Osha Gray Davidson

Osha Gray Davidson has been an investigative reporter for 25 years and is the author of six books of nonfiction. He publishes the online journal The Phoenix Sun covering solar power.

Doubt on a limb

From tobacco to climate change, ‘merchants of doubt’ undermined the science

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world.”– Margaret Mead Because Americans are optimists we tend to see Mead’s observation as upbeat and life-affirming (as it was probably intended). Blinkered by optimism, however, we miss the dark flip side of her observation — that a few fanatics can do immense harm. In their sweeping and comprehensive new book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, historians Naomi Oreskes and Erick M. Conway document how a handful of right-wing ideologues — all scientists — …

making his mark

When it comes to energy, Mark Jacobson thinks big

Mark Z. Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University, is an unusual figure in the field of climate change. He literally wrote the book on computer modeling for atmospheric changes, and he is a respected expert in the impacts of energy production and use. But what truly sets Jacobson apart is his vision. He’s a “Big Picture” kind of thinker, focused on finding large scale, but practical, solutions to the problems of climate change. For example: a few months ago, Jacobson co-authored a cover-story in Scientific American sub-titled, “Wind, water and solar technologies can provide 100 percent of …

Disaster Politics

From Bhopal to Copenhagen

I tried, unsuccessfully, to learn if anyone from Bhopal, India, would be speaking at the climate summit in Copenhagen. It seems unlikely, but the delegates gathering in Copenhagen need to hear what only someone from Bhopal can properly tell them. They need to know what it was like 25 years ago this week, when a cloud of poison gas leaked from a pesticide plant in the middle of the night and drifted over the Bhopal slums. Thousands died; it was the worst industrial disaster in history and it holds lessons that are essential to the proceedings on climate change about …

The Kids Are Alright. Not So Sure About the Adults.

Kids just say no — to fossil fuels

“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary…” OK, students of American History, think you know the rest of this historic American sentence? If you guessed, “… for one people to rid themselves of an energy system that may threaten their lives and liberties, it is only decent that they should declare the causes of separation from the dependence on Fossil Fuels,” you’re right. Here’s the complete “Declaration of Independence from Fossil Fuels.” The document was written by fifteen-year-old climate activist Alec Loorz, who has been organizing his peers to fight global warming since he saw Al Gore’s …

meanwhile, back at the DOI ranch ...

Salazar cowboys-up to fight global warming

With all eco-eyes focused on the action (or, more properly, inaction) on a climate bill, other critical components of a clean energy economy can be overlooked. That was the case on Monday as the dominant news story concerned speculation about whether Republican members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works would show up for Tuesday’s climate bill markup session (they didn’t). While that tragicomedy played out, a forum at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House went largely unnoticed. The “Clean Energy Economy Forum” was hosted by the Department of the Interior, which manages one-fifth …

the roadmap is paved with gold

A solar energy future: Maybe you can get there from here

Almost anything that happens in our nation’s capital can be explained by a quote from Alice in Wonderland. Usually, that’s a bad thing. In the case of the Solar Technology Roadmap Act which the U.S. House of Representatives passed last week, however, invoking Alice is all for the good. Lost in a land where nothing is what it seems, Alice asks the Cheshire Cat which way she ought to go. He answers, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” The bill’s author, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) calls it a Roadmap for a reason: HR 3585’s …

The Mean Streets of Journalism

On gaming the political spectrum

He’s been called a lot of things, but …If Bill Gates visited a homeless shelter with nine people, the Washington Post would predictably report on a gathering of tycoons with an average net worth of $123 million. Why do I say that? Read this from today’s WaPo: Tony Kreindler, spokesman for the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, sent an e-mail to reporters Tuesday morning cautioning that the bill likely would change markedly in the coming weeks as the Senate Finance and Agriculture Committee weighs in, along with several centrist legislators who want to modify it, such as Sen. Thomas R. …

Will Skyscrape for Wind

Portland’s newest high-rise has wind turbines on the roof

The cermonial urban-turbine installation.indigo12west.comTwo weeks ago in Portland, Oregon, a new 23-story building added something you don’t usually see in an urban setting: a series of four Skystream wind turbines, with a total capacity of 9.6kW. There are several reasons why wind turbines are a rarity atop highrises — beyond the obvious one: our power infrastructure makes changing from traditional sources of electricity difficult, expensive, and seemingly unnecessary. (As long as you can convince yourself that the planet isn’t really warming and that 15,000 Americans don’t die prematurely each year from breathing in filthy air from coal-fired power plants, and …

Power hungry? Eat here!

The top 10 sources for energy

Jacobson the power-ful.stanford.eduI was disappointed when I discovered that the list of experts at last week’s Clean Energy Summit would not include Stanford University’s Mark Jacobson. Of course, no individual is indispensable at such a summit. But as the day went by I felt his absence more and more keenly. That’s because Jacobson is one of the few scientists looking at energy’s Big Picture. How big? In an article published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science earlier this year, Jacobson reported the first quantitative, scientific study evaluating the top energy sources based on: Potential for delivering adequate power for …