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.

All Giller, no filler

Brown alumni magazine profiles Grist leader Chip Giller

The latest issue of Brown Alumni Magazine (BAM!) contains a long and appropriately adoring profile of our brilliant, witty, and dashingly handsome leader, Chip Giller. My only beef with the piece is this bit: The humor is most visibly expressed in its headlines; when the Bush administration tried to undermine European governments' efforts to test the public-health impact of industrial chemicals, Grist titled its story "No Chemical Left Behind." Um, exsqueeze me, but that is one of our least funny headlines ever. The writer couldn't find anything better than that? For future writers of adoring profiles, may I suggest the stone classic Cattle Star Redactica.

Why environmentalists should embrace economics: Part one

Market mechanisms are your friend

In the July-August issue of Sierra Magazine was an essay called The Common Good, a broadside against the market system and the field of economics generally. It didn't sit well with Jason Scorse, Assistant Professor of International Policy Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He wrote an article in response and sent it to Sierra; they passed on it. (Read the background in this post on the Environmental Economics blog.) I offered to run an abbreviated version of the essay. Part one follows; I'll publish the second half tomorrow. ----- Economics is largely the study of incentives, resource distribution, and how institutional arrangements affect behaviors and outcomes -- and therefore, economics is largely the study of trade-offs. Above all, economics is based on simple principles of how people generally act in the real world, not necessarily how we would like them to act. Let us begin with the primary problem surrounding open-access resources. Open-access resources are those for which there are no clear and enforceable property rights and to which it is very difficult to limit access. The world's ocean fisheries and much of the world's largest forests are prime examples. Unless there is some type of agreement by the parties who access the resources to better manage and preserve them, rational individuals acting in their own self-interest will exploit them (catching fish or cutting down trees) until the resources are exhausted. In this way they obtain all the benefits from their efforts while the costs (the ultimate degradation of the resources) are dispersed among the entire population. When large numbers of parties are involved and the geographic area is large, cooperative management is unlikely to occur. This basic logic underlies why 90% of the world's ocean fisheries have either collapsed or are near collapse, and why the Amazon rainforest continues to be cut down at unprecedented rates. So what are the solutions?

Obama mia!

My near worship of Barack Obama is neither unique nor particularly well-concealed. I keep waiting for something to happen to break the spell, to start the inevitable backlash. But every time I hear his name, he's doing something at once politically savvy and substantively admirable. To wit: On Friday, Obama put a hold on Bush's latest nomination to the EPA, and says he intends to put a hold on all future nominees. Why? He's sick of the EPA delaying new regulations on remodeling and renovating in houses that contain lead paint. Despite being ordered by Congress in 1992 to release such regulations by 1996, the agency has delayed again and again. Last year the Bush administration even looked into asking industry to adopt voluntary practices, to avoid regulation. (Shocking, I know.) Obama considered putting a hold on last year's nomination of Marcus Peacock to the #2 slot at EPA, but held off when folks at the agency assured him they would issue regs by the end of the year. Then, last week, they told him they couldn't meet the deadline. So he called their bluff and placed the hold. Then: EPA spokeswoman Eryn Witcher said Friday the agency will meet the Dec. 31 deadline after all. "We're working on doing the rule by the end of the year," she said. "Even one child impacted by lead is one child too many." Obama then demanded that agency officials put that in writing. Nice. Let us count the ways in which this is a smart move:

Renewable energy investments booming

Joel Makower brings word of a very encouraging report on global investment in renewable energy. The picture is the same as always -- renewables are a tiny sliver of the total energy-investment picture, but growing rapidly -- but exciting in that the sliver is larger than you thought and growing faster than you thought. Give it a look.

Imagine there's no pavin'

It’s easy if you try

As I was walking my two-month-old (already!) son around the neighborhood the other day, I started daydreaming. It was silly, and I wasn't going to bother writing about it, but then I saw a post on eliminating the private automobile (hat tip: Jeff) and thought, hell, my daydream is only a little kookier than that, so why not? My dream started this way: What if we didn't need roads? What if we just ripped them all out?

Reaching the hipsters

So I went to a show this weekend. (A band called My Morning Jacket, whose recorded output, though excellent, scarcely hints at the head-exploding, ball-rocking, thunder-f**king awesomeness of their live performance. I would recommend their latest album, Z, but every copy of the CD is crippled by Sony's absurd digital-rights-management software, and buying that kind of product is as contemptible as selling it. Don't blame the band, though -- they had no idea, they opposed the move when they found out about it, and their label even tells consumers how to circumvent the DRM. In the meantime, just buy It Still Moves or At Dawn from your local music store. Wait, where was I ...) Anyhoo, I went to this show, and as I checked out the merch table, I wondered why you never see environmental materials at venues like this small club. You see them at, say, Bonnaroo, or a Phish show (back where there were Phish shows), or a Dave Matthews Band show maybe. But they only seem to crop up around bands that are from the hippie-tinged jam-band scene -- i.e., precisely the shows where the attendees are likely already on board with the eco-program. See, for instance, this InterActivist we had, who runs an outfit called Rock the Earth. He works primarily with a band called the String Cheese Incident, and, you know ... god love 'em, but SCI fans are already down with nature. They even smell like it. What about the hipsters? What about the semi-affluent, college-educated, tech-savvy, media-saturated twenty-somethings with artfully disheveled hair? They are, like it or not, apt to be central players in our culture in coming years ("the next generation," blah blah). They have no tolerance whatsoever for the kind of earnest, soft-focus appeals most enviro-groups pitch. They are, let's face it, a tad self-absorbed, but they are attracted to all that is innovative, cool, and cutting-edge. Coolhunting is practically a genre unto itself on the net these days. And lots of stuff that's going on in the green world these days fits the bill. Is anyone trying to snag this crowd? Is anyone tailoring a message to them? Is there anything I could imagine seeing on that merch table that wouldn't make me cringe, that might actually turn some heads? I got no answers, only this persistent ringing in my ears. Any ideas?

Climate heroes

Congrats to Amanda for her work on the big new Salon/Rolling Stone package on "Climate Warriors and Heroes." It's pretty great -- a nice overview of the many approaches to fighting the fight of our time. And I quite enjoyed Al Gore's essay as well. He's doing an adept job framing the issue not as scientific or political but moral: What kind of people do we want to be? Powerful stuff. Give it a read.

Rebuilding: Fubar

So how's that whole rebuilding-New-Orleans thing going? The lede of this WaPo story says it all: New Orleans can be rebuilt, or so they say. Just ask the mayor's commission. Or the governor's commission. Or, wait a bit, and see if the congressman's commission flies. The city council's commission was even unveiled with something important missing: commission members. But it was trumpeted as a commission nonetheless. As this once-flooded city is flooded anew by commissions and subcommittees and study groups, the operative question is becoming: Who the heck is in charge here? Awesome.

Mmm … sprawl …

Via kottke, a panoramic photo of suburban sprawl near San Ramon, California. Horrifying.