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.

Defeat from the jaws of victory

Call it environmentalism, Bush style. A new federal tax credit will help allay the extra cost of purchasing hybrid vehicles, but the Byzantine formula for calculating the savings provides greater financial incentives for buying heavy SUVs than more fuel-efficient cars. Read the rest at Wired. (Via TP.)

Personal schmersonal

Personal virtue is not enough for environmentalists

A point I try frequently to make: If you want real, substantial, lasting environmental change, it is not enough simply to recycle or drive less or shop at Whole Foods or buy organic cotton t-shirts. It is not enough to advocate that others do so. The kind of environmental change we need will never happen solely through personal virtue. There just aren't enough virtuous people. What's needed are structural changes -- changes in gov't policy and regulation at every level, changes in the way we build and run our communities, changes in the practices of large corporations, changes in international norms and treaties. Political advocacy, in the broadest sense, is the obligation of any true environmentalist. Now, why do I pound on this point, even at risk of being a big downer for all the chipper eco-strivers who so love Umbra? Look no further than this headline: "Environment High in Personal Values, Low in Political Priorities for U.S. Voters" Grrr ...

Slam debunk

So, there's a buzzed-about new book called The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change, by Aussie scientist Tim Flannery. Naturally, it's brought the flat-earthers out of the woodwork. And when the flat-earthers come out, Tim Lambert follows. Read his delightfully compact, action-packed festival of debunkery, in which he makes typically quick work of the skeptics. Like skeet shooting ...

Paul Martin (that's the Prime Minister of Canada, folks) on Arctic Refuge drilling

opposes it in a speech to businessfolk

Thanks to reader EM for drawing our attention to a speech given by Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin to the Economic Club in New York on Oct. 6. He begins with lots of happy talk about the many shared interests of Canada and the U.S., and concludes by raising two problems. The first is familiar to devotees of Canadian politics: trade disputes, namely over softwood lumber and beef. The second -- and this, I must admit, came as a surprise to me -- is U.S. desire to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Martin objects on environmental grounds. The cynic in me assumes there must be some other angle here. Perhaps he's maneuvering on behalf of Canadian energy producers. I'm not sure. Maybe someone more familiar with Canadian politics can educate us in comments. Anyway, here's the relevant passage from the speech:

Bamboophilia

Bamboo has become something of a fetish among green types, particularly in certain quarters. While it may not be the environmental cure-all it's sometimes made out to be, it does have a lot going for it. It regenerates in a mere three years and is endlessly adaptable. The preceding was just an excuse to show you: 1000 Things Made of Bamboo.

Why did New Orleans drown?

It was short-sighted politics, and they’re still with us

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:

Arctic refuge video

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.)

Nonlinearity and you

Melting polar ice cap bodes ill — very ill

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:

GAS Act passes

amidst much drama

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.)