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.

Peak oil: Not an environmental silver bullet

Something's been bugging me about peak oil, and today we got a letter to the editor that crystallized it. I put it below the fold -- give it a read. It's this: Environmentalists seem to have a somewhat naive faith that once the concept of peak oil sinks in, people will move -- as though by the force of tides -- to support renewable, decentralized energy. But why should that be true? A much more natural, predictable reaction would be to push like mad for more drilling and for more coal gasification. Both more drilling and more coal-to-liquid-fuel production would fit better with our existing infrastructure and practices, however environmentally malign they may be. The economics of peak oil will scare and motivate people, but there's no particular reason the environmental aspects of it will grip them. You know? Anyway, read the letter.

Blogging from COP MOP

As I'm sure you all know, COP MOP started today up in Montreal. Several young bloggers are writing about their experiences at the non-official portions of the summit -- the rallies, the marches, the street-hockey games -- over on It's Getting Hot in Here. Check it out. (But people? The proper spelling is "herre.")

Political circus to distract from COP MOP

Oh fer chrissake. The COP MOP meeting in Montreal starts Monday. Guess what else is happening Monday up in Canadaland? ... Monday is also the day that Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal Party government is expected to fall in a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons. Many of the Canadian cabinet ministers and other members of Parliament who were supposed to attend the conference will now be scurrying to the campaign trail instead. "It's the nightmare scenario that environmental activists around the world have been hoping would be avoided," said Elizabeth May, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada. Great. And it gets better. Meet Canada's environment minister, Stephane Dion: Mr. Dion, a mild-mannered man who wears a windmill pin on his lapel, has been credited by many environmentalists for his diplomatic skills with China, India and the Bush administration. He has pushed for international efforts to increase technological innovation like hydrogen fuel cells and methods for ... carbon sequestration, and planning for droughts and floods that he says will be consequences of the existing buildup of the heat-trapping gases. "What Canada will attempt to do is reach a rapprochement," he said. But about that rapprochement ... funny story: Should the Liberals lose the vote now expected in January, a minister from the Conservative Party - which is critical of the Kyoto Protocol and rooted in oil-rich Alberta Province - would probably replace Mr. Dion as president of the conference for the rest of the year. And I'm sure that Alberta oilman be working doggedly for an extension of Kyoto's mandatory CO2 targets. Can someone tell me why acts of fate keep sandbagging our biggest chances for progress on climate?

Geeks and peak oil

If you want to know what the young, internet-residing, tech-savvy crowd -- an influential if lamentably self-regarding demographic -- thinks about peak oil, read through the comments on this post over at Digg. Eye-opening, and not all bad.

The Man and the bus

Well, this is sure to increase ridership on public transit!

Buy Nothing Day

It's Buy Nothing Day. So I hope all y'all are out there ... buying nothing. Looks like I'm going to get away with buying nothing except a couple of second-run movie tickets ($3/each) and some take-out. Sorry, Earth! But my wife and I finally have a date with no kids. A guy's gotta have his priorities. If you're looking for a way to spend all your money, read this devastating Matt Taibbi piece in Rolling Stone on the survivors of the Pakistan earthquake and their precarious situation, and then write a check to the relief organization of your choice. Check here for some ideas. Or, per Treehugger's suggestion, buy something at GoodGifts.org. (Speaking of Treehugger, they've got more thoughts on Buy Nothing day here, here, and here.) Update [2005-11-27 11:36:6 by David Roberts]: See also Worldchanging on voluntary simplicity.

Thanksgiving

Giving thanks is a struggle this year. In the past 12 months we have been struck by three body blows from Mother Nature: the South Asia tsunami, Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Gulf Coast, and the Kashmir earthquake. In each case, the destruction wrought by nature was exacerbated by a lack of foresight and criminal negligence on the part of governments. In each case, the suffering is ongoing. Taken individually, each is a tragedy. Taken together, they are unimaginable. Numbing. Yet we do not have the luxury of numbness, for every day the dimensions of two interlinked crises -- the disruption of global climate and the exhaustion of the world's primary energy source -- become more clear. These crises portend disasters like those we've seen this year, ever more frequent and more severe. Still the world's governments stumble forward with shameful disregard, shackled by habit, by ignorance, by greed, content on some level that they will not have to weather the worst of it. It is a particularly bitter year for those of us in the U.S. We continue to see our nation's reputation and credibility eroded by a series of foreign policy blunders. We are in a position to lead the word to a cleaner, healthier, more prosperous future -- yet instead we find ourselves mired in a debate about the legitimacy of torture. We spurn all efforts to address climate change. We burn heedlessly through the world's remaining oil. We wage war. When confronted with the three epic natural disasters of the past year we have displayed a parsimony that borders on the repugnant. In the hills and mountains of Northern Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of penniless, hungry men, women, and children sleep in tents, their houses and lives reduced to rubble, waiting the coming of a harsh winter that a horrific number of them will not survive. Yet the U.N. has been able to raise less than $300 million to help them -- as much as we spend in a few days in Iraq, a negligible rounding error in our GDP. Already they have begun to die. On 9/11/01, one kind of malaise breached our shores; this hurricane season, another did. Our isolation from the world's struggles, our glorious island, is falling away. We will soon have to accept the challenge of forging a better, more equitable, more sustainable future, or we too will see ours sink into strife and misfortune. So it is difficult to search our hearts for gratitude, in a season of darkness, for bearers of light that seem ever more scattered and overwhelmed. But bearers of light there always are, in governments, in businesses, in schools, in communities across the world. We all know of them. Now more than ever we are called to give thanks for them, to support them -- and to join them. For my part, I am acutely conscious of the blessings I enjoy, my privileged place in a shrinking world. So above all I give thanks for my family, my wife and my two boys, who at the end of every day I spend studying the globe's ill health await me at home with warmth and joy.

Federal court reinstates streamlined permitting process for mountaintop mining

Grim news: Mountaintop mining is once again set to go full steam ahead. In July of last year, a federal judge revoked 11 mountaintop mining permits issued under the Nationwide Permit 21 process by the Army Corps of Engineers. NP21 is a streamlined permitting process meant to govern activities that have minimal environmental impact. Judge Joseph R. Goodwin, being sentient and in possession of his faculties, ruled that mountaintop mining does not fall under that description and that permitting it under NP21 violates the Clean Water Act. Environmentalists hailed Goodwin's ruling as a landmark victory. Today, a federal appeals court overturned it. The three judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit -- widely regarded as the most conservative of the 13 U.S. appellate courts -- unanimously ruled that the Corps had in fact acted in accordance with the Clean Water Act. Here's the ruling as HTML and here it is as a PDF. Helluva way to head into Thanksgiving.

Green Gauge Report: Bad news

Here we are on the day before a long holiday weekend. A perfect day to bury bad news. So here goes. The Green Gauge Report is a poll on environmental attitudes, based on 2,000 face-to-face interviews, conducted with a broad cross-section of demographics representative of the U.S. Census, undertaken by an arm of market-research outfit GfK NOP. They do it every year -- though for some reason they skipped 2004. Joel Makower discusses this year's GGR in a post that tries -- one might say 'strains mightily' -- to put an optimistic spin on the results. But from what I've seen (and I've exchanged a few emails with Bob Pares, the guy who ran it), the results are almost uniformly discouraging. Consider this, from Joel's post: Here's a breakdown of the study's five market segmentations for 2005 and 1995 (the numbers don't add up to 100 due to rounding): True-Blue Greens -- the most environmentally active segment of society: 11% of the U.S. population in 1995, 11% in 2005. Greenback Greens -- those most willing to pay the highest premium for green products: 7% in 1995, 8% in 2005. Sprouts -- fence-sitters who have embraced environmentalism more slowly: 31% in 1995, 33% in 2005. Grousers -- uninvolved or disinterested in environmental issues, who feel the issues are too big for them to solve: 14% in 1999, 14% in 2005. Apathetics -- the least engaged group who believe that environmental indifference is mainstream (referred to as "Basic Browns" in earlier Roper polls): 35% in 1995, 33% in 2005. So: basically no change in the last decade in the number of folks genuinely concerned and engaged with environmental problems.

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