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.

Rebuilding: dreams and reality

Good, if hopeless, ideas on how to rebuild N.O.

It sure would be nice if New Orleans were rebuilt according to the principles of sustainability, wouldn't it? In a way that puts it in balance with nature? A way that's more equitable for the poor and disadvantaged? A way that could serve as an example of state-of-the-art urban design? ... wait for it ... And a pony! Back in the real world, the same people who ran the "reconstruction" of Iraq are running this gig. Literally: several of the officials who worked in Iraq are being hired by the companies contracted to work in N.O. Money is flooding in, accountability and transparency are completely absent, and the forces of good are being caught flat-footed. Expect travesty. But still, we can dream. If we did have a responsible, imaginative government, what would the rebuilding process look like? Turns out the editors of Environmental Building News have a fantastic piece about just this subject. Read the whole thing -- seriously -- but here are the 10 steps they lay out:

Burning in New Orleans

Don't miss Carl Pope on the decidedly brown clean-up techniques being used by the recipients of the no-bid contracts for New Orleans remediation. In particular: they're burning the debris, which is likely loaded with toxic chemicals. This, of course is the same reckless approach to cleaning up after a disaster that the Bush administration adopted in its official disaster response plans for another terrorist attack after 9/11. A Sierra Club analysis discovered that the Administration had decided that in another terrorist attack it would "waive" cleanup standards otherwise required under federal law, and that devastated communities would be left contaminated forever. We protested at the time that it seemed clinically insane to say that, if terrorists attacked a community, it would not get the same kind of protection and cleanup that would follow a natural disaster. Now it turns out that we hadn't heard the sound of the second shoe dropping. The response to Katrina shows that our government has no intention of protecting communities after they suffer any disaster, whether natural or terrorist.

Conserving credit

How many kudos does Bush deserve for endorsing conservation?

George W. Bush recently endorsed energy conservation. How much credit does he deserve? The other post-Katrina recommendations featured in yesterday's press conference include trimming back environmental regulation on oil refineries, giving the feds siting authority over said refineries, and trimming money from Medicare, Medicaid, and the food-stamp program to pay for hurricane cleanup. No military or homeland-security programs will be touched, nor will there be any pause in the serial tax cuts for the rich. Oh, and in the event of an avian flu outbreak, U.S. military grunts may be used as quarantine-enforcing first responders. Throw ya hands up for the Posse Comitatus Act! No, seriously. Put your hands up. How much credit? Not so much.

Distributed electrical grids and such

Small-scale microgrids are more efficient, cheaper, and work just as well

If I were the kind of person who really dug in and learned about subjects in depth instead of a quasi-pundit dilettante who knows just enough about a lot of subjects to be dangerous [takes breath] I would study distributed electrical grids. They are, after all, the new black. Here's the take-home message: Smaller-scale, distributed electrical generation (solar, wind, etc.), built closer to consumers, run by intelligent grids, is cheaper and more efficient than the big, centralized kind, could be implemented with no loss of quality or service, and would sharply reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. It is, as Martha is wont to say, a good thing. The impediments are not only technical but political, since distributed electrical grids are by nature democratizing. More below the fold.

Nobel goes to green chemists

Via WC, check it out: The guys who just won the Nobel Prize for chemistry are green chemists:

Gore on the marketplace of ideas

Do you wonder why public dialogue in the U.S. these days takes place in such an atmosphere of surreal trivia, despite the vitally important challenges facing us? Wonder why global warming, a catastrophe of Biblical proportions, can get on TV only if it's cast as the malevolent face behind a hurricane? Wonder why Americans are so bogglingly ignorant of basic current events? Al Gore knows. Read his extraordinary speech.

Prison Break

New FOX show pins its plot on clean energy

So I've been watching this show on FOX called Prison Break. It's quite good -- not, you know, Deadwood good, or The Wire good, but fast-paced, fun, and surprisingly cerebral. It's like 24 but not horrible, stilted, and mean-spirited. Oh man, I genuinely hate that show, but don't worry, I won't make you listen to a rant about it. Wait, where was I? Anyhoo. The plot revolves around this guy who gets himself thrown into prison in order to escape with his brother, who's on death row. His brother is accused of killing the vice president's brother, but supposedly was set up by the Secret Service. Who really wanted the VP's brother dead? Well, apparently the VP's bro was a big environmentalist and advocate for clean energy. Matter of fact, his company, EcoField, had recently developed a "prototype electric engine." "Sixty dollar barrels of oil would be obsolete if this thing ever made it to the mainstream," says one character. She and a fellow investigator speculate about who might want him out of the way -- oil companies, or perhaps the government of an oil-based economy. "Like the United States," says fellow investigator darkly. Indeeed ...

Find solar

Via TH, the launch of the very cool FindSolar.com, a site where you can punch in your zip code to find solar installation professionals near you, and find out how much such an installation will cost. Mainstreaming solar: love it.

Ride the white crony

Speaking of TIME, and of more pressing short-term threats to our environmental health: Check out "How Many More Mike Browns Are Out There?" It is, as you might suspect from the title, an investigation into how many other important government agencies are now headed by Bush administration cronies with no qualifications and no principles aside from their loyalty to Bush. Scary, scary stuff. And it doesn't even touch on the EPA and FWS and other eco-related agencies, which as we all know are led by and increasingly (as long-timers leave in disgust) staffed with ex-industry lobbyists. This kind of rot and incompetence at the core of our government is one of those dire threats that environmentalists pay insufficient heed to, what with it not being "environmental." Heed should be paid. (Anybody get that title reference?)