Environment and Energy

The Experiment

In August 2008, a week before Barack Obama went to Denver to collect his nomination, Steven Chu stepped onto a stage in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’s Cox Pavilion. The 60-year-old physicist was a towering presence in his field, a Nobel Prize winner and the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. But he was largely unknown to the Washington-centric crowd of several hundred, in town for a clean energy conference co-hosted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Center for American Progress (CAP) Action Fund.

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A week before Christmas, Russia banned the import of harp seal pelts—the skins of those undeniably cute animals with their big, melting eyes and their cuddly bodies. This followed a similar ban in the E.U. and the U.S., both of which have forbidden the import of almost all seal products. Prominent animals rights activists, like Paul McCartney and Pamela Anderson as well as groups like Humane Society International, hate seal hunting—and I understand their objections. I had a toy stuffed seal when I was a kid. (Name: Sealy).

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When President Obama took office, most environmental activists assumed that their cause would still meet resistance in Washington DC—they just assumed it would be located in Congress. But according to activists, a chief opponent of environmental causes has turned out to be within the White House itself: The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). A division of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), OIRA has always had the power to review the economic impact of virtually any new federal regulation.

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Dust Storm

The GOP’s favorite punching bag right now is a government regulation that doesn’t exist. “Our goals include ... overturning the EPA’s proposed regulations that inhibit jobs in areas [such as] farm dust,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor wrote in an August Washington Post op-ed. There was no such proposed rule. “We’ll stop excessive federal regulations that inhibit jobs in areas [such as] farm dust,” House Speaker John Boehner similarly pledged in a September 15 speech to the Economic Club of D.C. Still, there was no such proposal.

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In the fall of 2005,  Joel Hunter, the senior pastor of a 12,000-member megachurch in central Florida, signed on to the Evangelical Climate Initiative—a landmark public statement acknowledging that human actions were causing the Earth to warm. The central message—“creation care,” as it became known—was that the biblical commandment to protect God’s creation was relevant to modern-day environmental issues. Soon, Hunter had distributed 20,000 creation care pamphlets to pastors around the country, and his parishioners were sifting through garbage to see how much trash his church produced.

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Berlin, Germany—For years, environmentalists in America have looked longingly to Germany. There, across the Atlantic, lay a small, cold, gray country whose solar energy production dwarfed big, sunny America’s, a nation that last year pledged to get 80 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by mid-century while Americans proved unable to agree on energy legislation even a fraction as ambitious.

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Blinded

As everyone by now knows, Solyndra, a California-based solar panel manufacturer, has gone bankrupt and defaulted on $535 million in loans, the payment of which was guaranteed by the Department of Energy (DOE). And, as everyone also knows, a White House official, who was connected through his wife to a law firm that worked for Solyndra, may have inappropriately involved himself in the loan process. The apparent conflict of interest inside the administration is inexcusable, of course. And it’s obviously not a happy occasion when a company defaults on government-backed loans.

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As the world witnesses the Syrian and Iranian regimes commit countless human rights abuses and, in Iran’s case, move ever closer to perfecting its nuclear capabilities, there’s a common belief that, short of military intervention, there’s nothing that can be done. As it turns out, however, that’s far from the truth—but the majority of the initiative must come from Europe. The European Union has thus far failed to confront the Iranian and Syrian regimes to the full extent of its ability.

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Even the “Genius” at your local Apple store admits that your dollar buys significantly more computing power in a PC. iTunes can be infuriatingly glitchy and difficult to navigate. The iPod is so delicate a flower that it breaks, seemingly, if you exhale in its vicinity. What, then, explains a world awash in longing, admiration, and loss in the wake of Steve Jobs’ death last week at the age of 56?

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Since Muammar Qaddafi was toppled in Tripoli, Saddam Hussein’s fall in Baghdad eight years ago and 1,800 miles away has framed much of the way many think about it. Global leaders, reporters, experts, and even Libyan officials have explicitly argued that Libya will not become another Iraq. This is particularly emphasized when addressing oil and natural gas, which not only dominate Libya’s economy but also are important to the global economy.

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