David Roberts

David Roberts

Energy, politics, and more

David Roberts was a staff writer for Grist. You can follow him on Twitter, if you're into that sort of thing.

Another one falls for AP6

A surprisingly non-wacky column on Tech Central Station about the developments in Montreal, by Ronald Bailey (via H&R). It's non-wacky, but I also think it makes a mistake -- a mistake made all too often over the last five years -- namely: Believing in the Bush administration's good intentions when they say something that flatters your ideological preconceptions. (See: liberal war hawk.) Specifically, Bailey notes that several participants in the Montreal meetings are pushing the notion that economic development and environmental protection can go hand in hand. For instance:

Prius and oil, part deux


About a week ago I did a short post on Prius/oil-related matters that seemed to irritate a few folks. I hadn't noticed until today that our occasional contributor (and pundit nonpareil) Clark Williams-Derry posted a response. He seemed to be approaching the question the same way some other people did, so I thought I'd offer a reply. To recap: A Wall Street Journal editorial (sub.) said this: 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. Treehugger's Lloyd Alter said (I paraphrase): What a jerk. I said (again paraphrasing): Yes, he's a jerk, but on this narrow point, he's right. Several commenters thought I was making a point about the futility of energy conservation generally. But I wasn't -- the point is about oil in particular. Bart, and at greater length Clark, mentioned the "rebound effect," whereby reduced demand lowers price, which subsequently raises demand. Both of them make the point that although the rebound effect is real, demand only bounces back about 30-50%. So, while using less oil may not make the total efficiency gains you'd want, it does make some efficiency gains. It does save some oil. To which I say: For "energy" generically, yes. For electricity, yes. For something like coal, where supply is plentiful, yes. But oil?

Obama ’08?

As a confirmed Obamaphile, I feel obliged to note that speculation is afoot.

Sacramento Bee on pineros

A must-read investigation into the lives of foreign guest workers in America’s public forests

Speaking of must-read pieces of journalism, don't miss the Sacramento Bee's three-part story about pineros. Pineros ("men of the pines") are the Latinos that do the dirty, exhausting work in America's forests. A nine-month Bee investigation based on more than 150 interviews across Mexico, Guatemala and the United States and 5,000 pages of records unearthed through the Freedom of Information Act has found pineros are victims of employer exploitation, government neglect and a contracting system that insulates landowners - including the U.S. government - from responsibility. The treatment of these workers is bad enough on its own, but is particularly egregious in the context of a government-run guest-worker program, on public land. The Bee's package is not just a superior piece of journalism but a fine piece of web design -- it's an attractive site with judicious use of flash, audio, and video. Really a model to aspire to for all you budding environmental journalists out there. Read it.

Stellar BusinessWeek package on climate change

Things are a’changin’ in the business world

BusinessWeek has a large and informative package of stories on the changing climate (har!) around climate change, both in the business world and in the halls of government. There are too many stories even to summarize here -- just go browse around. One positive notion that crops up in several stories is that federal limits on CO2 emissions are inevitable. The science is solid and public opinion is squarely behind it, and in those circumstances there's only so long politicians can drag their feet (though a shout out here to the Bush administration, which has been amazingly effective at stalling, a perverse accomplishment of sorts). Businesses are already busy planning for it. By planning and preparing now, [Cinergy CEO Jim] Rogers believes he'll position his company ahead of its competitors and make a positive contribution to the environment. In the utility sector, where plants take years to build and remain online for five or six decades, that has long-ranging consequences. "Rather than all of a sudden having huge increases [when regulation hits], we need to smooth it out over the long term," says Rogers. "I want to make sure the decisions I make today on this C02 issue ensure that leaders of this company five decades from now will look back and say 'I'm really glad that guy positioned us that way'." Also of particular interest -- and a refreshing change from typical media reports that say "business is coming around" but provide only scattered anecdotes -- BusinessWeek, Climate Group, and a panel of judges ranked companies based on their action so far on climate change. You can see a list of the top 10 overall performers as well as lists of the best management practices, best individual performers, and best financial-services companies. This is a fantastic, comprehensive, balanced set of stories, and hopefully it will reach the right people. It's hard to see sometimes, especially weeks like this when the U.S. is busy shaming itself at the Montreal conference, but the tide really is turning on global warming.

Humanity’s worst invention

City Hippy brings word of a nifty essay contest run by Ecologist magazine, which I hadn't heard of until now: What is humanity's worst invention? The winning entry will receive a cheque for £2,500 and publication in the Ecologist magazine Essay criteria: responses must be in English, up to 2,000 words. Entries will be judged on originality, critical thinking, clarity and the ability to spark debate. Deadline for entries: 15 March 2006 Please submit entries to: essay2006@theecologist.org (A "cheque"? A "£"? What are these things they speak of?) Go ahead and write your essays, but before you do, leave your candidates in comments.

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: