Update: Work-work balance, science fiction and non-fiction

As most of my readers are no doubt aware, in addition to the primary content of this blog, I also write fiction – mostly sci-fi and a little fantasy. Lately I’ve been increasing the amount of time spent working on my science fiction, and that has led to a bit of a drop in posting here. This post is a bit of an explanation, a bit of an apology, and a bit of talking about what the future looks like for me.

In the short term, I don’t expect any major changes to Oceanoxia. I intend to keep posting, and to increase both the frequency and quality of my non-fiction work here. This is partly because it’s my primary means of income, meagre though that is right now, and partly because I feel like it’s the way I can best help to bring about the changes I want to see in the world.

That said, there are limits to the concepts I feel I can effectively explore through nonfiction work and advocacy, and part of my goal has always been to help people see various possibilities for our future. In that regard, my science fiction has begun to fall into three general categories. The first, that some of you have hopefully seen, takes place in the United States somewhere around a couple thousand years in the future. Sea levels are still very high, but just starting to fall slowly, and New York City is a sort of solarpunk archipelago and rainforest. So far everything about that scenario takes place in Manhattan, which has a layout pretty similar to its current arrangement, but with canals where the streets would be, and big lagoon where Central Park currently stands. I’m still figuring out what sort of society it is, but it’s not too far from a version of anarcho-communism or something like it. Cooperatives and councils handle most of the collective projects that are currently managed by government and corporations. Housing and food are guaranteed, and people divide their time between work that helps society run, and activities that fulfil them, at least where the two purposes don’t overlap. Whether or not an activity is allowed depends largely on whether it harms other people in some way, and while there’s collective oversight of things like construction, if someone is “caught” doing something like construction outside of said oversight, there has to be demonstrable harm or danger to people in order to justify intervention.

Because my explorations haven’t gone much outside of New York, I’m honestly not sure what the rest of North America looks like, except that it’s no longer the heart of any sort of empire, and hasn’t been for some centuries. Problems created by greed, hatred, and so on still exist, but they’re not supported at a systemic level in the way we see today, and so have less power to destroy lives. Not a perfect world, but a better one.

The second category is in the far more distant future – tens of thousands of years. Have I mentioned I’m an optimist? I tried not to be for a while, but it got tiresome. At this point in time, humanity is interstellar, and has been for a very long time. The stories I’ve worked on thus far also take place in a better society, but this one is an interplanetary association of sorts, with the various planets governing themselves along similar lines to what I described in the “flooded New York” setting. Some use governments, some don’t, but access to food, shelter, and healthcare are all guaranteed, and insofar as there’s a currency, it’s the hydrogen that’s used in fusion engines to both power technology, and to manufacture and “print out” most materials needed for society. It’s sort of like replicator technology in Star Trek, but rather than just “materializing” finished products, the matter forges synthesize raw materials of varying complexity from molecules formed in a series of fusion reactors, each fueling the next. This setting is also one in which I explore fascism, as a number of planets – including Earth – are under the sway of a fascist society that’s in a sort of “Cold War” with the society I just described. I view fascism as a set of ideologies and political tactics that I think are likely to plague humanity for a long time to come, and likely to re-emerge from time to time, as ignorance, complacency, or fear lead people to those practices. Some of what I’m working on deals with resistance against such a fascist regime, and some does not. The anti-fascist societies are – again – not perfect. There are families and corporations with interplanetary power and influence, and that leads to predictable problems. I’ve been putting less time into this end of things in the last couple years, but I’ve recently resumed work on a novel taking place in this setting, now that I feel like my skill as a writer is closer to being able to tackle the subject matter.

The third category is one I think of as “the gauntlet“. It’s a set of stories taking place within the next century or two, depicting humanity’s struggle to survive a warming climate and the collapse of the current global capitalist order. Reflecting my own expectations for the near future, this is definitely my least optimistic project, and contains a lot of stuff that I fervently hope will be viewed as laughably pessimistic in a couple hundred years, if not my own lifetime (again, I’m optimistic enough to hope that my work will be considered at all on any useful scale. I think there’s a degree of egotism required to continue in this line of work). Some of this stuff is more optimistic, as it deals with the first glimmers of the world explored in the first category above.

Some of this fiction I’ll share here directly. Some is exclusively for my patrons. Some I’ll send away in the hopes that some publication will pay me a little. In any case, there’s going to be more of it around in general. If you want more of my time to go to this blog, and more of my fiction to be available to either you, or to the general public, the best way to achieve those goals right now is to support me via patreon, and encourage others to do the same. The closer I am to being able to actually cover living expenses, the more I’ll be free to just directly share my work with whoever wants to read it, which is my preference. The second best way is to share any of my work that you find to be valuable, by whatever criteria you judge such things.

Life’s chaotic for most of us right now, so however you relate to my work, take care of yourself, and those around you.

Just as the U.S. government helped create Al-Qaeda, the Israeli government helped Hamas

The United States has a long, horrific history of funding, training, and arming extremist groups – particularly right-wing ones – in the hopes that those groups will destabilize the regions in which they are active. This has led to countless atrocities all around the world, many of which have been used as excuses for our state of endless war.

As one of America’s closest allies, and the biggest recipient of American military aid, it probably shouldn’t be surprising to learn that the Israeli government followed this strategy when it came to Hamas.

Remember this, when Hamas is used to justify murder and brutality committed against Palestinians, as part of the Israeli government’s effort to maintain apartheid conditions, and pursue a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem.

Israel has all the power in this situation. The Israeli government is capable of de-escalating things, and moving the region towards peace, but they have consistently chosen not to, maintaining and escalating the cycle of bloodshed.

Mitigating the harm of climate change, using changes in the climate

One thing that is fast becoming a central theme of my work is the notion that, in addition to decentralizing political power, and creating a more democratic economy than capitalism can provide, we also need view ourselves as a part of the “natural world”. That means moving away from the historical trend of using technology to separate ourselves from the rest of the biosphere, and instead more fully integrating human civilization with the ecosystems that surround us.

This includes a lot of the standard stuff from the solarpunk genre: urban agriculture and urban wildlife, waste management that minimizes or eliminates pollution, and an end to wasteful things like planned obsolescence. It also goes beyond that, to molding ourselves to better suit our ecosystems, and to reduce the amount of labor and energy required to survive in a sometimes hostile landscape.

As the climate warms, the trend in much of the world seems to be towards stable or increasing annual rainfall, but with all of that rain coming in a smaller number of more intense storms. The practical effect of that is a worsening cycle of drought, flooding, and erosion, as the majority of the year is too dry for most plant life, and the sudden, intense rainfall floods the landscape causing landslides, and washing away both plant life and topsoil.

This, in turn, is likely to worsen the next year’s drought, while doing little to provide actual relief, as the water all rushes out to sea, or evaporates quickly following the downpour. The result is a cycle that’s likely to affect a huge portion of currently inhabited land, starting with the areas already suffering from this, like California:

As climate change intensifies the severity and frequency of these extreme events, amplifying refill rates could help the state reach a more balanced groundwater budget. One practice, called water banking or managed aquifer recharge, involves augmenting surface infrastructure, such as reservoirs or pipelines, with underground infrastructure, such as aquifers and wells, to increase the transfer of floodwater for storage in groundwater basins.

A newer strategy for managing surface water, compared to more traditional methods like reservoirs and dams, water banking poses multiple benefits including flood risk reduction and improved ecosystem services. While groundwater basins offer a vast network for water safekeeping, pinpointing areas prime for replenishment, gauging infrastructure needed and the amount of water available remains key, especially in a warming and uncertain climate.

“Integrating managed aquifer recharge with floodwaters into already complex water management infrastructure offers many benefits, but requires careful consideration of uncertainties and constraints. Our growing understanding of climate change makes this an opportune time to examine the potential for these benefits,” said senior author David Freyberg, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford.

The researchers designed a framework to estimate future floodwater availability across the state. Developing a hybrid computer model using hydrologic and climate simulations and statistical tools, the team calculated water available for recharge under different climate change scenarios through 2090. They also identified areas where infrastructure investments should be prioritized to tap floodwater potential and increase recharge.

As things currently stand, flood waters tend to be dangerous. They sweep up badly stored chemicals, human and animal waste, and sediments carrying pollution from past eras, resulting in a mix of poisons and bacteria that can do a lot of harm. Building infrastructure to catch that water, clean it, and direct it into aquifers would be a huge investment, but one that I think would be well worth it, and have benefits lasting far into the future.

Similar to things like food forests and managed prairies, water conservation and banking practices can help us build up not only our own resilience, but also the resilience of surrounding ecosystems.

Image shows the flooded terraces of a Balinese rice farm, creating a sort of managed ecosystem of grasses, trees, and ponds climbing up mountainsides

“For most crops, irrigation simply provides water for the plant’s roots. But in a Balinese rice terrace, water is used to construct a complex, pulsed artificial ecosystem. Water temples manipulate the states of the system, at ascending levels in regional hierarchies.”

The industrial revolution, colonialism, and capitalism all worked to devastate the biosphere of this planet in ways we’re still working to fully understand. We must turn from being consumers of the world, to being stewards of it. In the past, rhetoric like this might have been used to push the idea that we should just “leave nature alone”, but I want to be clear that that’s not what I’m suggesting.

The ecological collapse we’ve created means that we have a responsibility to use our technology and understanding to help our ecosystems survive, for our own benefit. That’s likely to mean increased intervention in what remains of wild spaces, at least in some ways. I think it’s obvious we should work to end the conditions that drive practices like deforestation and over-fishing; but it may also mean things like using banked or desalinated water to irrigate drought-stricken “wilderness”, if we can find ways to do so.

This is a complex issue, and must be approached as such. The measures taken to help one region could prove devastating in another, and it’s almost certain that such efforts will only work if undertaken in a cooperative manner across the arbitrary borders that divide the world into “nations”. As I’ve said before, a better world is possible, but I believe it will require the creation and maintenance of global solidarity. We cannot continue to indulge exploitation and bigotry, if we want to survive.


If you find the contents of this blog useful or entertaining, or if you think that it’s moving in that direction, please consider becoming a patron at patreon.com/oceanoxia, and/or encouraging others to do so. I’d to keep writing, and keep building this into a useful resource for those who want a better world, and to do that, I need money to survive. I’m still pulling in far, far less than minimum wage, and it’d be awesome if I could close that gap.

Renegade Cut: Why Riots Happen

America’s “protest season” has begun, and the government has continued its brutal response to any calls for systemic change. Because injustice has not been corrected, political unrest will not cease. As they saying goes, “No justice, no peace”. This video is a useful examination of riots, and how violence is defined, justified, or condemned within our society. Education alone will not save us, but it is a powerful tool in the struggle for a better world.

The video has been “age-restricted”, I suspect due to a mass-flagging campaign by those who object to any content critical of police, and of white supremacy. You’ll need to sign in to see it, but I think that’s worth doing.

 

A video, and some thoughts on the current state of U.S. fascism

As I’ve said before, I don’t think the threat of fascism will be leaving the United States any time soon. This video does a good job of outlining the ways in which the modern Republican Party has become either fascist, or part of a fascist movement. A lot of these elements were present prior to Trump’s entry into politics, and I think it’s fair to say that there was a growing fascist movement that brought Trump to power, and that was empowered in turn by his presidency.

That said, I think it’s also worth noting that if Biden doesn’t make good on the efforts to pitch him as a new FDR (a comparison that seems to be either wishful thinking, or a feeble effort to placate left-wing dissidents), then the threat will remain as strong as it has ever been. At this point in time, any efforts to blame America’s problems on outside forces will, in my opinion, feed America’s fascist movement. As long as the problems caused by neoliberalism remain, any efforts to fix things by focusing on an outward enemy will leave the public with two choices – one is to reject the efforts at scapegoating altogether, and to join in the effort to replace capitalism with something better.

The other is to conclude that if both parties are saying that China (or any other scapegoat) is the cause of our problems, maybe the people whose rhetoric on that issue is more aggressive will actually “do something about it”. I don’t know what the future holds, but climate jokes aside, the United States is on very thin ice right now. The momentum seems to be pushing in a very bad direction, and it’s going to take a lot of careful work to turn things around.

Guest post: Planning a pantry, chapter one of…?

Guest post by Tegan
Note: This is the beginning of our effort to build up advice on the kind of pro-social prepping mentioned in the direct action post

When thinking of creating a pantry, there are of course two immediate questions that need answering: (1) what is the pantry for? and (2) how do you utilize those foodstuffs to ensure that money spent on it isn’t wasted?

To me, building a pantry always seemed like the easy and logical step. My mother and grandmother both always had pantries filled with options for food. In regards to my grandmother’s pantry, which included her kitchen fridge and freezer, the downstairs full-sized freezer, the freezer in the building next door, and a root cellar, my grandmother seemed prepared for an apocalypse – or simply grandchildren visiting, as she would usually pull bags of potato chips and cookies out of the bedroom closet as well as the ice cream from the basement freezer. My mother, not having the space my grandmother did as well as having to move several times in her adult life, had fewer options. I grew up with only a single extra three-quarter size standalone freezer as well as the requisite amount of cupboard and pantry goods. This meant that when I was first developing my household management skills after I moved into my first of many apartments, I naturally knew that I had to buy food for pantries. This meant that my initial answer to the first question, asked implicitly almost two decades ago, was ‘the pantry is to have a pantry.’

In the intervening two decades I have moved households dozens of times. I have had any number of roommates with differing or similar approaches to food. I have learned to cook a wider variety of foods as well as learned a large number of general-use techniques in the kitchen. I have gone in and out of doomerism concerning peak oil and into concern about late-stage capitalism and climate change that Abe discusses so eloquently. I have moved internationally twice. And throughout most of this, I have been very poor. Answering that first question now, my response would be: ‘the pantry is to protect against lean times, to buy in bulk for savings if possible, to ensure that my household will always have something to eat even if it is boring.’

All well and good. We now have a more coherent and well thought out answer to the first question. The task gets harder as we move into the second question.

How to use the foodstuffs in your pantry to ensure that it isn’t wasted money and effort? My mother and grandmother have never fully known the answer to this question. For both of them, they use what they remember having in stock, and purchase duplicates of what they don’t remember. By the time I knew her, my grandmother was not in the habit of rotating through her stock and when she first entered a nursing home a few years ago, there was a great purge of old food. Meat expired over a decade previously. Frosting from the Clinton era. Home-canned vegetables that were both unlabeled and unrecognizable. My mother rotates her pantry semi-annually, but still has to throw out a fair amount of food. Usually vegetables that lurked in the back of the fridge, or the occasional item that was equally hidden in a freezer. Who actually gets to the back of their freezer often? Unless it is specifically a planned event, it can be difficult to remember to check the storage corners of the household. All this is to say that any ideas regarding pantry management I have, I have learned at the expense of good food gone to waste, and not from any training while growing up. Most of this advice can be summed up into one single sentence: Know What You Cook.

Almost every pantry article I have ever read – and I have read many! – has been written by a chef. Unsurprisingly, their ideas of what are kitchen Must-Have ingredients have been very different from my own. From lists stating that every household needs a quart of buttermilk at all times, to needing preserved lemons, or flatly stating that the author cannot live without at least three types of cheese in the house – these lists are each designed for one household in particular. And that’s ok! I don’t need a chef to put a stamp of approval on the type of cooking that my household does. We just need to eat the food that we buy as efficiently and effectively as possible. So what decisions do Abe and I make when purchasing food?

Firstly, we buy pasta. As cheap as we can find it, and several different kinds. Classic Italian pastas like spaghetti or rotini; the food of broke people everywhere, ramen; and if I wind up at an Asian grocer or the like I’ll buy rice pasta or egg noodle nests. But I want each purchase to at least offer me two packages per unit of currency, preferably three. Other households eat bread or rice or potatoes as the primary carb of their diet. We eat mostly pasta.

Secondly, we have lots of flavor options. Bouillon, tomato sauce, bbq sauce, sweet chili sauce, and hoisin sauce, when we have the resources. Even if you are eating the same food every single day, it won’t taste the same if you change up the flavor profile.

Thirdly, we always have the ability to bake. If I can’t figure out how to bake a cake with the ingredients that we have, we do not have enough food in the house. One of the first things I did after I arrived in Dublin was to bake a cake. I threw together canned coconut milk (we were out of milk), canned pumpkin, an egg, sugar, spices, and GF Halal flour intended for fasting meals (which was the only flour in the house). Was it the world’s best cake? No. But it filled that urge to have a warm sweet treat and did not require me to break quarantine.

Fourthly, we make sure that we have food other than carbs. Abe cares about vegetables so he ensures our freezer stays stocked with frozen veg. I care about protein so I make sure that we have eggs, and canned fish, and frozen meat, and deli meats that were on clearance that I also freeze.

Outside of these strong guidelines, we shop for deals. If something is cheap this week, we buy extra to have it in the house. We try to keep track of what we go through swiftly and adjust our shopping accordingly. But just as it’s important to know what to buy for yourself, it’s also important to track the failures. We don’t purchase a wide variety of grains. In the past we have done so, and we had a LOT of fancy or specialty grains to get rid of with the first international move. We don’t purchase a large amount of dried beans. We go through beans regularly enough, but not so swiftly as to require a significant portion of our storage space dedicated to them. We don’t buy items that we don’t know how to use. A friend had gifted me homemade pomegranate syrup. That stayed in my fridge through three moves and then it molded and I threw it out, unused. A package of boba survived ten years of moves before finally being eaten. In short, we don’t purchase food aspirationally.

So there it is! My two main tips for building a pantry can be summed up into two pithy and almost unhelpfully brief sentences: Know What You Cook, and Don’t Purchase Aspirationally.


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Fiction: A boring night is looking up

The zeppelin’s white skin glowed in the city’s lights as it approached the docking tower. Rivulets of water made it shimmer, drawing Tua’s eyes. She yawned, and squinted to re-focus her gaze on the cargo hold. Her mission brief was sparse on details, but the central question was clear: a handful of freight vessels had been dropping something while on approach for docking, beginning shortly after sunset. A few dock workers had seen whatever it was, and reported it to the Shipping Council, but there were no reports of anything falling from the sky, of damage, or of unexplained waste in the canals.

Something was being delivered by people who were willing to go to fairly extreme lengths to keep their business off of any books. Half the time, when Tua was called in to run an investigation, what she found was depressingly harmless. People operating in secret because they enjoyed the challenge, or starting up a strange new business venture that drew attention from “concerned citizens”.

Those didn’t tend to involve the clandestine use of one of the city’s major shipping routes. Freight zeppelins ran constantly around the country. They didn’t move particularly fast, but there was a never-ending stream of them drifting slowly around the continent. It was effectively a massive, airborne conveyor belt, and because it depended on lighter-than-air craft, weight was carefully monitored.

The zeppelin docked with a loud thunk, and Tua closed her eyes to rest them while the vessel was unloaded above her. Waiting was the worst part of this job.

Normally, smuggling investigations required very little effort. Most items that would get a smuggler in trouble were things that could poison the water or interfere with some of the city’s vital functions. Smuggling might allow someone to avoid paying access or import fees, but those were low enough that avoiding them often cost more, even if you didn’t get caught. That went doubly for smuggling anything by air. Tua had helped a gun-running operation in her teens, but that had gone along the canals. It turned out the guns were for an ill-conceived plan by a group to gain control over the city’s common housing system through a mixture of bribery, intimidation, and murder.

Tua didn’t understand it, but there always seemed to be those who wanted power over other people, and those willing to help them for one reason or another. She shifted carefully on her perch, and adjusted her goggle magnification. The next zeppelin was just visible on its approach.

I was one of those willing to help, she reminded herself. Her current gig as an investigator had started as community service after she was caught along with everyone else involved in the attempted takeover. She hadn’t known what goods she was moving, but neither had she asked. It had gotten her better food and housing, and more than enough money to access some of the more interesting clubs around town. It had also been more fun than she had had before or since.

A bell rang above her as the zeppelin finished offloading its cargo, and glided away into the rainy dusk. The next one approached, and Tua watched, her goggles recording everything in case she blinked at the wrong moment.

She didn’t.


You can read the rest, as well as other upcoming pieces of fiction, for as little as $1USD/month by becoming one of my patrons over at the Oceanoxia Collective

Humanity is acting as a force of nature, and we have little time to develop responsibility to match that power.

“Oh, there is a brain all right. It’s just that the brain is made out of meat!”

“So… what does the thinking?”

“You’re not understanding, are you? The brain does the thinking. The meat.”

“Thinking meat! You’re asking me to believe in thinking meat!”

“Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you getting the picture?”

Excerpt from “They’re made of of meat”, by Terry Bisson

The scale of the warming event humanity is causing right now seems to exist pretty close to the boundary of what we, as a society, are capable of processing with our meat computers. I don’t think it will always be out of our grasp, but it seems to me that when it comes to how we understand the cosmos, we really do have a collective consciousness. Just as interactions between the different kinds of matter in our brains seem to expand our cognitive capacity, so to do the interactions between individual humans, between groups of humans, and between generations of humans transcending our lifespans.

As a group, we are continually expanding the list of concepts we can conceive of, but I feel like we’re still stuck on the notion that we’re insignificant compared to the sheer size of the planet we live on. How could we be affecting something so mind-bogglingly huge that a significant portion of the species can’t bring themselves to believe it’s actually round? Because our power, as a species, has recently increased beyond what “common sense” might lead us to believe. I think we’re tricked by our sense of individual identity into feeling that our collective power is bounded by what we each do alone.

My favorite effort to describe the scale of what’s happening around us is the measurement of Earth’s rising temperature in units of atom bombs per second. It’s around four. Every second of every day, an amount of heat equivalent to four atomic explosions is trapped by the extra insulation we’ve been putting into the atmosphere.

Once, we were just one species among millions. We made changes to the world at a scale similar to things like beavers. Now, we have become a force of nature when it comes to the size of our impact on the surface of this planet.

In the new paper, published in the journal npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, the research team found that changes in the last 50 years to an important weather phenomenon in the North Atlantic — known as the North Atlantic Oscillation — can be traced back to human activities that impact the climate system.

“Scientists have long understood that human actions are warming the planet,” said the study’s lead author Jeremy Klavans, a UM Rosenstiel School alumnus. “However, this human-induced signal on weather patterns is much harder to identify.”

“In this study, we show that humans are influencing patterns of weather and climate over the Atlantic and that we may be able to use this information predict changes in weather and climate up to a decade in advance,” said Klavans.

By now, I think, the fact that we are affecting global weather patterns is familiar to most people. In many ways, that’s a fairly easy pill to swallow. It’s not hard to imagine how the endless extraction and burning of carbon could affect the air and water around us. We can see the changes we’ve made in our environments, and have vivid images like burning rivers and smog-choked cities to help us understand.

Unfortunately, it goes beyond that.

Not long after a devastating earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, I began to hear people discussing the possibility that there might be a climate link. At the time, this seemed absurd to me. It felt like the kind of hyperbolic doomsaying that environmentalists have always been accused of. After all, it’s one thing to affect air and water temperatures, but how could warming cause something like an earthquake? It couldn’t, of course.

Not by itself.

The problem is that earthquakes don’t come out of nowhere. They’re a release of tension that’s constantly building up as the hard material of Earth’s crust drifts on the molten magma of the mantle. They’re like a medieval crossbow; the crank allows for an archer to pull back on a bowstring that requires far more force than any human is capable of exerting unaided. Once that tension is built up, very little strength is required to release it.

A weather event can’t cause an earthquake, but if a large storm hits the right area, landslides and flooding can move enough material around that it could, in theory, release tension that was already building. We’ll likely never know if that’s what happened in Haiti, but the terrifying reality is that it certainly could be, and it’s something that could happen in the future. If that’s possible, I think it’s also fair to worry about the kinds of tension buildup that result in volcanic eruptions.

When I was first considering these ideas, I was also put in mind of the concept of “isostatic rebound“. In brief, when a glacier or ice cap melts away, vast amounts of weight is dispersed, to the point that Earth’s crust actually floats up on the magma below it, just as a boat rides higher in the water as you unload it. The amount of ice being lost in Greenland, for example, is not only causing that island to gain elevation, it’s also literally redistributing gravitational forces in the region, with global effects on the distribution of ocean water.

Considering all of these factors, and the fact that much smaller activities like those related to “fracking” can cause earthquakes more directly, I think it’s fair to say that our effects on the climate are not limited to air and water. We are also changing the forces that cause earthquakes and volcanoes. It’s hard to tell what those effects might be or when they might be felt, but it does make me worry about things like the Yellowstone supervolcano.

We’re not just changing the climate and biosphere of the planet, we’re acting on the scale of a force of nature when it comes to the crust – the solid matter on which all life we know of exists.

Unfortunately, it goes beyond that.

On March 14th, 2011, at around 05:46 UTC, days became shorter by 1.8 microseconds. This was caused by a massive earthquake off the coast of Japan that redistributed enough mass that our planet’s rotational axis shifted by 17 centimeters, and pulled enough mass toward the center of the earth that its rotation sped up just a little. As the article notes, this is something that happens to some degree with most big earthquakes. The fact that it could happen was news to me, but not to the collective consciousness of our species (or at least the parts of us that study such things). Going back to the earlier discussion of climate and earthquakes, it seems pretty clear at this point that the warming humanity is causing through greenhouse gas emissions can literally affect the balance of the entire planet as it spirals through space. It’s unlikely to be enough that we’d notice without checking, but that’s the situation we have created for ourselves.

Taking all of this into consideration, I hope it is not too much of a shock to my readers to learn that this has, in fact, already occurred:

Using data on glacier loss and estimations of ground water pumping, Liu and her colleagues calculated how the water stored on land changed. They found that the contributions of water loss from the polar regions is the main driver of polar drift, with contributions from water loss in nonpolar regions. Together, all this water loss explained the eastward change in polar drift.

“I think it brings an interesting piece of evidence to this question,” said Humphrey. “It tells you how strong this mass change is — it’s so big that it can change the axis of the Earth.”

Humphrey said the change to the Earth’s axis isn’t large enough that it would affect daily life. It could change the length of day we experience, but only by milliseconds.

The faster ice melting couldn’t entirely explain the shift, Deng said. While they didn’t analyze this specifically, she speculated that the slight gap might be due to activities involving land water storage in non-polar regions, such as unsustainable groundwater pumping for agriculture.

Humphrey said this evidence reveals how much direct human activity can have an impact on changes to the mass of water on land. Their analysis revealed large changes in water mass in areas like California, northern Texas, the region around Beijing and northern India, for example — all areas that have been pumping large amounts of groundwater for agricultural use.

“The ground water contribution is also an important one,” Humphrey said. “Here you have a local water management problem that is picked up by this type of analysis.”

Liu said the research has larger implications for our understanding of land water storage earlier in the 20th century. Researchers have 176 years of data on polar drift. By using some of the methods highlighted by her and her colleagues, it could be possible to use those changes in direction and speed to estimate how much land water was lost in past years.

We appear to have reached the point where we can calculate our extraction and movement of natural resources like groundwater by the ways in which that activity is changing the speed and angle of our planet’s rotation. It’s incredible that as a species, we’ve gotten to the point where we’re capable of making such calculations, but it also drives home the central point of this article.

Humanity is now, by the scale at which such things are calculated, a force of nature on this planet. Our activities are effecting literally the entire planet. Through collective thought and collective labor we have become powerful enough, as a species, to shake the foundations of the Earth, and that fact should terrify anyone, especially given how the use of that power is currently decided.

This, more than the weapons with which our rulers are so enamored, is proof that we are meddling in forces that can erase us from existence. Give any untrained person control over something like an explosive or a truck, and there’s a very real danger that they will kill either themselves or someone else. In general, we don’t allow people to wield that kind of power until they’ve demonstrated the ability to do so safely. I want humanity to reach the stars some day, and to fulfill the potential that has inspired countless science fiction writers before me; but in order to get there we must develop a degree of collective responsibility that is commensurate with that terrifying power, and we must do it quickly.


If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my recent move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!

You should watch this video on mutual aid

I’ve already added this to my direct action post, but the more people see it, the better off the world will be. If pressed to describe my political movement leftward, I would say that the values with which I was raised haven’t changed a whole lot, but my understanding of the world has changed deepened a great deal. I think I’ve mentioned before that I was opposed to American imperialism and to capitalism before I realized I was. I’ve participated in activism around monstrosities like The School of the Americas/WHINSEC, the sanctions against Iraq and later invasion, the embargo against Cuba, climate change, and more. For all of that, I would say I’m relatively new to being “A Leftist”. I’ve learned enough to know that I have a huge amount left to learn. One of the most important things I’ve been learning is that there are a myriad of people looking to share what they’ve learned.

One theme I’ve encountered – a sort of a joke, I guess – is that the anarchist strategy for revolution is “do mutual aid and then we win”. Obviously, this kind of analysis is going to be too simplistic for any political theory that’s been around for a while, but at the surface level, it’s easy to see why people dismiss anarchism in this way. Part of the problem often seems to be a lack of understanding about what mutual aid actually is, what makes it different from the various things often described as “charity”, and where it fits into a desire for rapid, revolutionary change.

This video from Saint Andrewism covers all of that and more. Watch it, check out the rest of the channel, and support him on patreon if you can.

The danger of fascism has not gone away. Not even close.

As the world’s largest and most aggressive military power, I think it’s fair say that the rise of fascism in the United States is a matter of great concern for our entire species. I do not think that an overtly fascist U.S. would succeed in its goals over the long term. Fascism is an ideology that, dependent on fiction and scapegoating, will always carry the seeds of its own destruction. That said, beyond the entirely reasonable fear for the groups targeted by white supremacist fascism, there’s also the concern that the anti-environmentalist tendencies of the right would continue interfere with the global response to climate change badly enough and for long enough that we would be unable to cope with the approaching climate chaos.

I think for a lot of Americans, the Trump presidency was a wake-up call. That’s good, as far as it goes, but for whatever subset of the population didn’t realize how urgently change was needed before 2016, there’s a very real danger that Biden’s victory and the Democratic Party taking control of Congress will “hit the snooze button”. The conditions that gave rise to the Trump presidency have not gone away, and for all the talk about how different Biden and the Democrats are, they are not at all likely to do what’s needed to keep the U.S. from sliding further into overt, white supremacist fascism. The leaders of that party are wealthy, comfortable, and more concerned with maintaining their personal positions of power than they are with the future of the country or the species.

They may favor change, but only if that change doesn’t threaten their wealth and power. That means that the economic hardships, escalating nationalist and white supremacist propaganda, and the growing feeling of doom brought on by ecological and climate collapse will continue to push much of the white population of the United States towards fascism. The problem is that the economic system that governs most of the world is fundamentally incompatible with the ideals of democracy that are supposed to be at the core of a free and just society. Capitalism is designed to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those whose primary interest and ability is the hoarding of money. The results of this have always been the same – those at the top use their resources to solidify their lofty positions in society by funneling an ever-increasing amount away from everyone else. Under capitalism, society simultaneously becomes more authoritarian, while becoming more difficult for the growing pool of those at “the bottom”.

So-called “social democracies” mitigate this process through progressive tax structures and generous social safety nets, but from what I can tell that only slows the process, and shifts the burdens of it onto those colonies and “former” colonies that have been ruthlessly exploited for their resources throughout the history of capitalism. As those at the top continue to demand more, they erode social safety nets of all forms, to both take more of society’s wealth, and to increase the number of people desperate enough to agree to bad pay and conditions, in order to survive in a world with no other options.

The left and the extremist right both claim to offer solutions to these problems. On the left, we want to change the nature of the system that brought us to this point. We want power and wealth to be distributed more evenly, not just because we want everyone to have their needs met, but also because allowing a small ruling class to run everything, while exempting themselves from the problems created by their rule, threatens to destroy us all.

The right’s solution is to turn those with the least power into scapegoats. Minorities and foreigners are blamed for our problems, and punished with increased poverty. When that inevitably fails to solve anything, the number of groups being blamed, and the severity of the punishment is increased. This cycle gets repeated, until ethnic cleansing is the only “solution” left (since taking power away from those in charge is obviously off the table). A “correction” like the New Deal may be able set this process back a bit, but it’s not capable of actually stopping it.

And while this is underway at any stage, we will remain unable to deal with problems that, as with climate change, are driven by the endless need for accumulating wealth that makes up the foundation of any version of capitalism.

Biden and the Democratic party cannot save us, and they never could. What they can do, at least in theory, is slow the process down for a short while, to allow for the kinds of work that will empower us to save ourselves.

Whether it’s peasants with torches and pitchforks, unions going on strike, or mass political unrest of other kinds, collective power and collective action has always been the solution to the lethal greed and irresponsibility of the aristocracy. As it stands, those living in the heart of the American Empire lack the organization to force revolutionary change – violent or otherwise.

We need to use what time and resources we have to change that.

It’s hard to know how this effort will end up going. The willingness of the powerful to use violence to keep their power may be one of the most reliable trends in human history, and it has been a central feature of the United States of America from the beginning. I believe our best chance at both avoiding violence and at surviving it if avoidance becomes impossible is through encouraging people to look out for each other, and to begin relying on each other as communities, rather than on governments or corporations. We need to start rebuilding society from the ground up, within the crumbling structure of the systems that currently govern the world, so that we can use all these marvels of technology for the benefit of life as a whole. 

If we don’t, then momentum will carry us to an era of horrors that will make the 20th century look peaceful by comparison. We cannot afford to waste the next four years. We cannot afford to relax. Biden’s victory might have bought us time, but only if we work on organizing to change course now.

 

 


If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my recent move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!