Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

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

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Has California's Low-Carbon Fuel Standard Actually Increased Carbon Emissions?

| Thu Jan. 24, 2008 2:53 PM EST

Last year California passed a much-heralded law requiring oil companies to cut the carbon intensity of their fuel 10 percent by 2020. The state is allowing ethanol to be used as one low-carbon substitute, and recently raised the cap on ethanol in gasoline from six to ten percent. You've probably read about the ways the ethanol craze contributes to higher food prices around the world, but what nobody has calculated, until now, is how this affects ethanol's true carbon footprint. In an analysis released January 17th, two UC Berkeley researchers found that ethanol actually produces more carbon emissions than gasoline. As a result, the carbon intensity of California fuel has ironically risen, between 3 and 33 percent.
 
The researchers, professors Michael O'Hare and and Alexander Farrell, take issue with the model state regulators used to calculate ethanol's carbon output, arguing that it did not factor in the indirect effects on the global food supply. Among other things, higher corn prices cause farmers half-way around the world to convert more forests into farmland, and those trees are then burned or decay, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere. The professors pointed this out in a letter sent earlier this month to the California Air Board, which is discussing changing its carbon model in light of the findings.

The Nobel Laureates Have Spoken: We Need a Presidential Science Debate

| Thu Jan. 24, 2008 2:05 PM EST

Eleven Nobel laureates, nine congressmen, multiple university presidents, and the heads of numerous science organizations have signed a petition calling for a presidential science debate this year. "Science and engineering have driven half the nation's growth in GDP over the last half-century, and lie at the center of many of the major policy and economic challenges the next president will face," says Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "We feel that a presidential debate on science would be helpful to America's national political dialogue."

It's not surprising that the candidates haven't jumped at the idea. Global-warming- and evolution-denying Republicans would look hilarious in such a forum, but even Democrats might worry about making a gaffe while weighing in on debates that are normally left to the experts. Still, it seems like an idea Democrats should take seriously. By signaling to voters that science is important, it would drum up support for the party's ideas, and, more fundamentally, lay out how post-Middle-Ages worldview translates into superior leadership.

Ron Paul Loses His Luster

| Wed Jan. 9, 2008 4:28 PM EST

With results in from New Hampshire, the wild and pervasive fantasies surrounding the Paul campaign should finally be laid to rest. For months Paul supporters have swamped the comments section of this and pretty much every other major blog with the idea that his poll numbers were vastly underreported, either due to a media conspiracy, or the fact that his young, cell-phone-wielding supporters weren't counted in typical phone polls. I've pointed out that Dean supporters made pretty much the same, baseless case in 2004, and it's now clear that nothing has changed since then: In Iowa, Paul won 10 percent of the vote (phone polls had given him 9 percent) and in New Hampshire he won 7.6 percent (phone polls had given him 6 to 10 percent). In short, the Ron Paul myth should be about as dead as the decomposed remains of Guy Fawkes.

Ron Paul on the Theory of Evolution: "I Don't Accept It."

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 7:40 PM EST

Another example why Congressman Ron Paul, a former obstetrician who is known as Dr. No for his penchant to vote against nearly every government spending bill to cross his desk, is a curious breed of libertarian. News of his take on evolution comes via the libertarian magazine Reason, which has proclaimed: "Say it ain't so Dr. No!"

In reality, Paul is just being himself, and Reason's surprise has more to do with the gulf between self-proclaimed Cosmopolitan Libertarians (typically secular Reason subscribers) and the more religious Paleolibertarians (acolytes of Lew Rockwell, Paul's former chief of staff). To make sense of this all, check out our recent feature on the Paul campaign, and our breakdown of libertarian factions.

Ultimately, it makes little difference whether Paul is a Creationist. As a libertarian he's opposed to any government funding for scientific or religious endeavors. And that partly explains why the Ron Paul coalition is so elastic.

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