Apparently Chris Mooney's pleas have not been in vain: The New York Times finally picked up on the fact that Bush met with journalist novelist Michael Crichton -- whereupon they, according to Fred Barnes, "talked for an hour and were in near-total agreement" about the vast liberal conspiracy that is global warming. I highly doubt the story will get very far. The Republican establishment has mastered some sort of occult PR judo whereby they cast so many outrages at the public, so fast, that none of them can actually stick or pick up any momentum. Misbegotten wars, national security leaks, torture, domestic spying, Congressional corruption, consulting an author of fiction for advice on global warming ... who can keep getting mad? Who can focus?
Jeebus. Read this Washington Post story on Bush's program to re-start efforts to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. Bush is requesting $250 million this year to kick off research on a new method of reprocessing nuclear waste, one that would allegedly reduce the total amount of waste and make it difficult for terrorists to extract weapons-grade plutonium from it. At best, under the administration's highly optimistic scenario, the technology could be ready to go by 2025. But scientific and industry experts doubt it: Steven Kraft, senior director of used fuel management for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry policy group, voiced doubts: "This is a matter of developing future technologies, and those technologies are 50 to 60 years away." When even industry shills won't endorse your projections, well ... And if it does take that long? Meanwhile, the government will be spending billions of dollars developing a fuel that probably will be too expensive to buy in the foreseeable future, except with a government subsidy. Experts also doubt that the product will be resistant to proliferation:
I was browsing the Current TV studio blog this morning and came across this: Earth Day is right around the corner. Now is the time to start making environment-focused pods. I know that I would personally love to see more pieces made about the sustainable solutions people are proposing in all aspects of industry -- from furniture and houses made from recycled or "upcycled" materials to new, regional farming methods that use fewer natural resources. Bring it on. And upload it to Current Earth. But please, no more composting toilet pieces. (Sorry dharmadogpictures, I do love your other work!)
Looking for something cool to read? Try this article by Malcolm Gladwell in this week's New Yorker. Gladwell discusses an unusual intersection of policy, politics, and mathematics -- namely, social ills that follow the "power law," in which a relative handful of bad actors are responsible for the bulk of a problem. Take, for example, pollution from cars: Most cars, especially new ones, are extraordinarily clean. A 2004 Subaru in good working order has an exhaust stream that's just .06 per cent carbon monoxide, which is negligible. But on almost any highway, for whatever reason -- age, ill repair, deliberate tampering by the owner -- a small number of cars can have carbon-monoxide levels in excess of ten per cent, which is almost two hundred times higher. In Denver, five per cent of the vehicles on the road produce fifty-five per cent of the automobile pollution. [Emphasis added.] The problem, according to Gladwell, is that even if the lion's share of problem is caused by the statistical outliers, our solutions tend to treat everyone the same -- as if we're all equally responsible. The patina of fairness may be reassuring to politicians. But substantively, fairness doesn't always lead to the best outcomes.
I can't count the number of times I've heard people express gut support for green energy concerns but a completely scattershot conception of what the solutions might be. In particular, I worry about hearing this stuff from politicians. They may speak forcefully about the danger of oil, but the next paragraph is too often a grab bag of buzzwords: some combination of hybrids, ethanol, compact-florescent light bulbs, conservation, natural gas, bicycles, markets, clean coal, hydrogen, and either "moon shot" or "Apollo project." That's from the politicians that don't have a horse in the race, anyway. From a Mike Sessions or a Chuck Grassley, you'll hear nothing but laser-targeted energy advice -- targeted toward projects that benefit financial interests in their states. And that's the rub: As long as the civic sphere offers no consistent alternative, money and provincialism win the day. If the feds respond to energy concerns merely by shoveling subsidies at ethanol and nuclear power -- without also pushing for energy efficiency, reducing subsidies to oil, taxing gas, discouraging sprawl, research (and deployment) of renewable energies, etc. -- all we'll have is another set of bloated, politically connected corporate interests on top of the ones already mucking up all attempts at progress. Nothing will substitute for a good-faith effort to comprehensively address our energy problems. Nothing will substitute for a real energy program. All solutions are not created equal. There are easy and difficult, cheap and expensive, technological and political. It would be nice to have priorities, so everybody could throw their shoulder behind a few consensus short-term goals. A consistent, oft-repeated, emotionally appealing message is crucial. That's the thinking behind the index-card manifesto, anyway. Just to get the ball rolling. I think I'm going to try to shorten, soften, and sex it up for the next draft.
Is it Friday again? Working on projects such as Poverty & the Environment and Mardi Grist sure make the time fly by. As Dave has been doing a good job blogging about some of the usual suspects, I'd like to turn your attention to the, um, unusual ones.
We just got a letter to the editor repeating what seems to be conventional wisdom among environmentalists: If Exxon would stop suppressing information about global warming -- if the facts got out -- people would demand an instant, total effort to combat it that dwarfed the "war on terrorism." This faith -- if people just had the facts, they'd think like we do -- seems immune to refutation. Nothing seems able to dislodge it. But it just ain't so. The facts about global warming are all over the place. There's an endless cascade of stories in the country's biggest media outlets. Allegedly censored scientists are all over the papers and TV, screaming the facts from the rooftops. The facts are not hard to come by. The facts alone just don't move people. Why that is would be an excellent subject for sociological study. I'm sure it's complicated. But here's one thought: It is human nature to want -- nay, need -- human enemies. Evil people, who can be demonized. And tortured. And killed. And -- most importantly -- seen. People understand people. That's one reason terrorism has such an iron grip on both domestic and foreign policy, despite the relatively low risk anyone in this country has of being affected by it in any way. It fits easily into the natural human cosmology of territory and territorial threats. It goes straight to our lizard brains, our fight-or-flight instinct. Global warming doesn't. It's vague, and large, and slow-moving, and the enemy is structural and pervasive, and we're all complicit. That kind of shit is just no fun to think about. It does not stir the blood. I go back and forth on this, but at this particular moment I'm back to thinking that maybe the emphasis on global warming is overdone. We need to offer something closer, more human, more attainable. Some sort of intermediate steps. That is, in part, what the whole index-card thing is about.
Interesting: Dean Kamen, the engineer who invented the Segway, is puzzling over a new equation these days. An estimated 1.1 billion people in the world don't have access to clean drinking water, and an estimated 1.6 billion don't have electricity. ... To solve the problem, he's invented two devices, each about the size of a washing machine that can provide much-needed power and clean water in rural villages. The energy machine creates power from "anything that burns" -- cow dung is envisioned as the primary input. It can also run on the sludge created by the water machine, which can allegedly purify any water put in it, no matter how dirty. As intriguing as the devices themselves is the business model:
As head of Green Guerillas, a community-gardening group, Steve Frillmann brings together neighbors who may not necessarily be environmentalists or garden advocates. No matter the color of their thumbs, they all work together to clean up urban areas, making them a little safer, a bit more humane. In answering reader questions, Frillmann chats about digging into the community-gardening scene, growing food on urban rooftops, and dealing with hose-related squabbles. new in InterActivist: All About Steve