David Roberts

David Roberts

Energy, politics, and more

David Roberts is a staff writer for Grist. You can subscribe to his RSS feed or follow him on Twitter or email him at droberts at grist dot org, if you're into that sort of thing.

Google.org

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.

Pope

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

Hypocrisy again

Over on Treehugger, Lloyd Alter claims to have enjoyed this Wall Street Journal piece by Dan Akst (yes, yes, subscription only). I can't say I did. Since you can't read it, I'll summarize: People who build "green" houses that are huge and isolated are hypocrites. It's a bit mystifying to me why this genre of writing is so prevalent. I suppose it's fun to point out that a preachy celebrity drives a Hummer, or that the head of an environmental group flies all over the country to give talks, or that some recycling suburban mom commutes 50 miles to work. For pundits, charges of hypocrisy are nigh irresistible, since they require no thought, research, or analysis. "Look, person says A and does not-A! Gotcha!" It's easy. But is hypocrisy really that important? To the point that seemingly the bulk of writing on environmentalism begins and ends there? I think not.

Monsanto payola

Michael Fumento gets dropped.

Another rightwing pundit has been dropped by a media outlet after it was revealed that he was taking payments from private interests in exchange for columns. Who was the corporate paymaster this time? Monsanto. Scripps Howard News Service (SHNS) announced Friday that it severed its relationship with Michael Fumento -- a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute -- for taking payments in 1999 from agribusiness giant Monsanto. The payola was revealed by BusinessWeek Online, which also broke the story that columnist Doug Bandow had accepted bribes from Jack Abramoff. Copley News Service subsequently dropped Bandow. Incidentally, if any wealthy interests out there are interested in a column about, say, the evils of suburbia, drop me an email and I'll send you my rates.

From Slings to Scouts

Green pickle sling Putting a whole new spin on the wet T-shirt contest, Low Tee makes tight-fitting men’s swimsuits out of recycled vintage tees. Buy an existing banana hammock or send in an old favorite …

The Asia-Pacific climate summit

Farcical.

The big Asia-Pacific climate summit ended today, and I suppose I should have something to say about it. Amanda's piece on the Asia-Pacific climate pact lays out the basics, and I said a little more here. Thankfully, Ross Gelbspan has saved me the trouble of repeating myself, with this compact and devastating post about the summit. As he says, the whole pact is basically an attempt to subsidize the further use of coal. Clean coal technology, with its reliance on hugely expensive geo-engineering projects like mechanical carbon sequestration, basically represents a full-employment act for companies like Bechtel and Halliburton. These projects are also wasteful in the extreme. Given their huge pricetags, the same amount of money would generate far more electricity per dollar were it to be spent on constructing windfarms. A real "pro-technology pro-growth" initiative would center on a worldwide project to replace every coal-burning generating plant, every oil-burning furnace, every gasoline-powered car with clean, climate-friendly energy technologies. Yup.

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