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.

Gays destroy New Orleans

Saying that global warming "caused" Hurricane Katrina is pretty stupid. No, clearly what caused Katrina is God's anger at homosexuals. Thanks a lot, gays! (via Think Progress)

How McIntyre got famous

One of the very few front-page stories The Wall Street Journal has ever run on global warming was about the work of an obscure semi-retired businessman named Stephen McIntyre. Said work criticized the infamous climate-change "hockey stick." The story catapulted McIntyre -- who was and is regarded as a bit of a kook among actual climate scientists -- to fame, and he's since been lauded by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tx) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla). Inquiring minds want to know: WTF? Paul Thacker has the back story. Update [2005-10-11 14:59:40 by David Roberts]: Antonio Regalado from the WSJ wrote to inform me that the above is inaccurate -- the WSJ has in fact printed several page one stories on climate change (his unscientific survey turned up 14). Consider me chastened and corrected.

Interview with Alex Steffen, part two

On green building, urban development, and reviving rural America

This is part two of a three-part interview. You can read part one here and part three here. In this section, Alex and I discuss green building, urban development, and reviving rural America.

Katrina links

Resources for news and opinion on the hurricane

Hurricane Katrina has unleashed almost incomprehensible destruction on the Gulf Coast, particularly New Orleans. Some resources: The New York Times has a brutally frank story on the unwisdom of building human settlements on the Gulf Coast at all. As long as people could control floods, they could do business. But, as people learned too late, the landscape of South Louisiana depends on floods: it is made of loose Mississippi River silt, and the ground subsides as this silt consolidates. Only regular floods of muddy water can replenish the sediment and keep the landscape above water. But flood control projects channel the river's nourishing sediment to the end of the birdfoot delta and out into the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico. Although early travelers realized the irrationality of building a port on shifting mud in an area regularly ravaged by storms and disease, the opportunities to make money overrode all objections. The NYT also has an editorial on the same subject, and USA Today also has a story on it. The Washington Post has the latest on the flooding and the refugee crisis (odd to think of refugees in the U.S., isn't it?) -- pay particular attention to the story on how the rerouting of the Mississippi, along with rising sea levels from global warming, has led to a dramatic shrinking of the coastal wetlands that once sheltered Louisiana. The WaPo also has a fairly stunning set of photos of the hurricane's aftermath. An AP wire story calls attention to a possible environmental crisis, namely that the storm may turn New Orleans into "a vast cesspool tainted with toxic chemicals, human waste and even coffins released by floodwaters from the city's legendary cemeteries." A Reuters story says that the EPA has relaxed green-fuel regulations in areas hit by the storm. Los Angeles Times has a story on how Katrina has turned attention back to global warming and a good chart showing the oil pipelines, platforms, and refineries in Katrina's path. The NYT has a piece casting doubt on the theory that global warming has caused more intense storms. TIME has a piece supporting the theory. Speaking of global warming, Ross Gelbspan has a completely over-the-top editorial in the Boston Globe calling global warming the "cause" of just about everything but herpes. Democracy Now! has a great show on whether global warming is raising storm intensity, with New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and hot-stuff meteorologist Kerry Emanuel. The Environmental Economics blog has a roundup of links on the subject of Katrina and gas prices. Worldchanging has an interesting post on foresight in the new climate age we've entered. California Yankee has a fairly comprehensive list of organizations to which you can contribute to help the victims. Of course, despite the pretensions of this post, your real one-stop-shopping destination for news about Katrina is Wikipedia, which never ceases to amaze. Feel free to leave other significant links in comments. Update [2005-8-31 11:0:47 by Dave Roberts]: Oh, and perhaps the most important story of all: The disaster is so bad that President Bush has cut short his vacation by two days. Inspiring. Update [2005-8-31 12:43:35 by Dave Roberts]: Oh, and I forgot to mention perhaps the best hub of coverage of all: New Orleans' own Times-Picayune, which also had this tragically prescient series on NO's vulnerability to a big storm.

More on CAFE and gas taxes

A response to a response to a response, only better than it sounds

Hm, looks like this post on CAFE standards stepped into quite a vigorous ongoing conversation. I want to address Matt's response, but first let me recommend some other background reading: Brad Plumer makes basically Matt's argument: gas taxes are better and more direct than CAFE. Brad DeLong agrees. Ezra Klein thinks Brad and Brad are wrong (read the comment thread, it's good): CAFE is preferable. Kevin Drum also writes in defense of CAFE. Andrew Samwick says neither CAFE nor gas taxes actually reduce gas consumption much. A report from the National Academy of Sciences argues that CAFE standards have, in fact, worked. Our own Clark Williams-Derry discusses a report concluding that CAFE standards are counterproductive. Hm. Confusing. Anyhoo, Matt responds to my accusation of the dread policy literalism by trying to frame his gas tax proposal in terms of "broad values and coalitions." It's the right spirit, but I don't think it works. Here's what he says:

Hybrid tax credits

A great rundown on the hybrid-related tax credits in the energy bill over on Hybridblog.

More on hurricanes and global warming

Pielke Jr. responds

Roger Pielke Jr. has made something of a career out of studying societal response to hurricanes (see him quoted liberally here). He's made something of a side career out of arguing that greens should -- as a matter of ethics, science, and policy -- refrain from using severe weather events like hurricanes to raise alarm over global warming and (thereby) advance their preferred energy policies. I happen to disagree with him on that, but his position, being somewhat infuriating to greens, tends to get caricatured and vilified a lot. So, let's let him speak for himself. He responded to my post on hurricanes and global warming with a post on his blog. I responded in turn with the following email:

To CAFE or not to CAFE?

Are fuel-efficiency standards a smart way to reduce oil consumption?

Fareed Zakaria has a nice rundown of the many ways our hunger for oil distorts our foreign policy and makes a mockery of our efforts to fight terrorism and spread democracy. At the end, he briefly mentions solutions: It's true that there is no silver bullet that will entirely solve America's energy problem, but there is one that goes a long way: more-efficient cars. If American cars averaged 40 miles per gallon, we would soon reduce consumption by 2 million to 3 million barrels of oil a day. That could translate into a sustained price drop of more than $20 a barrel. ... I would start by raising fuel-efficiency standards, providing incentives for hybrids and making gasoline somewhat more expensive (yes, that means raising taxes). Matt Yglesias thinks that fuel-efficiency (CAFE) standards -- however beloved by greens and progressives -- are a bit of a red herring:

Interview with Alex Steffen, part one

Worldchanging editor discusses optimism and technology

[editor's note, by Dave Roberts] This is part one of a three-part interview. Part two is here and part three is here. In April, I sat down for a long, wide-ranging conversation with Alex Steffen, executive editor of the (now newly incorporated and redesigned) Worldchanging.com. Gristmill readers likely need no introduction to Worldchanging, an online salon of activists and thinkers dedicated to the proposition that "another world is here" -- that the tools and techniques we need to reverse the global malaise already exist and await only our imagination and willpower. If it isn't on your daily reading list, it should be. Originally, I was going to run this interview alongside a rather ambitious long-form piece of my own, but as time has passed -- and I really can't believe how much time has passed -- it's become clear that said piece is indefinitely postponed. Since I have a baby due [checks calendar] three days ago, it's unlikely I'll soon have time to return to it. Lest it get even older, I'm going to go ahead and run it here. There's lots of good stuff in it, but it's very long, so I've broken it into three parts -- I'll publish the first today and the others in coming days. In part one, we discuss optimism, technology, and the open-source movement.

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