David Roberts

David Roberts

Energy, politics, and more

David Roberts is a staff writer for Grist. You can follow his Twitter feed at twitter.com/drgrist.

The future of international climate agreements

Voluntarily cutting growth or consumption seems unlikely; what is the alternative?

The COP-11 talks -- or rather, "the first meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in conjunction with the eleventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention" -- are coming up in Montreal at the end of the month. The protocol (itself a product of COP-3) went into effect in February. According to the treaty, the parties to the protocol were supposed to have an agreement about post-Kyoto steps before it went into effect. There is no such agreement -- nor, apparently, does anyone think such an agreement will emerge from COP-11. "There is a consensus that the caps, targets and timetables approach is flawed. If we spend the next five years arguing about that, we'll be fiddling and negotiating while Rome burns," [Australian Environment Minister Ian] Campbell said. The big complaint from the U.S. and Australia (and, increasingly, Kyoto participants) is that developing countries like China and India are not bound by the protocol. With billions of poor waiting for the fruits of modern society, robust growth, and economies driven by cheap, easily available coal, these countries will soon swamp any CO2 reductions made by developed countries. U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair apparently agrees. He echoed this line of thinking in an Observer editorial hyping the importance of the climate talks opening today in London between the G8 countries and developing-world nations. He has been increasingly blunt lately about the fact that he no longer believes the Kyoto model ("caps, targets, and timetables approach") can work; this week's talks will focus instead on technology. COP-11 may play out as a big international bitching session about the U.S.'s refusal to ratify Kyoto. But even if the U.S. and Australia committed to Kyoto, and every country already involved in Kyoto magically met its targets (which seems unlikely), worldwide CO2 emissions would not be reversed or even stabilized. A Kyoto best case scenario is still a grim outcome for the planet. I may be pilloried for this by my environmental brethren, but I'm inclined to think Blair is right that "no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in the light of a long-term environmental problem." It would be nice if they would. It would also be nice if they gave ponies to all their small children. But we'd have to see a pretty drastic change in geopolitics -- nay, human nature -- for such behavior to become the norm. People want better lives. Countries want to develop. If our survival depends on voluntarily slowing or stopping development, we're probably well and truly screwed. The alternative is to put our time, energy, money, and international agreements behind techniques and technologies for sustainable development. It's a long shot, but it's starting to look like the only one.

TRI

Bush Greenwatch is good today, with a brief rundown on the woefully underreported story of the U.S. EPA's plan to dramatically cut back the Toxics Release Inventory program, which requires corporations to regularly measure and report their toxic-chemical discharges. The program has, according to the EPA's own data, been a huge success. But apparently Big Business is annoyed by all the paperwork ...

More Alito

Well, there isn't much out there specifically on Alito's environmental record. It's fairly clear where he's coming from, though. This is a classically Bushian (Roveian?) maneuver. Alito is a big fat red flag on the abortion issue, waved in front of both sides' bulls. You can bet the sturm und drang of the coming weeks will focus almost exclusively on abortion and other social-conservative issues. This is the fight the Angry White Men of Bush's base want, and it's a fight for which abortion-rights defenders are perpetually geared up. Meanwhile, as Brad Plumer astutely notes, the real story here is that Alito is a favorite of the business community. As with his constitution-in-exile brethren, he can be expected to take every opportunity to limit the ability of Congress to regulate the private sector. No doubt he has deep philosophical justifications for this pattern of rulings, but of course in practice he'll just be another soldier in the corporatist army. The political party he'll be enabling has no interest in small or limited government. It's possible to imagine Bush nominating a business-friendly judge that isn't hardcore on social-conservative issues -- indeed, it could be argued that both Roberts and Miers fit that bill. But can you imagine Bush nominating someone who's hardcore on social-conservative issues but soft on federalism, the commerce clause, and other biz-related issues? The question answers itself. Why the Republican base allows itself to be played again and again by an administration whose central and only real allegiance is to corporate cronyism is an enduring mystery. But progressives shouldn't take their eye off the ball. (It's worth noting that not everyone thinks federal regulation is necessary to protect the environment. Some folks think it does more harm than good. But if you, along with most mainstream greens -- indeed, most of the American public -- believe the excesses of capitalism require some restraint, it's fair to characterize Alito as anti-environmental.)

Alito

Submit your thoughts on the latest SCOTUS nominee

Well, Bush has done what he always does when he's in trouble: Made a move designed to be maximally divisive, maximally partisan. The nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court is a declaration of war, an explicit statement that Bush intends to stand with the Angry White Men of the far right to the very end. Much has already been said about Alito's retrograde positions on abortion and commerce-clause related matters. I'm reading around for news on his environmental record. But we can probably guess, right? If you know of environment-related Alito cases, describe them in comments. More later. Update [2005-10-31 10:55:17 by David Roberts]: Here's some good info from EarthJustice. Update [2005-10-31 11:8:3 by David Roberts]: Good collection of links on Alito from Scott Lemieux. Update [2005-10-31 11:28:11 by David Roberts]: As always, tons of great info on Wikipedia and SCOTUSblog.

From Pombo to Playhouse

Pomboo! Never mind turning children into toads — how about turning toad habitat into oil wells? This Halloween, scare the bejesus out of your friends with the Pombo mask, a tribute to the California congressman who recently proposed — seriously — selling off 15 national monuments and preserves. Trick or … eco-cide! Click to enlarge. What are your office hours, Professor Diaz? We’re totally gay for William McDonough, eco-architect and world-transformation guru. Same goes for Cameron Diaz, whose work for green causes is only made more charming by her valley-girl ditzitude. But McDonough and Diaz together in one lecture hall? …

What to do about Wal-Mart

So, it looks like Wal-Mart's green turn has some meat on its bones (to mix metaphors). As we noted in DG, CEO H. Lee Scott Jr. announced some fairly specific programs the other day around energy-efficient stores, greenhouse-gas reductions, truck fleet fuel efficiency, packaging reductions, and pressure on overseas suppliers to follow suit. It remains to be seen whether the company will release specific targets and timetables, regularly report its progress, and generally go about this in a transparent way. But it certainly looks, at least at this early stage, like this is a serious company-wide effort. On the other hand, Scott also announced a new employee healthcare plan, only to have a fateful memo leak days later -- a memo that revealed the frighteningly cold calculations behind the company's healthcare policies. Clay Risen has an excellent piece on the memo and related matters at TNR, saying "the thrust of the plan, then, is to slash benefits but make superficial changes to mask the impact of those cuts." Pretty nasty stuff. Now, my question is: How should environmentalists and environmental groups react to all this?

Oprah and climate change

Apparently, as we speak, Oprah is on with Leonardo DiCaprio and Dr. Michael Oppenheimer discussing climate change. Reports from our researcher in the field indicate that Leo is spouting facts and figures and Oprah is embarrassing herself with repeated clips of cute polar bears and cries of "I can feel it!" We can order a transcript for $6, but really I want to see it. Any chance one of you Gristmill readers has a tape or digital file you can send us? This I gotta see.

Leadership gap

Here's U.S. News & World Report's list of America's 25 Best Leaders. See any environmentalists in there? Update [2005-10-26 15:36:3 by David Roberts]: Okay, lest I just be sour, let's turn this into a positive exercise. What American environmental leader do you think deserved a place on this list? Leave your candidates in comments.

Automobile apartheid -- another lesson from Katrina

The built environment discriminates against those who choose not to drive

We're happy to present this guest essay from Joel S. Hirschhorn, author of Sprawl Kills: How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health and Money and former Director of Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources at the National Governors Association. He can be reached through SprawlKills.com. ----- Analyses of the failure of all levels of government to prevent or effectively manage the Katrina calamity in New Orleans have generally missed a crucial point. Alongside bias against poor people and African-Americans is automobile apartheid, born of fifty years of suburban sprawl. First-class citizens drive motor vehicles, second-class Americans walk, cycle, or ride public transit. Certainly many of the latter are poor, but millions more are middle-class Americans. When emergency response largely ignores the plight of second-class citizens, no one should be surprised. Automobile apartheid means anyone who wants mobility through walking, cycling, or public transportation suffers discrimination in a built environment designed for automobiles. In the past 20 years, as automobile addiction has increased, sprawl has run rampant, the number of trips people take by walking has decreased by more than 42 percent, and obesity has skyrocketed. Personal freedom and independence should mean more than the ability to go wherever one wants, whenever one wants. Americans should also have the freedom to travel how they want. When cars are the only option, freedom is diminished.

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