Do you wonder why public dialogue in the U.S. these days takes place in such an atmosphere of surreal trivia, despite the vitally important challenges facing us? Wonder why global warming, a catastrophe of Biblical proportions, can get on TV only if it's cast as the malevolent face behind a hurricane? Wonder why Americans are so bogglingly ignorant of basic current events? Al Gore knows. Read his extraordinary speech.
So I've been watching this show on FOX called Prison Break. It's quite good -- not, you know, Deadwood good, or The Wire good, but fast-paced, fun, and surprisingly cerebral. It's like 24 but not horrible, stilted, and mean-spirited. Oh man, I genuinely hate that show, but don't worry, I won't make you listen to a rant about it. Wait, where was I? Anyhoo. The plot revolves around this guy who gets himself thrown into prison in order to escape with his brother, who's on death row. His brother is accused of killing the vice president's brother, but supposedly was set up by the Secret Service. Who really wanted the VP's brother dead? Well, apparently the VP's bro was a big environmentalist and advocate for clean energy. Matter of fact, his company, EcoField, had recently developed a "prototype electric engine." "Sixty dollar barrels of oil would be obsolete if this thing ever made it to the mainstream," says one character. She and a fellow investigator speculate about who might want him out of the way -- oil companies, or perhaps the government of an oil-based economy. "Like the United States," says fellow investigator darkly. Indeeed ...
Via TH, the launch of the very cool FindSolar.com, a site where you can punch in your zip code to find solar installation professionals near you, and find out how much such an installation will cost. Mainstreaming solar: love it.
Speaking of TIME, and of more pressing short-term threats to our environmental health: Check out "How Many More Mike Browns Are Out There?" It is, as you might suspect from the title, an investigation into how many other important government agencies are now headed by Bush administration cronies with no qualifications and no principles aside from their loyalty to Bush. Scary, scary stuff. And it doesn't even touch on the EPA and FWS and other eco-related agencies, which as we all know are led by and increasingly (as long-timers leave in disgust) staffed with ex-industry lobbyists. This kind of rot and incompetence at the core of our government is one of those dire threats that environmentalists pay insufficient heed to, what with it not being "environmental." Heed should be paid. (Anybody get that title reference?)
I'm sure everybody's sick of reading about it by now, but if not, TIME has a cover story on whether global warming is responsible for the recent hurricane damage. After going on and on about how mixed and controversial and ambiguous the science is, it concludes:In Washington successive administrations have ignored greenhouse warnings, piling up environmental debt the way we have been piling up fiscal debt. The problem is, when it comes to the atmosphere, there's no such thing as creative accounting. If we don't bring our climate ledgers back into balance, the climate will surely do it for us.This is certainly a valid perspective, but it seems basically unconnected to what came before it. Global warming may do many bad things over the long haul, but raising average hurricane wind speeds from 100mph to 105mph doesn't really seem like one that's well-suited for the kind of rabble-rousing everyone is trying to use it for.
This NYT article on the alleged leveling off of new home sizes is a rather mild ray of hope given where we need to get, but it's worth reading. I found this bit particularly amusing: In less populous areas, builders of large houses are derided for despoiling the natural environment. Arthur Spiegel, who is retired from the import-export business, is building a 10,000-square-foot house in Lake Placid, N.Y., in the Adirondacks. The hilltop house has brought protests from the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks, and construction has been halted by local building authorities. Mr. Spiegel said that the house "is only 6,500 square feet, unless you count the basement," and that it's the right size for his extended family to gather in for ski vacations.
Good essay by Ira Chernus over on TomDispatch. It's about fear, and the recent attempts by anti-Bush forces to use the fear frame -- "he's not keeping us safe" -- to topple the administration. It's an effective short-term tactic, he says, but perhaps a bad long-term strategy. We'll never be safe if we make safety our ultimate goal. We'll be safe only if we let safety be a by-product of a society working together to improve life for everyone. The best way to be secure is to imagine a genuine politics of hope. Imagine. Unfortunately, when John Lennon said, "It's easy if you try," he was quite wrong. After six decades of our national insecurity state, it's incredibly hard. But it's an effort that anti-Bush forces ought to make. The alternative is, however inadvertently, to reinforce the politics of fear that Bush and his kind thrive on. The belief that danger is everywhere -- that we must have leaders whose great task is to keep us safe -- is the one great danger we really do need to protect ourselves against. The implications for how greens approach global warming are, I trust, obvious.
I'm not sure if NYT's Elisabeth Bumiller intended to write a piece of sly satire with this story on Bush's conservation efforts, but it's brilliant nonetheless. You may recall that last week Bush called on Americans to conserve energy by driving less, turning off the lights, etc. He instructed federal gov't agencies to "cut back on nonessential travel and also encouraged them to carpool, telecommute and use public transportation." The ironies here are rich and multifarious, but let us first quote at length from Bumiller's piece, which is just too delicious: Meanwhile, members of the administration were not especially responsive last week to questions about their personal conservation strategies. When asked by e-mail what he was doing to conserve, Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff, hit "reply" and asked, "What are you doing to conserve?" Margaret Spellings, the secretary of education, said that she was avoiding nonessential travel because "I'm working so much that I don't have time to go anywhere personally." Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman's spokesman did not say what Mr. Bodman was doing personally, although he did say that Mr. Bodman had asked employees to actually read the president's conservation directive. Back at the White House, it was unclear how many people, if any, had turned in their parking passes for Metro rides. But there was one incentive: "You can get it back - it's like squatters' rights," said Trent Duffy, the deputy White House press secretary. "You don't have to give up parking permanently." I find Mr. Bodman's efforts particularly heroic. Getting low-level gov't employees to actually read a memo from the boss! But on a more serious and wonky note:
I've long thought that massive U.S. agricultural subsidies are a disaster -- environmentally, economically, socially, [your adverb here]. Over on the Environmental Economics blog, an expert (Prof. Bruce Gardner) discusses the issue in a somewhat more nuanced way, but doesn't say anything to dissuade me.