Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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LooWatt: A Loo That Turns Poo Into Fuel

| Wed Jul. 1, 2009 2:38 PM EDT

The taboo of writing about the environmental impacts of poop is officially on the wane. None other than Dwell, the glossy architecture and design magazine, has posted a snazzy video on the subject--an ode to the LooWatt, a slick-looking toilet constructed from dried poop that collects your #2 and turns it into cooking fuel. Here at the Blue Marble, we've been fascinated by all the new ways to convert poop into power instead of sewage sludge. With the LooWatt, you can do it yourself:

  

 H/T Grist

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BP = "Back to Petroleum?"

| Tue Jun. 30, 2009 1:38 PM EDT

BP appears to be back pedaling on its vaunted commitment to alternative energy, renewing old skepticism about what the company formerly known as British Petroleum really stands for.

BP recently shuttered its alternative energy headquarters in London and plans to slash its $1.4 billion alternative energy budget by as much as 64 percent this year, the Guardian reports. Its clean energy boss, Vivienne Cox, is officially stepping down to spend more time with her family, though some industry insiders tell the paper that she's frustrated over the business being downgraded in importance.

Though BP has long led the oil industry in acknowleging climate change and investing in renewables, alternative energy investments make up only 5 percent of its portfolio. "Even its support of Kyoto is pilloried as disingenuous," Paul Roberts wrote in this magazine in 2006. "BP happens to be overstocked in reserves of natural gas, a fuel that emits less CO2 than coal or oil, and whose price would rise steeply if society was forced to cut carbon emissions."

The GOP's Fake Climate Scandal

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 6:15 PM EDT

Most people accept that politicians do stupid things in the service of parochial interests and paleolithic ideologies. It's a problem as old as Congress. Yet occasionally a Congressman does something beyond stupid--something that causes thinking people to wonder if this representative has the intelligence or integrity to serve in public office. These moments are like ice sheets splitting off the Arctic Shelf and sliding into the ocean--they're fun to watch and yet totally depressing.

Today's example comes from Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla), who has ordered a Congressional investigation into how the EPA "suppressed" a report that questioned the science behind climate change. Grist notes that the "suppressed" report was written by an economist with no training in climate science, includes no original research, cites old and irreputable references, and was nonetheless accepted, unsolicited, by the EPA's climate scientists for consideration. If the meagreness of the report's policy impact is a scandal, then so is the fact that Joe the Plumber isn't the go-to guy for rewiring your attic.

And yet Inhofe tells Fox News that this EPA economist, Alan Carlin, "came out with the truth" and that "they don't want the truth at the EPA." Inhofe really could be this stupid, or there could be a deeper, more cynical political logic at work. Fox concluded that "the controversy is similar to one under the Bush administration--only the administration was taking the opposite stance." Fox's message to its readers seems to be that the legitimate James Hansen scandal and the phony Alan Carlin "scandal" cancel each other out. It's all just politics.

If you believe that, how do you decipher the truth behind climate change? One way would be to start with what you already think you know and then look for those scientists--or economists posing as scientists--who support that position. Last week Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga) claimed that global warming was a "hoax"--a statement, impossible to back up with more than partisan intuition, that was met with applause on the House floor.  It must have been quite a spectacle: A big chunk of legislators, smaller than in years past but still frozen in their beliefs, taking a jolly plunge into insanity.

 

 

Climate Bill Passes the House

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 8:07 PM EDT

The Waxman-Markey climate bill narrowly passed the House today. The vote was  219 to 212.

As we've noted, the bill's cap and trade approach is promising in many respects but might create a dangerous market in carbon derivatives (or not). Even before it was watered down and porked-up with gifts to biofuels industry, it never achieved the kind of emissions cuts that scientists and European governments say are needed to avert catastrophic climate change. Recent polls had shown that most people believe in the need to regulate emissions, yet the Obama administration framed the issue as a jobs bill, apparently believing the environmental message wouldn't stand up to attack. Environmental groups were deeply divided over the bill, and Greenpeace ultimately opposed it.

It now heads to the Senate, where it is likely to find more support from moderate Republicans than in the polarized House. Even so, I've been told by some environmental campaigners that the Senate isn't any more likely to strengthen the bill.

Is the US a Failed State? Or Just a Climate Rogue?

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 5:19 PM EDT

It's not a question one tosses off idly. There's no comparison between the U.S. and places like Afghanistan and Iraq, which have lost, as Max Weber put it, "the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force." Yet when it comes to America's ability to protect itself from the vicissitudes of a changing climate, many people are wondering if some kind of third-world putdown might be accurate.

"Why do we allow the U.S. to act like a failed state on climate change?" asks George Monbiot in the Guardian, lamenting the failure of the Waxman-Markey climate bill, which passed in the House today, to achieve anywhere close to the emissions cuts that scientists and European countries say are needed to avert catastrophe. "A combination of corporate money and an unregulated corporate media keeps America in the dark ages."

Over at the Thin Green Line blog, Cameron Scott expands on the idea, construing Weber a bit more broadly. "A failed state is one in which the government can no longer control destructive social forces," he writes. "The forces in question here are the powers of lobbyists to write mistruths into law." One of those mistruths being that we need not feel a sense or urgency about climate change.

Personally, I prefer the definition of a failed state offered by the experts at the Crisis States Research Center, who say, "A failed state is one that can no longer reproduce the conditions for its own existence."  A climate that can sustain us is certainly one of those conditions. Even if the U.S. survives the loss of its coastal cities and the Sierra snowpack that feeds California, it probably won't endure the ensuing global resource wars, at least not in its current form.

You can quibble over whether the U.S. is a failed state or a failing state--it really depends on when you think the world has passed the global tipping point and how much we're to blame. Perhaps we're more accurately described as a rogue state. Like Iran, but more advanced. Instead of forcibly preventing the media from covering inconvenient truths, all our ruling elite needs is the death of a pop star. Voila! The debate on climate change disappears, replaced with obeisances to the God of Pop.

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