Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Energy, history, and Houston...

Went to Houston this past weekend for the American Society for Environmental History's annual meeting. With it was a gathering of "energy historians," and since I've done some work on energy in California, I was interested in where that tiny little subfield is going. Sad to say, it hasn't moved much since I first became interested in it in the 1970s. Folks are still talking mostly about petroleum and coal (you'd think those two resources were energy), as well as energy transitions and wishing that solar would find solid ground. I've always thought it ought to be one of the paramount topics for historians to understand, but I'm clearly in a minority. The Organization of American Historians meets in San Jose next week, and you can be sure there's not a panel discussing energy history. But I digress...

Houston, infamous for Enron and home to scores petrochemical firms corporations, is particularly notable as the largest city in the United States without zoning laws. The result is unfortunate. Its industries make it richer than Midas, but much of the city looks like hodgepodge tacked together with boulevards and freeways fronted by endless run-down, tacky strip malls worse than I believe I've ever seen in other American cities. And the community of poor African-Americans living in wood shacks in the midst of Texas City's refineries is a testament to presence of environmental racism in America.

For all our faults in northern California, I'm surely glad I don't live in Texas.

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