Don't miss "The Slow Drowning of New Orleans," a knock-out piece of political history from the Washington Post's Michael Grunwald and Susan B. Glasser. I've read a lot of material lately about hurricanes and the Gulf Coast, and nothing I've seen does a better job of traversing the long history of short-sighted political blundering that made the catastrophe inevitable. The tale begins in the 1700s, and no one -- local, state, or fed, Democrat or Republican -- ends up blameless. The details are rich and varied, but at its root the story is about government's crippling inability to deal with long-term threats. The drowning of New Orleans was caused by complex factors of weather, geography, history, politics and engineering, but it was at heart a tragedy of priorities -- not just Vitter's, but America's. For years, it was common knowledge in Louisiana and Washington that New Orleans could be destroyed by a hurricane. But decision makers turned away from the long-term investments that might have averted a catastrophe, pursuing instead projects with more immediate payoffs. Some of those projects made the city more vulnerable. There you have it. If you want the political logic behind it, look no further than this short passage:
This summer, the Treasure America project went up to the Arctic Refuge in search of purely economic reasons why drilling there is a bad idea. Watch this 12-minute video to see what they came up with. (Hat tip to Nick Aster at TriplePundit, who tagged along with the group.)
I didn't manage to get to it during the week, but don't miss this Mike Davis essay over on Tom's Dispatch. It's about the seemingly obscure subject of "nonlinearity," a word that may just end up being featured prominently on humanity's tombstone. "Humanity, R.I.P. Should have payed attention to nonlinearity." Specifically, it's about a study -- mentioned in Daily Grist last week -- revealing that the Arctic ice cap is melting earlier in the summer, not fully re-freezing in the winter, possibly caught in an irreversible self-reinforcing cycle, and headed to final and complete disappearance by 2060. This is some scary shit. First, nonlinearity:
Holy drama, Batman! So, as we mentioned in the Daily Grist, the House voted today on Rep. Barton's Gasoline for America's Security (GAS) Act (PDF) (gag on the Orwell, gag on it!). It's a big fat wet kiss to the energy industry, easing Clean Air Act provisions to streamline refinery development and codifying the President's ability to suspend clean-air standards in a state of emergency. It's a bunch of crap they couldn't get into this summer's already craptacular energy bill. To boot, yesterday the House Rules Committee blocked an attempt to include a provision raising CAFE standards. Well, once again the Republican leadership held what is supposed to be a five-minute floor vote open for nearly 50 minutes, ruthlessly twisting arms and bribing recalcitrant members. Ultimately they jammed the thing through, on a 212-210 vote. They buttonholed lawmakers for last-minute lobbying as Democrats complained loudly that the vote should be closed. Finally two GOP lawmakers switched from "no" to "yes," giving the bill's supporters the margin of victory. "Is this the House of a Banana Republic?" Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., shouted at one point, expressing his frustration about the GOP holdup of the final tally. As the vote came to an end opponents chanted in unison, "Shame! Shame! Shame!" I'm beyond knowing whether they'll pay any political price for this kind of overt corporatism and disrespect for democratic process. But the country's appetite for House Republican corruption and insensitivity is rapidly declining. I've been burned too many times thinking maybe we've reached the tipping point. But ... maybe we've reached the tipping point. (GCC has more.) (TAPPED has still more.) (Wow! Watch this amazing video of the vote. Unbelievable.)
The Wilderness Society has been sending out some great email bulletins about the details of the proposed Arctic Refuge drilling legislation. Now they're all online in one place: check out the Arctic Reality Check. Here are the four main points: Opens the entire 1.5 million-acre Coastal Plain for oil development, and mandates a minimum of 200,000 acres for the first lease sale. Weakens and sidesteps important environmental protection laws and standards. Dresses up weak or meaningless "protections" to sound good. Limits oversight by the public, the judicial branch, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Looks like more old people are going to die: Chrysler is doubling its SUV offerings over the next three years, including the radical Dodge Nitro model coming next year with flared fenders and fuel-friendly V-6. GM is counting on a new crop of full-bodied SUVs arriving next year to drive its comeback. And though the models are still big, GM designers burnished the edges to make them look smaller. By 2010, the number of SUVs on the market will increase 24 percent to 109 models, while just 44 different hybrids will be offered by then, according to auto researcher J.D. Power. Even Toyota, the hybrid leader, is building a $1 billion pickup-truck plant in Texas where analysts expect it to build a new -- and bigger -- version of its Sequoia SUV. Despite pain at the pump, 56 percent of Americans refuse to downsize and will stick with the wheels they've got, according to a new survey by consultant AutoPacific. "We haven't turned into wimps overnight," says AutoPacific's George Peterson. "People still like a tough-looking SUV." ... "For hybrids to have a double-digit market share," says Power's Jeff Schuster, "we'd essentially have to run out of fossil fuel." Sigh.
The booby/baby dilemma Celebs. How they confound us. One minute you hear that Britney is willing to leave her breasts bare for … well, anything, but in this case a hurricane recovery fund. Next minute you hear that TomKat is contributing to overpopulation. Do we love and mock them? Hate and mock them? Vexing. Earth to humans: drink beer Beer, however, inspires no conflicting feelings. Only love! Organic Clean Water Ale from the Fish Brewing Co. is just the latest do-gooder green brew. New Belgium Brewing Co. is wind-powered. Leopold Brothers aims for “zero waste.” We’re drunk. Everybody wins. Pivo’d …
The Daily Show has instituted another regular feature called "The War on Terra," which as you might imagine is about environmental matters. You can see the first one -- about melting polar ice caps and dying Chinese tigers -- here. I must say, I'm happy they're doing this, but the results are a little dispiriting. Even these guys, the funniest guys on the planet (except maybe the writers on Arrested Development) have trouble making green issues funny. Why is that? Why is humor about the environment never, ever funny? And music about it never good? And art about it never interesting? It seems to repel everything except earnest sanctimony. Truly vexing. Does anyone have any counter-examples to prove me wrong?
Via Matt, an intriguing (though troublingly citation-free) case by John Quiggin that the energy-use reductions required to curb climate change are achievable through a combination of thoughtful public policy and rising prices -- without any particular damage to our standard of living. Definitely worth a read. A common estimate is that to stabilise the global climate, we would need to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 60 per cent, and proposals to achieve this by 2050 have been put forward. Assuming only a limited role for alternative energy sources, it seems reasonably to look at a 50 per cent reduction in primary energy use. It’s a widely-held view that the kinds of changes required to stabilise the global climate must imply a fairly radical reduction in our material standard of living. This view is shared by radical environmentalists, who see such a reduction as a good thing, and by opponents of such changes most of whom, at least in developed countries are on the free-market right. The fact that radical environmentalists view the modern economy as critically dependent on unsustainable patterns of energy use is not surprising. On the other hand, supporters of the free-market generally praise the flexibility of dynamism. Currently, energy use accounts for about 6 per cent of GDP. The suggestion that reducing this proportion to, say, 3 per cent, is beyond our capacity seems to represent a very pessimistic view of our economic potential. ... Given a consistent upward trend in prices and a coherent set of public policies, massive reductions in energy use would follow as surely as night follows day.