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.

Doing my part

Just want everyone to know that here in my humble abode, I'm wearing a scarf and a sweater rather than turning the heat on. Can an end to global warming be far behind? Speaking of which, why the %$@! is it so cold in Seattle? I left the east coast for a reason!

U.S. in Montreal

I suppose it's no big surprise that the U.S. is deliberately gumming up the works in Montreal -- having paid no penalty (at least domestically) for its intransigence on climate change, the Bush administration is getting more and more flagrant about thumbing its nose at the international community on this subject. But in reading all the many stories about it, for some reason this little bit from Reuters is the only thing that really got me down: "It would be nice if the U.S. would step up and start to take some action," said Ben Matchstick, a U.S. organizer dressed as a bird.

EPA and Ground Zero

The U.S. EPA's atrocious track record around Ground Zero in New York City continues NYT:Abandoning an ambitious cleanup plan for Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, federal environmental officials said yesterday that they would clean, at no cost, any apartment south of Canal Street with unacceptable levels of contaminants from the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Who the public trusts on the environment

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (PDF), ably summarized by Ruy Teixeira, probes the public's confidence in the two parties on a variety of issues. On the question of "protecting the environment," the Democrats outpoll the Republicans by 39%. (Dems 49%, R's 10%, both about the same 21%, neither 13%, not sure 7%.) The difference was 27% back in 1992 and has risen fitfully ever since. After a small dip in 2002, it is now at its highest ever. Make of it what you will. (Interesting -- though not eco-related -- thoughts on the poll from Ed Kilgore and Mark Schmitt.)

A leap of faith

Can we make a power shift without nuclear power?

Yesterday I noted that Judith Lewis' otherwise excellent piece on nuclear power elided what is, from the environmentalist's point of view, the central question: Could we achieve the same power shift away from fossil fuels without nuclear power? Latter-day green proponents of nuclear power say we couldn't, but that's all they do: say so. Why can't we get some kind of definitive answer? Lewis, in an email, says the question is just too damn vexed: The thing is, I could find people who could show you the math that says wind and solar could replace coal next year, and an equal number of sane and competent experts who would argue, convincingly, that they aren't. I don't think we'll know who's right until someone actually does it -- someone with huge piles of cash to pour into distributing renewable power on a large scale. That sounds about right to me. I've seen confident claims that plug-in hybrids alone could solve the energy problem, and equally confident claims that nothing -- no mix of solar, wind, nuclear, whatever -- is going to make up the difference from oil. I've seen a lot of confidence, but nothing that strikes me as dispositive. So how to puzzle through this question?


The Seattle PI found one. (via Judith Lewis)

Late soul

Some six months after the cool kids did it, the American Prospect gets around to running an excerpt from The Soul of Environmentalism. I'm not saying. I'm just saying.

Lewis on nuclear

I highly recommend everyone read the Judith Lewis story (cited by Biodiversivist below): "Green to the Core?" It's as fair and comprehensive a look at the resurgent nuclear question as anything I've read. Oddly, despite the subtitle -- "How I tried to stop worrying and love nuclear power" -- one reaches the end of the piece not at all sure that Lewis has stopped worrying. In fact she seems more worried than ever. I have but one (rather large) quibble with the piece. Here's how it reads: It's a long examination of the very real dangers and pitfalls of nuclear power; and then, looming on the other side, you have Stewart Brand saying, "global warming would be worse." Almost all green pro-nuclear arguments amount to this environmental Sophie's choice. Either you accept nuclear power or you get global warming. Pick your poison. But Lewis doesn't really examine the very first and most important question: Must we accept that choice? Is it really true that only nuclear power can ramp up fast enough to roll back CO2 emissions? Is coal the only other realistic alternative? Lewis breezes past the question with a single quote from James Lovelock: "We cannot continue drawing energy from fossil fuels, and there is no chance that the renewables, wind, tide and water power can provide enough energy and in time ... we do not have 50 years." Why should we simply accept what Lovelock says? It's fashionable to say something along these lines: To get the power we now get out of coal from wind you'd have to "carpet the Midwest with wind turbines" or some such. But this is a rhetorical gambit, not an argument. The real question is: Could we achieve the same power shift, with the proper investment of resources, with a combination of conservation, wind, solar, and hydrokinetic power? I'd like to think so. And I've yet to see a convincing argument that we couldn't. Shouldn't it be incumbent on advocates of nuclear power to make that argument convincingly before we hand over the keys to the shop?

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.