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.

China, China, China

Two interesting stories on China, one small, one large. The small one, in the L.A. Times, is about the latest toxic river spill in China and the government's quick and transparent response -- obviously it learned some lessons from last month's disastrous Songhua River spill. The long one, in the N.Y. Times, is about fledgling attempts by NGOs and citizen groups in China to have a say in big development projects. Specifically, it focuses on huge hydropower projects like the one planned for the Nu River. There are also some interesting details about the country's electricity situation. One study estimated that China might build enough new dams, most of them in Yunnan, to double its hydroelectric output in the next five years. One plan would inundate one of the most popular tourist attractions in China - Tiger Leaping Gorge. Part of the frenzied hydropower development is driven by the thirst for new energy supplies. But part of it is caused by the breakup of the state monopoly that once controlled electrical generation in China. That breakup left regional state-owned energy giants who were each assigned "assets" - like rivers or coal deposits. Each faces competitive pressures to develop new power plants quickly in order to claim market share. Mr. Ma, the environmental consultant in Beijing, said environmentalists understood that China faced a complex challenge in developing new energy sources even as it must reduce pollution. But he said this intense pressure to develop was why laws that provide oversight and public review must serve as safeguards. Lots of food for thought.

Rebuilding: He-said, she-said

Everything -- everything -- eventually becomes fodder for a partisan food fight. In some ways, the nation's response to Katrina is cleaving the public down partisan lines as a domestic issue, just as Iraq has on foreign policy. Both issues have become polarizing, rather than unifying, issues for the country, said Glen Bolger, a pollster for Hill Republicans. According to a poll this month for the Hotline political newsletter, which asked whether Congress should tackle Iraq or the Katrina recovery first in 2006, Americans wanted the Gulf Coast rebuilt by 58 percent to 28 percent. Democratic and independent voters generally agreed on addressing Katrina's problems, while self-identified Republicans chose Iraq, 46 percent to 37 percent. Update [2005-12-26 11:10:29 by David Roberts]: Also, don't miss the extremely thorough L.A. Times rundown on the history of bureaucratic feuding that doomed New Orleans' levees.


Have y'all heard of a site called Squidoo? People share their expertise on various subjects and then, in some way I'm not entirely clear on, make money from it. It's free to use, though. If I had any expertise on anything, maybe I'd "create a lens," as the site puts it. Here's the lens on green building. Pretty neat.

Utne Independent Press Award

Not to toot our own horn (toot! toot!), but I thought I'd draw your attention to the fact that Grist has won the 2005 Utne Independent Press Award for online political coverage. We are flattered.

Merry Christmas!

Just a quick note to wish all Grist (and Gristmill!) readers a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Here's hoping Santa brought all of us what we really need: Enough courage and compassion to overcome fear.

I’m dreaming of a solar Christmas

My parents are in the midst of building a new house -- their retirement home, as it were -- and I spent a little time (okay, very little) trying to persuade them to include some green building techniques. The pat answer was that there's not enough sun in Middle Tennessee to run solar panels. Put aside the fact that solar is the tip of the green-building iceberg. Is it true that solar panels are only useful in areas with tons of direct sunlight? According to a fascinating post from Jamais Cascio, no: Solar can be effective even in areas where it -- gasp -- snows. Read the post and follow the links. Interesting stuff.

Top environmental story of 2005

What was the year's top environmental story? You can vote at the Sierra Club's website. Think they missed something? Let us know in comments.

Sen. Ted Stevens: Crybaby

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has spent the last week or so -- nay, the last 25 years -- attempting to circumvent the clearly and repeatedly expressed preferences of a majority of U.S. citizens by allowing oil drilling to take place in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The latest attempt involved attaching drilling to the defense appropriations bill, in effect holding military funding hostage in the middle of an armed conflict. We have perhaps become numbed by the sheer repetition and persistence of these efforts, but it's worth pausing, stepping back, and noting just how utterly venal and anti-democratic they are. The country would not benefit from Refuge oil. It would be sold on the world market just like any other oil. Oil companies and the state of Alaska would benefit. For that, Stevens is willing to make a mockery of legislative procedure and tradition. Stevens' latest defeat produced a self-pitying, thumb-sucking tantrum on the floor of the Senate. He said it was the "saddest day of his life." He also threatened his fellow Senators, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) in particular: "I'm going to go to every one of your states, and I'm going to tell them what you've done," he told colleagues who voted against the measure. "You've taken away from homeland security the one source of revenue that was new ... I'm sure that the senator from Washington [Cantwell] will enjoy my visits to Washington." He also, in effect, threatened to quit, saying "It's a day I don't want to remember. I say goodbye to the Senate tonight. Thank you very much." You can watch a little bit of the pathetic performance here (via Atrios). (It's worth noting that when Refuge drilling came out of the defense bill, so did assistance for low-income people to heat their houses. The LIHEAP program will receive less funding this year than last year, despite record high heating prices. Maybe Stevens should shed a tear over that.)

Green advertising

The NYT reports that eco-themed advertising is growing ever-more-ubiquitous from big companies. I know we're supposed to bitch and moan about greenwashing, but the way I see it, even if 50% of this is hype, a) 50% non-hype is better than nothing, and b) it speaks well to current cultural trends that companies feel the need to brag about their environmental consciousness. Environmentalism is once again coming out in the open as a mainstream value, after years of demonization and caricature.