George W. Bush recently endorsed energy conservation. How much credit does he deserve? The other post-Katrina recommendations featured in yesterday's press conference include trimming back environmental regulation on oil refineries, giving the feds siting authority over said refineries, and trimming money from Medicare, Medicaid, and the food-stamp program to pay for hurricane cleanup. No military or homeland-security programs will be touched, nor will there be any pause in the serial tax cuts for the rich. Oh, and in the event of an avian flu outbreak, U.S. military grunts may be used as quarantine-enforcing first responders. Throw ya hands up for the Posse Comitatus Act! No, seriously. Put your hands up. How much credit? Not so much.
If I were the kind of person who really dug in and learned about subjects in depth instead of a quasi-pundit dilettante who knows just enough about a lot of subjects to be dangerous [takes breath] I would study distributed electrical grids. They are, after all, the new black. Here's the take-home message: Smaller-scale, distributed electrical generation (solar, wind, etc.), built closer to consumers, run by intelligent grids, is cheaper and more efficient than the big, centralized kind, could be implemented with no loss of quality or service, and would sharply reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. It is, as Martha is wont to say, a good thing. The impediments are not only technical but political, since distributed electrical grids are by nature democratizing. More below the fold.
Via WC, check it out: The guys who just won the Nobel Prize for chemistry are green chemists:
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.
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