Where we’re at, where we might be heading, and what we can do to help regardless

Things are bad. It sure looks like the US is headed down a dark and bloody road, and it’s not clear to me that changing course is even going to be possible. If civil war in the United States can be avoided, I think it should be. To be clear, that does not mean appeasing a fascist regime – history has shown that doing so won’t help us avoid violence, and might make it significantly worse. If the Trump administration continues down the road it’s on, war seems unavoidable, in one form or another. I’m no historian, but from what little I do know of history, I think Beau of the Fifth Column is right about where we are:

As with climate change, we’re caught in a bad place. There aren’t really any good options, just the hope that through effort and luck we can find a way to a situation where there are good options. And as with climate change, there are some things we can do that will help us regardless of what happens next. Sticking with Beau here, there’s something that you can do that will help with the current political situation, and with climate change.

Form, maintain, and strengthen local community networks. This is not something I’m good at, myself. In many ways I’m a classic introvert, in that social activities and activism wear on me in a big way. There are plenty of people out there who know way more about this kind of organizing than I do, so if you’re not one of those folks, keep an eye out for them, or seek them out. Beau has a bunch of good advice, not just in the following video, but elsewhere in his body of work.

Look into mutual aid groups, like the ones that have sprung up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Look into anarchist approaches to building communities and self-reliance. If you hear “anarchist” and think of violence and chaos, set that aside for right now, and spend some time thinking about people might look into organizing a peaceful, just society without any government enforcing rules from the top down. Even if you don’t want to live in that kind of society, the sorts of community building that anarchists tend to advocate and practice will also make for a more peaceful, democratic society even with there being a government involved. There’s a wealth of literature, so start looking through it. If you don’t know where to begin, head here, and look for titles that seem interesting.

Think of this as the pro-social version of “doomsday prepping” – not prepping to be a “sole survivor” in an action movie, but rather to be part of an effort to maintain community and build whatever society we have now into something better. If you have food stored, you can share it with neighbors, should there be a shortage. If you have the means to make water safe to drink, you can save lives and bring people together. If you have a network of people who know they have allies who’re also taking this approach, that’s a foundation on which you can rebuild, even if everything else is washed away.

Humans have a variety of different responses to scary situations. The one that has served us best, and will continue to serve us going forward, is the instinct to reach out to others to comfort and to seek comfort; to help and to seek help. As with so many other social species, our greatest strength is our ability to come together and share burdens that are too heavy for any of us to bear alone.

This blog, and its associated podcast, are made possible by my wonderful patrons. Their funding has made a huge difference in my life, but I’m still short of what I need to make ends meet, and it’s still very difficult to find conventional wage labor, what with the pandemic and all. If you’d like to earn my undying gratitude, fund my work, and feed my household, you can head over to patreon.com/oceanoxia to help pay for this content. As with so many other good things, crowdfunding takes a collective effort, and every little bit helps.

Hurricane Laura – get out while you can

If you live on the coast in Louisiana or Eastern Texas, get out now if you can.

Set to hit Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane on Thursday morning, Laura is expected to bring with it strong winds and heavy rain. Storm surges could reach 20 feet in areas from Johnson Bayou, Louisiana, to Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, and other parts of the state and eastern Texas could see water heights surge to 15 feet.

“It’s really just unimaginable numbers and certainly not survivable in some locations so we really hope people are evacuating and doing everything they can to get out if they haven’t already,” Joel Cline, a tropical program coordinator for the National Weather Service, told Newsweek.

By now we’ve all seen how well the Trump administration handles disasters, particularly when they’re hurting people that don’t normally support the GOP. Whether Hurricane Laura will cause similar damage to New Orleans as Katrina did in 2005 remains to be seen, but I can’t help but worry that whatever damage is done there will be handled even worse than Bush handled Katrina. Just as thousands died needlessly in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria and its aftermath three years ago, I’m very much afraid that many will die in the aftermath of Laura, based on the predictions we’re seeing now.

I doubt anyone who lives in the region is unaware of what’s coming at this point, but it’s important that the rest of us pay attention, and do what we can to help.

Hurricane Laura powered its way to major hurricane status overnight, putting on an impressive display of rapid intensification over the very warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Laura is headed towards a landfall expected Wednesday night or early Thursday morning in northeastern Texas or western Louisiana as a major category 4 hurricane, and is expected to cause “catastrophic” wind and storm surge damage, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Rain squalls from Laura’s outer spiral bands were already affecting the coasts of Texas and Louisiana on Wednesday morning, and they will increase in intensity throughout the day.

Laura rapidly intensified by an impressive 50 mph in the 24 hours ending at 11 a.m. EDT Wednesday, with the winds rising from 75 mph to 125 mph and the pressure falling from 990 mb to 956 mb. This far exceeds the definition of rapid intensification, which is a 24 mb drop in 24 hours. Buoy 42395, located just east of Laura’s eye on Wednesday morning, reported sustained winds of up to 76 mph, wind gusts as high as 107 mph, and a wave height of 37 feet (11 meters).

At 11 a.m. EDT Wednesday, Laura was already generating a storm surge of 1 – 3 feet along much of the Texas and Louisiana coasts; the largest surges, between 2.5 – 3 feet, were at Shell Beach, Louisiana, located to the southeast of New Orleans, and Freshwater Canal Locks, on the south-central coast of Louisiana. Laura’s storm surge can be tracked using the Trabus Technologies Storm Surge Live Tracker or the NOAA Tides and Currents page for Laura.

There’s likely to be lingering damage from this, with standing floodwaters, stranded people, and  a wide range of horrible chemical and biological contamination (from last year):

On a day like Wednesday, when the New Orleans area was pounded with as much as seven inches of rain in less than three hours, it may seem like the only way past floodwater is through it. However, experts warn that wading — and especially swimming — through a flood could expose people to a stew of toxic waste and chemicals.

The CDC provides this list of warnings and recommendations with regard to floodwater, which are unlikely to be helpful to anyone caught in the storm, but give a good breakdown of the kinds of problems we can expect to arise from this disaster, if it’s anywhere near as bad as seems likely:

Stay out of floodwater.

Floodwaters contain many things that may harm health. We don’t know exactly what is in floodwater at any given point in time. Floodwater can contain:

  • Downed power lines
  • Human and livestock waste
  • Household, medical, and industrial hazardous waste (chemical, biological, and radiological)
  • Coal ash waste that can contain carcinogenic compounds such as arsenic, chromium, and mercury
  • Other contaminants that can lead to illness
  • Physical objects such as lumber, vehicles, and debris
  • Wild or stray animals such as rodents and snakes

Exposure to contaminated floodwater can cause:

  • Wound infections
  • Skin rash
  • Gastrointestinal illness
  • Tetanus
  • Leptospirosis (not common)

It is important to protect yourself from exposure to floodwater regardless of the source of contamination. The best way to protect yourself is to stay out of the water.

If you come in contact with floodwater:

  • Wash the area with soap and clean water as soon as possible. If you don’t have soap or water, use alcohol-based wipes or sanitizer.
  • Take care of wounds and seek medical attention if necessary.
  • Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent before reusing them.

If you must enter floodwater, wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles.

As I’ve said before, we’re in an era of endless recovery. The longer we go without taking a proactive approach to preparing for climate change, the worse disasters like this are going to get, as the storms get stronger, the floods reach farther inland, and the people in at-risk zones are increasingly those without the financial resources to escape. Disasters like this are not just the result of the storm – they’re the result of policy decisions, and the choice to avoid taking the kind of action needed in the face of our warming climate.

Podcast episode: Climate and agriculture

The podcast version of my post on climate change and agriculture is up on Podbean and YouTube now!

This blog, and its associated podcast, are made possible by my wonderful patrons. Their funding has made a huge difference in my life, but I’m still short of what I need to make ends meet, and it’s still very difficult to find conventional wage labor, what with the pandemic and all. If you’d like to earn my undying gratitude, fund my work, and feed my household, you can head over to patreon.com/oceanoxia to help pay for this content. As with so many other good things, crowdfunding takes a collective effort, and every little bit helps.

Climate change and individual action

The concept of individual action to solve systemic problems has long plagued the environmental movement. For most of my life, a majority of the environmental messaging I encountered centered on the capitalist notion of “voting with your dollar”, and supporting corporations who did “good things”. It would be nice to believe that everyone has seen through that lie, but despite the decades of inaction on climate change, exposed “greenwashing” campaigns by destructive corporations, and continued environmental degradation, it has shown a great deal of persistence.

As with many other lies relating to climate change, I suspect the biggest reason for that is the way in which belief in that lie benefits those same corporations. The millions invested in corruption and propaganda to prevent systemic responses to climate change have protected billions in profit. The only downside is the billions who will have their lives upended or destroyed, and by now it’s abundantly clear that the “captains of industry” and their pet politicians consider life to be of little intrinsic value.

And so the narrative continues, and efforts to persuade people to support systemic changes are misinterpreted – deliberately and not – as personal attacks, and demands for individual changes, without any supportive infrastructure to make those changes feasible.

Andreas Avester has a good post on this problem:

If I started telling other people to live the way I do, that would be plain nasty. I have chosen to reduce my greenhouse gas emissions in areas where it requires relatively little or even zero sacrifice from me. For example, for me not buying coffee and drinks in PET bottles requires zero inconvenience or sacrifice, because I don’t even like these drinks. Alternatively, avoiding plastic bags and plastic food packaging is a bit of hassle, because I have to remember to take my own empty containers with me whenever I go grocery shopping, but it doesn’t feel like a huge inconvenience for me; I also have to avoid supermarkets and instead walk a bit longer distance to a store with bulk bins, but it’s not that terrible. The catch is that for a another person with different food preferences who lives somewhere else doing the same actions (avoiding coffee, drinks in PET bottles, and food packaged in plastics) can be much harder than for me.

This is why I cringe whenever I hear somebody say that meat isn’t even tasty and legumes taste much better anyway, thus it ought to be easy for everybody to be vegan, and not eating animal foods doesn’t even require such a huge sacrifice. Indeed, if somebody doesn’t even like the taste of beef then not eating it really is a great idea. But it is wrong to assume that a plant-based diet is just as easy for everybody else. Never mind that some people are allergic to vegan staples or must limit their carbohydrate intake due to diabetes.

Whenever a vegan with a car, two kids, and a coffee drinking habit tries to lecture me about how I am destroying the planet (I do eat animal foods), I perceive that as hypocritical even though I can agree that eating more legumes and less meat is beneficial.

Taking a systemic, policy-based approach to climate change has two major benefits. The first is that it provides a means to deal with the corporations whose activities and spending are responsible for a majority of the problem, and for the funded opposition to the changes we need. The second is to make the individual choices Andreas writes about easier for more people. Mass transit, readily available appliances like LED bulbs, subsidies for more environmentally friendly farming practices and food sources, and a thousand other changes are designed to achieve the changes we need to make to our personal lives with as little discomfort or added effort as possible. The persistent narrative that climate activists want everybody to take on the incredibly difficult task of eliminating their individual carbon footprint without societal support has been an effective barrier to useful discourse on this issue. I can’t count the number of conversations about climate solutions I’ve had, in which I first had to spend time convincing one or more people that I was not attacking them for not already living in the way I wanted all of us to live after systemic changes had been made.

Andreas’ article includes some useful data and graphics, and I recommend you all check it out. We didn’t get to this point through individual action, and individual action won’t solve societal problems.

Grim reaping: Climate change and agriculture

Ice melt and sea level rise have gotten a lot of attention in public discourse surrounding climate change. In many ways this makes perfect sense.  Hundreds of millions of people live at or near sea level around the world, including a number of major cities, and melting ice is something with which nearly everyone has at least some personal experience. Both also provide easily visible and demonstrable measures for change.  Sea level rise, however, is not the aspect of climate change that worries me the most. It will absolutely cause problems – it already is – but I fear that even accounting for mass migration of people away from under-prepared coastal regions, it will be dwarfed by the changes happening on land.

At this point I think it’s pretty safe to say that before the end of the century, parts of this planet will be too hot for unassisted human life, for at least some of the year. This will start in places that largely don’t have much of a human population, but it will not stop there. As with sea level rise, we will suffer from these changes long before we reach the point at which humans just can’t live in a given location. Heat waves and droughts will continue to get worse, and to make life increasingly difficult long before it becomes outright impossible. Just as sea level rise already combines with storms to cause catastrophic flooding, so does the global rise in temperature exacerbate heat waves that damage infrastructure, kill people, cause fires, and destroy crops.

That “increasingly difficult” zone is, in many ways, more worth worrying about than the “certain death” zone, because it’s going to cover much larger parts of the planet, and the biggest difficulty is likely to be food production. For all climate science deniers love to describe CO2 as “plant food”, it can’t replace water, and higher temperatures mean higher water demand. I’ve already talked some about the threats to water access we face even without climate change, which are considerable. This is not a good position to be in.

Long-time readers of my work are probably aware that I believe 2010 to be a vital example of the kinds of devastation we can expect on a regular basis before too long. While there were heat waves across the Northern Hemisphere that year, I want to focus in particular on two countries – Russia and Pakistan.

The heat wave in Russia was brutal. It directly killed an estimated 55,000 people, and caused short-and long-term health problems for many more, through the increase in air pollution from fires and high temperatures. On top of that, the heat wave and fires caused massive crop failures, leading Russia to ban grain exports. According to Oxfam, this ban did nothing to reduce food prices in Russia, but did lead to a measurable increase in the cost of grain internationally:

  1. The ban did increase prices outside Russia. In countries that imported Russian grain, the most immediate impact of the import ban was to require countries to pay the new and higher international rates for grain that was contracted at lower rates.
  2. The export ban set prices higher still across the world. The immediate impact of the ban was certainly a further rise in prices, as we saw in the reaction of commodity markets immediately following the announcement of the ban. This impact was felt by everyone and not just Russia’s customers.(You can see the PDF of the full Oxfam report here)

This, by itself, was a disaster with global implications.

The effects on Russia, however, were not the full extent of what happened. The Russian heatwave contributed to a continent-wide weather pattern that also caused devastating floods in Pakistan.

We presented preliminary evidence suggesting that the two extreme events in the summer of 2010 (i.e., the Russia heat wave and the Pakistan flood) were meteorologically connected. Both events were unusual in that the magnitudes of the anomalies far exceeded by more than 2σ their respective climatological variability. The Russian heat wave was unusual in size and magnitude and in its eastward location compared to climatology and in the development of a pronounced blocking high with a well-defined Ω-flow pattern, a split upper-level jet stream, and deep trough penetrating to the subtropics over northern Pakistan. The Pakistan heavy rain during late July and August was also coincident with the arrival of the northward propagation of the monsoon intraseasonal oscillation, coupled with increased southeasterly moisture transport along the Himalayan foothills from the Bay of Bengal to northern Pakistan.

The flooding in Pakistan was horrific, with around 20% of the country under water and – as with the Russian drought – massive crop destruction, along with the damage to homes, infrastructure, and industry that are typical of floods (quote from August of 2010).

The UN Secretary General visited Pakistan’s flood-hit areas and summed up the situation best when he said that it was an ‘enormous disaster.’ The Secretary General noted that he had ‘never seen anything like the devastation created by the floods’ with ‘so many people, in so many places in so much need.’ The scale of the human tragedy is near epic and likely hard for outsiders to fathom; flood waters have submerged one-fifth of Pakistan—roughly an area the size of Florida, leaving over 1600 dead and an estimated 20 million displaced. Towns, villages, crops, livestock, personal possessions and infrastructure have been completely washed away. Diseases now threaten the people in makeshift camps, signaling a catastrophic sequel to the floods.

It is early to weigh the long-term consequences, but they are worrisome. The statistics being quoted indicate the massive economic consequences of the floods. A major gas field and six power plants have been shut down, adding another 1500 megawatts to the already 4500 megawatts power shortfall. Besides the destruction of infrastructure like bridges, irrigation canals, homes, roads and railway tracks, there is large scale damage to agriculture; almost 17 million acres of farmland have been flooded and billions of dollars worth of crops and livestock destroyed. Three of Pakistan’s four provinces are affected by the floods, which is notable in a country where 22% of the economy is dependent on agriculture and two-thirds of the 180 million people are in agriculture related work. The impact on the economy will be enormous and early estimates are that growth will be halved. […] The overall effect is that in spite of the endurance and resilience shown by Pakistanis in past disasters, there is likely to be prolonged disruption; rehabilitation may take anything up to five years or more with a total requirement of over 10 billion US dollars.

These were just two of the climate-related events that occurred in 2010. There was also flooding in the U.S., droughts in Africa and the Middle East, heat waves across the Northern Hemisphere, a severe drought in the Amazon River basin, drought in China, and also flooding in China. There’s a degree to which drought and flooding are normal annual occurrences, but as the temperature rises, they become more frequent and more intense wherever they happen, and as they do, the odds of major disasters occurring simultaneously in multiple places around the world increase. It can take many years to recover from a particular event, but we no longer have that time, and when many countries are suffering all at the same time, the demand for aid increases, and the number of countries able to provide that aid decreases.

We are now caught in the storm of climate change. We have entered an age of endless recovery, and because of that, we need to make major changes to how we run things as part of our efforts to recover from disasters. It’s common for the process of rebuilding to include measures taken to reduce the damage next time a disaster occurs – it’s why we see different architecture evolve in places that are more vulnerable to things like earthquakes, for example. But with the climate warming at an accelerating rate, we cannot afford to be reactive. The scientific method can act like a strobe light on a stormy sea, giving us glimpses of the ever-shifting future. It’s not enough for us to plot out every wave that will hit our ship, but it will show us where the big swells and troughs are, and help us steer into them in a way that will reduce our chances of capsizing.

As it stands, there’s a struggle not just about whether we should turn into the oncoming swells, but also about whether the storm is even happening, and whether the light from the strobe – imperfect as it is – is even worth paying attention to, because after all, turning the ship requires effort.

But the reality is that the flickering light of science has given us a very good idea what to expect from the future, and we know a number of things that we could be doing, right now, to prepare for what’s coming. That includes things like preparing for sea level rise, as many cities around the world are doing, but it also includes changing how we manage agriculture now, before we’re forced to by global crop failures and famine.

The same Oxfam report that discussed the economic fallout of Russia’s drought and export ban also made some recommendations that I think are worth considering:

  • Export bans should be avoided – while they may be politically necessary in extreme circumstances, they are always unreliable economic management tools;
  • Subsidies to the final producer of the food (like a bread or flour producer) are more likely to be effective than bans on export, if the aspiration is to keep domestic food prices low;
  • Policies aimed at alleviating the difficulties faced by vulnerable groups need to target those groups. Export bans, even if they were to work as planned, are universal and so have very small impact on anyone in particular;
  • Russia should try to balance its support for the meat industry with greater support for investment in grain as this would help both industries long-term.

I think this is important on a couple different levels. The last bullet point is the first I want to address. Climate activists have been pushing for a big reduction in meat consumption and farming for decades now for two simple reasons. First, the livestock (particularly cattle) and their waste generate a fair amount of methane and nitrous oxide, which are both powerful greenhouse gases. This can be mitigated somewhat by using the waste to generate biogas for fuel, but that doesn’t deal with the gas emitted by the animals directly, and it doesn’t address the second point – energy investment per calorie.

Livestock generally eats a lot of the same stuff humans do, but every pound of meat you get generally takes around ten pounds of plant-based food to raise, and there’s also a high water cost associated with the process. Moving society to an increasingly plant-based diet would reduce the amount of power, chemical fertilizers, and water used to generate food considerably, even without any other changes to farming practices. That means that in the event of a drought or a flood, there would not be livestock competing with people for food and water. It would also reduce the amount of land required to grow enough food to feed everybody.

This is not a conclusion with which I’m thrilled – I really, really like eating meat – but the numbers are pretty clear on this. Livestock farming needs to be dramatically reduced, and a vegetarian diet needs to become the default for most people, most of the time. There may be arguments to be made for small-scale meat production, livestock for things like dairy and eggs, or a shift to farming insects for protein, but regardless of the trajectory taken, what we’re doing now cannot continue.

I think the analysis of the export ban and its effects is also key. Nationalist modes of thought may end up being a major killer as this century wears on. Short-sighted efforts at protectionism, and “common sense” solutions will exacerbate mistrust and resentment between nations, cause needless hunger for no real benefit, and undermine international cooperation at a time when the survival of humanity may well depend on just that. Even if we’re faced with planet-wide crop failures, those crops that do grow should be shared as much as possible, both to maintain commerce and cooperation, and to take advantage of the different growing capacity of different regions. While it’s probably a good idea for countries to aim for something close to self-sufficiency in food production, it will remain the case that certain foods will grow better in some places than in others. As food production becomes less reliable, taking advantage of those differences may mean the difference between prosperity and starvation.

At the same time, we also need to look beyond conventional modes of farming. There’s a lot of work being done in this area, from hydroponic and aeroponic indoor and/or vertical farming, to seawater greenhouses. It’s unclear to me how well these can be scaled up to meet the nutritional needs of humanity, but it’s good that they’re being explored and implemented, as I think there’s value in having agriculture that doesn’t rely on increasingly unpredictable weather conditions.

On the same note, another promising area of food production is microalgae and bacteria, which can be grown using salt water, and seem likely to be cheaper per calorie produced than other indoor farming methods.

“Microalgae are very interesting. They are marine organisms, which means that they don’t need freshwater, unlike soybean,” Dr Tzachor says. “And we don’t have to cultivate them on terrestrial areas, so we can grow them within facilities, and these facilities can also be closed.”
The savings on water alone would be significant, says Dr Tzachor. He says experiments at Algaennovation’s facility have so far been able to achieve between 200 and 250 times more biomass per litre of water than soybean farming. The next stage of development is demonstrating that microalgae production can be done on a mass scale.
A similar approach is being undertaken by researchers in Finland, but their focus is on producing a supplement for human food rather than stock feed. Pasi Vainikka, from the company Solar Foods, says his company has used a bio-reactor to produce an edible flour made from fermented bacteria.
“We have a fermenter, but we don’t use yeast. We use a specific microbe that doesn’t eat sugar,” he says. “So instead of sugar we introduce carbon dioxide and hydrogen, and these the microbe uses for energy and carbon instead of sugars to grow. Then we take the liquid out of the fermenter when the microbes grow and multiply and you end up with a dry powder.”
The flour, called Solein, has a 65 per cent protein content, says Dr Vainikka, and can be used as a substitute for wheat flour or soya in everything from bread to protein drinks.
“The organism has carotenoids. When you taste it raw it has a bit of an umami (savoury) taste,” he says. “When you add it to pancakes, for example, it tastes as if it would have egg, and also a bit of carrot taste. The production cost, according to our estimations, is around $US5 per kilogram.”
But that cost, says Dr Vainikka, could be expected to decrease as production begins to scale.
“We are about 10 times more environmentally friendly than plants and about 100 times better than animal-based proteins,” he says. “If we want to make a fundamentally more sustainable food system for the increasing population, we need to disconnect from agriculture, which usually means irrigation, use of pesticides and a lot of land use. So, when we disconnect from everything that has to do with these processes, the environmental benefits are huge.”

As with renewable energy, the important factor is not just development of new innovations in food production, but also in the implementation of those methods that we already have available, to shift away from reliance on less sustainable modes of food production. As with so many other necessary changes, I think there’s a great deal of danger in simply hoping that “market forces” will cause the change for us, because to the degree that that does happen, it’s likely to be through mass starvation, and I’d prefer to avoid that. Early implementation – before we need these other methods to survive – is key to discovering problems that aren’t likely to arise in any other way. It would be foolish and reckless to assume that just because something like algae or bacteria farming is done under controlled conditions, that we don’t have to worry about unforeseen problems. Chemical contamination, nutrient deficiencies, and infection from dangerous fungi, bacteria, or viruses could all be complicating factors, and lead to modes of crop failure that we’ve yet to encounter. Any monoculture arrangement is vulnerable to that sort of thing, and I see no reason why these more controlled environments would be immune, any more than vertical farms are wholly immune to the pests and blights with which we are more familiar.

Our response to climate change, on the whole, has been far too little and far too late. We’re playing catch-up, and every year of further delay increases the likely death toll down the road. We already subsidize food and energy production to a massive degree, and have spent public resources on societal improvements throughout history, so in that regard, what’s needed is nothing new.

As with so much else, the primary resource we seem to be lacking is political will to act before we’re forced to by circumstances beyond our control. To return to an earlier metaphor, our ship is being swamped, and the command crew has locked themselves in the helm, apparently with a massive supply of intense drugs. We’ve been trying to negotiate with them since the 1980s at least, but so far that hasn’t worked. We need to break in and take back control.

This blog, and its associated podcast, are made possible by my wonderful patrons. Their funding has made a huge difference in my life, but I’m still short of what I need to make ends meet, and it’s still very difficult to find conventional wage labor, what with the pandemic and all. If you’d like to earn my undying gratitude, fund my work, and feed my household, you can head over to patreon.com/oceanoxia to help pay for this content. As with so many other good things, crowdfunding takes a collective effort, and every little bit helps.

I have a podcast!

Did you ever want to know what I sound like?

Do you already know, and crave to hear more?

Would you prefer to listen to this blog, rather than reading it?

I have good news! Starting today, I’ll be publishing audio versions of various blog posts!

For now, it’s just on Podbean, but in the near future I’ll be adding them to Youtube, and possibly other platforms. I’ll also b embedding them in blog posts here, if you don’t feel like going elsewhere. Now you can listen to my work while you commute, game, do dishes, or anything else, really.

At minimum, I’ll have a new episode up every Sunday. As time goes by, I may look into expanding this aspect of my work, but for now, enjoy the new medium!

Hey, did you know that in this capitalist hell-world I need something called “money” to get shelter and food? It’s true! It’s also true that because of the global pandemic, there are literally hundreds of people applying for every job to which I or my wife apply, and nobody seems particularly eager to hire immigrants here. If you want to help out, you can do so for as little as $1.00 USD per month (about three pennies per day) at patreon.com/oceanoxia

My patrons are a collection of wonderful people who want to support the work I’m doing, and are contributing a little bit of their earnings to help me keep providing free content here! You could join them in that endeavor, and earn my sincere gratitude, as well as some extra content every month.

It’s not just us: Ocean heatwaves are changing the landscape beneath the waves.

For those who know what to look for, the world around us is on the move. Every ecosystem on the planet exists where it does because of the abiotic environmental factors that exist in any given location. Temperature, rainfall, prevailing winds, proximity to water sources – all of these things govern what lives where. The temperature is changing now. It’s changing more in some places than in others, but it is changing across the entire surface of this planet.

And so ecosystems are changing too. Range shift was one of the most predictable responses to a warming world. Plants die out at one edge of their range and expand at another, moving like giant, slow amoebas toward cooler temperatures, or more reliable water sources. Animals, not rooted in place, simply relocate. As the 21st century continues, we’ll see more reports of animals showing up where they never did before, and with them will come a variety of problems, not least being new diseases like the one behind the COVID-19 pandemic. For a while, my job involved keeping track of research into range shifts like this, particularly in the New England region of the United States. It’s been happening on both land and sea.

When it comes to the oceans, however, it’s a little harder to track what’s happening, and a lot of the news has focused on things like coral reefs, that see a lot of human activity, and make for dramatic pictures. High temperatures have been linked to coral bleaching and plankton decline, but I have to confess that I never really thought about “marine weather” as having things like heat waves. It makes perfect sense that such events would exist, of course, I just never thought about it in those terms.

Just as heat waves can cause a great deal of damage, and long-term change here on dry land, it seems they can also cause a great deal of change down where it’s wetter:

Changing Temperatures Highlight Management Questions

For example, a 2012 marine heatwave in the northwest Atlantic pushed commercial species such as squid and flounder hundreds of miles northward. At the same time it contributed to a lobster boom that led to record landings and a collapse in price.

“Given the complex political geography of the United States’ Eastern Seaboard, this event highlighted management questions introduced by marine heatwave-driven shifts across state and national lines,” the scientists wrote.

“While these management issues are often discussed in the context of climate change, they are upon us now,” the scientists wrote. “Modern day marine heatwaves can induce thermal displacements comparable to those from century-scale warming trends, and while these temperature shifts do not solely dictate species distributions, they do convey the scale of potential habitat disruption.”

A 2014-2015 Pacific marine heatwave known as “the Blob,” shifted surface temperatures more than 700 kilometers, or more than 400 miles, along the West Coast of the United States and in the Gulf of Alaska. That moved the prey of California sea lions farther from their rookeries in the Channel Islands off Southern California. This left hundreds of starving sea lion pups to strand on beaches.

Across the world’s oceans, the average long-term temperature shift associated with ocean warming has been estimated at just over 20 kilometers, about 13 miles, per decade. By comparison, marine heatwaves have displaced temperatures an average of approximately 200 kilometers, roughly 120 miles, in a matter of months. In effect, marine heatwaves are shifting ocean temperatures at similar scales to what is anticipated with climate change — but in much shorter time frames.

As the article states, this is going to have a lot of implications in the coming decades. According to the World Wildlife Fund, something like 3 billion people currently get a sizable portion of their protein from wild-caught seafood. As the ocean warms, traditional fisheries – already strained by over-fishing – are likely to collapse. This is something we should be preparing for. It may be that increasing the farming of fish will be a viable option, if we can work to reduce the environmental impact of doing so, and it’s probably a good idea to look into things like algae and insect farming to create new sources of protein to take pressure off both fisheries and to make it easier to scale back energy-intensive livestock farming.

As always, there’s a lot of work to do, and not much time in which to do it.

Hey, did you know that in this capitalist hell-world I need something called “money” to get shelter and food? It’s true! It’s also true that because of the global pandemic, there are literally hundreds of people applying for every job to which I or my wife apply, and nobody seems particularly eager to hire immigrants here. If you want to help out, you can do so for as little as $1.00 USD per month (about three pennies per day) at patreon.com/oceanoxia

My patrons are a collection of wonderful people who want to support the work I’m doing, and are contributing a little bit of their earnings to help me keep providing free content here! You could join them in that endeavor, and earn my sincere gratitude, as well as some extra content every month.

Criminalizing opposition: DHS targeting antifascist activists with weapons designed to combat international terrorism

In many ways, I think it shouldn’t be surprising that the government and the people backing the current capitalist order don’t like those who organize under the banner of “antifa”. Capitalism and conservatism have always been uncomfortably close to fascism, not just in who the United States has historically supported around the world, but also in terms of shared ideological tendencies at home. Add common misunderstandings about antifascist activism, the willingness of those activists to stand up to police as well as non-police violence, and the general dislike for authoritarian structures expressed by most involved in such action, and it makes a lot of sense that those with power would want to quash antifascist actors. I think the fact that antifa groups spring up more or less out of nowhere in response to fascist action, means that people who don’t get what’s going on could easily come away with the impression that there’s some sort of organization with nation-wide, or even international reach that’s behind these people, rather than local activists using common tactics and symbology to achieve common goals, without any real coordination. If you want to learn more about “Antifa”, I highly recommend The Philosophy of Antifa by Ollie Thorn at Philosophy Tube.

We’ve reached a point at which global capitalism is not only working against democracy in the current and former colonies of the various imperial societies, but also against efforts to create or maintain democracy at home, particularly in the United States right now. This is situation is fertile soil for fascism, which tends not to threaten established systems of power, but also for various ideologies and movements that question established systems of power, and established ways of distributing resources.

The laws of the United States are mostly designed to make it difficult for any political faction in power to use their control of the government to increase their power and oppose political opposition. The conservative movement in America has never valued these principles, whether it has been the efforts by Democrats in the late 19th century and early 20th century to obstruct the black vote, to the bipartisan eradication of leftist political power during the Cold War, to the modern Republican Party’s decades-long effort to consolidate power through voter suppression, gerrymandering, and a takeover of the judiciary. Even so, one of the better things about the U.S. is the ways in which has become more difficult – though not impossible – to attack political minorities, or to crush movements.

There are various legal frameworks in place that prevent domestic terrorist groups like the KKK from being treated as terrorists, at least in the ways we have come to expect. While protecting the Klan is not good, the same laws that protect them also protect left-wing groups from being targeted by the Department of Homeland Security. Rather than risk someone going after right-wing extremists in the United States, the Republican administration is, instead, trying to tie their left-wing opposition to foreign actors, to get around the law, and allow them to treat anyone labeled “antifa” in the U.S., in the words of a DHS source, “Like Al Qaeda”. 

“They targeted Americans like they’re Al Qaeda” a former senior DHS intelligence officer with knowledge of the operations told The Nation. The officer, who served for years in the DHS’s Office of Intelligence & Analysis (I&A), compared the operations to the illegal surveillance of activists during the civil rights era. “They essentially were violating people’s rights like this was the ’60s…the type of shit the Church and Pike committee[s] had to address.”

While the law generally prohibits intelligence agencies from spying on US residents, many of those protections do not apply if the individual is believed to be acting as an agent of a foreign power.

“Designating someone as foreign-sponsored can make a huge legal and practical difference in the government’s ability to pursue them,” explained Steven Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. “It’s a crucial distinction. Once someone (or some group) is identified as an agent of a foreign power, they are subject to warrantless search and surveillance in a way that would be illegal and unconstitutional for any other US person. The whole apparatus of US intelligence can be brought to bear on someone who is considered an agent of a foreign power.”

Perversely, the way they are trying to do this is by focusing on those Americans who went as volunteers to fight alongside groups like the Kurds in Syria – and the US army – against ISIS.

The intelligence report describes over half a dozen people who traveled to Syria in order to fight alongside Kurdish factions—usually the YPG, but also other Kurdish groups like the PKK and the Peshmerga. Some of the individuals described have denied membership in antifa but variously identified with far-left causes. The DHS appears to define antifa broadly, to encompass various left-wing tendencies: “[A]ntifa is driven by a mixed range of far-left political ideologies, including anti-capitalism, communism, socialism, and anarchism.” In two cases, evidence of antifa affiliation was limited to photos taken in front of an antifa flag. As the intelligence report itself notes, “ANTIFA claims no official leadership,” raising questions about whether antifa even exists in any sort of operational capacity.

The first individual mentioned in the intelligence report, Brace Belden, cohosts the popular left-wing podcast TrueAnon, and fought with the YPG in 2016. The information appears to be partly drawn from a 2017 article on Belden in Rolling Stone. Belden is described as “a minor criminal and drug addict who started reading Marx and Lenin in drug rehabilitation treatment and became involved in a number of political causes before deciding to fight alongside the YPG.”

I’ll repeat, just to be very clear – these people chose to go fight alongside US allies, against an enemy of the US, and that is now being used to justify using international counter-terrorism resources to attack left-wing activists in the United States. The US government is in the process of classifying American citizens as “enemy combatants” in a way that would, based on how administrations of both parties have behaved in the last two decades, cancel out most if not all of the rights that are supposedly guaranteed to all citizens of that country.

More than ever, this underscores the importance not just of opposing the Trump administration, but also the general trend of consolidating and militarizing law enforcement, and of using America’s various armed forces, mercenaries and intelligence services to kill people and destabilize nations around the world.

This is doubly worrying to me given the increasing reliance on so-called “signature strikes”, which kill people – almost entirely using drones – not based on who they are, or what they have done, but based on things like demographics and movement patterns.

So what’s a signature behavior? “The definition is a male between the ages of 20 and 40,” former ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter told the Daily Beast’s Tara McKelvey. “My feeling is one man’s combatant is another man’s — well, a chump who went to a meeting.” The New York Times quoted a senior State Department official as saying that when the CIA sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp.

That day in Datta Khel, the signature behavior was a meeting, or “jirga,” which is an assembly of tribal elders who convene to settle a local dispute. In this case, a conflict over a chromite mine was being resolved. And, in fact, the elders had informed the Pakistani army about the meeting 10 days in advance. “So this was an open, public event that pretty much everyone in the community and surrounding area knew about,” says Stanford law professor James Cavallaro in the video.

It’s also not new for the US government to show unreasonable hostility towards left-wing groups, including things like surveillance of Quakers opposed to the invasion of Iraq, student groups, and other anti-war activists. Because they were anti-war activists. Tying left-wing American activists to foreign actors, for the purpose of declaring them to be affiliates of international terrorist groups provides the pretext to move beyond surveillance to any number of other measures. It means that anyone on the record opposing fascism becomes a target, along with anyone with whom they interact. It means that everyone at the protests this year could “fit the profile” in a way very similar to the justification used to launch missiles at people in other countries, simply for existing in a community. Will drones be used against Americans? It’s hard to tell. It seems unlikely, but we are in unprecedented times, and police have already used a robot to deliver an explosive and kill an active shooter, “based on where the suspect was”. I don’t think we’ll know how close we are to the unthinkable until it has already happened.

It is imperative to get Trump out of office, but that is not nearly enough to stop the trajectory on which we find ourselves. Biden himself has endorsed criminalizing people simply for holding political beliefs that he doesn’t like, and probably doesn’t understand. Democratic Senator Christ Murphy has openly stated that his problem with the botched attempt at a coup in Venezuela was not that it was attempted, but that it failed. Fascism has been described as colonialist or imperialist oppression brought home, and while it can be argued that some version of that has always been in place for minority groups in the United States, it seems like it will increasingly be applied to everyone. That we have not truly addressed racial injustice in this country has always been a colossal moral failing, and lethal to the people who were failed. That will get worse if this trend continues, and expand out to ever-larger portions of the population, as fascism has always done.

First they came…

Hey, did you know that in this capitalist hell-world I need something called “money” to get shelter and food? It’s true! It’s also true that because of the global pandemic, there are literally hundreds of people applying for every job to which I or my wife apply, and nobody seems particularly eager to hire immigrants here. If you want to help out, you can do so for as little as $1.00 USD per month (about three pennies per day) at patreon.com/oceanoxia

My patrons are a collection of wonderful people who want to support the work I’m doing, and are contributing a little bit of their earnings to help me keep providing free content here! You could join them in that endeavor, and earn my sincere gratitude, as well as some extra content every month.