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.

Ride the white crony

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?)

Hurricanes and global warming, part 548,389

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.

McMansions on the wane?

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.

A strategy of fear

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.

Conservation follies

Personal conservation habits will never be enough

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:

Ag subsidies

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.

Want to tackle global warming? Start with heart disease.

The best thing greens can do is convince the public that eco-friendly lifestyles are healthier

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. and most European countries. In the latest issue of Newsweek there's a story about it called "Designing Heart-Healthy Communities." Here's how it starts: Forecasting heart disease is becoming an ever-finer art, as researchers learn more about the risk factors. But here's a predictor you may not have heard about: street address. In a study published last year, scientists at the RAND Corp. scored 38 metropolitan areas on the "sprawl index" -- basically a measure of their dependence on cars. When the researchers tallied disease rates for the same areas, an interesting pattern emerged. Other risk factors aside, people in densely populated places graced with sidewalks and shops had the lowest rates of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke. ... Without even trying, the folks in those more-compact communities were apparently exercising enough to ward off chronic illness. As the RAND team deduced, "suburban design may be an important new avenue for health promotion." To their credit , Newsweek teases out the more general point:

Behind the eco-terrorism hype

is an industry effort to shut down threats to their bottom line

This Alternet piece on the new "eco-terrorism" hype covers ground mostly familiar to Grist readers. But it's got some important details. The piece identifies two specific groups behind the recent hype: the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group of conservative lawmakers, and -- behind them -- the Center for Consumer Freedom, a group that shills for the alcohol, tobacco, and restaurant industries. CCF is one of many front groups for Berman & Co., a lobbying firm owned by Rick Berman, a former restaurant industry executive. Berman is legendary as a ruthless fighter against any regulation or taxes that might hamper his industry friends. He's also known for close ties to Republican lawmakers. He once told Chain Leader Magazine, a restaurant trade publication, "Our offensive strategy is to shoot the messenger. We've got to attack [activists'] credibility as spokespersons." The strategy isn't difficult to discern: Hype the threat from "eco-terrorists," lobby friendly lawmakers to pass draconian laws, and then work hard to tie these "terrorists" to activist groups that hinder your clients' interests. From the Alternet piece: David Martosko, a CCF official, told the House Ways and Means Committee in March that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the United States Humane Society (USHS), and the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) have, to varying degrees, supported known eco-terrorists. "I urge this committee to fully investigate the connections between individuals who commit crimes in the name of the ALF [Animal Liberation Front], ELF [Earth Liberation Front], or similar phantom groups, and the above-ground individuals and organizations that give them aid and comfort," Martosko testified. "I would also urge members of this Committee to prevail upon their colleagues to re-examine the tax-exempt status of groups that have helped to fund, directly or indirectly, these domestic terrorists." There's the nut: "re-examine the tax-exempt status." It's an overt attempt to shut down particular activist groups. For industry, it's a way of destroying threats to their financial interests. For Republicans, it's a way to damage political enemies. For the mouth-breathing, talk-radio-listening Republican base, it's another focus for their spittle-flecked hatred. Everybody wins. Don't get distracted. This whole kerfuffle about eco-terrorism isn't about objectively weighing threats to our country. Don't start arguing about what really is or really isn't terrorism. Don't feel pressured to incant the line, "Of course I disavow the tactics of those groups, but ..." The merits of the case against "eco-terrorism" are a total distraction. The people waging this war could give a rat's ass about the merits. Call it what it is.

Rebuilding: more from AtKisson

More intriguing thoughts on rebuilding New Orleans from WC's Alan AtKisson.