David Roberts

David Roberts

Energy, politics, and more

David Roberts was a staff writer for Grist. You can follow him on Twitter, if you're into that sort of thing.

Knock knock

Who’s there? A joke contest

So, I claimed a few days ago that environmentalism is never funny. Apparently, there's some dispute about this matter. So we're going to settle it once and for all. And we're going to start with the most basic unit of humor on the planet, the unit of humor that dragged itself up out of the primordial swamp and flopped onto land, causing the other protozoa to giggle and roll their eyes. Yes: the knock-knock joke. You think environmental matters can be funny? Prove it. Leave us a green knock-knock joke in the comments. We dare you.

Energy efficiency resources for business

I should have done this several days ago, but better late than never: Check out Joel Makower's excellent list of resources for businesses looking to save (or make) some money through energy efficiency. As he says: Energy efficiency (the more business-like alternative to "conservation") has a strong foundation in a bottom-line-centric world. And there are rich resources -- case studies, how-to manuals, calculators, incentive programs, technical assistance agencies, and more -- to help companies manage the process. There's also a sizeable industry that's grown up around helping companies audit, assess, implement, and finance energy-efficiency solutions. And yet, we've barely begun to harvest the low-hanging fruit, let alone sow the seeds of an economy that can continue to grow and prosper using continually less energy from oil and other polluting resources. Get to it!

Defeat from the jaws of victory

Call it environmentalism, Bush style. A new federal tax credit will help allay the extra cost of purchasing hybrid vehicles, but the Byzantine formula for calculating the savings provides greater financial incentives for buying heavy SUVs than more fuel-efficient cars. Read the rest at Wired. (Via TP.)

Personal schmersonal

Personal virtue is not enough for environmentalists

A point I try frequently to make: If you want real, substantial, lasting environmental change, it is not enough simply to recycle or drive less or shop at Whole Foods or buy organic cotton t-shirts. It is not enough to advocate that others do so. The kind of environmental change we need will never happen solely through personal virtue. There just aren't enough virtuous people. What's needed are structural changes -- changes in gov't policy and regulation at every level, changes in the way we build and run our communities, changes in the practices of large corporations, changes in international norms and treaties. Political advocacy, in the broadest sense, is the obligation of any true environmentalist. Now, why do I pound on this point, even at risk of being a big downer for all the chipper eco-strivers who so love Umbra? Look no further than this headline: "Environment High in Personal Values, Low in Political Priorities for U.S. Voters" Grrr ...

Slam debunk

So, there's a buzzed-about new book called The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change, by Aussie scientist Tim Flannery. Naturally, it's brought the flat-earthers out of the woodwork. And when the flat-earthers come out, Tim Lambert follows. Read his delightfully compact, action-packed festival of debunkery, in which he makes typically quick work of the skeptics. Like skeet shooting ...

Paul Martin (that's the Prime Minister of Canada, folks) on Arctic Refuge drilling

opposes it in a speech to businessfolk

Thanks to reader EM for drawing our attention to a speech given by Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin to the Economic Club in New York on Oct. 6. He begins with lots of happy talk about the many shared interests of Canada and the U.S., and concludes by raising two problems. The first is familiar to devotees of Canadian politics: trade disputes, namely over softwood lumber and beef. The second -- and this, I must admit, came as a surprise to me -- is U.S. desire to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Martin objects on environmental grounds. The cynic in me assumes there must be some other angle here. Perhaps he's maneuvering on behalf of Canadian energy producers. I'm not sure. Maybe someone more familiar with Canadian politics can educate us in comments. Anyway, here's the relevant passage from the speech:


Bamboo has become something of a fetish among green types, particularly in certain quarters. While it may not be the environmental cure-all it's sometimes made out to be, it does have a lot going for it. It regenerates in a mere three years and is endlessly adaptable. The preceding was just an excuse to show you: 1000 Things Made of Bamboo.

Why did New Orleans drown?

It was short-sighted politics, and they’re still with us

Don't miss "The Slow Drowning of New Orleans," a knock-out piece of political history from the Washington Post's Michael Grunwald and Susan B. Glasser. I've read a lot of material lately about hurricanes and the Gulf Coast, and nothing I've seen does a better job of traversing the long history of short-sighted political blundering that made the catastrophe inevitable. The tale begins in the 1700s, and no one -- local, state, or fed, Democrat or Republican -- ends up blameless. The details are rich and varied, but at its root the story is about government's crippling inability to deal with long-term threats. The drowning of New Orleans was caused by complex factors of weather, geography, history, politics and engineering, but it was at heart a tragedy of priorities -- not just Vitter's, but America's. For years, it was common knowledge in Louisiana and Washington that New Orleans could be destroyed by a hurricane. But decision makers turned away from the long-term investments that might have averted a catastrophe, pursuing instead projects with more immediate payoffs. Some of those projects made the city more vulnerable. There you have it. If you want the political logic behind it, look no further than this short passage:

Arctic refuge video

This summer, the Treasure America project went up to the Arctic Refuge in search of purely economic reasons why drilling there is a bad idea. Watch this 12-minute video to see what they came up with. (Hat tip to Nick Aster at TriplePundit, who tagged along with the group.)