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.

Ceres on Katrina, insurance, and weather-related risk

Ceres, the "national network of investment funds, environmental organizations and other public interest groups working to advance environmental stewardship on the part of businesses," has just released a report on the enormous challenge to the insurance industry represented by escalating weather-related losses. You can read the executive summary here and the full report here (PDF). An excerpt: Yet, despite these rising insurance risks, climate change has received little attention to date from U.S. insurers, regulators and governments. Among the problem areas highlighted in the report: Only a small fraction of U.S. insurance companies have seriously examined the business implications of climate change and fewer still work closely with climate scientists or present their analyses publicly. Insurers and regulators currently do not have a comprehensive capacity to assess the cumulative weather-related risks from both catastrophic events and the growing number of small-scale events. The U.S. government's full financial exposure from insurance programs (flood, multi-crop insurance etc), disaster relief and other forms of weather-related assistance has never been assessed. The report recommends the following actions, among others: Insurers need to: collect more complete data on weather-related losses; incorporate climate modeling into their risk analyses; analyze the implications of climate change on their business and investments and share the results with shareholders; and encourage policy action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Regulators need to: include climate risks in company solvency and consumer-impact analysis; review the "standards of insurability" to identify new challenges, including climate-related hazards in the US and abroad; encourage insurers to collect more comprehensive data on losses; elevate standards for catastrophe modeling; and assess exposure of insurer investments and adequacy of capital and surplus to extreme weather events. Government needs to: foster and participate in public-private partnership for insurance risk spreading; comprehensively assess the government's overall financial exposure to weather disasters; reduce vulnerability to disaster losses through improved early warning systems, land use planning and other measures; and take policy action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

SEJ on Katrina

The Society of Environmental Journalists publishes its first official op-ed

As far as I know (readers, correct me if I'm wrong), the Society of Environmental Journalists has never before released an official op-ed. Now they've done so, in response to official stonewalling on the environmental damage done by Katrina. It is reprinted in full below the fold.

Klare on Katrina and foreign oil

Michael Klare writes in The Nation about Katrina's implications for our oil situation and our foreign policy (is there any difference?). A taste: But it is not the short-term picture that we should worry about the most; it is the long-term situation. This is so because the Gulf was the only area of the United States that showed any promise of compensating for the decline of older onshore fields and thus of dampening, to some degree, the nation's thirst for imported oil. ... Spurred by the Bush Administration's energy plan, which calls for massive investment in deep-water fields, the big oil firms have poured billions of dollars into new offshore drilling facilities in the Gulf. Before Katrina, these facilities were expected to supply more than 12 percent of America's Lower 48 petroleum output by the end of 2005, and a much larger share in the years thereafter. It is this promise of future oil that is most in question: Even if older, close-to-shore rigs can be brought back on line, there is considerable doubt about the viability of the billion-dollar deep-water rigs, most of which lie right along the path of recent hurricanes, including Ivan and Katrina. If these cannot be salvaged, there is no hope of slowing the rise in US dependence on imports, ANWR or no ANWR. This can mean one thing only: growing US reliance on oil from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Angola, Nigeria, Colombia, Venezuela and other conflict-torn producers in the developing world. And it is this that should set the alarm bells ringing. If recent US behavior is any indication, the Bush Administration will respond to this predicament by increasing the involvement of American military forces in the protection of foreign oil potentates (like the Saudi royal family) and the defense of overseas oil installations. Katrina has only heightened the tensions of our oil-soaked imperial project. Something's got to give. Update [2005-9-8 16:49:30 by Dave Roberts]: More thoughts on New Orleans' geopolitical significance over on Stratfor, arguing that the city's main import is not as a hub of oil production but as a port:The United States historically has depended on the Mississippi and its tributaries for transport. Barges navigate the river. Ships go on the ocean. The barges must offload to the ships and vice versa. There must be a facility to empower this exchange. It is also the facility where goods are stored in transit. Without this port, the river can't be used. Protecting that port has been, from the time of the Louisiana Purchase, a fundamental national security issue for the United States.

Disasters and social bonds

Why was there looting after Katrina?

We are entering an age when severe weather events, terrorist attacks, and other abrupt dislocations and catastrophes will be more common. It is thus to our great benefit to learn how best to marshal an effective response. Over on Reason, Jesse Walker's got a fascinating piece (via Jim Henley) on when social bonds do and do not break down after disasters, and the kinds of spontaneously arising community responses that authorities should learn to work with rather than against. Oddly comforting.

New foody blogs

I recently stumbled on a couple of nice new blogs. Life Begins at 30 revolves around the challenges and joys of eating local -- start with this nice, tidy list of reasons to eat local food. Then there's Bitter Greens Journal, a blog about the evils of industrial agriculture that recently attracted the attention of the mighty Monsanto. Enjoy.

"A clusterf**k beyond all imagining"

A first-hand account from the Gulf Coast

Good God. Read this first-hand account of the Gulf Coast rescue and cleanup operations from a contractor who works with the EPA. Here's a tidbit:This contractor has been organizing reverse osmosis (RO) water purification units from all over the country since last Tuesday. He has over 100 units of various sizes available to move into the region, but no one will give the go ahead. No one will sign their name to a piece of paper for fear of recriminations later. He says that over 80 million pint bottles of water have been purchased at $0.75 each. The RO units can produce a gallon of water from contaminated water for $0.01 and they can produce thousands of gallons a day. Two are staged near the zone and these alone can produce 250,000 gallons per day. The Army has RO units, but every functional one, and every operator trained to use them, is in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Interview with Treehugger’s Graham Hill

Via TriplePundit, a short interview with Graham Hill, founder and proprietor of Treehugger.

Katrina and compassion

In which your author finally breaks down

This (via Tapped) nails, like nothing else I've read, why I take Bush's reaction to Katrina personally. And it's not just Bush, it's Brown, Chertoff, any number of politicians, a substantial portion of the commentariat. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) said that those who stayed (got stuck) behind in New Orleans should be punished:There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving.I don't really consider myself a bleeding heart, but for god's sake, thousands of our fellow citizens are sitting in their own filth, old people and babies, dying of sickness, dehydration, illness, suicide ... Why isn't everyone, at every level of government, in a fucking panic about this? Where's the humanity? How can I be a part of the same species as these people? I just don't get it. Time for me to take a valium and stop reading the news.

Compare and contrast

Quotes on Katrina

Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency: "Unfortunately, [the death toll]'s going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings," Brown told CNN. "I don't make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans," he said. Michael Chertoff, secretary of Homeland Security: Some people chose not to obey [the evacuation order]. That was a mistake on their part. Bill O'Reilly, conservative talkshow host on FOX News: Moral of the story: People were warned to get out. Those who stayed paid a price for that decision. If you rely on the government, you're likely to be disappointed. No government can protect you or provide for you. You have to do it yourself. Barack Obama, Senator from Illinois: And so I hope that out of this crisis we all begin to reflect - Democrat and Republican - on not only our individual responsibilities to ourselves and our families, but to our mutual responsibilities to our fellow Americans. I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren't just abandoned during the Hurricane. They were abandoned long ago - to murder and mayhem in their streets; to substandard schools; to dilapidated housing; to inadequate health care; to a pervasive sense of hopelessness. That is the deeper shame of this past week - that it has taken a crisis like this one to awaken us to the great divide that continues to fester in our midst. That's what all Americans are truly ashamed about, and the fact that we're ashamed about it is a good sign. The fact that all of us - black, white, rich, poor, Republican, Democrat - don't like to see such a reflection of this country we love, tells me that the American people have better instincts and a broader heart than our current politics would indicate. (first three via American Progress)

Got 2.7 seconds?

We've devised the world's shortest survey to find out what kind of actions our readers are taking. You know you want to.