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.

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.

EPA and Ground Zero

The U.S. EPA's atrocious track record around Ground Zero in New York City continues NYT:Abandoning an ambitious cleanup plan for Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, federal environmental officials said yesterday that they would clean, at no cost, any apartment south of Canal Street with unacceptable levels of contaminants from the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Who the public trusts on the environment

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (PDF), ably summarized by Ruy Teixeira, probes the public's confidence in the two parties on a variety of issues. On the question of "protecting the environment," the Democrats outpoll the Republicans by 39%. (Dems 49%, R's 10%, both about the same 21%, neither 13%, not sure 7%.) The difference was 27% back in 1992 and has risen fitfully ever since. After a small dip in 2002, it is now at its highest ever. Make of it what you will. (Interesting -- though not eco-related -- thoughts on the poll from Ed Kilgore and Mark Schmitt.)

A leap of faith

Can we make a power shift without nuclear power?

Yesterday I noted that Judith Lewis' otherwise excellent piece on nuclear power elided what is, from the environmentalist's point of view, the central question: Could we achieve the same power shift away from fossil fuels without nuclear power? Latter-day green proponents of nuclear power say we couldn't, but that's all they do: say so. Why can't we get some kind of definitive answer? Lewis, in an email, says the question is just too damn vexed: The thing is, I could find people who could show you the math that says wind and solar could replace coal next year, and an equal number of sane and competent experts who would argue, convincingly, that they aren't. I don't think we'll know who's right until someone actually does it -- someone with huge piles of cash to pour into distributing renewable power on a large scale. That sounds about right to me. I've seen confident claims that plug-in hybrids alone could solve the energy problem, and equally confident claims that nothing -- no mix of solar, wind, nuclear, whatever -- is going to make up the difference from oil. I've seen a lot of confidence, but nothing that strikes me as dispositive. So how to puzzle through this question?


The Seattle PI found one. (via Judith Lewis)

Late soul

Some six months after the cool kids did it, the American Prospect gets around to running an excerpt from The Soul of Environmentalism. I'm not saying. I'm just saying.

Got 2.7 seconds?

We've devised the world's shortest survey to find out what kind of actions our readers are taking. You know you want to.