Skip to content
Grist home
All donations DOUBLED

Articles by Andy Brett

All Articles

  • Sustainable consumption

    As usual, Joel Makower has got the good stuff. The Journal of Industrial Ecology that he points to is, in a word, fascinating. It's full of great articles, all tied together with the theme of "sustainable consumption."

    I haven't had time (yet) to read all of the articles, but there is one that jumps out as a real jewel, Tim Jackson's piece, "Live Better by Consuming Less? Is There a Double Dividend in Sustainable Consumption?"

    When it comes to sustainability, Jackson notes that

    Purely technological approaches fall short of addressing the crucial dimension of human choice in implementing sustainable technologies and changing unsustainable consumption patterns.
    With that, Jackson is off and running. I think he's absolutely right. We can have all the technology in the world to make living more and more efficient and low-impact. But it won't do any good if people don't use it.

    The two elements of technology and choices, production and consumption, are intertwined, and I think that improvements have been made in both respects. For example:

    • I would say that people have shifted values (choices) to place a very high value on order, or organization, or lack of entropy, or whatever term you'd like. Economically speaking, it is now possible to rack up huge amounts of GDP by sitting in front of a computer punching keys if you are doing it in a highly ordered way; society places a high value on, say, a flawless computer program or a sophisticated data model.

    • Society also has evolved the infrastructure (technology) necessary for these endeavors to be sustainable; someone can now write the program without commuting at all even though her colleagues are half a world away. So in terms of the impact that someone actually needs to have in order to live, we are quite rapidly minimizing this impact to such an extent that we might be able to fit all 6 billion of us on this planet sustainably.
    That may be overly optimistic, and there are reasons to believe that materialistic choices are somewhat necessary and ingrained in human nature, which Jackson discusses in depth. The article is extremely well-researched and just peppered with references.  I challenge anyone to get through it without being taken off on at least one tangent (one of my own tangents resulted in an addition to my list of books to read).

    Update [2005-6-11 8:7:2 by Andy Brett]:
    Some excellent further reading on the subject, with some surprising answers, courtesy of Jon Christensen:
    "Are We Consuming Too Much?" from the Journal of Economic Perspectives, by Paul Ehrlich and others
    "Are We Consuming Too Much?" by Jon Christensen

    The first paper is somewhat technical, but very worth it. Christensen's article is less technical and has some valuable points about the role and value of "natural" systems such as wetlands.

  • Subaru’s new line.

    Dan Neil, transportation writer for the LA Times, talks with Steve Inskeep of NPR's Marketplace about Subaru's newest model, and the possibility that it might not be more of the same from Subaru. The B9 Tribeca, which Neil reviewed last week, is slightly more "sexy" than previous Subaru lines, and Neil thinks that it might be getting a little bit astray of the traditional Subaru image, which he compares to both Thoreau and the Unitarian church.

    C'mon, it's a short interview: Go give it a listen.

  • McClellan has his feet held to the climate change fire

    The New York Times article yesterday detailing Philip Cooney's creative writing skills has been bouncing around the world as well as the blogosphere. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan had his feet held to the fire yesterday at the press briefing. One of his more interesting assertions:

    Q: In every example that we have seen, and Mr. Cooney's emendations and deletions from these reports have been to the effect of making them less critical, less stringent, less apparently in need of immediate action. In other words, he's done everything in the examples we've seen to pull back from worst-case scenario. He is not a scientist.

    MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's your opinion, and I think your opinion is wrong.

    It seemed the press corps sensed that McClellan was on the ropes with this topic, which led to zingers such as this one:
    MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, there are policy people and scientists who are involved in this process, in the interagency review process. And he's one of the policy people involved in that process, and someone who's very familiar with the issues relating to climate change and the environment.

    Q Because of his work lobbying for the oil industry?

    It's fun to read; even better to watch [RealPlayer]. Fun in a depressing, upsetting kind of way.

    Yesterday's press briefing was also the most time spent on an environmental topic in a White House press briefing in a long time.

  • Debunking the rainforest myth.

    Henry Chu writes in the LA Times this morning on the myth that the Amazon rainforests are the "lungs of the world." June is the start of the burning season in the Amazon, which sends up "inky billows" of smoke every year. Some tidbits:

    "It's not the lungs of the world," said Daniel Nepstad, an American ecologist who has studied the Amazon for 20 years. "It's probably burning up more oxygen now than it's producing."
    But setting those inky billows aside:
    Even without the massive burning, the popular conception of the Amazon as a giant oxygen factory for the rest of the planet is misguided, scientists say. Left unmolested, the forest does generate enormous amounts of oxygen through photosynthesis, but it consumes most of it itself in the decomposition of organic matter.
    Chu still implies that treaties like Kyoto need to provide incentives to discourage rainforest destruction.

    Regarding the resilience of the perception that the rainforests are the lungs of the earth, I'm reminded of that infamous framing guru and the aphorism, "If the facts don't fit the frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off."