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Articles by Jonathan Hiskes

Jonathan Hiskes is a writer in Seattle and a former Grist staff reporter. Find him at and on Twitter.

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  • What if the U.N. held a climate summit and no one knew about it?

    As the Financial Times reported (and Grist noted), U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon seems to want to convene a meeting of 30 to 40 heads of state in the next few months to address climate change.

    But it's unclear exactly what's afoot. Ban's press office in New York said it has nothing to announce yet -- no date, location, or list of attendees for the summit. Nor would it say what the U.N. chief and his climate chief, Yvo de Boer, hope to accomplish by calling a summit months in advance of the big international climate conference scheduled to take place in Copenhagen this December.

    "We just don't have anything to announce as of now," Alex Cerniglia, a spokesperson for the secretary-general, said today. "But he's definitely strongly engaged in the current negotiations and in reaching a deal in Copenhagen at the end of the year."

    The U.S. State Department had nothing to say on the supposed meeting either, a spokesperson said.

    De Boer, the executive secretary of the U.N. climate convention, first mentioned the plans in London yesterday. He said Ban wanted to build on the momentum of Barack Obama's inauguration as U.S. president.

    Perhaps De Boer and Ban hope to piggy-back onto the Group of 20 summit scheduled to take place in London in April. The summit is already expected to focus on spurring carbon-free energy sources.

    What are you hearing, dear readers?

  • A sandstorm of renewable energy news from the World Future Energy Summit

    Abu Dhabi hosted its second World Future Energy Summit earlier this week, with some 16,000 business leaders, green-tech researchers and politicians bravely forgoing northern winters for the Persian Gulf state's subtropic sun. Judging by news reports, attendees forgot the world economy is supposed to be in a panicky, keep-your-money-in-your-mattress mode, and instead engaged in a three-day fiesta of deal-making and bold renewable energy announcements. Here's a run-down:

    * The host city pledged that 7 percent of its energy would come from renewable sources by 2020, up from zero today.

    * GE announced plans for its Ecomagination Centre, an R&D showcase of wind, solar, water purification, and energy efficiency technologies. It will be built in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi's car-free, carbon-neutral metropolis powered completely by renewable energy. The capital of the United Arab Emirates used the summit to show off the $22 billion Masdar project, which is under construction.

    * Hometown English-language newspaper The National framed the summit as a coming-out party for solar power, saying the industry has been growing "much faster than official institutions and the public think":

    Long dismissed as a peripheral contributor to the world's energy matrix, technologies harnessing the sun's energy are now benefitting from billions of dollars of investment, which has rapidly increased their efficiency and cut their costs.

    That optimism doesn't jibe with dire reports of the U.S. solar industry faltering amid the credit crisis and declining oil prices. But consider that the Emirates have the distinct advantages of year-round sun and the crazy amounts of oil money that enable underwater hotels, man-made islands and a $63,000 per capita income in Abu Dhabi. A $15 billion solar investment from the Masdar initiative won't hurt the local industry either.

    * Several news outlets noted the unlikelihood of the oil-rich emirates becoming renewable energy leaders, including Time's Bryan Walsh, who sees it as a logical diversification strategy:

    In the long term, developers of renewables know they'll win. Climate change aside, the simple fact that energy demand will continue growing rapidly once the downturn has ended means that new supplies will be needed. And no one including oil giants of the Middle East believe that fossil fuels alone will meet that gap.

  • Texas journalist paddles Gulf Coast to show shifty ecosystem and toxic threats

    I've canoed beneath freeway overpasses in Seattle's Union Bay, but I somehow never undertook anything like this: San Antonio Express-News reporter Colin McDonald is kayaking the length of the Texas Gulf Coast, some 370 miles of alternating natural shoreline and industrialized landscape. He's blogging about the journey at Uncharted Coast, so named because the constantly shifting line between land and water has frustrated map-makers for centuries.

    Having so far avoided the barges and tanker ships that ply the coastal shipping lanes, McDonald documents the unholy mix of wildlife diversity and intensive industrial use. He encounters a lot of remaining damage from Hurricane Ike and chats up locals who regale him with tales of pirates (of the insurance company variety, but still).

    It's a nice bit of explanatory journalism that shows just how little separates resort-lined beaches from toxic sites like the McGinnes storage pits. McDonald also wrote an overview of the trip for the Express-News.

  • Grist looks back at the WTF moments of the George W. Bush years

    The Bush administration was hostile to government regulation and protective of business interests. That was their stated ideology on the campaign trail, and when elected, the president saw to it that his government acted on it. Fine. We get it. But the Bush environmental record is not entirely explicable through ideology. Some of the stuff […]