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.

The Man watching you drive

Via Hit & Run, a piece in CNET ponders the troubling privacy implications of nascent federal plans to track all vehicles with GPS in order to institute "mileage-based road user fees." Details of the tracking systems vary. But the general idea is that a small GPS device, which knows its location by receiving satellite signals, is placed inside the vehicle. Some GPS trackers constantly communicate their location back to the state DMV, while others record the location information for later retrieval. (In the Oregon pilot project, it's beamed out wirelessly when the driver pulls into a gas station.) The problem, though, is that no privacy protections exist. No restrictions prevent police from continually monitoring, without a court order, the whereabouts of every vehicle on the road. No rule prohibits that massive database of GPS trails from being subpoenaed by curious divorce attorneys, or handed to insurance companies that might raise rates for someone who spent too much time at a neighborhood bar. No policy bans police from automatically sending out speeding tickets based on what the GPS data say. I'm very much in support of congestion pricing and similar schemes to reduce driving in general and peak-hour driving in particular. But I must confess that my civil-libertarian absolutism twitches at the very thought of this sort of thing. What do y'all think?

Rebuilding New Orleans: How's that going?

Not well.

A few months ago, I swore off New Orleans stories for a while. It was just too depressing. But now I'm back in the saddle. Depress me, baby! So how's the whole rebuilding thing going? The first thing to read is Mike Tidwell's short but devastating piece in Orion. His point is simple: Unless we restore the coastal islands and wetlands that cushion New Orleans from storm surges, all other efforts are futile -- but Bush isn't going to do it. A $14 billion plan to fix this problem -- a plan widely viewed as technically sound and supported by environmentalists, oil companies, and fishermen alike -- has been on the table for years and was pushed forward with greater urgency after Katrina hit. But for reasons hard to fathom, yet utterly lethal in their effect, the administration has turned its back on this plan. ... ... ... in its second and final post-Katrina emergency spending package sent to Congress on November 8th, the White House dismissed the rescue plan with a shockingly small $250 million proposed authorization instead of the $14 billion requested. Without restored wetlands, says Tidwell, sending thousands of people back to New Orleans amounts to "an act of mass homicide." Ouch. From there we continue to an L.A. Times piece that offers a view behind the scenes on why New Orleans is getting shortchanged. It appears the blame lies with Louisiana public officials. They're just too uppity and demanding:

Pajamas, Truthdig, and China

Compare and contrast: Pajamas Media -- a collection of rightwing bloggers that promises nothing less than a full-fledged alternative to the dread mainstream media -- is announced amidst a flurry of hype, having rustled up $3.5 million in venture capital. It is a fiasco from the word go, featuring discredited NYT reporter Judy Miller as its keynote speaker, pissing off its friends, changing its name to Open Source Media and then, under threat of lawsuit, changing it back. The resulting site is, to put it charitably, underwhelming, still bizarrely located at the domain osm.org and sporting a comically self-parodying logo. Back at the grown-ups' table: The progressive magazine TruthDig.com launched -- quietly -- about a week ago. Its design is top notch, its goals well-articulated, its content rich and sophisticated. And I kinda doubt it has $3.5 million behind it. Draw whatever lessons you see fit. Anyhoo. I bring all this up because there's a must-read piece on truthdig right now called "China: Boom or Boomerang?" by UC-Berkley Journo Graduate School dean Orville Schell. It's as clear, cogent, and comprehensive a presentation of the paradoxical phenomenon of modern China as you're likely to find. It covers a lot of ground, but it's clear that the environment is foremost of Schell's concerns:

Inside Participate.net

An insider shares the backstory

Wondering what's up with Participate.net, the social-action community run by Participant Productions, the film production company behind Good Night, and Good Luck and Syriana? Over on Worldchanging, Micki Krimmel offers an insider's view. Interesting stuff. (For all you CMS geeks out there, turns out Participate is run on Drupal and actively involved in developing new modules for it.)

EPA analysis of clean-air plans 'not as useful as one could hope'

Another nonpartisan agency calls B.S. on Clear Skies

In April, Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.) threatened to block the nomination of Stephen Johnson as EPA chief until the agency agreed to compare three plans to cut power-plant pollution: his own, a bill from James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), and Bush's "Clear Skies" legislation. Clear Skies contained weaker pollution targets and longer timelines for compliance. So the EPA did the analysis and reported that -- whaddya know! -- the other plans cost too darn much and Clear Skies is the best bang for the buck. Now the Congressional Research Service has issued a report confirming what was widely suspected: The EPA was full of shit. The Environmental Protection Agency's Oct. 27 analysis of its plan -- along with those of Sens. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) and James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.) -- exaggerated the costs and underestimated the benefits of imposing more stringent pollution curbs, the independent, nonpartisan congressional researchers wrote in a Nov. 23 report. ... The administration's "Clear Skies" legislation aims to achieve a 70 percent cut in emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide after 2018, while Carper's and Jeffords's bills demand steeper and faster cuts and would also reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, which are linked to global warming. The Bush plan would also cut emissions of neurotoxic mercury by 70 percent, while Jeffords's bill reduces them by 90 percent. "Although it represents a step toward understanding the impacts of legislative options, EPA's analysis is not as useful as one could hope," the Research Service report said. "The result is an analysis that some will argue is no longer sufficiently up-to-date to contribute substantially to congressional debate." In circumspect bureaucratese, "not as useful as one could hope" pretty much translates to "full of shit." Now, recall:

Limbaugh on global warming

Rush’s opinion, for what it’s worth.

Want to read something truly, truly bizarre? Here, via Chris Mooney, are Rush Limbaugh's thoughts about the recent study showing that Atlantic Ocean currents are shifting. The strangest thing about it is that he summarizes the science pretty well. He's explaining the science, quoting from news reports, and then, out of nowhere ... Now, you might be asking yourself, "Okay, how is global warming causing this cooling?" Well, the first thing you have to understand is that global warming explains everything! Global warming explains why Bush sent troops to Iraq. Global warming explains what happened to New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. Global warming is said to be the reason for everything. Global warming is a political issue. Global warming is a political issue, and as such, it cannot die; it will not die. It is an issue that leftists around world are carrying in their hip pockets and trumpeting from their mouths as a means of doing their best to destroy or weaken capitalist industrial societies. And then it's back to summarizing the science. He doesn't even seem to be questioning the science, or skeptical about it. Nor does he seem to notice that the science is directly at odds with his well-worn political screed about global warming. There's no sign of cognitive dissonance. It makes my brain hurt. And then this:

Does the world have room for two Bonos?

Thom Yorke to meet Tony Blair on climate change

Apparently, Radiohead singer Thom Yorke was asked by Friends of the Earth UK to meet with Tony Blair about climate change. Uh, what? And supposedly he wrote about it on his blog, although I can't find the entry there. I can only find it quoted in the press. Here's a bit of it: Friends Of The Earth have asked me whether I would meet Tony Blair at Downing Street to discuss what our government is not doing about climate change. I don't know if this will ever happen for certain. It is rattling around in the back of my mind and concerns me a lot. I have no intention of being used by spider spin doctors to make it look like we make progress when it is just words. ... Blair has been uttering nonsense lately about Kyoto and such, real la la stuff... looks like the American right have finally eaten his mind. Why on earth would I meet this man? Or perhaps that is exactly why I should. But i dont have powers of persuasion, i just have temper and an acid tongue. The American right has finally eaten Blair's mind. Indeed. In other news, damn I can't wait for that new Radiohead album.

Jeepers, Reapers

The reapers are back, still too clever for their own good

Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus -- yes, yes, the reapers -- want you to know that environmentalism's not only dead, but possibly responsible for the coming apocalypse. Noting that in Montreal the Bush administration has yet again derailed climate efforts, and the Blair government has yet again acquiesced thereto, the reapers pin the responsibility right where it belongs: on ... greens? But the stalemate over addressing global warming highlights the failure of neither Blair nor Bush but rather of environmentalism and the politics of limits. Picture me here doing a double-take-and-rub-eyes, a la Jon Stewart.

Brief for Bush

Let’s go through this one more time.

A couple of enterprising students have uncovered a confidential brief (PDF) from the IPCC to George W. Bush. It'll never work. Too many pages.

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