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.

Bush's respect for nature

Nothing he wants to go affirming to the UN

Uh oh, this doesn't sound good. The Bush administration, whose pro-business policies on climate change have long rankled environmentalists and U.N. delegates, has done it again. The United States is pressing to scrap a proposal to have world leaders gathering in New York next month express "respect for nature." Eh, pardonne moi? That phrase was included in a draft statement of principles to be agreed to by 175 heads of state and government attending a Sept. 14 United Nations summit on poverty and U.N. reform. The statement invited leaders to embrace a set of "core values" that unite the international community, including respect for human rights, freedom, equality, tolerance, multilateralism and respect for nature. Is there some confusion in the Washington Post offices? Is this some kind of treaty? Mandated CO2 emissions cuts? Banning of toxic chemicals? Compensating poor nations for the effects of climate change? The offending phrase would place no fresh legal or financial burdens on U.S. taxpayers... WTF?! ...but the Bush administration voiced concern that it would distract attention from the main goal: reforming the United Nations. WTF!? Um, wait, so, 175 nations are gathering in New York to work on U.N. reform. To start off, they want to affirm their shared principles. Bush is okay with this. Human rights? Sure. Equality? Yup. Multilateralism? Ah, what the hell. Respect for nature, though? C'mon. Let's not go off the rails! Ric Grenell of the U.S. mission to the United Nations said the phrase "is too broad a subject, and if we had to define the multiple ways the U.S. government respects nature, the document would be too long and way off its original intent." Oh, gosh, the ways we respect nature ... don't get us started! No, really. Don't. We mean it.

Hurricanes and global warming

Where’s the line between scientific accuracy and effective advocacy?

It's hard to know what to say about the ongoing disaster in New Orleans (good coverage here). Good luck to all our readers there. It sounds like it's not going to be as bad as feared, which is some comfort. For a glimpse at how bad it could have been, read Mooney's prescient AP piece from three months ago. And for a lament about the woeful lack of preparation, read his followup: "prescience sucks." Katrina is sure to reignite the ongoing debate over hurricanes and global warming. A few thoughts on that debate below the fold.

From Size to Spies

It’s not the size of the turtle, it’s how you save it Photo: WiLDCOAST. “My man doesn’t need turtle eggs,” says the sultry model in a controversial Mexican ad campaign, which urges men to stop buying the alleged aphrodisiacs and help save the endangered sea creatures. But does he need a Hummer H2? Money-mouth co-location Two climate-change skeptics just bet climate expert James Annan $10,000 that the globe would cool this decade. Meanwhile, peak oil Pollyanna John Tierney bet gloomy oil expert Matt Simmons $5,000 that oil wouldn’t top $200 a barrel by 2010. Way to up the apocalyptic ante. …

The wages of Kelo

We talked about Kelo v. New London quite a bit when it was first decided. Here's a little follow-up (via Tapped):The U.S. Supreme Court recently found that the city's original seizure of private property was constitutional under the principal of eminent domain, and now New London is claiming that the affected homeowners were living on city land for the duration of the lawsuit and owe back rent. It's a new definition of chutzpah: Confiscate land and charge back rent for the years the owners fought confiscation.

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.