David Roberts

David Roberts

Energy, politics, and more

David Roberts was a staff writer for Grist. You can follow him on Twitter, if you're into that sort of thing.


A word of counsel to the new and potential-laden earthengine.net: Just because you can do something in Flash doesn't mean you should.

Internet shopping and the environment

Ever wondered about the impact of internet shopping on the environment? Me neither, but thankfully the folks over at Gotham Gazette are all over it. On the plus side, there are fewer vehicle-miles logged shopping. On the negative side, there's lots and lots and lots of recycling: Cardboard boxes, styrofoam, packaging, etc. I like this idea:

Kennedy, wind, and fatuity

Already the Kennedy wind controversy is a target of fatuous bloviating

Sigh. The whole flap over Bobby Kennedy and the Cape Cod wind farm is first and foremost a distraction. In anything you've read about it, have you seen any statistics? How many wind farms are being actively fought by locals? How many of those on environmental grounds? Has Kennedy taken stands on other wind farms? What does the environmental impact statement on the wind farm say? You're unlikely to get any actual information from stories about the hubbub. Instead, expect a bunch of fatuous trend pieces (environmentalists divided!) and fatuous hypocrisy charges (environmentalists won't take their own medicine!). Expect fatuity. The whole damn thing is a big Fatuity Generator. Exhibit A: Conservative NYT columnist John Tierney addressed the controversy yesterday (yes, I know, you can't read it). Here's an excerpt:

Lovelock's apocaphilia

Gaia theorist says we’re all doomed

So, James Lovelock -- he of the famous "Gaia Hypothesis" -- has a rather, uh, grim piece in the Independent today, mainly as advance hype for his new book The Revenge of Gaia. (The paper also has a follow-up piece that does little but point out the existence of the original piece. Oh, and another follow-up piece, doing the same. And, um, another follow-up piece, in case you missed the first three.) I'm not really clear on what Lovelock thinks he's trying to accomplish. Does he think people aren't more concerned about global warming because environmentalists haven't yelled loud enough? Haven't been apocalyptic enough? Haven't painted a vivid enough picture of the end of civilization? Does he think becoming even more melodramatic -- "before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic" -- is going to snap people awake? I'm mystified by this attitude, which seems to be widely shared. Just shouting, louder and louder and louder, isn't going to do anything. Lovelock's latest piece is not going to reach anybody who's not already sympathetic. Public opinion polls show that the majority of people believe in global warming and believe it's human-caused and believe it's a threat. What are they supposed to do? Panic? They need to see pathways, from where we're standing now to a place where it will be OK. Lovelock offers no such pathways. This kind of street-corner "the end is nigh" stuff has, in my humble opinion, largely exhausted its usefulness. Here are some of the high low points:


Has anyone else seen or heard much about google.org? It sounds pretty amazing. Google.org includes the work of the Google Foundation, some of Google's own projects using Google talent, technology and other resources, as well as partnerships and contributions to for-profit and non-profit entities. While we continue to define the goals, priorities and approach for Google.org, we will focus on several areas including global poverty, energy and the environment. Say founders Sergey Brin & Larry Page: We hope that someday this institution will eclipse Google itself in overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world's problems. Something to keep our eyes on.

Iran and oil

So, let's return to a familiar subject: The use of oil as a political tool in international relations. Iran's heading toward nukes. The U.S. wants to prevent it. So the U.S. is threatening economic sanctions -- specifically, threatening to restrict Iran's major export, oil. But, ahem, don't we need that oil? Points out Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, "You need us more than we need you. All of you today need the Iranian nation." Kevin Drum asks, and Stuart Staniford answers, the obvious question: Could cutting off, or even slowing down, Iranian oil exports really do that much damage to us, or to the world economy? The short answer is: Yes. So the next time somebody's calculating the economic cost of Kyoto, or a carbon tax, or emissions caps, I hope that in the "continuing the status quo" column they don't forget to include, "inability to prevent a large Middle Eastern country headed by maniacs from acquiring nuclear weapons." How much does that run these days?

Kotkin: Still mildly annoying

Since most of you aren't subscribed to the Wall Street Journal, you won't have the pleasure of reading Joel Kotkin saying the same things he always says, again. For the record, he's still pretending that the American preference for suburbs arises ex nihilo, reflecting only the original and uninfluenced desires of American families and not, say, half a century of infrastructure decisions, land-use policies, energy subsidies, anemic public transportation, corporate influence, and cheap foreign labor. He's also still pretending that the choice is between unchecked suburban sprawl and "underused train systems, downtown condominiums, hotels, convention centers, sports stadia and 'star-chitect'-designed art museums, often at the expense of smaller business, single-family neighborhoods and local shopping areas." Way to use your imagination, Joel!

Global warming, Cape Cod, and Manicheanism

The imperative to fight climate change cannot trump all other concerns

Unlike, apparently, 150 other environmentalists, I don't know enough about the proposed Cape Cod wind farm to venture an opinion on it. Bill McKibben says "when [other environmental] efforts come into conflict with the imperative need to act urgently on global warming, they have to take second place." It's a common sentiment these days, but I'll be honest that it makes me a bit nervous. My inclination, of course, is to support wind farms. But they are industrial development, and as such deserve reasonable regulation, smart siting decisions, and community involvement. I like to think I "get" global warming, but I don't necessarily accept that it's the One and True Problem, the overwhelming existential threat before which all other considerations must go overboard -- any more than I believe the same of terrorism. The clean coal and nuclear power lobbies would love to use global warming as a trump card. GE would be all over it. So would the ANWR-hungry Republican Congress. But even in light of global warming, we still owe ourselves honest debate about other issues. Biodiversity matters. Wilderness matters. Human culture, democracy and rule of law matter. The economy matters. If you go far enough down the matters scale, eventually you find the pastoral ocean views of American aristocracy on Nantucket, and hell, even they matter a little bit. Giving any issue the status of get-out-of-jail-free card is an invitation to abuse. Not abuse by Bill McKibben -- a veritable secular saint -- but by hangers-on. Everybody with a project to fund, political favor to call in, tax break to push, or axe to grind. Of course, this discussion is a bit moot in light of the fact that global warming receives nothing near the attention it deserves in most contexts. I just don't want to end up saying, "You're with us or you're with the global warmists," to batter down all local or countervailing concerns. That kind of Manicheanism is for the other side.


Carl Pope explains why the U.S. is not yet Syria. I think he means it to be optimistic.