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.

What the meaning of ‘participation’ is

Oh, this is hilarious. You may recall that at a recent Senate hearing, oil industry execs were asked whether their companies participated in Cheney's notorious 2001 energy task force. They said No. That was ... what's the word? ... a lie. Or was it? Apparently there's some dispute: Yesterday, Marnie Funk, a spokeswoman for the GOP staff of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, one of the two panels that convened the hearing, said its lawyers had reached a preliminary conclusion: Based on a court decision in which two groups unsuccessfully challenged the secrecy of the Cheney task force, Funk said the executives appeared to be telling the truth. "What we simply determined was that the definition of 'participation' was something litigated, and what the court concluded was that attending meetings, and even making presentations, did not rise to the level of fully participating," Funk said. Gosh, it seems like, what, only one administration ago that these kinds of carefully parsed word games were considered a dire threat to the moral fiber of our children. Guess times change.

Sierra Club gets positive

As Daily Grist readers will soon learn, the Sierra Club today released "Building Better: A Guide to America's Best New Development Projects." It's just what it sounds like: A complimentary profile of "walkable, transit accessible places to live and work." I think John Laumer's right: This is an extremely promising development. It's practically a cliche -- particularly since the Death debate -- that the environmental movement needs to offer solutions rather than just problems, to be for something rather than against everything. It's a cliche, and yet the large and lamentably inertia-bound movement hasn't really been doing it. Perhaps because it's more of a ground-up organization, the Sierra Club has been making some nice, high-profile moves in this direction. I hope all greens will welcome it.

Cause sometimes nature isn’t enough

Have y'all heard about this Grand Canyon Skywalk? WTF?

The Atlantic Ocean is going to kill you

Speaking of Oil Drum, they remind me to point to a new study in Nature (sorry, $30) showing that Atlantic Ocean currents are shifting -- which, if verified, could portend a climatic worst case scenario. The ocean current that gives western Europe its relatively balmy climate is stuttering, raising fears that it might fail entirely and plunge the continent into a mini ice age. The dramatic finding comes from a study of ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, which found a 30% reduction in the warm currents that carry water north from the Gulf Stream. ... Harry Bryden at the Southampton Oceanography Centre in the UK, whose group carried out the analysis, says he is not yet sure if the change is temporary or signals a long-term trend. "We don't want to say the circulation will shut down," he told New Scientist. "But we are nervous about our findings. They have come as quite a surprise." This is potentially Very Bad News. Atlantic currents carry warm water to Northern Europe. If they stop, weather there could get mighty cold -- ice-age cold. But as Stuart Staniford ominously notes (in quite a bit of technical detail, but fascinatingly): if all that warm water isn't going north, where ... ? Smack into the region where North Atlantic hurricanes form, that's where it's going. As the French say, l'eek.

Things that make you go ‘hm’

A guest poster over on Oil Drum shares, among other things, an interesting factoid. A useful, easy-to-remember aphorism is: ONE BARREL of oil is equivalent to ONE YEAR of very hard labor by a human. Hm.

Prius and oil

Calming down the hybrid hype.

Treehugger mocks this, from the notoriously hack-a-rrific Wall Street Journal editorial page: Petroleum not consumed by Prius owners is not "saved". It does not stay in the ground. It is consumed by someone else. Greenhouse gases are still released. I'm all for mocking the WSJ editorial page, but this statement is quite true. Oil supply and demand are tightly coupled right now and are only going to get more so. Any dribble of oil you don't use will be snapped up by someone else -- perhaps one of the growing legion of Chinese drivers -- and so on and on until the remaining oil becomes prohibitively expensive and forces the market to provide alternatives. It would be nice to think that environmental sentiment could free the world from oil, but it'll never happen. If your goal is to save money or save oil, buying a Prius should be far down your list. Buy a Prius, if you like, to express your values and make a statement to manufacturers that there's a market for these kinds of cars. But let's not let the hybrid hype get out of hand.

Good news ™

As regular readers know, I have a tendency toward gloom. But as the chipper squadrons at Worldchanging and Treehugger oft remind us, it is our obligation to be optimistic. So with that in mind, let's touch on some recent good news. BP recently announced that they will create a business unit devoted to clean energy and pour $8 billion of funding into it. Joel Makower, who I trust on such matters, says it's the real deal: But it's clear that this isn't just a PR ploy. Indeed, BP appears to have been building to this day for quite some time. BP's chief executive, Lord John Browne, has long been ahead of the pack, dating back to September 1997, when he broke ranks with his big-oil brethren to give an historic speech on climate change -- the first time that any oil exec had spoken out on the subject. It's a sliver of BP's overall business, but a sliver of BP is a big deal. As Amanda reminded us last week, momentum seems to be inexorably building in Congress to take action to address the twin crises of our time, oil depletion and global warming. Carl Pope notes that even an ardent libertarian like Cato's Jerry Taylor concedes that coordinated government action is the only way global warming will be addressed. And finally, back with Joel, who brings news of a coming U.N. report revealing that ... oh, hell, I'll let him tell it: A newly formed alignment of legal, financial, and investment interests will direct "trillions" of U.S. dollars over the next 10 years into evolving markets linked to climate change, clean technology and sustainable use of natural resources, according to a report being prepared for the United Nations. ... What was once considered a financial niche area is poised to become mainstream as institutions with trillions of dollars under management embed environmental, social and governance thinking into their investment approach ... There, now. Don't you feel better?

Doing my part

Just want everyone to know that here in my humble abode, I'm wearing a scarf and a sweater rather than turning the heat on. Can an end to global warming be far behind? Speaking of which, why the %$@! is it so cold in Seattle? I left the east coast for a reason!

U.S. in Montreal

I suppose it's no big surprise that the U.S. is deliberately gumming up the works in Montreal -- having paid no penalty (at least domestically) for its intransigence on climate change, the Bush administration is getting more and more flagrant about thumbing its nose at the international community on this subject. But in reading all the many stories about it, for some reason this little bit from Reuters is the only thing that really got me down: "It would be nice if the U.S. would step up and start to take some action," said Ben Matchstick, a U.S. organizer dressed as a bird.

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