Let’s Not Forget Cars While We Freak Out About Everything Else

By Benjamin Nugent | September 29, 2008 12:21 pm

The big news over the past week has been the still not completely settled $700 billion bailout of the banking industry. But also noteworthy: the $25 million bailout of the auto industry. It’s not really intended to have any kind of green effect on anything, but it looks like it actually might.

Detroit Because it just happens that right now is the moment that GM and Chrysler are in a PR/marketing duel over whose electric car is the Next Prius. Both are coming out with new models in 2010, the Chevy Volt for GM, which is promised to get 100 mpg, and three or four different models from Chrysler (depending on what you count as an electric car), like the Dodge EV, which is supposed to get 150 miles from an electric charge.

Since this is the single greatest area of competition between two of our top three auto makers at the moment, a lot of those 25 billion federal dollars will probably go, indirectly, to the intensive marketing of electric vehicles. The closest thing to a propaganda campaign our government is allowed, in our free-market society, that isn’t an anti-smoking effort.

Image: flickr/Derek Farr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, politics

What May or May Not Be Discussed in Half an Hour

By Benjamin Nugent | September 26, 2008 8:37 pm

We like to avoid the gloom and doom around here, but this has to be said. The first presidential debate, about to get underway at Ole Miss as I write, will hopefully contain some kind of casual, glancing reference to the climate-change pollution stat that came out today.

Ice melting Basically, the chemicals that contribute to global warming when released into Earth’s atmosphere got released 3% more this year than last year, making the direst predictions of 2007 look optimistic.

But why get angry yet? Maybe one of the candidates will  say something fittingly urgent in tone. Maybe Jim Lehrer will bring it up. Or I’ll have the excuse to start smoking again that I’ve been looking for.

flickr: Image/mind’s-eye

Ecuador Goes Animist in a Good Way

By Benjamin Nugent | September 25, 2008 11:11 am

Ecuadorian voters are considering bestowing the basic rights widely granted to humans upon natural entities. This means rivers, air, tropical forests, islands, and so on, will have an inalienable right to not be abused or destroyed or treated purely as property.

Ecuador The new law on the table is actually a new constitution–not the kind of thing we generally go in for up here in the states, but so far polls show the Ecuadorians are into it, 56% to 23%. While this might initially sound like the latest in Latin American radicalism, a lawyer from the US, Thomas Linzey, is behind the proposal. He says the upshot will be that it will be possible to sue for damages to an ecosystem if the ecosystem isn’t on your property.

Not only is this non-anthropocentric, which isn’t that new (PETA is non-anthropocentric), it’s non-animal-centric. Actually, non-life-centric.

Image: flickr/pingnews

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Uncategorized

MacArthur Highlights Day

By Benjamin Nugent | September 24, 2008 10:42 am

Two green MacArthur recipients were named yesterday. (A MacArthur Fellowship, or “genius grant,” is $500,000 you can spend however you want, disbursed over the course of five years.) I keep wondering if there will be a news story about a MacArthur Fellow found floating in a pool in The Bellagio, but this never seems to happen, so they must have some kind of vetting process. Will Allen–a pro ball player turned urban farmer–is the obviously green one this year. But I think John Oschendorf counts too.

Falling Masonry He has this group or program or something at MIT devoted to masonry. Old stone stuff. How to keep it around, what you can learn from it about making buildings sustainable. If you understand green architecture as building new, more sustainable dwellings, you’re missing a fundamental point: it’s generally greener to figure out how to modify and preserve old structures. Any young hotshot architect whose powers of invention are focused on making flying buttresses new again  deserves as much attention from the green movement as an urban farmer, no matter how amazing Allen’s baby swiss chard may be.

Image: flickr/Phillie Casablanca

CATEGORIZED UNDER: culture

Burying CO2 Might Help Asia Not Destroy Us

By Benjamin Nugent | September 22, 2008 11:04 am

As pessimists on climate change are fond of reminding us, China and India are catastrophically prolific builders of coal-fired power plants these days. While we’re busy greening the Emmy Awards, they are quietly doing what they feel they need to do to provide energy for their expanding economies, more than compensating for all of the West’s cute anti-warming efforts by increasing the gadrillions of tons of carbon they release into our shared atmosphere. But new carbon burying tech might help them not be so destructive.

Coal-Fired Power Plant The consulting firm McKinsey & Co has just issued a report saying that even without government funding, the technology for trapping the carbon emitted by coal plants and burying it might pay for itself by 2030. China and India probably won’t throw themselves into the new tech whole-heartedly at first, because it looks like it will add about a billion euros to the initial cost of building each new plant. But the EU has stepped up by ordering a slew of trial models built by 2015.

Of course, there’s the small problem of the rich West having already created a horrendous climate situation. Not the best dynamic for pressuring an ascendant China into good stewardship. We’re basically the parent that just got thrown out of Betty Ford trying to get junior to put down the vodka. I think that might have been what happened in Postcards from the Edge.

Image: flickr/thewritingzone 

GM Chairman Loses Mind on Colbert; RIP P.E. Clapp

By Benjamin Nugent | September 18, 2008 4:54 pm

Last night The Colbert Report gave us one of those episodes that pivot in the middle from comedy to that transcendent, swooning, oh-my-god-real-life-is-more-absurd feeling. This took place when GM Chariman Bob Lutz (pictured below) informed Colbert’s fictional persona that 32,000 respected scientists shared his view that climate change is caused by “sunspot activity.”

Bob Lutz If you’re done mourning David Foster Wallace, a literary ally of environmentalism, you might consider getting started on mourning Philip Clapp, who spent his career refuting ridiculousness of the Bob Lutz variety. The United States does not have an environmental lobby the same way it has a tobacco lobby, but Clapp’s National Environmental Trust was the closest thing. As its director, he pressured Clinton, Bush, and even Gore, to take serious action on climate change, advocating in vain for the Kyoto treaty. He later moved to the Pew Charitable Trusts, where he lampooned Bush’s weak, late, concession to some form of American involvement in an international treaty on emissions.  Let’s take a moment to remember that environmentalism needs pinstriped Capitol Hill operators with integrity, as well as the rumpled journalists/artists/farmer types.

Image: flickr/Rockershirt 

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, culture, politics

GOP Attacks Dem Drilling Bill

By Benjamin Nugent | September 17, 2008 2:29 pm

Everything that happens in congress now is assumed to bear on the crazily tight presidential race. So it makes sense that the House Dems just smashed through a compromise off-shore drilling bill, thus undermining a GOP line of attack. And it makes sense that the GOP lampooned it as a “figment of the imagination” (Rep. Don Young, Republican of Alaska).

Oil rig offshore Also predictable: Bush just vowed to veto it. Harder to predict is whether Senate Republicans will filibuster. They’ve been shouting “Drill baby drill” at conventions. Will they be able to get away with reading from a telephone book on the floor to block a bill that enables oil companies to do just that?

Image: flickr/PhillipC 

Volt: Jesus, Finally

By Benjamin Nugent | September 16, 2008 3:43 pm

The first plug-in electric American car, the Chevy Volt, is going on the market in 2010. It doesn’t look like the phallus some gearheads want it to look like (they were into the old car-show model, shown here), and this is causing lamentation in the blogosphere. Pay no attention; this is very good news.

Chevy Volt Basically, the Volt can go 40 miles without using any gasoline, and plugs into any old home socket. It takes a few hours to recharge. Only when you’re taking long trips do you need to use gas; the gas motor kicks in after 40 miles and takes you another 300. It uses less electricity a year than a fridge.

The only problem: It’s not really viable as a mass-market business proposition yet. It’ll probably cost about $40,000, and GM doesn’t expect to make a significant profit, even with that hefty price. So while in my wildest dreams it becomes illegal to make any other kind of family car in 2011, that’s not going to happen without destroying the American economy.

Image: flickr/jurvetson

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, culture

Off-Shore Drilling: Resistance Looks Futile

By Benjamin Nugent | September 14, 2008 3:15 pm

The Democrats have been gradually retreating from their anti-off-shore-drilling stance ever since polls started to indicate that drilling is a winning issue for the GOP. Now they’re transitioning into all-out surrender. The bipartisan “Gang of 10″ congresspeople pushing for an energy bill that includes off-shore drilling has become the Gang of At Minimum 20. Even Pelosi has said she’ll let the oil companies drill near the southeastern US (far from her own California).

218067555_3fd586f657_m.jpg Pelosi has also been trying to find a way to partially salvage this apparently FUBAR piece of legislation. And she is being appropriately sneaky in her proposed compromise. Which is: in return for the ability to excavate for oil off-shore, oil companies have to contribute billions to the development of non-oil energy sources (wind, solar, etc). That allows America to try to fuel itself insofar as possible, but still forces Big Oil to contribute to its own obsolesence.

And the GOP can’t really oppose that aspect of a bill without looking completely in the pocket of Big Oil. Has that ever stopped them? Not that I know of. But it will at least force them to take the bait and lose face.

 Image: flickr/barbwire55

Palin Discovers Climate Change

By Benjamin Nugent | September 12, 2008 5:40 pm

She just denied she ever denied manmade global warming. On ABC News. And got easily schooled by the press after.

Sarah Palin with Vikings I can appreciate the tragedy of her situation. She denied man-made climate change quite explicitly twice. Part of her whole thing is that she’s not a duplicitous Washington type.  And she’s an unconventionally-educated woman of the people. So why not stay with the ill-informed thing? But there’s only so far you can go in that direction with the moderate wing of her party, and with independents.

I feel like the Obama campaign’s fate will rest partly on whether they can knock Palin off her pedestal in the coming weeks. This should give them something to work with.

Image: flickr/zieak 

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, politics
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