet. Does the environmental movement have an analysis of poverty? If so, what is it? How do you explain the existence of poverty in the most affluent nation in the world? As an anti-poverty activist (and environmentalist) I'm interested in knowing what Grist readers think.

Seaweed’s Big Adventure

Scientists discover biodiversity hotspot on Caribbean atoll That ex-girlfriend was right — there are other fish in the sea! Scientists have discovered a biodiversity hotspot in the Caribbean, home to a (possibly) new fish species and a mini-rainforest of seaweeds. Over a two-week period at the coral-covered Saba Bank Atoll, 12 researchers braved heavy seas to dive 100 feet below the surface twice a day. They found the (possibly) new fish — a goby with orange spots — and an astonishing array of at least 20 once-unknown seaweeds. “We were literally discovering a species every day, that’s truly remarkable,” said …

Hybrid hype: Incentives gone wild

Incentives should reward fuel efficiency, not hybrids per se

Hybrid cars are good for us, right? So policymakers should provide incentives -- things like tax breaks, access to HOV lanes, and free parking for hybrid drivers. Well, not so fast, says a great article in today's Washington Post. There's growing reason to believe that those incentives for hybrids will make things worse -- actually generating more gasoline use, not less. That's because many of the incentives confuse the means for the end. Reducing fuel use (and attendant GHG emissions, air pollution, etc.) is the goal; getting drivers into hybrids is simply one instrument in pursuit of that goal. But one of the more popular incentives to boost fuel efficiency has been to encourage hybrid ownership by offering hybrid drivers access to HOV lanes, even when the drivers are alone. And as the article rightly points out: An incentive -- whether it's access to a carpool lane or cut-rate financing -- still aims to put another car on the road, and that undermines efforts to encourage carpooling. Giving over HOV lanes to hybrids is probably counterproductive. In Virginia, where allowing hybrids in HOV lanes was pioneered, officials are worried that solo drivers in hybrids are clogging the high-capacity lanes and thereby discouraging carpools (because carpooling is no longer any faster than driving alone). In fact, 25 percent of all Virginia HOV lane users are hybrid drivers. And despite their hype, hybrids are not so fuel efficient that they can offset the fuel efficiency of an ordinary car with two or three riders. So the fuel efficiency of Virginia hybrids may become illusory as the vehicle fleet actually consumes more gas because drivers give up carpooling. Same goes for other popular incentives: tax breaks and free or reduced-price parking. These incentives encourage people to drive by making it cheaper. And if some incentives are wrong-headed, it's because they seem to miss the reason why hybrids are good in the first place. If we want to reduce fuel use, it's hard to see why hybrids deserve special tax breaks not afforded to buyers of other fuel-efficient, gas-powered cars (some of which are actually more efficient than certain hybrids). What's so special about hybrids?

Could a Western wildfire be the country’s next Katrina?

At the end of summer in southern Oregon’s Cascade foothills, when trees and brush have turned tinder dry and thunderstorms regularly roll overhead, Millie Chatterton and her neighbors start thinking about the lightning strike that could touch off disaster. The Biscuit burns in 2002. Photo: USFWS. Chatterton can’t forget the afternoon in 1987 when she walked out of a grocery store in her town, Cave Junction, and saw a “big atomic mushroom cloud” of smoke blossoming on the horizon. Later, she watched the lightning-caused wildfire “blowing up trees one after another” on federal property near her own five acres. That …

Carbon sinks

Forests may prevent more CO2 emissions than the equivalent acreage of biofuels

The latest proposal to include airlines in European emissions trading schemes will have predictable results: "If the idea of emissions trading is to make energy intensive activities more expensive, then there will be some impact on ticket prices," said Andy Kershaw, Climate Change Manager at BA. For obvious reasons, consumers will always end up footing the bill when businesses pay the true cost of protecting the environment. That reality is not hard for most of us environmentalists to understand. It costs to protect the environment.

The need for an index-card manifesto

Greens need a vision of the future that they can agree on

Imagine for a moment that you are not an environmentalist. You have basically positive feelings toward environmental protection, but haven't much looked into the specifics. You're vaguely aware that global warming is out there, and it's bad; you're vaguely aware that we import too much oil from the Middle East, and that's bad; you're vaguely aware that Bush is not very good on the environment, and that's bad, though not a big deal compared to, say, terrorism. Imagine, in short, that you are like most U.S. citizens. Now, say you hear the State of the Union speech (or see headlines about it the next day). Bush acknowledges that America is addicted to oil and proposes funding for some alternative energy programs. Not huge money, but at least he's addressing the issue. The environmentalists got what they wanted, right? But noooo ... there they are on TV, in the newspapers, denouncing his speech, denouncing his programs, complaining about ethanol, complaining about nuclear, complaining about hydrogen, and on and on. Obviously nothing will satisfy these people, right? Nothing except halting economic growth completely and turning out all the lights. Shivering in the dark.

Dick, hunting

The internet is chockablock with entertaining coverage of Cheney's hunting mishap -- The Daily Show's segments on the matter deserve some kind of award -- so I won't presume to add to the flurry. For my part, I think James Wolcott's post sums it up pretty well.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Dependence on Foreign Energy Sources?

Austria embraces renewable energy Austria is yodeling up a new tree: the biofuels tree (oh, what are you, the metaphor police?). Like other hip countries, Austria is giving renewable energy a big bear hug — nearly 70 percent of its domestic power production came from renewables in 2003. Taking advantage of what is readily available right within its own borders, the half-forested nation utilizes forestry byproducts like wood chips and sawdust to make pellets for high-tech, smoke-free boilers; biomass accounts for about 21 percent of its heat production. Having banned nuclear power generation, Austria is using biofuels to wean itself …

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