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.

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.

The latest bid for Arctic Refuge oil

As everyone surely knows by now, Republicans are using the devastation of a region of our country to push for their long-time goal of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The idea is, depending on which bullshit happens to be flying at the moment, that oil sales will bolster the federal budget, or that the oil will make up for shortfalls caused by the hurricanes, or that the oil will lower gas prices. All these claims are, as has been demonstrated ad nauseam, quite obviously false. According to a July 2005 report (PDF) by the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, it will take 10 years to get the first drop of oil out of the Refuge. In 20 years, when production is at its peak, Refuge oil might bring down the price of a gallon of gas ... by a penny. The Wilderness Society has a one-page summary of the report here (PDF). Why do Republicans really want to drill in the Refuge? Well, oil-service companies are hot for it. And also, well ... because it's there.

L.A. Weekly on smog

The entire current issue of L.A. Weekly is devoted to the issue of air pollution in Los Angeles, a battle once hailed as a victory for environmentalists that is now slipping into the loss column. There are oodles of stories, and many lessons for those of us in other parts of the country. Give it a look.

An interview with Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science

Chris Mooney. Photo: Perseus Books. For some five years, Chris Mooney has been writing about the delicate overlap of science and public policy. As a correspondent for The American Prospect and Seed, a blogger, and …

Rebuilding: what to do with New Orleans

I hope to write quite a bit on issues around the rebuilding of New Orleans. It's a bit overwhelming in two ways, the first logistical and the second political: The issues involved are just incredibly complex, in terms of social and physical engineering. The Bush administration is almost certain to run this the same way they ran the rebuilding of Iraq: badly, with maximum inefficiency, graft, and cronyism. Resistance is futile. But just as a teaser, check out a couple of intriguing ideas, both via City Comforts. Both start from the basic problem that much of New Orleans is built beneath sea level, and is sinking (and oh yeah, sea level is rising). So there's two things you could do: Rebuild the city as another Venice, with deep canals and elevated buildings. Fill it up until it's above sea level, the way they did with Galveston, Texas in the early 1900s. Crazy, maybe, but then, razing wetlands to build a major seaport beneath sea level is crazy to begin with. (See also: 5-point plan for sustainable rebuilding.)

Operation Offset

Republicans want to pay for Gulf Coast rebuilding with cuts to enviro and social programs

You may have heard, President Bush is trying to bolster his sagging poll numbers by throwing money at the Gulf Coast -- or rather, throwing money at politically connected contributors in the Gulf Coast while cutting wages for the poor saps who work there. $200 billion. How are we going to pay for that? Well, Think Progress points out that you could get most of it from rolling back the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the rich. Ha ha ha ha ha! No, seriously, we have to "cut unnecessary spending." And the House Republicans are ready, with their "Operation Offset," a list of cuts (PDF) they say could squeeze $500 billion in 10 years out of the federal budget. Unsurprisingly, the cuts impose pain almost exclusively on programs meant to help the environment and the less fortunate. Here are a few of the cuts: Eliminate the EnergyStar program; eliminate state and community grants for energy conservation; eliminate National Parks Heritage Areas; reduce Amtrak subsidies (how come they never call highway spending "subsidies"?); eliminate the high-speed rail and light-rail programs; reduce fish and wildlife habitat construction; reduce Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management; eliminate the Applied Research for Renewable Energy Sources program; eliminate the FreedomCar program; and eliminate the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative. Note that, as Brad Plumer points out, almost every federal program to encourage clean energy is cut, while the energy bill's recent billions in subsidies to oil and gas companies remain untouched. There are more -- these are just the most salient environmental cuts. Some 30% of the cuts come from Medicaid. Others would eliminate a variety of foreign aid programs. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be de-funded, along with the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Many of the cuts are trivial in terms of the money they save. It's just a chance for House Republicans to take out some of their longtime enemies. It's really a stunning look into their priorities. If you want to avoid cuts like this, get on the phone with your Congressional representatives. (There are many, many blogs writing about this. Read around.) (See also E.J. Dionne on the subject.)

Expert testimony

This Wednesday, the Senate Environment Committee is holding a hearing on global warming. The lead witness? Michael Crichton. You really can't make this stuff up.

Now he tells us …

Well I'll be damned. Did our president just encourage us to conserve? He really has lost his swagger! Matt Yglesias says what needs to be said about this wan little gesture. (See also Pascal Riche on European conservation programs.)

Revkin on uncertainty

Okay, let's get to it. Via Pielke, a brief but interesting account of a talk given by Andrew Revkin, esteemed environment reporter for The New York Times. Here's the nut: In his lecture, Revkin said that after covering global warming for almost 20 years, he is convinced that there will never be a time when he can write a story that states clearly that global warming "happened today." "It is never going to be the kind of story that will give you the level of certainty that everyone seems to crave," he said. "We are assaulted with complexity and uncertainty. Somehow, we need to convey that in all that information, with those question marks, there is a trajectory to knowledge." American society is uneasy with the equivocal answers that often are the best environmental scientists can provide, said Revkin. Newspapers are uncomfortable with "murk," and politicians and Congress "hate it," he said. Yet, despite the lack of crystal clarity, "you can still make decisions. Uncertainties don't let you off the hook," he said, even though some people in politics have used the uncertainties for that purpose. Unfortunately for, um, everybody, it seems to me that the American public is growing less, not more, tolerant of uncertainty and ambiguity. This is partly a reaction to troubling and confusing times, I suppose, but it's not helped by a ruling political party that traffics almost exclusively in slogans and nostrums.

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