The future

This makes me want to cry.

Poverty and sustainability

Basing information on the Earth Council website, the world has 2.1 hectares of biologically productive area per capita at a population level of 6 billion people. That population is currently using the resources of 2.8 hectares per capita, meaning that humans are consuming more than can be replenished. In the U.S., we consume the equivalent of 10.3 hectares per capita. In order for the world to be sustainable, in theory anyway, humans would have to reduce consumption of resources by over 33% from current levels. For comparison, we would have to maintain a lifestyle similar to the average person in Turkey or Jordan. And this is assuming zero population growth. If population growth is factored in we would need to live like the average Chinese peasant. In order for Americans to acheive the level of 2.1 h/cap, we would have to reduce our consumption by 80%. I do not see how by simply being green we can acheive that drastic reduction. I think we delude ourselves when we think we can live sustainably while maintaining our standard of living. Technology alone cannot bridge the gap. Take a look at your own lifestyle and think through what it takes to maintain every aspect of it.

Cleared that right up

By now, everybody's probably familiar with the sequence of events: Energy bill passes with promises of funding for renewables research. Cuts in actual funding for renewables research. State of the Union speech with big promises of funding for renewables research. Budget shortfalls force firing of 32 researchers at National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Bush launches PR tour to tout energy proposals, schedules visit to NREL. Weekend prior to visit, Energy Department scrambles to rehire 32 researchers. Now here's the part that really amazes me: Bush visits NREL, laments "mixed signals," and says this: "The issue, of course, is whether good intentions are met with actual dollars spent. ... I think we have cleared up the discrepancy." "I think we have cleared up the discrepancy." It's like the distinction between substance and perception is just invisible to him. It verges on autistic. Update [2006-2-22 14:18:33 by David Roberts]: Actually, let me put in more of the quote, since in some ways it's even more incredible: I recognize that there has been some interesting, let me say, mixed signals when it comes to funding. The issue of course is whether or not good intentions are met with actual dollars spent. Part of the issue we face, unfortunately, is that there are sometimes decisions made as a result of the appropriations process, where money may not end up where it is supposed to have gone. Matt Yglesias responds: I say the government is being run by idiots. There are sometimes decisions made as a result of the appropriations process, where money may not end up where it is supposed to have gone? The MBA presidency? The grownups are back in charge? The whole episode is really mind-boggling, if one was still capable of bogglement at this point.

The Weinberg Group and manufacturing uncertainty

Some good stuff on Environmental Science & Technology today. Check out the piece on the Weinberg Group, a scientific consulting firm that specializes in helping chemical companies battle off lawsuits and criticism of their products, by coordinating marketing and hiring scientists to produce contrary studies. The marketing proposal to DuPont about PFOA (PDF) (a dangerous chemical used to make Teflon) that Paul D. Thacker got his hands on is pretty stunning. Among other things, it says: [W]e will harness, focus and involve the scientific and intellectual capital of our company with one goal in mind -- creating the outcome our client desires. ... This would include facilitating the publication of papers and articles dispelling the alleged nexus between PFOA and teratogenicity as well as other claimed harm. Greens like to talk about the Precautionary Principle -- preventing the use of chemicals before they've been definitively shown to cause harm. But I doubt most people know just how many resources are available to rich corporations to help them keep selling chemicals that have been shown to cause harm. There's a whole industry devoted to manufacturing uncertainty about issues important to corporations. How about a Cautionary Principle?

Exxon's profits

They are big — really, really big

In an interesting (albeit hopeless) op-ed called "Imagine a world where ExxonMobil gives back," Gar Alperovitz offers some interesting perspective on Exxon's recent profits: In the quarter ended Dec. 31, the giant company made $10.7 billion -- the equivalent of more than $115 million for every one of its 92 days, nearly $5 million each hour, more than $80,000 every minute, nearly $1,350 each second. ExxonMobil's overall 2005 revenues of $371 billion amounted to more than $1 billion a day! The total was larger than the entire economies of all but 16 of the 184 countries ranked by the World Bank. It was 40 percent greater than the gross national product of Indonesia, a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries with a population of 242 million. More than a billion dollars a day. That's something else. The whole thing's worth reading.


According to the World Population Clock, earth's (human) population will hit the 6.5 billion mark at exactly 7:16 p.m. EST this Saturday.

The Midas Crutch

EPA may replace ozone-depleting chemical with cancer-causing chemical Here’s a hypothetical: Say you were a nation that signed a pact to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals. Say you therefore needed an alternative to methyl bromide, an ozone-attacking pesticide used on strawberries and other crops. Would you phase in a highly toxic fumigant that probably causes cancer? Sigh. Of course you would. The U.S. EPA is set to approve methyl iodide, under the commercial name Midas, as its soil sterilizer of choice. The chemical, which can be dangerous if inhaled, easily evaporates and drifts into the lungs of those nearby, but never …

No More Bull in the China Shop

China orders corrupt environmental protection officials to go straight In the wake of several destructive and internationally embarrassing pollution disasters, China is ordering local environmental protection officials to start, um, protecting the environment. A government announcement on Tuesday warned officials to stop covering up accidents, turning a blind eye to polluting projects, and canceling penalties for illegal industrial-waste discharges — or face disciplinary actions that may range from warnings to losing their jobs. Eco-activists are guardedly optimistic. “There have always been laws, but very little enforcement,” said Kevin May of Greenpeace China. “Now we have new laws. How will they …


Judith Lewis has an excellent post on the Clean Water Act cases headed to the Supreme Court today, including some interesting comparisons of press coverage from various regions. The nut is: In places where wetlands have been disappearing, they want federal protection. In places where they haven't yet, property rights rule the day. As usual, everyone is for "small government" until they need government help.