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.


Cali Reclamation Board tries to slow development on floodplains; Arnold fires it

Carl Pope is right: this is just bizarre. In the wake of Katrina and Rita, levees and flood control are on everyone's mind. The California Reclamation Board, which oversees flood control on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers (the state's two biggest), has been growing increasingly leery of developing in those floodplains without additional protections. Many stretches of Central Valley levees were built decades ago to protect farmland; they are now aging and weakening at the same time they are being expected to protect thousands of new homes. In an interview several months ago, [board member Jeffrey F.] Mount said, "We need regional land use planning so we don't continue to build behind these agricultural levees." Also, he said, a mechanism is needed to pay for strengthening existing levees, and flood insurance should be mandatory. "Everything I'm saying, of course," Mount said, "will be violently resisted by the building industry." The need for better protection was so severe that a bipartisan group of California Congressfolk sent a letter to Schwarzenegger pleading for funding:

Biomimicry in Newsweek

All my environment-related RSS feeds go into a single "green" folder (in Thunderbird). I returned from paternity leave to find that folder bulging with more than 4500 unread entries. Eek. Thus far I've been too scared to even open it. All of which is to say, I'm sure someone's already covered this. But Newsweek has a nice little article on biomimicry that's worth reading. It recounts various lessons engineers have learned from nature and the nifty widgets they've built. Nothing new for folks familiar with the subject, but a friendly intro. "If you have a design problem, nature's probably solved it already," says Janine Benyus, cofounder of the Biomimicry Guild. "After all, it's had 3.8 billion years to come up with solutions." ... "The truth is, natural organisms have managed to do everything we want to do without guzzling fossil fuels, polluting the planet or mortgaging the future," says Benyus. Indeed.

Werbach on population

Time to abandon the ‘population’ frame in favor of women’s empowerment and sustainable development

One last thing on the American Prospect environment package: Adam Werbach's piece on population is brilliant, and by that I mean it expresses my own position. The basic point is that the "population movement" is a bad idea. Not only is the notion that the world's problems come down to a matter of raw numbers wrong on the merits, but it's terrible framing and terrible politics. It attracts unsavory folks whose opposition to immigration has as much to do with xenophobia and racism as with ecological concern. It comes off as misanthropic, Malthusian, and insensitive to the plight of the poverty-stricken, activating all the worst stereotypes about environmentalism. Population activists are, says Werbach, "fighting a losing battle against history, language, and commonly understood mythologies that attract the wrong types of allies." The solution? Reframe the movement as "a women's empowerment and sustainable-development movement." If we reject the population-control frame in favor of the goals of women's emancipation and sustainable development, we may achieve a healthier and more stable population, without inviting the unwelcome embrace of ugly exclusionists. That's exactly right.

Oil poster

Forget pin-up girls and rock bands. The hip new thing for dorm room walls is the oil poster, and handily distilled summary of historic oil production and its inevitable decline. Chicks dig it!

More on the Prospect package

Highs and lows of sweet, sweet wonkitude

Enough about The Reapers. How's the rest of the American Prospect environment package? Much of it, sadly, is deathly, wonkily boring. In particular, Carl Pope ... dude. What is this pap? It's so bland, so politician-y, it takes genuine concentration even to get through it. You've written better stuff on your blog, for chrissake. This from Ross Gelbspan and this from John M. Meyer are similarly forgettable. But there are many bright moments. Bill McKibben could write about what he ate for dinner and make it engaging, but I found the conclusion of this piece on global warming particularly on-point:

The Reapers and their britches

‘Death’ authors getting a little too cocky

The American Prospect has a big package of stories in the latest issue called "The Environment: Death and Rebirth." In it, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus -- authors of the infamous "Death of Environmentalism" paper -- have a follow-up called "Death Warmed Over." It's meant as a response to critics of the original and something of a look ahead. While it, like the original, contains nuggets of insight, the bulk is taken up with strawman bashing, bad analogies, and an entirely unwarranted degree of smug self-satisfaction.

Reducing gasoline consumption

With gasoline prices high and rising, it's worth revisiting an old post by our very own Clark Williams-Derry, which makes a simple point: if you want to reduce gas use, the best route is not more efficient cars but more efficient cities. Give it a look.

DeLay indicted


Rebuilding: organizing for a sustainable alternative

Who’s going to push the new New Orleans in a green direction?

It sure would be nice if New Orleans would be rebuilt with an eye toward sustainability. And yet, all indications are that it will be a characteristically Bushian undertaking, riddled with inefficiency, waste, vice, cronyism, and wishful ideological thinking. How to avoid this? Well, people need to organize. Quickly. Only voluble, sustained political pressure will push Bush and Congressional Republicans toward transparency, accountability, and social/environmental responsibility. I was heartened, then, to see an article on Alternet called "Green Relief and Reconstruction." It contained many such inspiring assertions as the following: Eco-friendly companies, social justice groups and concerned professionals are forging a nascent "Green Relief" movement that is already delivering results on the ground, working to replace today's snapshots of oil-soaked abandon with visions of locally-crafted communities bustling with bike paths, sidewalks, lots of green space, healthy housing, and powered by clean energy. They are? Awesome! Uh ... who? Where? It goes on in this vague way for a while, eventually outlining some sensible principles of progressive reconstruction. But where's this budding movement he keeps talking about? Who are these people? What have they done? Where can I sign up? Bizarrely, it is only toward the end that a link is provided -- but the reason becomes clear once you click on it. GreenRelief is an effort organized by the Healthy Building Network (www.healthybuilding.net) and others to encourage and assist Hurricane Katrina relief efforts that promote environmental restoration, environmental health, and environmental and social justice. GreenRelief will bring international expertise, resources, and materials to achieve the goals of restoring community, rebuilding homes, restoring the environment, and rebuilding the economy. Site under development. Godspeed, fellas. Hurry up.

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