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.

Kia ads: ‘Save the greenbacks’

The problem with these Kia ads is not that they mock environmentalists -- the world needs more mockery, not less -- the problem is that they're not funny. (via desmogblog)

A bit of rambling: What is 'nature'?

Philosophical musings.

Since I am cut off from the news, I thought I'd discuss some philosophical issues. Environmentalism is shot through with the same dualisms that have confused Western philosophy from the beginning, and the practical effect (philosophy does too have practical effects!) is to confuse environmental discourse and strategy. It's probably too much to get into in a single blog post, but let's just think for a moment: What do we mean when we refer to "nature"? Of course there's the colloquial meaning, i.e., trees and streams and stuff. But follow it up a little. What is nature? Or, phrasing it another way, what isn't nature? What separates nature from not-nature? One common line of thinking contrasts the natural to the supernatural. Nature is the material world, and then there's the immaterial world inhabited by God, souls, angels, ghosts, and what have you. A related and sometimes overlapping school of thought contrasts nature with humanity. The contrast might be positive: Nature is violent, insensate, and irrational (red in tooth and claw), while human beings are unique in virtue of possessing rationality. This has been the default approach for most of Western history. Or it might be negative: Nature as a kind of harmonious, balanced, holistic system ("Gaia"), while human beings are a cancer on the planet, either unaware or dismissive of any "natural" limits. This is a more recent way of thinking, bound up with the social upheavals of the 60s and 70s, frequently found among those who profess "deep ecology." Now, if you believe in the supernatural -- i.e., God -- then there's no need to trouble your mind. Usually the picture is pretty clear: God "gave" nature to us, his most special creatures, to take care of (dominate or tend lovingly, depending on your predilections). Or, if you're of a certain persuasion, nature is basically disposable, since the Rapture's on the way. The Enlightenment project has been to either bracket the supernatural or dismiss it entirely. For secularists, then, it's a little more complicated: How do we conceive of nature and humanity, environmentalism itself, without the supernatural?

Jury duty

Greetings from jury duty in miserable and blighted lovely Kent, Washington. I'm writing this on a dinky little laptop, using glacially slow (but free!) wi-fi here at the Regional Justice Center. I'm cut off from my usual workflow and, most importantly, my RSS feeds. So I have no idea what's going on out in the world. To boot, at any moment my number could come up and I could be called away to determine some poor schlub's guilt or innocence. So ... posting will be light today.

Damn interesting

One site I've discovered lately that's damn interesting is Damn Interesting [high hat]. It is, as far as I can tell, exactly as advertised: Short articles on random, but always interesting, stuff. A few that might be of interest to Gristmillians: A little piece on the Hindenburg disaster, which completely ended what was until then promising and safe development of air ships, and a bit on the latest developments in toilet technology. And as someone who is highly allergic to cashew nuts, it was gratifying to learn that they are in fact highly toxic.

Coal country

While the Sago tragedy has coal on our minds -- too bad it's only tragedy that moves coal into the spotlight, and only briefly at that -- it's worth reading reporter Lucy Carrigan's short but evocative post about her visit to coal country.

Rebuilding: Compare and contrast

The New York Times: The city's official blueprint for redevelopment after Hurricane Katrina, to be released on Wednesday, will recommend that residents be allowed to return and rebuild anywhere they like, no matter how damaged or vulnerable the neighborhood, according to several members of the mayor's rebuilding commission. Mike Tidwell: To encourage people to return to New Orleans ... without funding the only plan that can save the city from the next Big One, is to commit an act of mass homicide. (via The Poor Man)

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.