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.

NYT comes out for the gas tax

It's hard to decide whether to love or hate the New York Times these days. It's reaping a much-deserved whirlwind over its bungling of WMD coverage, Judy Miller, and matters Plame. But then, their lead editorial today -- arguing in favor of a federal gas tax -- is right square on the money. You won't find a more compact, solid summary of the problem than this, the first paragraph: There's no serious disagreement that two major crises of our time are terrorism and global warming. And there's no disputing that America's oil consumption fosters both. Oil profits that flow to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries finance both terrorist acts and the spread of dangerously fanatical forms of Islam. The burning of fossil fuels creates greenhouse emissions that provoke climate change. All the while, oil dependency increases the likelihood of further military entanglements, and threatens the economy with inflation, high interest rates and risky foreign indebtedness. Until now, the government has failed to connect our crises and our consumption in a coherent way. That dereliction of duty has led to policies that are counterproductive, such as tax incentives to buy gas guzzlers and an overemphasis on increasing domestic oil supply, although even all-out drilling would not be enough to slake our oil thirst and would require a reversal of longstanding environmental protections. Of course, any gas-tax proposal faces two difficulties:

Warming oceans and Hurricane Wilma

In Environmental Science & Technology, Paul Thacker interviews Judith Curry, climatologist and coauthor of a recent paper in Science on the connection between warming oceans and hurricanes. In her work she found -- as did two similar papers published in peer-reviewed journals recently -- that hurricane intensity is increasing, and it's linked to increasing ocean temperatures, and this is true across the globe. She says: ... you can't use hurricanes to prove that there is global warming. What you can do is show an unambiguous link between the increase in hurricane intensity and the warming sea surface temperatures. And if you look for why the sea surface temperatures are warming since the 1970s, you don't have any explanation other than greenhouse warming. In totally unrelated news, Hurricane Wilma is the most powerful storm in Atlantic history -- it went from fairly mild to the strongest effing storm ever in 18 hours, blowing away the previous record for speed of intensification. ... Keith Blackwell, hurricane researcher at the University of South Alabama's Coastal Weather Research Center in Mobile ... said Wilma's rapid intensification was caused by the warm waters of the northwest Caribbean, which have spawned other extremely powerful storms. ... "There are so many astounding things about this season," Blackwell said. Wacky.

Rebuilding: Mississippi renewal

Everything I've heard about the Mississippi Renewal Forum leads me to believe it is (was, I guess, since it ended this week) a really kick-ass example of exactly what's needed in the Gulf Coast rebuilding effort. Time will tell whether local communities take the advice meted out in the many New Urbanist presentations, but it sounds like everybody, including Gov. Haley Barbour, was impressed. Click around the site a bit -- there's a daily journal and tons of pictures and descriptions from the presentations. Great stuff. Update [2005-10-21 15:18:58 by David Roberts]: More at inhabitat, the NYT, and the radio program Open Source.

Encyclopedia Brown and the case of the missing map

Not really sure what to make of this. Apparently the government's map of the Arctic Refuge is gone -- poof, vanished. Why on earth, you're wondering, does the government only have one detailed map of the Refuge? I don't know. Why was it sitting behind some file cabinet? You got me. Was it thrown out deliberately or by accident? Nobody knows. Does it matter? Felicity Barringer thinks maybe so:

Wal-Mart

Makower thinks the retail giant might just be turning over a new leaf

We debated whether to write up this story of Wal-Mart's alleged "going green" in Daily Grist, but at a quick glance it seemed trivial and a bit self-serving. But Joel Makower, who knows as much about these matters as anyone, thinks there may be something to it. I, for one, am skeptical that the great, great Wal-Mart turnaround is nigh. But I'm also not ready to write off Lee Scott or his company as sustainability poseurs. I believe we'll see a steady stream of new initiatives coming out of the company's Bentonville, Ark., headquarters in coming months. He even quotes an anonymous colleague tantalizingly saying, "This has the potential to be the fastest turnaround ever on sustainability and the most comprehensive." If that were true it could have potentially epochal consequences. As Joel notes, Wal-Mart may account for as much as 1% of China's entire GDP. That's a lotta skrill. Of course some folks will say that "green Wal-Mart" is an oxymoron. Activists of virtually every stripe have legitimate beefs with the company. But the thing here is to be dispassionate. The 'Mart has more power than many governments. It is, for good or ill, here, and enormously influential. If even a fraction of its power can be turned to stimulating green markets and establishing green practices, it could be a game changer.

Personal energy conservation in Houston

Why it seems like just yesterday I was harping on the notion that, as long as our public policies yield built environments in which eco-friendly choices are difficult, eco-friendly choices will not be the norm. Today I find a superb illustration of my pet notion in the Wall Street Journal, in the form of an excellent piece by Jeffrey Ball. I beg of you: go read it. (Of course, you can't unless you subscribe to WSJ, which you don't, so ...) It's about people trying their best to conserve energy (you might recall that the president wants us to be "better conservers") in Houston, Texas. Long story short: it ain't easy. Admittedly, one part of the problem is the typical American craving for luxury and comfort: