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.

CleanPeace declaration

Sign it and … well, not sure what will happen.

Like Jeff, I'm in full agreeance with CleanPeace.org's just-published "Declaration of World Energy Independence, Energy Security and Sustainability." Here are the four principles: Principle One: Make Transitioning to Renewable Energy a Strategic Objective of all Energy Policies. Principle Two: Require Equal Funding, Fair Play and Competition in Energy Markets. Principle Three: Accelerate Construction of Sustainable Energy Infrastructures. Principle Four: Provide for Peace and Prosperity in Times of Oil Shortages. CleanPeace wants you to sign it. Also like Jeff, I'm not exactly sure what they intend to do with the declaration once people have signed it.

Consumer Reports on organic

One of my beefs with Consumer Reports has always been its refusal to present sustainability as a standard measure of quality. They did launch Greener Choices, but so far that's been pretty underwhelming, and anyway, it will never reach as large an audience as the mothership. So imagine my delight when reading this week's CR, which has a short piece about the impact of global warming on insurance premiums (not online), and then later on a long, detailed, and fair look at when it is and isn't worthwhile to buy organic. Worth a read. I hope it's a sign of things to come.

Hybrids and values

People buy hybrids to express their identities

UC-Davis researchers are looking into why people buy hybrids. Instead of having them fill out checklist forms, they're sitting down and interviewing buyers for up to two hours. They have discovered, shockingly, that people are not rational maximizing machines who put together spreadsheets on the relative merits of auto choices along various axes -- fuel economy, size, quality, etc. -- over a lifetime. No, turns out purchasing a car in America is largely an emotional decision, one bound up with issues of identity and values. This is a bit of a head-slapper, but for some bizarre reason the mainstream press doesn't seem to get it. To those of us who do get it, perhaps the more interesting question is: What values are people expressing when they purchase a hybrid? This (via Treehugger) is from an interview with the researchers on HybridCars.com: There are common meanings that run through our interviews. And there are often some individual meanings as well. Preserving the natural environment is the obvious meaning of the hybrid, but it's a lot deeper than that. What we hear from people is that when they buy a hybrid vehicle, it expresses their vision of a better world, and their desire for a society and a world where people work together for common goals. That's powerful stuff, the kind of stuff politicians wish they could bottle. Visions of a better world sell. Apocalyptic doomsaying doesn't. Environmentalists, take note.

One-click activism

This is kinda nifty: Go to The Rainforest Site, click on the big green button, and voila, thanks to their sponsors you've "funded the preservation of 11.4 square feet of endangered rainforest." Might as well drop by a click once a day, no? (via Digg)

Pombo squarely at the center of new scandal

It could get ugly.

The L.A. Times story starts off tauntingly: In a case that echoes the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal, two Northern California Republican congressmen used their official positions to try to stop a federal investigation of a wealthy Texas businessman who provided them with political contributions. Could it be? Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus: Reps. John T. Doolittle and Richard W. Pombo joined forces with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas to oppose an investigation by federal banking regulators into the affairs of Houston millionaire Charles Hurwitz, documents recently obtained by The Times show. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was seeking $300 million from Hurwitz for his role in the collapse of a Texas savings and loan that cost taxpayers $1.6 billion. Hee hee! Looks like the seemingly quixotic quest to bring Pombo down might not be quite so quixotic after all. Mark Schmitt puts the story in context:

Mmm … prefab

Man do I love me some prefab. Over at Worldchanging, Jill Fehrenbacher and Sarah Rich have a great roundup of some new prefab projects in Australia. I particularly dig the deck_house. Mike Millikin's Week in Sustainable Transportation is worth reading too, as always.

LEED condos

Speaking of condos receiving LEED certification, I just found out about a week ago that literally right across the street from me, they're in the process of building what is to be Seattle's first LEED Silver Certified condo building: the Hjarta. Seems I bought too soon. Then again, prices will probably be through the roof.

Kolbert report

This week's New Yorker has another fantastic piece from Elizabeth Kolbert on global warming: "Butterfly Lessons." It's a fairly detailed look at the effect of climate change on a range of butterfly and frog species. It's not online (yet?), but Kolbert is rapidly becoming reason enough to subscribe to the magazine. I can't wait for her book.

GM and ethanol

Just because General Motors calls it green doesn’t mean it is.

Joel Makower reports that General Motors will lead a joint demonstration project "to learn more about consumer awareness and acceptance of E85 as a motor vehicle fuel by demonstrating its use in GM's flexible-fuel vehicles." The California Department of Transportation will use some flex-fuel vehicles and work with Chevron Technology Ventures to make sure there are filling stations that offer E85 (gas w/ 85% ethanol). A company called Pacific Ethanol will provide the liquid fuel. Filling stations that sell E85 will be receiving "a lucrative federal tax credit." Joel passes rather lightly over the central problem with biofuels, a problem advocates have never satisfactorily resolved. We're always told that biomass for ethanol could come from crop waste, fryer grease, turkeys, or what have you, but what it inevitably will be made from is whatever's cheapest. Right now it's cheapest to use corn, sugarcane, soybeans, and palm oil -- heavily-subsidized agribusiness products. Joel holds Brazil up as a model, boasting that it just became a net exporter of sugarcane ethanol. But right there in Brazil rainforests are being plowed down to plant crops, making carbon sinks into carbon sieves. If there were more confident predictions and fewer just-so stories about how genuinely renewable sources of ethanol will become cheaper than biodiversity-destroying, CO2-increasing agricultural crops, I would feel more comfortable biofuel boosting. I'm not ready to walk blindly into this future, holding General Motors' hand for comfort.

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