Videos: Lichens have a bit more going on than we used to think

I caught the head cold Tegan was dealing with last week, so my brain feels like it’s all clogged up with snot. Lichens are a group of sybmiotic organisms (the term “symbiosis” was invented specifically for lichens) formed by a mutually beneficial relationship between fungi and algae. The historic understanding was that each kind of lichen had one of each, with the fungus forming the main structure, while the algae provide the “food” through photosynthesis. Hearing it described, it sounds a lot like the deal that coral polyps have with algae in the ocean.

The twist is that a few years ago, some folks apparently realized that there were “different” kinds of lichen that seemed to have the exact same species of algae and fungus, so what was going on? Well, it turns out there was a third partner in the relationship, at least in some lichens – a yeast. I decided to include two videos, because they’re both short, and describe things in slightly different ways. On that note, I’m going to go inhale steam from a mug of mint tea and see if that makes my sinuses feel better.

Norfolk Southern disaster shows how corruption endangers Americans

When I posted about the East Palestine train derailment a little while back, I covered how the corruption that’s built into U.S. governance meant that the train in question was operating with a break system designed in the 1860s, despite far better designs being available. I also covered how they were deliberately under-staffing their trains to increase profits. Today we’re looking at a different layer of the problem, specifically the way safe levels of dangerous chemicals are decided. If you recall, the residents of East Palestine were told that their homes, land, and water were all safe – and assurance which they mostly seem to doubt, because they live in the U.S. and have at least some notion of that country’s history.

I doubt anyone reading this needs me to say it, but they were right to be suspicious.

One of the big concerns from the initial disclosure was that burning vinyl chloride would create, in addition to hydrochloride and the chemical weapon phosgene, something called dioxin. “Dioxin” generally refers to a group of environmentally persistent chemicals all sharing 1,4 Dioxin as a building block. The example of dioxin poisoning that’s probably best known to my fellow USians would be the use of the chemical weap- sorry, herbicide Agent Orange as part of the failed U.S. invasion of Vietnam. There were worries about this in early East Palestine coverage, but I didn’t really discuss it in my first post on the disaster, because I didn’t know how dioxins are created – by heating chlorine. That means that it would be physically impossible for a massive vinyl chloride fire to not create dioxins.

So, what’s the danger from dioxins? How much exposure is too much?

Well, back during the Obama administration, EPA scientists demonstrated that dioxins cause cancer, and recommended a cut of over 90% to what counts as a “safe” amount of the stuff in soil. Those cuts never went through, so instead of the scientist-backed proposal of 72 parts per trillion (ppt), it takes 1,000ppt or more in a residential area to get the federal government involved. I don’t currently have proof that corporate lobbying was involved, but at this point I think it’s wiser to assume corruption than goodwill, when it comes to the U.S. A number of states have put stricter standards in place, more in line with what the EPA had tried for, but Ohio was not one of them, so while federal and Ohio officials have said that dioxin levels are fine after the derailment, their definition of “fine” seems to include 700ppt:

Newly released data shows soil in the Ohio town of East Palestine – scene of a recent catastrophic train crash and chemical spill – contains dioxin levels hundreds of times greater than the exposure threshold above which Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists in 2010 found poses cancer risks.

The EPA at the time proposed lowering the cleanup threshold to reflect the science around the highly toxic chemical, but the Obama administration killed the rules, and the higher federal action threshold remains in place.

Though the dioxin levels in East Palestine are below the federal action threshold and an EPA administrator last week told Congress the levels were “very low”, chemical experts, including former EPA officials, who reviewed the data for the Guardian called them “concerning”.

The levels found in two soil samples are also up to 14 times higher than dioxin soil limits in some states, and the numbers point to wider contamination, said Linda Birnbaum, a former head of the US National Toxicology Program and EPA scientist.

“The levels are not screaming high, but we have confirmed that dioxins are in East Palestine’s soil,” she said. “The EPA must test the soil in the area more broadly.”

The data probably confirms fears that the controlled burn of vinyl chloride in the days after the train wreck in the town created dioxin and dispersed it throughout the area, experts say, though they stressed the new data is of limited value because only two soil samples were checked.

I stand by the title of my first post on the derailment – Norfolk Southern set off a weapon of mass destruction in East Palestine, Ohio, and the company is, of course, trying to escape any real responsibility or accountability. They’re claiming that they’re committed to taking care of the people whose town they gassed, but I wouldn’t trust corporate executives as far as my cat could throw throw them. I’ll believe they want to do right by their victims when they commit to paying all medical expenses for all of them, without first needing proof that the ailment is due to the derailment. They say they’ll set up a fund for medical expenses, but I would be shocked if accessing that money didn’t require sick people and their families to jump through all sorts of hoops before they can afford treatment.

Likewise, without a real cleanup effort, anyone new who moves to that area will be at risk, even ignoring people who might be put at risk by the company’s efforts to dispose of the chemical waste they’ve created. As was said at the time, this disaster will cause health problems for decades to come, if not longer, and without real change in regulatory and oversight agencies, people are going to keep being expose to this specific chemical spill. I’m specifying changes to government agencies, because I think expecting capitalists to do the right thing, absent a gun to their head, is foolish in the extreme. The EPA, for example, dragged its feet on testing for dioxins, despite the fact – as I laid out – that everyone who knew anything about this stuff knew that they were there. It apparently wasn’t until March 3rd that the EPA finally said that they would order Norfolk Southern to test for dioxins.

Why the fuck are they leaving testing in corporate hands? They should have been on the site testing everything, and subpoenaing every document even tangentially related to the contents of that train. They should have already started a cleanup, with the goal of doing a thorough job, and sending the bill to executives and shareholders. Likewise I think Norfolk Southern should have to pay the full value of every home there, plus moving costs for anyone wanting to leave, as a starting point.

And, of course, the top executives should on be on trial, facing real consequences including a prohibition on holding that kind of power ever again.

If someone were to ask me why I think we need to end capitalism, the hardest part of answering is that simply listing everything would take far, far too long. I think everyone already knew that this kind of murderous negligence was standard operating procedure for capitalists, but this disaster has once again made it clear that the millions they spend on corrupting the government have worked, and it takes weeks of pressure, and international attention to get the EPA to tell a big corporation to do the bare minimum, and test to see how badly they poisoned that town.

This whole situation is a disgrace, and it barely scratches the surface.

Thank you for reading! If you liked this post, please share it around. If you read this blog regularly, please consider joining my small but wonderful group of patrons. Because of my immigration status, I’m not allowed to get a normal job, so my writing is all I have for the foreseeable future, and I’d love for it to be a viable career long-term. As part of that goal, I’m currently working on a young adult fantasy series, so if supporting this blog isn’t enough inducement by itself, for just $5/month you can work with me to name a place or character in that series!

Elderly Americans Blockade Banks, Demand Divestment

I’m going to assume that you are all familiar with the supposed conflict between generations. I don’t recall when I first encountered an article about how horrible millennials are, but it feels like the topic has been a mainstay of “news” media for a couple decades now. My initial reflex, and it’s one that still tempts me from time to time, was to point to the ways in which the Boomers dropped the ball on climate change, or screwed over our economy with their blind support for neoliberal policies, or continue to hold on to most of the wealth and power while blaming younger generations for problems that existed before we were born.

The issue with that reflex is that, beyond the fact that it’s not particularly helpful, is that it’s inaccurate. I’m not saying that my accusations are wrong – all of those things happened and continue to happen – but rather that blaming Boomers as a generation lets the real culprits off the hook. When Boomers were younger, they also had to contend with an entrenched aristocracy, global imperialism and capitalism, white supremacy, and many other problems that we’re facing today. Likewise, they were subjected to constant propaganda, and were lied to about many, many things. They also had some reason to believe that the world was just getting better naturally over time – a belief that is constantly reinforced to this day.

But more than that, I think it’s a mistake to say that they stopped fighting. There are plenty of people who dedicated themselves to fighting for a better world long ago, and who show every sign of fighting till their last day. I’ve been privileged to know such Boomers in my life, as well as a whole spectrum of others at other levels of involvement. I also think it’s important to remember that it’s fine to have different levels of involvement, according to people’s abilities.

Still, when I look at the obscenely rich, elderly, and out-of-touch people who seem to be “leading” us all to extinction (another reminder that Joe Biden is a pre-Boomer), it can be easy to forget the details of class and race politics, and to blame all of this on old people in general. It’s an impulse that our media loves to cultivate, and it’s hard to get rid of because it always has a few grains of truth mixed in. That’s why I personally appreciated seeing this story in The Guardian:

The protests, across more than 90 locations, including Washington DC, are billed as the first set of mass climate demonstrations by older Americans, who have until now been far less visible than younger activists, such as the school strike movement spearheaded by Greta Thunberg. In a nod to the more seasoned age of participants, older people in painted rocking chairs will block the entrances to some of the US’s largest banks to highlight their funding of oil and gas extraction.

“So far the kids have had to do all of the work and they’ve done an amazing job but it’s not fair to ask 18-year-olds to solve this problem,” said Bill McKibben, the veteran climate campaigner who co-founded the Third Act group last year, which is designated for people aged over 60. The group has gathered momentum, attracting more than 50,000 members and recently holding a test-run protest in New York City, where participants marched under a banner reading “fossils against fossil fuels”.

“Older people have got money and structural power coming out of our ears,” said McKibben, who is 62. “We have to show young people we have their back. I’m going to be dead before the climate crisis is at its absolute worst, but being nearer the exit than the entrance concentrates one’s mind to notions of legacy and we are the first generation to leave the world in a worse place than we found it.

“I understand why people say ‘OK boomer’ – it’s not like we have done an amazing job in protecting the world.”

While polling has shown that fears over global heating are most prevalent among younger people, to the extent that some question the wisdom of having children themselves, McKibben said he has found “huge concern” among older people about the climate emergency.

“There is a sense people get more conservative as they age but I’m not sure if that’s true of this group of older people,” said McKibben, who pointed out that people in their 70s and 80s now were young people during the cultural upheavals of the 1960s.

“The people sitting on rocking chairs on Tuesday were marching on the first Earth Day in 1970,” he said. “We probably all believed that the government would address these concerns – we may have gotten a little complacent.”

I do honestly appreciate that. Over a decade ago, I spent a couple years actively trying to get older members of a community I was in to do more about climate change, and it was a frustrating process. I said then, as I say now, that people should practice some form of disaster “prepping” if they have the resources, and I was told that I was being alarmist, for example. I honestly find it hard to tell what proportion of the older generations are active on this stuff, but I think the answer, as with all the younger generations, is “more than a couple years ago, but not enough”. I also appreciate their choice of targets, and the reasoning behind it:

McKibben said he hoped the protests would highlight the link between “cash in the bank and carbon in the air”. Third Act is encouraging people to sign a pledge to quit Chase, Citibank, Wells Fargo and Bank of America if they don’t stop funding fossil fuels. The “big four” are the world’s leading banking financiers of oil and gas projects, despite variously committing to helping address the climate crisis, with a recent report finding they have collectively provided $1.1tn in financing to fossil fuels since the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

I don’t have much faith in a bank boycott, but I view activism like this as being similar to asking nicely for raises and safe working conditions before going on strike. It’s a demonstration of good faith, and a good way to build a case for more radical action, in the (very likely) event that capitalists continue funding destruction for profit. As ever, I hope to be proven overly pessimistic. Regardless, I support these protests, and I hope they grow beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. As I said, I don’t blame “The Boomers” for their inability to defeat the ruling class, but after hearing so much condescending “this is the fight for your generation” talk, it feels good to see older folks putting in the work.

Video: Let’s talk about 8 months of change

There’s a lot of horrible stuff going on right now, particularly with the escalation of genocidal transphobia. This video’s definitely more of a feel-good story, and I think it does a good job of showing why the transphobes are so desperate. Basically, Beau of the Fifth Column got a note from a viewer who had gone from being a full-on homophobe, to dancing with trans women at a gay club, feeling worried that he wasn’t accepting enough, and wondering how to change further, all in the space of just eight months. I think the bigots are frantic, in part, because they know that their bigotry isn’t natural at all – it’s something that has to be maintained and supported constantly. Sure, there are some who’ll hate no matter what, but absent societal and group dynamics that encourage and reinforce hatred, people are just people, and we tend to take each other as we come. That’s not me saying we can end bigotry by befriending and converting bigots, to be clear, I just really appreciate how this story shows that leaving an ideological bubble can result in an astonishing amount of change. That’s why conservatives hate things like college so much, and it’s why they’re fighting so hard to eradicate trans people from public life. They know that the natural progression of humanity tends to be towards acceptance, and that’s yet another part of reality that they hate.

People can and do change for the better all the time, and it’s part of why I’m generally a fan of us, as a species.

Conflict between humans and animals is rising with the temperature

When we talk about societies coping with climate change, a huge part of any conversation tends to be about dealing with mass migration of people. With changing weather conditions and rising seas, many places that have historically held large populations are becoming increasingly hostile, and the number of people displaced by climate change is ever-growing. The thing is – humans aren’t the only ones being displaced. You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but changing climate conditions have also been driving animals to seek out new places to live, or new sources of food. With so much of the planet affected by human activity, and so much habitat being destroyed in the name of greed, displaced animals are increasingly showing up in populated areas. This, in turn, is driving an increase in conflict between humans and wildlife:

The new study shows that climate shifts can drive conflicts by altering animal habitats — like sea ice for polar bears — as well as the timing of events, wildlife behaviors and resource availability. It also showed that people are changing their behaviors and locations in response to climate change in ways that increase conflicts. Other examples of the effects of short- and long-term climate events include:

  • Torrential floods in Tanzania led to more lion attacks after their usual prey migrated away from floodplains.
  • Higher air temperatures in Australia triggered more aggressive behavior in eastern brown snakes, leading to more incidents of snake bites.
  • Wildfires in Sumatra, Indonesia — triggered by El Nino — drove Asian elephants and tigers out of reserves and into human-inhabited areas, leading to at least one death.
  • Disruption of terrestrial food webs during La Nina events in the Americas drove black bears in New Mexico and foxes in Chile into human settlements in search of food.
  • Warmer air and ocean temperatures in a severe El Nino led to an increase in shark attacks in South Africa.

Most cases of human-wildlife conflict linked to climate involve a shift in resources — not just for wildlife, but also for people.

A majority of cases on land also involved a change in precipitation, which will continue to be affected by climate change. Many resulted in human deaths or injuries, as well as property damage.

In 2009, for example, a severe drought struck the western part of Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro Region. This reduced food supplies for African elephants, which in turn entered local fields to graze on crops — at times destroying 2 to 3 acres daily. Local farmers, whose livelihoods were directly threatened by the drought, at times resorted to retaliatory killings of elephants to try to mitigate these raids.

“Identifying and understanding this link between human-wildlife conflicts is not only a conservation issue,” said Abrahms. “It is also a social justice and human safety issue.”

These types of conflicts are likely to rise as climate change intensifies, particularly as mass migrations of people and wildlife increase and resources shift.

Unfortunately, we know this kind of conflict often goes, and it doesn’t tend to end well for the non-human participants. Another factor that this article doesn’t mention is the risk of disease transmission. I mentioned this last year, but the increase in human-animal interaction also increases the risk of a new disease being transmitted. Regardless of how, exactly, COVID19 ended up in the human population, there seems to be universal agreement that the disease was zoonotic in origin, probably carried by bats. There are plenty of animal diseases that humans simply cannot catch, but there are plenty more that we can, and as I said last year, we can thank climate change for the fact that “once in a century” pandemics will probably come multiple times in this century.

The upside, according to these researchers, is that there’s evidence that better understanding how humans and wildlife come into conflict can help us mitigate that problem:

But, it doesn’t have to be all bad news.

“One major motivation in studying the link between climate change and human-wildlife conflict is finding solutions,” said Abrahms. “As we learn about specific incidents, we can identify patterns and trends — and come up with interventions to try to address or lessen these conflicts.”

Some interventions may be as simple as public-awareness campaigns, such as advising residents of the American Southwest during La Nina years to carry bear spray on a hike. Governments can also plan for times when extreme climate events will bring people and wildlife into closer contact. Botswana, for example, has funds in place to compensate herders and ranchers for drought-induced attacks by wildlife on livestock, often in exchange for pledges not to engage in retaliatory killings of wildlife.

“We have effective drought forecasts now. So, governments can engage in fiscal planning for mitigating conflicts ahead of time,” said Abrahms. “Instead of a ‘rainy day’ fund, have a ‘dry day’ fund.”

To Abrahms, one success story of note lies in the waters of the eastern Pacific. In 2014 and 2015, a record number of humpback and blue whales became ensnared in fishing lines off the California coast. Research later showed that an extreme marine heat wave had pushed whales closer to shore, following their primary food sources. California regulators now adjust the start and end of each fishing season based on climate and ocean conditions in the Pacific — delaying the season if whales and fishing gear are likely to come into close contact.

“These examples show us that once you know the root causes of a conflict, you can design interventions to help both people and wildlife,” said Abrahms. “We can change.”

We can change.

I talk a lot about how humanity’s greatest strength is our ability to work together for mutual benefit, but another strength is our ability to thrive under all sorts of conditions, and to change how we do things to better suit our environments. I think we might put too much emphasis on how we change our environments to suit us, because while we do do that, the fact remains that what changes we make are often dictated by local conditions. In the past, when “local conditions” included regular, violent encounters with animals, our solution has often been to kill those animals. With a global society that’s blessed with abundance, that’s no longer necessary to ensure our survival. We could, pretty easily, ensure that any time one part of the planet is having a rough time, they get resources from those areas that are doing better. To some degree, we do this now, but it’s inadequate, and often comes with conditions that empower whoever’s providing the aid. In a world that doesn’t prioritize the endless greed of the aristocracy, we would have far more flexibility to change how we interact with our surroundings.

We should also be rewilding a lot of developed land, and practicing ecosystem management to help wildlife cope with climate change. While the main reason people want to do that is to help slow or reverse global warming, it will also make it far less likely that animals will feel a need to interfere with us. We have a wealth of knowledge that could help us build a very different, much better society, and I also believe we have the material resources to do that. What we lack is organized political power to actually bring that better society into being.

Thank you for reading! If you liked this post, please share it around. If you read this blog regularly, please consider joining my small but wonderful group of patrons. Because of my immigration status, I’m not allowed to get a normal job, so my writing is all I have for the foreseeable future, and I’d love for it to be a viable career long-term. As part of that goal, I’m currently working on a young adult fantasy series, so if supporting this blog isn’t enough inducement by itself, for just $5/month you can work with me to name a place or character in that series!

Coral reefs are losing oxygen as the planet warms (and we should do socialism about it)

A lot of projections about the effects of global warming come from easily confirmed and long-known facts about the physical properties of water. Remember what you learned about the water cycle in school? All of that is dependent on temperature, and when things get warmer, the patterns change. Another property of water is its ability to “hold” other chemicals, like oxygen. For all water itself includes oxygen as a major component, that’s not what fish are taking in when they “breathe” through their gills. Instead, they’re absorbing dissolved oxygen, that’s not bound up in any water molecules. Think of it like the air we breathe. About 70% of that is nitrogen that’s sort of neutral to us. What we’re breathing for, is the 21% of O2 molecules within that mix. For fish, water takes the role of “nitrogen” in this comparison, and dissolved oxygen is the O2 that they’re able to absorb and use. The problem is that warmer water holds less dissolved oxygen. It’s just a fact about how water and dissolved oxygen work.

That means that we’ve known from the beginning that as temperatures rise, and as oceans absorb most of that extra heat, oxygen content in the water is going to drop. Just as we can predict that, we can predict how it will affect oceanic ecosystems. While there are dead zones that don’t have enough oxygen to support any vertebrate life, most of the decrease has been far more subtle, mainly causing problems for those fish, like marlin, that are large, have active lifestyles, and so require a lot of oxygen. When it comes to those fish, the drop in oxygen has been affecting them for well over a decade, but those areas that are “dead zones” for them generally still support other species. It might be better to say that they’re suffering from hypoxia – lower oxygen levels than usual, and than needed by some species.

Ocean currents, agricultural runoff, landscape, and a variety of other local and regional conditions mean that our oceans have just as diverse an array of habitats as dry land, if not more. Consequently, while we know that, overall oceanic oxygen levels are decreasing, that doesn’t actually tell us how that is progressing in different ecosystems. For that, we actually need to pay people to go check. Fortunately, while I think we don’t spend enough on that, we do spend quite a bit on it, as a species, and so we have some new information about how the ocean’s deoxygenation is progressing in what may be the single most “charismatic” set of oceanic ecosystems – coral reefs.

An international research effort led by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography took data from a selection of reef sites around the globe – the most comprehensive oxygenation study focused on reefs to date – and found that hypoxia due to global warming is already affecting many of them:

The study, published March 16 in the journal Nature Climate Change, is the first to document oxygen conditions on coral reef ecosystems at this scale.

“This study is unique because our lab worked with a number of collaborators to compile this global oxygen dataset especially focused on coral reefs—no one has really done that on a global scale before with this number of datasets,” said marine scientist Ariel Pezner, now a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Marine Station in Florida. “We were surprised to find that a lot of coral reefs are already experiencing what we would define as hypoxia today under current conditions.”

The authors found that low oxygen levels are already happening in some reef habitats now, and are expected to get worse if ocean temperatures continue to warm due to climate change. They also used models of four different climate change scenarios to show that projected ocean warming and deoxygenation will substantially increase the duration, intensity, and severity of hypoxia on coral reefs by the year 2100.

And, of course, beyond. If you’ll indulge a slight tangent here, I’m starting to get frustrated with the convention of saying “by 2100”. I get why it’s so common, but I’m starting to worry that it gives some people the mistaken impression that that’s when global warming will be “done” or something. The reality, in case anyone reading is unclear on this, is that we’ve started a process on this planet that has historically lasted anywhere from tens of thousands of years, to millions of years. There’s no reason to think that, absent drastic changes by us (one of which could well be extinction), the warming event we’ve started won’t last longer than our species has existed so far. Ok, tangent done. Back to the reefs.

As I mentioned before, the diversity in oceanic ecosystems means that there are going to be a variety of things that affect oxygen levels. In the crushing depths of the midnight zone, life seems to be pretty slow, and pretty uniform. There’s no night or day, just eternal, cold darkness and slowly falling sediment, punctuated by the occasional dead whale. Nearer to the surface, photosynthesis plays a major role, causing oxygen levels to fluctuate over the course of the day. When things are starting out a bit too low to begin with, the results can be unpleasant:

Historically, hypoxia has been defined by a very specific concentration cutoff of oxygen in the water—less than two milligrams of oxygen per liter—a threshold that was determined in the 1950s. The researchers note that one universal threshold may not be applicable for all environments or all reefs or all ecosystems, and they explored the possibility of four different hypoxia thresholds: weak (5 mg/L), mild (4 mg/L), moderate (3 mg/L), and severe hypoxia (2 mg/L).

Based on these thresholds, they found that more than 84 percent of the reefs in this study experienced “weak to moderate” hypoxia and 13 percent experienced “severe” hypoxia at some point during the data collection period,

As the researchers expected, oxygen was lowest in the early morning at all locations and highest in the mid-afternoon as a result of nighttime respiration and daytime photosynthesis, respectively. During the day when primary producers on the reef have sunlight, they photosynthesize and produce oxygen, said Pezner. But at night, when there is no sunlight, there is no oxygen production and everything on the reef is respiring—breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide—resulting in a less oxygenated environment, and sometimes a dip into hypoxia.

This is a normal process, said Andersson, the study’s senior author, but as ocean temperature increases, the seawater can hold less oxygen while the biological demand for oxygen will increase, exacerbating this nighttime hypoxia.

“Imagine that you’re a person who is used to sea-level conditions, and then every night you have to go to sleep somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, where the air has less oxygen. This is similar to what these corals are experiencing at nighttime and in the early morning when they experience hypoxia,” said Andersson. “And in the future, if the duration and intensity of these hypoxic events gets worse, then it might be like sleeping on Mount Everest every night.”

The only real encounters I’ve had with high altitude were during my 2006 semester abroad in Tanzania, when I climbed Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was an interesting experience, as I’d spent the summer before working as a ridgerunner on the Connecticut section of the Appalachian Trail. I was used to hiking, and while Meru was a pretty nasty climb (though not a technical one), I actually didn’t have much trouble with the trail I took up Kilimanjaro. Well, not much trouble until the very last bit of the hike. I reached Barafu camp at around 10am, instead of the scheduled late afternoon, so we decided to head for the summit to catch the beginning of sunset, rather than getting up at midnight to hike up in the dark for sunrise. I was definitely feeling the altitude by then – getting out of breath much more easily – but the last climb up was rough. It didn’t help that it was a steep scrabble up a slope of volcanic sand, but it felt like I had to take a break every two steps, and I have to confess that if the snows of Kilimanjaro weren’t melting, there would be a nice sample of my upper gut bacteria preserved near the summit, because I absolutely lost my lunch up there. I’m sure some of that was low pressure, but a lot of it was intense exertion in low oxygen.

All of this is to say that while some people could probably adjust somewhat to that kind of change in oxygen across each day, it would honestly just be terrible, and I have a hard time believing that human society as we recognize it could do very well under those conditions. The same goes for fish society. Unfortunately, this is a trend that’s just going to continue for as long as the temperature keeps rising. Like I said at the beginning, we knew this was coming because it’s all about the basic physical properties of water as a substance. The only real question is how ecosystems will respond to the change. In general, it will probably mean fewer, smaller, and less active fish, and more stuff like sea jellies and other goopy critters that require less oxygen to function, but that’s an educated guess, and life has a way of developing strange and unexpected ways to thrive. Hell, for all we know this will end up creating new species of oceanic lungfish that periodically surface to top up their O2 levels. The only way we’ll know, though, is by actually checking.

This research was funded by the NSF – an institution that has funded a lot of good work over the years, including some of the science education research that has paid my father’s salary for most of my life. I guess that’s me stating a conflict of interest, but the reality is that publicly funded research is vital to humanity’s future, and the same bloodthirsty capitalists who are driving this climate crisis have also been working tirelessly to smother public research funding, focusing on projects they think they can sell as “frivolous” to a public that doesn’t know much about the topic. They’re not just attacking the habitability of our planet, they’re also attacking our ability to measure what’s happening. I don’t talk much about this aspect of conservative politics, because things like their genocidal hatred of trans people are much more urgent. But they’re hurting us in other ways. That’s the problem with having a capitalist class – they have unlimited money to pay people to further their interests in so many ways that it’s difficult to keep up.

I guess I can’t help myself. I start writing a science brief, and end by ranting about politics. It almost feels cartoonish to say, but the ruling class really does seem committed to ruining life as much as possible, for as many people as possible. I’m willing to believe that that’s not what they think they’re doing, but extreme wealth seems to absolutely melt the human brain, and most of them clearly live in a fantasy world maintained by a swarm of parasitic yes-men, and a total detachment from 99% of humanity. They want to blind us to what’s happening in the world, and so we must fight that battle as well, in case you needed more reasons why nobody should be that rich and powerful.

I’ve been snorkeling a couple times, and seen reefs in the Caribbean Sea and the Indian Ocean. They were absolutely beautiful, and the experience was worth the sunburn (though if I get a chance to go again, I’ll be dipping my whole self in sunscreen at regular intervals). What’s happening to ecosystems around the world is depressing to see, but it gets to me more when it’s a place I’ve seen with my own eyes. I wouldn’t say I have a deep emotional tie to coral reefs, but they’re a small part of the experiences that made me who I am today, and it is beyond unacceptable that that’s being taken away.

Thank you for reading! If you liked this post, please share it around. If you read this blog regularly, please consider joining my small but wonderful group of patrons. Because of my immigration status, I’m not allowed to get a normal job, so my writing is all I have for the foreseeable future, and I’d love for it to be a viable career long-term. As part of that goal, I’m currently working on a young adult fantasy series, so if supporting this blog isn’t enough inducement by itself, for just $5/month you can work with me to name a place or character in that series!

Video: BetterHelp Shares Your Data With Facebook

I think I’ve been fairly open about this, but for those who don’t know, I have a bit of an anxiety problem. It’s mostly because of climate change, but also most of the other stuff I write about here (especially ground-hunting bats. Those things are terrifying), and I’m generally taking meds for it. I have also had a couple therapists, neither of whom helped a whole lot, but it was kind of nice to have someone to talk to I guess? I think it’s something that should be available to anyone who needs it, especially if they’re dealing with trauma of some sort. Family and friends can be very helpful, but they don’t always know how to help, and that can put pressure on any relationship.

One service that a therapist provides, supposedly, is confidentiality. A therapy session is supposed to be a place where you can share anything that’s troubling you, without worrying that it will affect your social interactions. If you have a crippling fear of small, furry creatures with wings that aren’t flying, you may not want to let other people know about that. You might worry that others will think less of you, or feel uncomfortable around you, knowing that you’re constantly on the lookout for crawling bats.

In a therapy session, at least a good one, you can feel confident that the person you’re talking to you will take you as you are, and try to help you on your terms. What I would not want, for example, is for a giant corporation to find out about my pekapekaphobia, and start giving me ads for, I dunno, t-shirts with crawling bats on them, or crawling bat phone holsters or something. Or, which is more likely, they’d sell that information to a company wanting to sell me bat-repelling boots, knowing that I would do anything to finally feel safe. It goes further than that, though, because Facebook has a record of massive data leaks, and so if, somehow, they got ahold of my information, anyone could find out!

I’m mentioning all this to you, in confidence, because one of my therapists was through the online service BetterHelp. It was cheaper than conventional therapy, and much easier, as I didn’t have to travel to the other side of town for a session – I just had to have a laptop. Unfortunately, it turns out that my sessions may not have been as private as I wanted,  because as The Illuminaughti will explain, BetterHelp shares your data with Facebook:

And jokes aside, it seems that BetterHelp also has the same problem as normal therapy – some of the therapists are callous, incompetent, or just bigots. I expect most are people who want to help, and may even be able to do so, but unfortunately, BetterHelp doesn’t treat them very well. Think of it as Uber for therapy. What could possibly go wrong?

The Biden administration just approved a rail merger, because of course they did.

I’ve got a couple longer pieces in the works right now, including a followup on the Norfolk Southern disaster in East Palestine, OH. This is sort of peripheral to that. I think I’ve mentioned in the past that railroads are “natural monopolies“, and monopolies are a serious problem for society, if they’re being operated for private gain. From that point of view, I suppose one could argue that a rail company merger is no big deal – they’re already monopolies of a sort, so does it really matter if they become more monopolistic? Well, I think so. At the very least, it’s a matter of principle. As I’ve already said in the past, I’m in favor of the government having a monopoly on rail in the United States, but that’s with the (optimistic) assumption that it would be run for the benefit of the general population.

Unfortunately, that’s not what we’re talking about today. In the midst of national scrutiny on the industry, the Biden administration has apparently decided that they’re just fine with at least some corporate mergers:

U.S. federal regulators on Wednesday approved the first major railroad merger in more than two decades, a move that follows the East Palestine rail disaster and that critics warned would reduce competition, raise prices, cost jobs, and threaten safety.

The Surface Transportation Board (STB) approved Canadian Pacific Railway Limited’s proposed $31 billion acquisition of Kansas City Southern Railway Company, a merger that will create a single railroad linking Canada, the United States, and Mexico. The agency said the merger will take roughly 64,000 truckloads off the road and add more than 800 union jobs.

“The decision includes an unprecedented seven-year oversight period and contains many conditions designed to mitigate environmental impacts, preserve competition, protect railroad workers, and promote efficient passenger rail,” STB said, adding that it “also anticipates the merger will result in improvements in safety and the reduction of carbon emissions.”

However, opponents of the deal pointed to the East Palestine, Ohio disaster and other recent railroad accidents, which they said underscored the need for a more cautious approach to consolidation.

“The merger brings the total number of Class 1 railroads to six, down from over 100 just a few decades ago,” the progressive news site More Perfect Union noted on Twitter. “Corporate consolidation in the railroad industry compromises safety and risks lives by prioritizing profits and cutting corners to reduce costs.”

That shouldn’t even have to be said. Corporate consolidation always goes badly for working people. It’s only ever done to benefit those at the very top, whose class interests directly conflict with the interests of humanity as a whole. Even if one were to argue that this doesn’t change the motivations at play, a larger corporation has more power. It has more power over labor because it controls more of the job market, and it has more power over the government by virtue of the share of the economy represented by the newly merged corporation.

That latter factor may be the bigger concern, for me. As I’ve mentioned, when it comes to opposing labor power, the government is already on the side of the capitalists, but when it comes to lobbying, and making bids for special treatment, the only real limit seems to be the scale of resources available to the corporation in question.

This feels like yet another example of how the people running our society are either utterly clueless about the state of the world, or actively trying to make things worse.

Researchers say IPCC models under-estimate Arctic warming

Last month, I wrote about the likelihood that we’re under-estimating the amplifying feedbacks that can cause global warming to push itself along, even without further help from us. Today’s bit of news adds to that worry, though it’s focused on the Arctic. If you saw the video I posted about diving in an Antarctic lake, you’ll have some notion of the conditions involved in polar expeditions. Antarctica may be a harsher place than the Arctic in some ways, but in both cases, the brutal conditions make research extremely difficult, and often dangerous. This means that we’re pretty much always short on data from those regions, despite their importance in understanding the single biggest threat facing humanity.

In case it’s not clear to anyone, I think that climate research in general is underfunded, and that includes polar research. It’s so bad that at least one research team turned to crowdfunding (a campaign to which I contributed) to finance research in Greenland. This dearth of data seems to have lead to an unsurprising result – the climate models that the IPCC has been relying on seem to be falling behind the actual rate of change:

Two recent scientific studies involving researchers from the University of Gothenburg compared the results of the climate models with actual observations. They concluded that the warming of the Arctic Ocean will proceed at a much faster rate than projected by the climate models.

Models underestimate the consequences

“These climate models underestimate the consequences of climate change. In reality, the relatively warm waters in the Arctic regions are even warmer, and closer to the sea ice. Consequently, we believe that the Arctic sea ice will melt away faster than projected,” explains Céline Heuzé, climatologist at the University of Gothenburg and lead author of one of the studies.

Warm water flows into the Arctic Ocean via Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard. However, the volume of water in these ocean currents and its temperature in the climate models are too low, which is one of the reasons why the climate models’ projections will not be accurate. Even the stratification of the Arctic Ocean is incorrect. The researchers argue that since roughly half of the models project an increase and the other half a decrease in stratification, the consequences of global warming cannot be estimated accurately.

These days, I often feel a bit fatalistic about our ability to accurately estimate what’s coming. We’ve a solid understanding of what’s coming for longer than I’ve been alive, and the older I get, the more that fact makes the lack of drastic action unconscionable. What’s the point in having good warnings if they’re just going to be ignored in favor of insatiable greed? Well, part of the point is the effort to reshape society so that we can heed those warnings, and until we do reach that point, I think there’s at least some utility in being able to point to all the missed opportunities and corrupt choices from the aristocracy.

One of those “corrupt choices” is the ongoing under-funding of Arctic and Antarctic research (fossil fuel “research” doesn’t count, and will doom us all). It’s always hard to tell, in liberal societies, whether this kind of thing is deliberate neglect because a lack of certainty benefits fossil fuel corporations, or just a “passive” effect of a societal infrastructure primarily designed to serve capitalists. I think the lack of certainty about that is also something that benefits corporations, as neutrality and stagnation generally only serve those at the top. Regardless, whether its through political efforts or through crowdfunding, I agree with the conclusion of this research report:

Acquiring hard data must be prioritised

“This is a serious situation. If governments and organisations all over the world are going to rely on these climate models, they must be improved. Which is why research and data acquisition in the Arctic ocean must be prioritised. At present, we cannot provide a useful prediction of how quickly the Arctic sea ice is melting,” Céline Heuzé explains.


“We need a climate model that is tailored to the Arctic. In general, you can’t use the same model for the entire planet, as conditions vary considerably. A better idea would be to create a specific model for the Arctic that correctly factors in the processes occurring in the Arctic Ocean and surrounding land areas.”

If I do come across a funding project for research like this, I’ll be sure to post it.

It’s the first really nice day, so I’m writing outside!

I decided to try a slightly different process than normal for the update on the movement to Stop Cop City and Defend the Atlanta Forest, so that post will be up tomorrow, and today you get something like a stream of consciousness.

Work on The Inner Tower is going well, for the most part. I think I will never understand why my brain just refuses to cooperate sometimes, for no discernible reason. Even so, I’m following the map I laid out, and discovering an interesting landscape. There are a few geographic locations in that world that were established before I began the exploration that is writing a first draft. Beyond that, it’s been mostly blank, and the landscape has been filling in as I go.

When the plot of this thing started falling into my brain like Tetris blocks last year, I decided that I was going to be deliberately formulaic with my writing, and see what sort of interesting story I could create within more conventional limits. I say “more conventional”, because my first novel, Exits and Entrances, was very much experimental. The biggest difference you’ll probably notice, should you decide to read it, is that every other chapter is a short story that’s peripheral to the main plot. I don’t recall why I thought that was a good idea, but I think it turned out decently for a first novel. I don’t think I was a particularly good writer at that point in time, but I try to remember that there are books out there that are much worse by every metric I can think of, save popularity.

I will have to return to that particular laboratory, because there are two books still to write for that trilogy, but for my current project, I’ve chosen to run with a version of The Hero’s Journey, with a few other constraints and rules from bits of writing advice I’ve encountered over the years.

I guess you could say that this series just a different kind of experiment, but I think it’ll be a more familiar reading experience for regular “young adult” fantasy readers, at least for the first couple volumes. After that, things will get a little stranger, because I just can’t help myself.

Part of the reason you’re getting this particular blog post, is that I was getting tired of video posts, and I doubt I’m alone in that. The other part is that, after a cold snap in which we actually got snow, it’s the first classic Beautiful Spring Day since the sun went away. That means that I’m sitting at a folding table out in the middle of our little walled village, while His Holiness Saint Ray the Cat explores.

While there are cats and foxes that use the walls as a convenient path, His Holiness is to lazy, and too much of an indoor cat to even realize that that’s an option. This means that if I set myself up in the center of the village, I can keep an eye on both of the gates through which he might escape into the wilds of Dublin.

The birds around here are used to avoiding better hunters than he, and the only rodents I’ve seen have been invasive squirrels, so while I very much doubt he’s a threat to them, if he somehow manifests far more energy than he’s ever shown to date, and gets very lucky, Ireland will be no worse off for it. So far, though, while he occasionally looks very intently at a bird, he mainly just eats grass. Honestly, my main concern is that another cat will come in, because His Holiness is an asshole when other cats are present. I don’t know if it’s childhood trauma, lack of socialization, or some sort of territoriality, but every other cat he’s ever interacted with, has been The Enemy.

And on that note, I think I’m going to end this post and go indoors, because it looks like it’s going to rain soon. If you ever think that the weather where you live is too constant, come visit Dublin, where it really does change every hour or so.

Thank you for reading! If you liked this post, please share it around. If you read this blog regularly, please consider joining my small but wonderful group of patrons. Because of my immigration status, I’m not allowed to get a normal job, so my writing is all I have for the foreseeable future, and I’d love for it to be a viable career long-term. As part of that goal, I’m currently working on a young adult fantasy series, so if supporting this blog isn’t enough inducement by itself, for just $5/month you can work with me to name a place or character in that series!