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.

Leadership gap

Here's U.S. News & World Report's list of America's 25 Best Leaders. See any environmentalists in there? Update [2005-10-26 15:36:3 by David Roberts]: Okay, lest I just be sour, let's turn this into a positive exercise. What American environmental leader do you think deserved a place on this list? Leave your candidates in comments.

Automobile apartheid -- another lesson from Katrina

The built environment discriminates against those who choose not to drive

We're happy to present this guest essay from Joel S. Hirschhorn, author of Sprawl Kills: How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health and Money and former Director of Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources at the National Governors Association. He can be reached through SprawlKills.com. ----- Analyses of the failure of all levels of government to prevent or effectively manage the Katrina calamity in New Orleans have generally missed a crucial point. Alongside bias against poor people and African-Americans is automobile apartheid, born of fifty years of suburban sprawl. First-class citizens drive motor vehicles, second-class Americans walk, cycle, or ride public transit. Certainly many of the latter are poor, but millions more are middle-class Americans. When emergency response largely ignores the plight of second-class citizens, no one should be surprised. Automobile apartheid means anyone who wants mobility through walking, cycling, or public transportation suffers discrimination in a built environment designed for automobiles. In the past 20 years, as automobile addiction has increased, sprawl has run rampant, the number of trips people take by walking has decreased by more than 42 percent, and obesity has skyrocketed. Personal freedom and independence should mean more than the ability to go wherever one wants, whenever one wants. Americans should also have the freedom to travel how they want. When cars are the only option, freedom is diminished.

Hillary and her fund

An elaborate proposal to raise money and spend it

Well, I managed to wade through Hillary's whole speech to the Cleantech Venture Forum, and let's just say ... she's no Barack. The vast bulk is a fairly tepid summary of current conventional wisdom: energy crisis, get free from foreign oil (grr), promote clean energy and clean cars and energy efficiency, etc. This is all boilerplate stuff, but it's worth celebrating, I suppose, that it is conventional wisdom now. As much as environmentalists lament their own failures, it's pretty remarkable how quickly the green line on energy has taken over and become centrist -- and believe me, despite her reputation in wingnut circles, Hillary wouldn't say it if it wasn't safe and centrist. Unfortunately, the conventional centrist wisdom is not translating into action, as illustrated by Hillary's attempt to list her accomplishments on these issues. This is typical: Quite a few of us in Congress have worked to bridge the gap and put forward proposals for a better energy future. We passed, albeit not as much as we would have wanted, a 10 percent renewable energy standard in the Senate, but the White House rejected it. Huzzah! The one new, "bigger and bolder" (her words) idea is the " Strategic Energy Fund." The SEF would be funded through a tax "alternative energy development fee" on oil companies. This tripped me up:

“Foreign oil” redux

Reading Hillary Clinton's recent speech (more on that later) reminded me of an old hobbyhorse: As faithful readers will recall, the term "foreign oil" irritates me to no end. Decrying our dependence of foreign oil is just a way of decrying our dependence on oil, period -- with the extra macho credibility that comes with jingoistic, xenophobic overtones. For that reason it's probably politically necessary. But it adds nothing to our substantive understanding of America's energy situation. For a host of geological, economic, social, and environmental reasons, we could never conceivably produce enough "domestic oil" to satisfy our demand -- and anyway, what domestic oil we do produce goes out on the world market like any other oil. The problems that come with dependence on foreign oil and the problems that come with dependence on oil are one in the same. It would make as much sense to decry "liquid oil" or "underground oil." So if you hear the term "foreign oil" from a politician, assume it's accompanied by a wink and a nod. If you hear it from a pundit, assume it's accompanied by confusion. Update [2005-10-25 14:0:34 by David Roberts]: Oh, the whole point of this post was supposed to be: The term "foreign oil" suggests that domestic oil would be okay, and thus supports the scumbags in Congress who are trying to build new refineries on military bases and neuter environmental protections. It doesn't matter that in her speech, Clinton says "a few more refineries and drills won't solve the problem" -- the very term she's using to frame the problem works against that point. Framing, people. Look it up.

The most politically powerful welfare recipients in the world

Wealthy ‘family farmers’ in California wage PR campaign to maintain their subsidies

We're happy to present this guest essay from Lloyd G. Carter, an attorney and former journalist who has written about California water issues since 1969. Carter is president of the California Save Our Streams Council. ----- Remember the family farmer? He was immortalized in Grant Wood's 1930 painting "American Gothic": a grim, hardscrabble stoic in overalls, grasping a pitchfork. Guess what? It wasn't really a farmer. It was Wood's dentist posing as a farmer. Fresno County's own philosopher/farmer, Victor Davis Hanson, announced years ago that the family farmer was a figment of the urban imagination. Hanson wrote that the multi-generational family farm has all but disappeared and that soon the only thing left will be "broke serfs and thriving corporations." But now a coalition of western San Joaquin Valley agribusiness interests have launched a multi-million dollar media blitz to convince Californians that the modern "family farmer" still exists -- and needs to keep consuming colossal amounts of California river water. The statewide ad campaign includes television spots, full page newspaper ads, bus stop billboards in big cities, and even sponsorship of the "California Report" on National Public Radio. The word "family" is repeated ad nauseum.

Must read

Dave Pollard on the avian flu pandemic.

TIME and energy

TIME magazine has a package of stories on energy and related matters (The Watt links to all of them). I only read the "Peak Oil: Yes it is! No it isn't!" bit, and it was distinctly unenlightening. But maybe the rest of it is good.

Wicked-smaht grids

I'm at that blissful point vis-a-vis "smart grids" where I know enough about them to think they're bitchin', but not enough to know why they're never gonna happen. Whee! So I was happy that eternal optimist Joel Makower flagged this report (PDF) from the Center for Smart Energy. (Who's against smart energy, huh?) The report says there are boatloads of money -- around $45 billion -- waiting to be made by the folks who get to this stuff first. Whenever I hear a stat like that, I think, hm, are businessfolk in this industry just retarded? If there's $45 billion on the table, why is no one grabbing it? What do the think-tankers and the pundits know that the business types don't? Same think with peak oil -- if oil's going to cost $200 a gallon in 10 years or so, why does anyone who has any oil sell it? As opposed to, say, holding onto it for 10 years and raising their profits by some 150%. Maybe a reader can enlighten me. Anyhoo, of particular interest are these seven key markers of smart grids:

NYT comes out for the gas tax

It's hard to decide whether to love or hate the New York Times these days. It's reaping a much-deserved whirlwind over its bungling of WMD coverage, Judy Miller, and matters Plame. But then, their lead editorial today -- arguing in favor of a federal gas tax -- is right square on the money. You won't find a more compact, solid summary of the problem than this, the first paragraph: There's no serious disagreement that two major crises of our time are terrorism and global warming. And there's no disputing that America's oil consumption fosters both. Oil profits that flow to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries finance both terrorist acts and the spread of dangerously fanatical forms of Islam. The burning of fossil fuels creates greenhouse emissions that provoke climate change. All the while, oil dependency increases the likelihood of further military entanglements, and threatens the economy with inflation, high interest rates and risky foreign indebtedness. Until now, the government has failed to connect our crises and our consumption in a coherent way. That dereliction of duty has led to policies that are counterproductive, such as tax incentives to buy gas guzzlers and an overemphasis on increasing domestic oil supply, although even all-out drilling would not be enough to slake our oil thirst and would require a reversal of longstanding environmental protections. Of course, any gas-tax proposal faces two difficulties:

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