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Articles by Christina Larson

Christina Larson is a contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine and a Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation. Her reporting has brought her throughout China, as well Southeast Asia, and her writing has appeared in The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The New Republic, The Washington Monthly, and Yale Environment 360 among other publications.

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  • How’d they do it in the ’70s?

    Today, it's a good bet that if you consider yourself an environmentalist, you lean left politically. That's especially true here in D.C. But it wasn't always. Once leaders in both parties fell all over each other competing to be known as champions of the environment.

    Recently I had a chance to speak with the former chiefs of staff for both Democrat Ed Muskie and Republican Howard Baker -- the dynamic duo whose early-1970s Senate subcommittee produced the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act, among other landmark environmental laws.

    My basic question: How'd ya do it?

    Leon Billings, Muskie's staff director, said one thing that didn't grind meaningful action to a halt was waiting indefinitely for more data to roll in: "We know so much more about the science of global warming now than we knew about the science of leaded gasoline and auto emissions in 1970 when we wrote Clean Air Act," he said.

    His counterpart, Republican Jim Range, says: "Once we had identified the problem, there was a commitment on both sides of the aisle not to agree on everything, but to agree that you would work together until you had addressed the problem."

    In other words, just sitting on your hands wasn't an option.

    Let's hope we're fast approaching the day when Washington takes the same approach toward global warming. We can't afford to wait much longer.

  • Beyond SOTU

    New York Times reporter Simon Romero dug up suggestions for reducing oil imports that didn't make it into the president's speech. Among them:

    Perhaps the most significant step the nation could take in reducing oil dependence is to change the way cars are produced, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute ...

    In fact, overall federal funding for research and development in energy efficiency has declined 14 percent since 2002, adjusted for inflation.

    Some measures that President Bush left out of his state-of-union address could also bring big payoffs: measures that might actually curb oil consumption like greater fuel-efficiency rules for cars, a gasoline tax or increasing ethanol imports from Brazil...

    "It's remarkable that we're not taxing fuel from Saudi Arabia while we're taxing fuel from Brazil," said Gal Luft, a co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a research organization in Washington that specializes in energy issues.

  • With good reason

    Here at Gristmill David has already raised questions about the president's stated goal "to replace more than 75% of our oil imports from the Middle East" (which accounts for less than a quarter of imported oil) as opposed to trying to reduce total imports, let alone reduce total consumption.

    Tom Doggett, a business reporter for Reuters, looks at projections from the Department of Energy and wonders if even that goal would be achieved by the president's current proposals:

    U.S. ethanol supplies will be just 783,000 barrels a day in two decades -- a drop in the bucket compared to the more than 26.1 million barrels per day of crude and petroleum products the country will consume, according to the EIA, which is the Energy Department's analytical arm.

    Even if ethanol production were to increase by 2025 to levels sought by the administration, it would not necessarily displace crude oil from the Middle East, because the region has the lowest costs for producing oil in the world and U.S. companies would continue to seek the cheapest source of energy, according to EIA analyst Anthony Radich.

    "When I speak of expanding ethanol production it's not at all clear that it's going to reduce import dependence," Radich said.

    "Barring some (government) policy that explicitly discourages oil imports, even if we do find cheaper ways to produce cellulose ethanol, the imports from the Middle East are among the last to go," he said.

    Two quick thoughts: First, if Venezuelan or Mexican or Canadian oil remains more expensive to extract than Saudi Arabian oil, we would simply import less from those countries.

    Second, if the goal is to achieve energy independence, then seeking alternative supply channels ("technology!") without addressing demand is a bit like picking a fight with one hand tied behind your back. Your left hook better be really good.

  • Hunting and fishing groups are increasingly vocal about global warming

    If you're a regular Gristmill reader, you've probably already digested this weekend's front-page coverage of climate change in The Washington Post and The New York Times.

    Global warming also recently made the cover of Trout, the quarterly magazine of the sportsmen's group Trout Unlimited. The article, "Weathering the Change," explains how climate change could impact stream habitats and trout populations (which thrive in cold waters):

    A study prepared in 2002 for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change predicted that a 1.5-degree increase in air temperature in the Rocky Mountain region could reduce suitable stream habitat for trout by 7 to 16 percent. A 4.8-degree increase could reduce habitat by a staggering 42 to 54 percent.

    Along similar lines, The Waterfowlers' Guide to Global Warming (PDF), released last summer by the National Wildlife Federation, looks at how rising temperatures could evaporate the water necessary for duck breeding grounds in the U.S. and Canada:

    The Prairie Pothole Region contains millions of shallow depressions that fill with water in spring, providing breeding habitat for millions of ducks and other migratory birds and many species of resident wildlife. As the climate warms and evaporation and transpiration by plants increase, many of these ponds are likely to dry up or be wet for shorter periods, making them less suitable habitat for breeding pairs and duck broods. Models of future drought conditions in the region due to global warming project significant declines in Prairie Pothole wetlands, from no change to a loss of 91 percent. This could lead to a 9 percent to 69 percent reduction in the abundance of ducks breeding in the region.

    Sportmen's organizations in America have traditionally focused their resources on private habitat-restoration programs. Trout Unlimited, for example, organizes efforts to clean up abandoned mines and watersheds in Appalachia. But such groups are becoming increasingly active in public debates. Bringing their members up to speed on global warming is just one example.

    P.S. Pleased to make your acquaintance here at Gristmill. Most of the time I write for The Washington Monthly, where I'm now researching a series of articles on the intersection of rural politics and environmental concerns. Feedback is more than welcome: larson_at_washingtonmonthly.com.