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.

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.

From Lubes to Lemurs

Lube job Folks sometimes worry about sustainability during sex — just not the environmental kind. To make your pleasure greener there’s the Veg Sex Shop, a collection of vegan and eco-friendly sex toys, including a solar-powered vibrator and a dazzling variety of oils and lubes. Look on the bright side Global warming may result in planetwide catastrophe, but at least it’s an excuse for a quick nap. Researchers recommend that folks in warming climes start taking mid-afternoon siestas. The End Is Nigh — no sense working yourself to death. Space bikes The worldwide internets were all abuzz this week over …

Science wars

Great column by Chris Mooney on the science wars of the 90s and the 00s, respectively.

Hybrid muscle cars: scourge of nation or post-honeymoon peacemaker?

Do hybrids have to get beefier and sacrifice mileage?

So I'm flipping through a magazine this morning and stumble on a glossy ad featuring a muscley sports car. The tag line: THE CHARGER HYBRID -- IT BURNS GAS AND RUBBER Sigh. Anyway, speaking of hybrids, I have a question. As everyone's noticed, the hybrid market seems to be moving toward performance-based cars that boost power without doing much to boost gas mileage. Greens no doubt view this as a disaster. But lots of auto-geeks think that, as this Autoblog post puts it, the "honeymoon is over" for hybrids in terms of fuel economy, what with constant reports that their real-world mileage doesn't approach their advertised mileage. So, are hybrids making a necessary shift to preserve their expanding market? Or are performance-based hybrids a reflection of the greed and perfidy of automakers and autobuyers alike?


I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels ambivalent about this sort of thing. On one hand, it would be nice if people for once would just stay the hell out of an "eco-wonderland." On the other hand, these places do instill a kind of reverence for nature that carries over to other parts of a traveler's life. What do you think? (via Divester)

An environmental dilemma

regarding the dispensation of pork

Republicans control all three branches of government. Thus, pork goes disproportionately to Republican congressional districts. Republican congressional districts tend to be either rural or exurban. Rural pork is composed primarily of agricultural subsidies and exurban pork is generally car-friendly. Agricultural subsidies and car-friendly infrastructure development are environmentally destructive. Whatever to do? Update [2005-8-12 14:25:26 by Dave Roberts]: Oops. In reference to the above, I meant to point to this Nathan Newman post.

Alan AtKisson on Sweden

Delightful. Update [2005-8-12 10:25:6 by Dave Roberts]: Iceland sounds pretty cool too!

Peak oil and heuristics

Being ‘right’ about peak oil is only the first step

All right, I've been meaning to write a post on this forever, but a comment from The Oil Drum's Prof. Goose finally lit a fire under my butt: It seems to me that one of the keys to the puzzle of why people don't understand peak oil and other sustainability issues is innumeracy and a lack of understanding spatial functions. Ah, so that's it! But wait, it gets better: However, getting 100*ln 2(~=70, btw)/rate per annum=doubling time in years through your head ain't that hard...is it? Oh, well heck no! But let's get to the point: One of the main points of Dr. Bartlett's lecture is that "we cannot let other people do our thinking for us." So, so true. Um, no. So, so false. In fact, we let other people do our thinking for us constantly. If we couldn't outsource some -- nay, most -- of our thinking, we would be screwed indeed. People think about their families, kids, boy/girlfriends, health, school, job, finances, parents, weight ... now they have to learn calculus? I'm not trying to be cute. People are busy. Average folk can hope to have in-depth knowledge in one area, maybe two. For many it is sports, clothes, TV shows, hobbies of myriad sorts. Even those who devote their lives to what we may consider good causes -- learning all there is to know about, oh, poverty, or ocean health -- do we hold them responsible for not knowing all there is to know about peak oil? Do we hold Prof. Goose responsible for not knowing the basic facts on, say, the tropical lapse rate quandary? No. Most people rely, for most of their information, most of the time, on other people. They let other people do the thinking for them. It could not be otherwise.

Kernel knowledge

The Daily Show has done several funny bits on the energy bill. This one, on ethanol, is particularly funny.