David Roberts

David Roberts

Energy, politics, and more

David Roberts is a staff writer for Grist. You can follow his Twitter feed at twitter.com/drgrist.

The dynamics of Arctic Refuge drilling in Congress

A subscription-only article in Congressional Quarterly adeptly summarizes the complicated dynamics at work in Congress right now. Arctic Refuge drilling hangs in the balance. A long excerpt below the fold.


Can China’s government balance an economic boom with environmental degradation and public protest?

By now it should be clear that China is the big story of the 21st century, in geopolitics generally and global environmental health in particular. Last week saw yet more news of grassroots protest in the country, this one "improperly handled" by police, who killed up to 20 villagers. The general outline of China's story is one of rapid economic growth, rapid growth of environmental degradation, rapid growth of political dissent, and genuine uncertainty about whether the communist government can keep all these balls in the air without a) acceding to democracy, or b) imposing harsh, country-wide political suppression. It's hard to overstate the degree of complexity and uncertainty involved here, or the stakes. Depending on where you look, you can find signs that economic growth will continue or run up against hard limits, that environmental degradation will accelerate or that the government will leapfrog past the woes of West's industrialization, that political unrest will spread out of control or calm down as prosperity spreads, that the government will lose control or manage the transition smoothly. Nobody really knows, and as Gristmill readers will recall, the experts' predictions are no more likely to come true than those of a reasonably educated observer. That said, I commend you to this post from Anne-Marie Slaughter (or rather, a unnamed friend of hers who lives in China and works in the environmental movement there). It's a great rundown of the role environmental issues are playing in China's political dynamic. A long excerpt is below the fold, but you should, as bloggers are so fond of saying, read the whole thing.

Gas prices

It's an open question how much gasoline prices affect gasoline consumption. But apparently gas prices are pretty tightly correlated with something else. Click to find out what. (Via Tapped)

This legislator brought to you by …

Ever wondered why there's so little effort at the federal level to pressure automakers to improve auto efficiency? Ever suspected that the auto industry might be calling the shots? Well just to set your mind at ease, check out this story of a freshman House member whose "Dear Colleagues" letter to fellow legislators contains talking points from an auto-industry memo -- verbatim, in the same font. One wonders whether we even need the middle men. Just get an industry rep up in there! (via The Plank)

Chemicals and cancer

There's a piece in the NYT about the connection -- or lack of connection -- between trace chemicals in the environment and cancer. The conclusion, broadly speaking, is that science doesn't yet know enough to make a firm link, but conventional wisdom has nonetheless settled on a rather unwarranted degree of paranoia. One Brit doctor claims cancer rates -- if tobacco-related cancers are screened out -- have actually been falling for 50 years, and goes so far as to say firmly: "Pollution is not a major determinant of U.S. cancer rates." A couple of folks have blogged about this. For my part, I'm a little leery to take it at face value, given the reporter's history. (See this old Nation piece on Gina Kolata's excessive deference to the big corporations she covers.) Still, nothing is quite so screwed up and off-base as Americans' sense of the risks they face (car crashes, people. car crashes.), so anything that can take the edge off the latest overblown fear is a good thing in my book.

Great minds, etc.

Yesterday I wrote about America's shame in Montreal. Today, the New York Times, which clearly knows a good idea when it sees one, is running an editorial called "America's Shame in Montreal."

Two things at Daily Kos

A spoof and a serious energy plan

First: Engineer-Poet is right -- somebody has way too much time on their hands. Second: via Oil Drum, check out the collective efforts by Kossacks to develop "A Blueprint for U.S. Energy Security." They're on their fourth draft, and it's really shaping up into an impressive piece of work. I would quibble with a few details, and with the excessive focus on command-and-control regulation, but my one broad criticism is that they've ended up with a kind of melting pot of every single progressive energy idea on the planet. As an exercise in visualization and planning, it's great, but if this is going to be picked up as an actual proposal, it's in dire need of some editing. Some tough choices need to be made. There's no way, in today's political climate -- or any I can foresee -- that this country is going to be able to process 20 major pieces of legislation all at once. Especially since for each one there's going to be a major lobbying push against it by entrenched powers. But regardless: Very nice work, and a rather inspiring example of grassroots collaboration. I'll be following the progress.

Milbank on the refuge

Bush administration officials sense that their best chance in years to get drills into the Arctic Refuge is slipping away, so they're putting on a PR offensive. This isn't particularly newsworthy. Still, it's nice to see Dana Milbank, the Washington Post's excellent political reporter, writing a column with just the right degree of mocking skepticism, calling Interior Secretary Gale Norton "the administration's Ahab" on the subject and busting Labor Secretary Elaine Chao for passing on talking points straight from a rightwing think tank (drilling will create a million jobs -- by all accounts, she said it with a straight face). Anyway, it's a bracing exception to the normal stenography of mainstream Washington reporting. Give it a read.

Stevens rumor

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is not Jon Stewart's favorite person. Last week on The Daily Show's he did a memorable segment called "Who the F**k is Ted Stevens?" (Video here.) Why is that? Well, consider the following. He and his fellow drilling monomaniacs in Congress have inflated the (already-inflated [PDF]) projected revenue from Arctic Refuge drilling to $5 billion, though the Congressional Budget Office has not yet changed its official scoring. Last week Stevens was openly discussing scaring up support for refuge drilling among Gulf-state Democrats by tying it to hurricane relief. Holding devastated families hostage. Classy. But the latest rumor -- and right now it's only a rumor, mentioned in CongressDaily -- takes the cake. Apparently Stevens is considering holding up the Defense Appropriations Bill until he gets refuge drilling in the budget reconciliation bill, which is in conference committee. Holding the military's budget hostage. Quite a mensch! Anyway, if anyone can verify (or disconfirm) this rumor, let me know.

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