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.

Nonlinearity and you

Melting polar ice cap bodes ill — very ill

I didn't manage to get to it during the week, but don't miss this Mike Davis essay over on Tom's Dispatch. It's about the seemingly obscure subject of "nonlinearity," a word that may just end up being featured prominently on humanity's tombstone. "Humanity, R.I.P. Should have payed attention to nonlinearity." Specifically, it's about a study -- mentioned in Daily Grist last week -- revealing that the Arctic ice cap is melting earlier in the summer, not fully re-freezing in the winter, possibly caught in an irreversible self-reinforcing cycle, and headed to final and complete disappearance by 2060. This is some scary shit. First, nonlinearity:

GAS Act passes

amidst much drama

Holy drama, Batman! So, as we mentioned in the Daily Grist, the House voted today on Rep. Barton's Gasoline for America's Security (GAS) Act (PDF) (gag on the Orwell, gag on it!). It's a big fat wet kiss to the energy industry, easing Clean Air Act provisions to streamline refinery development and codifying the President's ability to suspend clean-air standards in a state of emergency. It's a bunch of crap they couldn't get into this summer's already craptacular energy bill. To boot, yesterday the House Rules Committee blocked an attempt to include a provision raising CAFE standards. Well, once again the Republican leadership held what is supposed to be a five-minute floor vote open for nearly 50 minutes, ruthlessly twisting arms and bribing recalcitrant members. Ultimately they jammed the thing through, on a 212-210 vote. They buttonholed lawmakers for last-minute lobbying as Democrats complained loudly that the vote should be closed. Finally two GOP lawmakers switched from "no" to "yes," giving the bill's supporters the margin of victory. "Is this the House of a Banana Republic?" Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., shouted at one point, expressing his frustration about the GOP holdup of the final tally. As the vote came to an end opponents chanted in unison, "Shame! Shame! Shame!" I'm beyond knowing whether they'll pay any political price for this kind of overt corporatism and disrespect for democratic process. But the country's appetite for House Republican corruption and insensitivity is rapidly declining. I've been burned too many times thinking maybe we've reached the tipping point. But ... maybe we've reached the tipping point. (GCC has more.) (TAPPED has still more.) (Wow! Watch this amazing video of the vote. Unbelievable.)

Arctic reality check

The Wilderness Society has been sending out some great email bulletins about the details of the proposed Arctic Refuge drilling legislation. Now they're all online in one place: check out the Arctic Reality Check. Here are the four main points: Opens the entire 1.5 million-acre Coastal Plain for oil development, and mandates a minimum of 200,000 acres for the first lease sale. Weakens and sidesteps important environmental protection laws and standards. Dresses up weak or meaningless "protections" to sound good. Limits oversight by the public, the judicial branch, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

SUV nation

Looks like more old people are going to die: Chrysler is doubling its SUV offerings over the next three years, including the radical Dodge Nitro model coming next year with flared fenders and fuel-friendly V-6. GM is counting on a new crop of full-bodied SUVs arriving next year to drive its comeback. And though the models are still big, GM designers burnished the edges to make them look smaller. By 2010, the number of SUVs on the market will increase 24 percent to 109 models, while just 44 different hybrids will be offered by then, according to auto researcher J.D. Power. Even Toyota, the hybrid leader, is building a $1 billion pickup-truck plant in Texas where analysts expect it to build a new -- and bigger -- version of its Sequoia SUV. Despite pain at the pump, 56 percent of Americans refuse to downsize and will stick with the wheels they've got, according to a new survey by consultant AutoPacific. "We haven't turned into wimps overnight," says AutoPacific's George Peterson. "People still like a tough-looking SUV." ... "For hybrids to have a double-digit market share," says Power's Jeff Schuster, "we'd essentially have to run out of fossil fuel." Sigh.

From Britney to BoKlok

The booby/baby dilemma Celebs. How they confound us. One minute you hear that Britney is willing to leave her breasts bare for … well, anything, …

'The War on Terra'

The Daily Show goes green

The Daily Show has instituted another regular feature called "The War on Terra," which as you might imagine is about environmental matters. You can see the first one -- about melting polar ice caps and dying Chinese tigers -- here. I must say, I'm happy they're doing this, but the results are a little dispiriting. Even these guys, the funniest guys on the planet (except maybe the writers on Arrested Development) have trouble making green issues funny. Why is that? Why is humor about the environment never, ever funny? And music about it never good? And art about it never interesting? It seems to repel everything except earnest sanctimony. Truly vexing. Does anyone have any counter-examples to prove me wrong?

Reducing energy use painlessly

Via Matt, an intriguing (though troublingly citation-free) case by John Quiggin that the energy-use reductions required to curb climate change are achievable through a combination of thoughtful public policy and rising prices -- without any particular damage to our standard of living. Definitely worth a read. A common estimate is that to stabilise the global climate, we would need to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 60 per cent, and proposals to achieve this by 2050 have been put forward. Assuming only a limited role for alternative energy sources, it seems reasonably to look at a 50 per cent reduction in primary energy use. It’s a widely-held view that the kinds of changes required to stabilise the global climate must imply a fairly radical reduction in our material standard of living. This view is shared by radical environmentalists, who see such a reduction as a good thing, and by opponents of such changes most of whom, at least in developed countries are on the free-market right. The fact that radical environmentalists view the modern economy as critically dependent on unsustainable patterns of energy use is not surprising. On the other hand, supporters of the free-market generally praise the flexibility of dynamism. Currently, energy use accounts for about 6 per cent of GDP. The suggestion that reducing this proportion to, say, 3 per cent, is beyond our capacity seems to represent a very pessimistic view of our economic potential. ... Given a consistent upward trend in prices and a coherent set of public policies, massive reductions in energy use would follow as surely as night follows day.

Oil’s tentacles

The Wall Street Journal (sorry, sub. only) offers just a teeny tiny glimpse of what genuine oil shortages might look like with a story on all the other industries suffering from the oil-supply damage done by the hurricanes. The recent hurricanes are sending aftershocks through manufacturers who depend on materials derived from petroleum and natural gas, such as foam and resin. Producers of furniture, building materials, tires and even golf balls are feeling the pain of storm-related shortages and soaring prices for key raw materials. If oil goes up another $10 or $20, you'll see the list of industries "feeling pain" grow much longer.

Asia-Pacific climate pact talks postponed

Kyoto back in the spotlight

Here's an obscure but significant piece of news: Remember that Asia-Pacific climate pact that was announced to great fanfare in July? Though the participating governments -- U.S., China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Australia -- denied it, it was widely seen as an attempt to establish an alternative to Kyoto, one that conspicuously involved no mandatory emissions cuts. Heightening that impression was the stated plan to hold the inaugural ministerial meeting in November, thus stealing the spotlight from the next round of U.N. climate talks to be held in Montreal on Nov. 28. Well, now that inaugural Asia-Pacific meeting has been postponed -- until January at the earliest, probably longer. Depending on your perspective, this could mean: that, as FoE's Stephanie Long puts it, "Nothing has happened to take this pact forwards, there's been nothing to disclose what it would entail, and it doesn't seem like it's as important to get around the table as it was to announce the setting up of this pact" -- in other words, the countries just couldn't get their shit together to make this fantasy any kind of tangible reality; the pendulum of international opinion is swinging back toward Kyoto-style mandatory cuts; oh, gosh, nothing, just some bureaucratic details that need to be ironed out.