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John Behler's neighborhood turtles

Famed naturalist and herpetologist dies

Great wildlife biologists are foremost great animal enthusiasts, people who get off on encountering cranes or mountain lions or, in John Behler's case, snakes and frogs and turtles. The few I've known have held on to a capacity to be delighted by nature, not just the exotic but also the ordinary beauties and surprises that come close to home. John Behler -- the curator of herpetology for the Wildlife Conservation Society, who died last week at age 62 -- was responsible for great conservation victories in Madagascar and Southeast Asia, and he co-wrote The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles & Amphibians. But he studied spotted turtles for years in a county park a short drive from his home, and he could be as enthusiastic as a kid -- albeit a well-educated kid -- when he made a discovery in his neighborhood.

GarbageScout

Freegans and Freecycle fans might enjoy the latest Google mashup: GarbageScout. Think Google maps, mobile phones, and free stuff in the garbage. Here's the skinny: New York City's streets are full of interesting and potentially useful things that have been thrown out.If you see something good, snap a picture of it with your camera phone, and email it to GarbageScout. It will go up on the home page and others can go and get it.This will reduce landfill, save people money, and clean up the streets. (Via WC)

Kristof for plug-in hybrids

Nicholas Kristof -- with whom I've taken issue in the past -- advocates on behalf of plug-in hybrids in his latest New York Times column. I must say, it's passing strange to see issues once confined to greenie outposts suddenly flooding the mainstream press. (via After Gutenberg)

Cheney accelerates administration walkback from SOTU energy claims

He doesn’t want the Saudis getting all confused, you know

Well, it looks like administration backpedaling away from Bush's SOTU pronouncements on energy has gone into overdrive. As noted, the day after the speech the energy secretary and national economic advisor told journalists he didn't really mean it. Now the Vice President has been activated and launched from his underground coffin bunker to ease the fears of conservatives and oil companies. This is from Maureen Dowd's latest column (yes, I know you can't read it -- sorry): Conservatives were so gobsmacked by W.'s promise to have the government drum up nonpetroleum energy options -- Robert Novak huffed that it not only violated G.O.P. free-market philosophy, but it also had "a lengthy pedigree of failure" -- that the vice president had to swiftly lumber onto conservative radio shows to praise drilling and gas guzzling. Asked by Rush Limbaugh if drilling in Alaska was now out, Mr. Cheney said: "No, it's not off the table by any means. We'll keep pushing it because we think it makes eminent good sense." Asked by Laura Ingraham if he agreed with Tom Friedman that the administration should impart pain with a gas tax, Mr. Cheney demurred, "Well, I don't agree with that." He said that he and W. are "big believers" in the market and letting the market work, and that people "make decisions for themselves in terms of what kind of vehicle they want to drive, and how often they want to fill up the tank, and from the perspective of individual American citizens, this notion that we have to 'impose pain,' some kind of government mandate, I think we would resist." Here's the full Ingraham interview. Below the fold, I've excerpted the relevant Q&A:

SOTU: Who's behind 'switchgrass'?

Hint: he’s from Alabama

Kevin Drum says: I don't know if George Bush loves switchgrass because he got a visit from the switchgrass lobby or because someone just whispered the word in his ear, but who cares? Well, if you happen to care, you may be interested in what David Bransby, professor of energy crops at Auburn University, said Wednesday on NPR's All Things Considered. He has called and emailed regularly with the office of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). One of the last emails claimed, in Bransby's words, that switchgrass "was a last minute inclusion in the speech, and it was Senator Sessions that helped get it into there." Sessions' spokesflack later confirmed that Sessions had a heart-to-heart with Al Hubbard, the chairman of Bush's National Economic Council, last Friday. This AP story has Sessions reacting enthusiastically: U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions praised the president's plans for energy reform, saying his goal to replace more than 75 percent of the country's oil imports from the Middle East by 2025 is a "big challenge" but one that Alabama could play a role in accomplishing. "He really made some big commitments concerning bio fuels," Sessions, R-Mobile, said. "He talked about using wood chips and switch grass (in ethanol production) and Alabama's got great potential for that." Sessions said he's supported research at Auburn University involving switch grass for the past several years, and "it looks like we're at a point where 'swithcraft' could help." Why might Sessions be so psyched about switchgrass?

Break on through to the other side

New batteries make a plug-in hybrid commercially viable

Announcements of technological breakthroughs that are going to save the planet are a dime a dozen. The true test is commercial success on the free market. By "free market" I mean no tax money to support its continued existence, and by "save the planet" I mean something that does not feed the planet to our cars. We are going to see a commercial application of this new technology in just a few months. You can find more details here. I promised on my last post to look into plug-in electric car design from an engineer's perspective. City government's promising to use our tax dollars to buy plug-in electric cars as an incentive to mass produce them would be pointless if the technology needed to produce a viable car did not exist. I will summarize my findings by showing what new battery technology would do to the General Motors EV-1, the subject of the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?

SOTU: Carl Pope proves his brilliance by saying something I said

Earlier this week, I argued that it is significant that Bush used the phrase "America is addicted to oil," even in light of the pathetic inadequacy of his proposed solution. Today, Carl Pope, who's clearly following my lead (cough), argues the same: On energy policy and global warming, as pollster Frank Luntz has repeatedly told the Administration, the public will demand action once it gets the facts. His counsel, consistently, has been to frame energy and global warming as complex, long-range, controversial, scientifically unresolved issues. Millions, perhaps billions, of dollars have been invested by the carbon lobby into driving these messages home to the public. Now, with a single phrase, President Bush has opened a tear in that fabric of denial. Instead of saying, "Oh, he doesn't really mean it. He's insincere," we ought to be rushing to convert that tear into a rent and to drive home a single fact to the American people: If our President states that our energy policy amounts to a dangerous addiction to oil, we need to take action now. We need to figure out how to beat this addiction today. Because although the Bush administration's solutions are weak, distant, and ineffective, ours are imminent, rapid, and powerful. The President has given us the best grounds we could imagine for immediately mobilizing our nation behind smart solutions to our energy, global-warming, and oil-addiction challenges. We should forget about him for the moment and start talking about the task at hand, as if it were today's problem -- not tomorrow's -- because it is. Exactly. This is a golden opportunity -- not to bash Bush, but to take him at face value.

SOTU: The Dean of Shrill responds

Ah, The Mustache is not the only NYT columnist to take on Bush's energy plan today. Unlike Friedman, Paul Krugman, the Dean of Shrill, does not temper his comments: There is a common theme underlying the botched reconstruction of Iraq, the botched response to Katrina (which Mr. Bush never mentioned), the botched drug program and the nonexistent energy program. John DiIulio, the former White House head of faith-based policy, explained it more than three years ago. He told the reporter Ron Suskind how this administration operates: "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. ... I heard many, many staff discussions but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions. There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues." In other words, this administration is all politics and no policy. It knows how to attain power, but has no idea how to govern. That is why the administration was caught unaware when Katrina hit, and why it was totally unprepared for the predictable problems with its drug plan. It is why Mr. Bush announced an energy plan with no substance behind it. And it is why the state of the union -- the thing itself and not the speech -- is so grim. Feel the shrill!

Sam Brownback and creation care

Not so much

Speaking of evangelical Christianity and environmentalism: In this midst of this unspeakably horrific story about Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), the Congressional champion of evangelicals, comes this revealing passage: Brownback is less concerned about the world being polluted by people. His biggest financial backer is Koch Industries, an oil company that ranks among America's largest privately held companies. "The Koch folks," as they're known around the senator's office, are among the nation's worst polluters. In 2000, the company was slapped with the largest environmental civil penalty in U.S. history for illegally discharging 3 million gallons of crude oil in six states. That same year Koch was indicted for lying about its emissions of benzene, a chemical linked to leukemia, and dodged criminal charges in return for a $20 million settlement. Brownback has received nearly $100,000 from Koch and its employees, and during his neck-and-neck race in 1996, a mysterious shell company called Triad Management provided $410,000 for last-minute advertising on Brownback's behalf. A Senate investigative committee later determined that the money came from the two brothers who run Koch Industries. Brownback has been a staunch opponent of environmental regulations that Koch finds annoying, fighting fuel-efficiency standards and the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. Whatever substance there is in the alleged growth of "creation care," it doesn't seem to have reached the upper levels of the evangelical movement -- the people who, you know, have power.

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