David Roberts

David Roberts

Energy, politics, and more

David Roberts is a staff writer for Grist. You can follow his Twitter feed at twitter.com/drgrist.

Materialism and material

Our materialism disguises a deeper problem

I've been pondering religion a lot lately, what with all the kerfuffle over "Intelligent Design" (on that subject, you only need to read one thing: this). Joel Makower's latest references an article by Worldwatch Institute Director of Research Gary Gardner called "Hungry for More: Re-Engaging Religious Teachings on Consumption." The idea, from what I can gather, is that all the world's major religions contain moral teachings against over-consumption and economic injustice -- and faith communities need to rediscover and embrace these teachings as they try to deal with a world in which "mass consumerism in wealthy countries has already broken the ecological bank." To which I say: good luck. I suppose there's no sense being coy about my distaste for religion (though I should stress that it's my own personal hangup, not representative of Grist or of the environmental community as a whole). But as far as I can see, religion in America -- ubiquitous though it may be -- is fairly toothless in terms of challenging people and getting them to change their behavior. The religion I see is either the "moderate" kind that's mainly devolved into a glorified self-help program or the "extreme" kind that mainly serves to offer its adherents objects of hate and derision (e.g., gays). Gross oversimplification, yes. But still, the chances of religion in the developed world emerging as a genuine force in opposition to conspicuous overconsumption strike me as roughly nil. But that's not my point.

The coming epidemic

Avian flu is on its way, and we are not prepared

Never let it be said that I ignore signs sent to me by the internet gods. Today two of the smartest folks I know separately wrote me and urged me to blog about the rising threat of avian flu and the developed world's dangerous inaction. Instead, I'm going to let them do it for me. Tom's Dispatch is hosting a stellar piece of writing by Mike Davis, author of the just-released The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu. It is a fairly easy-to-read primer on the threat the flu poses and the state of our preparedness (which is not -- spoiler alert -- good). Here's a taste: As for a universally available "world vaccine," it remains a pipe-dream without new, billion-dollar commitments from the rich countries, above all the United States, and even then, we are probably too late. "People just don't get it," Dr. Michael Osterholm, the outspoken director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota recently complained. "If we were to begin a Manhattan Project-type response tonight to expand vaccine and drug production, we wouldn't have a measurable impact on the availability of these critical products to sufficiently address a worldwide pandemic for at least several years." "Several years" is a luxury that Washington has already squandered. The best guess, as the geese head west and south, is that we have almost run out of time. As Shigeru Omi, the Western Pacific director of WHO, told a UN meeting in Kuala Lumpur in early July: "We're at the tipping point." Whee! Taking a slightly more can-do tone, WC's Alex Steffen challenges bloggers and civilians alike to spread awareness of the threat in hopes we can collaborate our way out of it. He also has links to a number of resources and background materials. Of particular interest is this guide to spreading the word without spreading panic, by two World Health Organization communication advisors. I highly recommend you read both pieces, educate yourself about the danger, and start pushing your state and federal representatives to put money behind serious preparation efforts.

From Lubes to Lemurs

Lube job Folks sometimes worry about sustainability during sex — just not the environmental kind. To make your pleasure greener there’s the Veg Sex Shop, a collection of vegan and eco-friendly sex toys, including a solar-powered vibrator and a dazzling variety of oils and lubes. Look on the bright side Global warming may result in planetwide catastrophe, but at least it’s an excuse for a quick nap. Researchers recommend that folks in warming climes start taking mid-afternoon siestas. The End Is Nigh — no sense working yourself to death. Space bikes The worldwide internets were all abuzz this week over …

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