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.

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.

Rocío Romero and the L.V. prefab house

I missed this short New Yorker piece about architect Rocío Romero and her L.V. prefab house. It's probably been blogged a zillion times, but whatevs: it's interesting. My ears especially perked at this bit: Romero originally thought that the primary market for the L.V. would be California, but most of her customers have turned out to be in the East or in the Midwest. The first kit Romero sold was to a couple in Virginia, Barry Bless and Jennifer Watson, who put it on a six-acre site in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Bless, a musician, and Watson, an architectural photographer, finished their house this past March. They did much of the construction work themselves, and it took about a year; the final cost was ninety-five thousand dollars. The couple christened their L.V. the Luminhaus. As soon as it was done, they put up a Web site filled with Watson’s photographs of the house amid fall foliage and winter snow, offering the house for rent at eight hundred dollars a week. In six weeks, it was booked for the rest of the year. My lust for modernist prefab knows no bounds.

SUV sales are down

Pretty sharply:Sales of all new vehicles in the United States were off 2.8 percent in November from a year ago, with Detroit automakers bearing the brunt of the industry slowdown, according to Autodata Corp. Sales of some SUVs were off more than 50 percent from last year. Meanwhile, U.S. sales by Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. continued to surge.What can I do but refer back again to this post.

Hedgehogs, predictions, and peak oil

What’s a prediction worth?

A few days ago, Kevin Drum pointed to a Louis Menand review of a book called Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? by psychologist Philip Tetlock. I haven't read the book, but the review is fascinating, and I highly recommend you read it before (or instead of) the rambling thoughts that follow. Tetlock's basic thesis, based on a multi-decade study, is that expert predictions are no better -- and often worse -- than random chance or the predictions of casual news consumers. Just like everyone else, experts display confirmation bias, underestimate their past mistakes, and fall for basic probability errors. Ah, fuel for anti-elitists everywhere ... This is not a new psychological finding -- laymen often express surprise at it, but psychologists have known for years that experts are no more reliable than anyone else. But one new insight Tetlock brings to the table relates to Isaiah Berlin's famous distinction between hedgehogs (which know a lot about one thing) and foxes (which know a little about a lot of things). From the book:

Demonstrate good times, come on!

I'm all over Treehugger today. Go figure. Anyway, TH brings news of a massive worldwide series of demonstrations that, for reasons unfathomable, I wasn't aware of. Apparently, on Dec. 3 -- that's this Saturday! -- to coincide with the COP MOP talks in Montreal, groups in over 30 countries around the world are demonstrating: These demonstrations demand that the USA and Australia ratify the Kyoto Protocol immediately, and that the entire world community move as rapidly as possible to a stronger emissions reductions treaty that will be both equitable and effective in stabilising 'greenhouse' gases and preventing dangerous climate change. I tend to think it's a mistake for enviros to focus so obsessively on Kyoto, but as a symbolic matter it's hard to argue against focusing attention on U.S. and Australian intransigence. So go out and demonstrate on Saturday!


Of course it isn't Treehugger's fault, but Tim Haab makes a solid but lamentable point here.

What the meaning of ‘participation’ is

Oh, this is hilarious. You may recall that at a recent Senate hearing, oil industry execs were asked whether their companies participated in Cheney's notorious 2001 energy task force. They said No. That was ... what's the word? ... a lie. Or was it? Apparently there's some dispute: Yesterday, Marnie Funk, a spokeswoman for the GOP staff of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, one of the two panels that convened the hearing, said its lawyers had reached a preliminary conclusion: Based on a court decision in which two groups unsuccessfully challenged the secrecy of the Cheney task force, Funk said the executives appeared to be telling the truth. "What we simply determined was that the definition of 'participation' was something litigated, and what the court concluded was that attending meetings, and even making presentations, did not rise to the level of fully participating," Funk said. Gosh, it seems like, what, only one administration ago that these kinds of carefully parsed word games were considered a dire threat to the moral fiber of our children. Guess times change.

Sierra Club gets positive

As Daily Grist readers will soon learn, the Sierra Club today released "Building Better: A Guide to America's Best New Development Projects." It's just what it sounds like: A complimentary profile of "walkable, transit accessible places to live and work." I think John Laumer's right: This is an extremely promising development. It's practically a cliche -- particularly since the Death debate -- that the environmental movement needs to offer solutions rather than just problems, to be for something rather than against everything. It's a cliche, and yet the large and lamentably inertia-bound movement hasn't really been doing it. Perhaps because it's more of a ground-up organization, the Sierra Club has been making some nice, high-profile moves in this direction. I hope all greens will welcome it.

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.