A little good news on aquifers.

Climate change is scary not just because of the direct problems it’s causing, but also because of its ability to exacerbate other problems. In particular, many of the ways we have to deal with higher temperatures require increased use of water. More water for agriculture, more water for drinking, and more water for evaporative cooling of various sorts.

This combines uncomfortably with the incredibly high rate at which we use fresh water, the trend of privatizing water sources, and the widely reported depletion of aquifers. The danger of lethal water shortages is very real, and has a lot of people worried about mass famine, thirst, and war as a result. It’s a valid cause for worry, particularly with the current political climate of the world.

Given all of that, it’s nice to have a little good news now and then, and this bit comes to us from a recent publication in the journal Earth Systems Dynamics that suggests that the world’s large aquifers are in less danger than previously feared, and more resilient to climate change than previously hoped. From the research team’s press release:

Previous global studies of changes in groundwater storage, estimated using data from the GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellite mission and global models, have concluded that intensifying human water withdrawals in the majority of the world’s large aquifer systems are causing a sustained reduction in groundwater storage, depleting groundwater resources.

Yet this new study, published in Earth System Dynamics, reveals that depletion is not as widespread as reported, and that replenishment of groundwater storage depends upon extreme rainfall that is increasing under global climate change.

Lead author, Dr Mohammad Shamsudduha, Lecturer in Physical Geography and a member of the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme at the University of Sussex, said: “The cloud of climate change has a silver lining for groundwater resources as it favours greater replenishment from episodic, extreme rainfalls in some aquifers located around the world mainly in dry environments. This new analysis provides a benchmark alongside conventional, ground-based monitoring of groundwater levels to assess changes in water storage in aquifers over time. This information is essential to inform sustainable management of groundwater resources.”

This new study updates and extends previous analyses, accounting for strong seasonality in groundwater storage in the analysis of trends. It shows that a minority (only 5) of the world’s 37 large aquifers is undergoing depletion that requires further attention for better management.

Co-author, Professor of Hydrogeology, Richard Taylor from UCL Geography, said: “The findings do not deny that groundwater depletion is occurring in many parts of the world but that the scale of this depletion, frequently associated with irrigation in drylands, is more localised than past studies have suggested and often occurs below a large (~100 000 km2) ‘footprint’ of mass changes tracked by a pair of GRACE satellites.”

For the majority, trends are non-linear and irregular, exhibiting considerable variability in volume over time. The study shows further that variability in groundwater storage in drylands is influenced positively and episodically by years of extreme (>90th percentile) precipitation.

For example, in the Great Artesian Basin of Australia, extreme seasonal rainfall over two successive summers in 2010 and 2011 increased groundwater storage there by ~90 km3, more than ten times total annual freshwater withdrawals in the UK. Elsewhere in the Canning Basin of Australia, however, groundwater depletion is occurring at a rate of 4.4 km3 each year that is associated with its use in the extraction of iron ore.

This doesn’t mean that there are no problems, and the study’s authors still advocate that measures be taken to reduce groundwater depletion. Even so, it’s nice to know that the bigger storms aren’t just creating temporary deluges that run off into the oceans – they also replenish aquifers, more than we previously knew.

There remains the danger of contaminating aquifers through industrial activity like fracking and the storage of fracking wastewater, but that is, in theory, a problem we can avoid in pursuit of mitigating our climate impacts, that will also help conserve our sources of potable water.

As ever, the goal is to avoid the creation of a Mad Max hellscape, and increased resilience in our planet’s aquifers gives us an additional buffer against that.


This blog, and its associated podcast, are brought to you by my wonderful patrons, each of whom gives to me according to their ability, that my household might eat according to our needs. If you would like to stand in solidarity with these people, and help support the work I’m doing, you can head over to Patreon.com/oceanoxia to join the Oceanoxia Collective. You have nothing to lose but your chains, and as little as $1.00USD/month!

Podcast episode: Global solidarity for the survival of humanity

This podcast episode is a reading of my earlier blog post by the same name.

This gif shows the late Tim Curry, from one of the endings to the movie Clue, saying,


This blog, and its associated podcast, are brought to you by my wonderful patrons, each of whom gives to me according to their ability, that my household might eat according to our needs. If you would like to stand in solidarity with these people, and help support the work I’m doing, you can head over to Patreon.com/oceanoxia to join the Oceanoxia Collective. You have nothing to lose but your chains, and as little as $1.00USD/month!

Sand mining and recycling photovoltaics

Sand mining is an environmental problem that has often been overlooked. Sand is everywhere, and it’s easy to feel like there’s as much chance of “over-using” it as there is of over-using sea water.

That said, we use a vast amount of sand in this civilization of ours. Sand extraction for concrete alone is causing serious problems near where it’s mined:

Dr Chris Hackney at the University of Hull who led the research, said: “With the world currently undergoing rapid population growth and urbanisation, concrete production has grown massively, fuelling unprecedented demand for sand, so much so that sand is now the most consumed resource on the planet, after water”

The research was undertaken as part of a NERC funded project led by Professor Stephen Darby at the University of Southampton, which is studying the impact of climate change on the fluctuation of sediment through the Mekong.

Professor Darby added, “Much of the sand used in the production of concrete comes from the world’s big sand-bedded rivers, like the Mekong. There has long been a concern that sand mining from the Mekong is causing serious problems, but our work is the first to provide a comprehensive, rigorous, estimate not only of the rate at which sand is being removed from the system but how this compares to the natural replenishment of sand by river processes, as well as the adverse impacts unsustainable sand mining has on river bank erosion.”

[…]

Dr Julian Leyland of the University of Southampton, who performed the TLS surveys, said that “Our research showed that it only takes two metres of lowering of the river bed to cause many of the river banks along the Mekong to collapse, but we’ve seen that dredging pits can often exceed eight metres in depth. It’s clear that excessive sand mining is responsible for increased rates of bank erosion that local communities have been reporting in recent years.”

Dr Hackney warns that without proper regulation, excessive sand mining on the Mekong and other major rivers worldwide could have increasing environmental and social consequences.

As if the warming climate isn’t enough to be worried about. It probably shouldn’t be surprising that with the rise in demand for sand, there has also been an increase in illegal sand mining operations around the world. As Wired reports in their article on illegal sand mining and the violence surrounding it, desert sand isn’t good for construction because the grains are too smooth and round to bind well in concrete, so rivers and coastal regions become the biggest targets.

Apart from water and air, humble sand is the natural resource most consumed by human beings. People use more than 40 billion tons of sand and gravel every year. There’s so much demand that riverbeds and beaches around the world are being stripped bare. (Desert sand generally doesn’t work for construction; shaped by wind rather than water, desert grains are too round to bind together well.) And the amount of sand being mined is increasing exponentially.

Though the supply might seem endless, sand is a finite resource like any other. The worldwide construction boom of recent years—all those mushrooming megacities, from Lagos to Beijing—is devouring unprecedented quantities; extracting it is a $70 billion industry. In Dubai enormous land-reclamation projects and breakneck skyscraper-building have exhausted all the nearby sources. Exporters in Australia are literally selling sand to Arabs.

In some places multinational companies dredge it up with massive machines; in others local people haul it away with shovels and pickup trucks. As land quarries and riverbeds become tapped out, sand miners are turning to the seas, where thousands of ships now vacuum up huge amounts of the stuff from the ocean floor. As you might expect, all this often wreaks havoc on rivers, deltas, and marine ecosystems. Sand mines in the US are blamed for beach erosion, water and air pollution, and other ills, from the California coast to Wisconsin’s lakes. India’s Supreme Court recently warned that riparian sand mining is undermining bridges and disrupting ecosystems all over the country, slaughtering fish and birds. But regulations are scant and the will to enforce them even more so, especially in the developing world.

Sand mining has erased at least two dozen Indonesian islands since 2005. The stuff of those islands mostly ended up in Singapore, which needs titanic amounts to continue its program of artificially adding territory by reclaiming land from the sea. The city-state has created an extra 130 square kilometers in the past 40 years and is still adding more, making it by far the world’s largest sand importer. The collateral environmental damage has been so extreme that Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam have all restricted or banned exports of sand to Singapore.

And as with all big sources of profit, people are being killed over sand. Photovoltaic panels are almost entirely made from crystalline silicon, which doesn’t require any particular shape of sand grain, to my knowledge, but it’s not uncommon for groups that specialize in something like extracting and selling sand to seek to monopolize emerging markets. Whether that will end up throttling the sand supply for solar panels remains to be seen. Furthermore, as with most technologies these days, there are materials involved in photovoltaics beyond silicon, including various hazardous materials. Solar power is going to be an ever-increasing portion of our society’s power generation, and being able to reuse the materials involved is crucial to extending the usefulness of that technology into the future, and to any effort to minimize the impact we have on the rest of Earth’s biosphere. Fortunately, that’s an area in which we are making progress, and researchers are starting to analyze efforts in that field.

Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have conducted the first global assessment into the most promising approaches to end-of-life management for solar photovoltaic (PV) modules.

[…]

The authors focused on the recycling of crystalline silicon, a material used in more than 90% of installed PV systems in a very pure form. It accounts for about half of the energy, carbon footprint, and cost to produce PV modules, but only a small portion of their mass. Silicon’s value is determined by its purity.

“It takes a lot of investment to make silicon pure,” said Silverman, PV hardware expert. “For a PV module, you take these silicon cells, seal them up in a weatherproof package where they’re touching other materials, and wait 20 to 30 years — all the while, PV technology is improving. How can we get back that energy and material investment in the best way for the environment?”

The authors found some countries have PV recycling regulations in place, while others are just beginning to consider solutions. Currently, only one crystalline silicon PV-dedicated recycling facility exists in the world due to the limited amount of waste being produced today.

Based on their findings, the authors recommend research and development to reduce recycling costs and environmental impacts, while maximizing material recovery. They suggest focusing on high-value silicon versus intact silicon wafers. The latter has been touted as achievable, but silicon wafers often crack and would not likely meet today’s exacting standards to enable direct reuse. To recover high-value silicon, the authors highlight the need for research and development of silicon purification processes.

The authors also emphasize that the environmental and economic impacts of recycling practices should be explored using techno-economic analyses and life-cycle assessments.

Finally, the authors note that finding ways to avoid waste to begin with is an important part of the equation, including how to make solar panels last longer, use materials more effectively, and produce electricity more efficiently.

“We need research and development because the accumulation of waste will sneak up on us,” Silverman said. “Much like the exponential growth of PV installations, it will seem to move slowly and then rapidly accelerate. By the time there’s enough waste to open a PV-dedicated facility, we need to have already studied the proper process.”

If successful, these findings could contribute one piece of a PV circular economy.

Hopefully this will lead to faster improvements in our capacity to recycle and reuse solar panels, and to reduce the demand for the extraction of new materials. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and any steps we can take to slow the rate at which we add to that needed work will be hugely beneficial in the long run. It’s “clean as you go” at a societal level.

New research indicates that the oceans take up more carbon than previously realized

We’ve known for decades that the oceans play a major role in Earth’s climate, not just because of the way they absorb heat and move it around, but also because they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, and so play a role in mitigating our own carbon emissions.

New research from the University of Exeter indicates that we have been underestimating how much CO2 is being absorbed by the oceans:

The new study, led by the University of Exeter, includes this — and finds significantly higher net flux of carbon into the oceans.

It calculates CO2 fluxes from 1992 to 2018, finding up to twice as much net flux in certain times and locations, compared to uncorrected models.

“Half of the carbon dioxide we emit doesn’t stay in the atmosphere but is taken up by the oceans and land vegetation ‘sinks’,” said Professor Andrew Watson, of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute.

“Researchers have assembled a large database of near-surface carbon dioxide measurements — the “Surface Ocean Carbon Atlas” (http://www.socat.info) — that can be used to calculate the flux of CO2 from the atmosphere into the ocean.

“Previous studies that have done this have, however, ignored small temperature differences between the surface of the ocean and the depth of a few metres where the measurements are made.

“Those differences are important because carbon dioxide solubility depends very strongly on temperature.

“We used satellite data to correct for these temperature differences, and when we do that it makes a big difference — we get a substantially larger flux going into the ocean.

“The difference in ocean uptake we calculate amounts to about 10 per cent of global fossil fuel emissions.”

Dr Jamie Shutler, of the Centre for Geography and Environmental Science on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, added: “Our revised estimate agrees much better than previously with an independent method of calculating how much carbon dioxide is being taken up by the ocean.

“That method makes use of a global ocean survey by research ships over decades, to calculate how the inventory of carbon in the ocean has increased.

I suppose on the surface this seems like good news, but it honestly worries me. It means that as the oceans continue to absorb heat and consequently lose their ability to absorb more CO2, the rate of warming may increase faster than our previous understanding of oceanic carbon uptake would indicate. On the plus side, this may mean that if we reduce carbon emissions dramatically, the levels in the atmosphere will fall faster than previously expected, or at least rise more slowly than feared, as the result of the various feedback loops we’ve triggered. All in all, it’s good to know more about what’s happening, if we want to have a hope of changing course.


This blog, and its associated podcast, are brought to you by my wonderful patrons, each of whom gives to me according to their ability, that my household might eat according to our needs. If you would like to stand in solidarity with these people, and help support the work I’m doing, you can head over to Patreon.com/oceanoxia to join the Oceanoxia Collective. You have nothing to lose but your chains, and as little as $1.00USD/month!

Global solidarity for the survival of humanity.

The Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 was, in many ways the process of resuming the movement against global capitalism that had been heating up in the late 1990s. Before 9/11, protests against the WTO had been pulling in both increasing attention and increasing brutality from law enforcement. That was around the time I was starting to get involved in political activism through my high school and through the New England branch of Quakerism. For me, that mostly meant learning, along with a few protests and demonstrations. I focused on the devastating humanitarian impact of the sanctions against Iraq, and on the School of the Americas/WHINSEC, and the role of the US military in South and Central America. Capitalism wasn’t really on my radar – I still saw these issues, along with environmental issues, as largely separate things, with individual, largely separate solutions. I didn’t really get what the WTO protests were about, nor did I understand their connection to the issues that had captured my attention. Others definitely did, though, and so I came into contact with activists who were involved in things like the protests in Seattle, and later in Quebec. I heard stories that have become very familiar in recent years, of wanton use of tear gas and pepper spray, of police aiming for people’s heads, and targeting medics. As the 2003 protests in Quebec showed, that movement wasn’t ended by 9/11 and the reactions to it, but I think it was drowned out a bit. Similar to how so many events seem to slip by with minimal reporting in the Trump era, a lot of stuff happened during the Bush years that went unnoticed by a lot of people – myself included.

When Obama got into office, there was a misguided feeling among some of us that we had begun the process of “fixing things”, and with that and the 2008 crash, people making systemic critiques were being heard again. Occupy Wall Street brought a renewal of mainstream focus on the shortcomings of capitalism, including articles like this one from New Scientist discussing a study of the underlying skeleton of the global capitalist economy:

The work, to be published in PLoS One, revealed a core of 1318 companies with interlocking ownerships (see image). Each of the 1318 had ties to two or more other companies, and on average they were connected to 20. What’s more, although they represented 20 per cent of global operating revenues, the 1318 appeared to collectively own through their shares the majority of the world’s large blue chip and manufacturing firms – the “real” economy – representing a further 60 per cent of global revenues.

When the team further untangled the web of ownership, it found much of it tracked back to a “super-entity” of 147 even more tightly knit companies – all of their ownership was held by other members of the super-entity – that controlled 40 per cent of the total wealth in the network. “In effect, less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 per cent of the entire network,” says Glattfelder. Most were financial institutions. The top 20 included Barclays Bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co, and The Goldman Sachs Group.

John Driffill of the University of London, a macroeconomics expert, says the value of the analysis is not just to see if a small number of people controls the global economy, but rather its insights into economic stability.

Concentration of power is not good or bad in itself, says the Zurich team, but the core’s tight interconnections could be. As the world learned in 2008, such networks are unstable. “If one [company] suffers distress,” says Glattfelder, “this propagates.”

“It’s disconcerting to see how connected things really are,” agrees George Sugihara of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, a complex systems expert who has advised Deutsche Bank.

This aligns well with Naomi Klein’s earlier reporting, in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, and underscores the degree to which increasingly unrestrained capitalism has concentrated ever more power into the hands of ever fewer people. The rise of corporate power has, on occasion, been described as a movement toward a form of neo-Feudalism. In discussing things like taxes for universal healthcare, I’ve often pointed out that for essential services like health insurance, corporations have more or less become small, privately owned branches of government, operated for the personal gain of those in charge. The premiums paid by residents of the United States are taxes in every practical sense. The same can be said of the fees we pay to utility companies, internet service providers, and so on. Vast portions of the global economy are controlled not by governments – even through international treaties – but by corporate boards, mostly made up of a small, overlapping group of people. Any changes to something like global power production or the structure and motivations of the global economy, can only come with either the permission, or the dis-empowerment of this tiny ruling class.

I want to be clear – this is not a statement of some “conspiracy”. It is rather a straightforward description of how the world currently works, as a result of the basic structures of a capitalist system. Capitalism, by design, has always concentrated wealth – and therefore power – in an increasingly small number of hands. This has led to national economies that serve the interests of the “captains of industry”, rather than the general public, under the assumption that this “natural” hierarchy will result in the best possible results. The more measures like progressive taxation, anti-monopoly legislation, and so on have been whittled away, the more concentrated wealth and power have become.

This is why the notion of individual action on climate change – or on any environmental problem – has always been a red herring. It’s part of the constant propaganda saying that, in capitalism, the “consumer” is in control, and corporations merely give us whatever we keep buying. This simplistic equation is, of course, undermined by the ways in which the people at the top work to crush competition, manipulate legislation, and by the long-confirmed effectiveness of advertising in manipulating demand. The reality is that as consumers we have very little control, particularly as wealth disparity has increased, and the network of corporate ownership has shrunk, meaning that our “choices” are largely pre-determined by the people who control the options from which we choose.

Environmental problems – climate change included – are the result of the way our global economic system operates, and how it doles out power. Increasingly, that also means that they are the result of corporate policy, more than governmental policy. Multinational corporations have wealth rivaling that of many nations, and that results in power and influence on a similar scale. A lot of focus over the years has been on which countries are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, but it’s becoming clear that while there’s some use to that analysis, it largely misses the point. It’s more useful to focus on which corporations, with their associated supply chains, are responsible for emissions.

 

Professor Dabo Guan (UCL Bartlett School of Construction & Project Management) said: “Multinational companies have enormous influence stretching far beyond national borders. If the world’s leading companies exercised leadership on climate change — for instance, by requiring energy efficiency in their supply chains — they could have a transformative effect on global efforts to reduce emissions.

“However, companies’ climate change policies often have little effect when it comes to big investment decisions such as where to build supply chains.

“Assigning emissions to the investor country means multinationals are more accountable for the emissions they generate as a result of these decisions.”

The study found that carbon emissions from multinationals’ foreign investment fell from a peak of 22% of all emissions in 2011 to 18.7% in 2016. Researchers said this was a result of a trend of “de-globalisation,” with the volume of foreign direct investment shrinking, as well as new technologies and processes making industries more carbon efficient.

Mapping the global flow of investment, researchers found steady increases in investment from developed to developing countries. For instance, between 2011 and 2016 emissions generated through investment from the US to India increased by nearly half (from 48.3 million tons to 70.7 million tons), while in the same years emissions generated through investment from China to south-east Asia increased tenfold (from 0.7 million tons to 8.2 million tons).

Lead author Dr Zengkai Zhang, of Tianjin University, said: “Multinationals are increasingly transferring investment from developed to developing countries. This has the effect of reducing developed countries’ emissions while placing a greater emissions burden on poorer countries. At the same time it is likely to create higher emissions overall, as investment is moved to more ‘carbon intense’ regions.”

The study also examined the emissions that the world’s largest companies generated through foreign investment. For instance, Total S.A.’s foreign affiliates generated more than a tenth of the total emissions of France.

BP, meanwhile, generated more emissions through its foreign affiliates than the foreign-owned oil industry in any country except for the United States; Walmart, meanwhile, generated more emissions abroad than the whole of Germany’s foreign-owned retail sector, while Coca-Cola’s emissions around the world were equivalent to the whole of the foreign-owned food and drink industry hosted by China.

As with individual action, the emissions of individual nations are something of a red herring in this era of multinational corporations. While individual nations can influence their carbon emissions, decisions they make are made far less relevant or effective by the ways in which corporations move their activities around. The degree to which a nation is contributing to the rise in greenhouse gasses has far more to do with corporate activity within that nation.

This is even more then case when one accounts for the ways in which corporations use their wealth and power to influence national policy. In my post about the privatization of water, I wrote a bit about how companies like Nestle can use their wealth to gain control over a country’s natural resources. Similar tactics of investment, bribery, and loans are used by corporations in all nation to influence policies in ways that benefit those corporations, and the people who run them.

All of this is to say that while there’s merit in working to pursue sustainable lifestyles, and to pursue national policies that reflect and encourage those values, without a global perspective, and a global change in how power and resources are managed, we will never be able to achieve the changes we need. The entities most responsible for the continuing rise on greenhouse gas levels are, in many ways, landless rogue governments, that relocate as they see fit, and govern their affairs in a manner that benefits that tiny group of people who run them – people who already use their wealth to isolate themselves from any of the problems of humanity, including those relating to climate change.

The Shock Doctrine is a story of capitalism using crisis to exert control and crush democracy, and set up temporary, extractive feudal governments. It’s corporations as piratical governments, roving around in fleets and latching on to weakened nations to plunder them. Simply looking to our own affairs, and dealing with our own emissions is doomed to failure, not just because other nations might choose to do otherwise, but because history has shown that they will be unable to do so, if we do not stand in solidarity with them to disarm and destroy the pirates.

Over the course of the 20th century, the United States has, as empires are wont to do, improved the lives of its core population by extracting wealth from other populations within its sphere of influence. This is what has created the now-independent multinational corporations that are free to roam across the planet influencing policies and practices wherever they go. The reason I supported Bernie Sanders in the primary was that he was the sole candidate whose policies and record indicated that he understood the severity of this problem, and that he might begin slow down – or even stop – the practice of destabilizing other countries to ensure their servitude to corporate interests.

 That opportunity is gone, now, but the work remains. We must stand in solidarity with the people of every other nation if we are to deal with climate change. We must end the imperialist policies of the United States in particular, and of powerful nations in general. The path we are on leads to extinction for us, and for most other species currently living on this planet, and as long as global affairs are dictated by the needs of a tiny handful of people who are so isolated from the rest of humanity, we are doomed.

This gif shows the late Tim Curry, from one of the endings to the movie Clue, saying,


This blog, and its associated podcast, are brought to you by my wonderful patrons, each of whom gives to me according to their ability, that my household might eat according to our needs. If you would like to stand in solidarity with these people, and help support the work I’m doing, you can head over to Patreon.com/oceanoxia to join the Oceanoxia Collective. You have nothing to lose but your chains, and as little as $1.00USD/month!

New podcast episode: Hurricane, disaster relief, and rebuilding society

 

Climate disasters present us with an opportunity to rebuild in a manner that will prepare us for the coming changes to our climate, but without a deliberate policy of doing so, it won’t happen by itself.

If you want a transcript from this episode, you can check out the blog posts on which it’s based:
https://freethoughtblogs.com/oceanoxia/2020/09/02/hurricanes-and-disaster-response-rebuilding-society-from-the-ground-up/

https://freethoughtblogs.com/oceanoxia/2020/09/03/de-centralized-solar-power-would-save-lives-during-disaster-recovery/

If you want to support my work, any help at all is more than welcome at https://www.patreon.com/Oceanoxia

Thank you for listening, and take care of yourselves.

How to build community networks and collective power

The other day I posted a couple videos from Beau of the Fifth Column about small-scale action that can build power for large-scale action. As with other forms of organizing, it seems to me that there are more people who think it’s a good idea than people who actually know how to go about it. I count myself among that number. That’s why I keep posting videos from Beau on this topic.

One of the challenges that has often concerned me is that any community – any group of people at all, really – is going to be made up of people who don’t necessarily like each other, and don’t necessarily agree with each other on everything. We need to be able to co-exist with the folks we dislike. We need to be able to co-exist with people who think we’re wrong about fairly important stuff.

Climate change has been my primary concern for some time now, and a collective response to that is going to require the participation of the people who currently insist that there shouldn’t be a deliberate response. Organizing a community network to deal with climate change is going to be a challenge, when portions of the community will reject you outright as soon as you say that’s your goal.

Beau has a response to that – don’t have specific goals for the network.

The point of the network is to improve the community, not to address a particular problem. For someone like me, while I don’t have to pretend not to care about climate change, it would be counter-productive to my own goals to insist that the network be oriented around that. Repairing or building infrastructure, building the ability to grow and store food, sharing knowledge and skills about things like first aid or construction – all of these are things that communities benefit from, regardless of the motivation behind them.

All of these things would make any community more resilient to climate change, and to things like political turmoil.

None of them need someone like me harping on about doing them “because of climate change”, or “to work towards socialism” for people to want to do them. That doesn’t mean I need to stop writing about climate change. It doesn’t mean I need to avoid campaigning about it, or even talking about it when it’s relevant.

It means that I have to actually follow my principles, and trust that a group of people whose common purpose is to improve the whole community through collective effort, will do just that. Not everybody is going to see the value in participating in a group like this. Not everybody is going to think that this kind of collective effort is a good thing. By forming a group like this, without a demand for ideological unity, you’re pre-selecting people who are more likely to do the things that you want done at a local level, and you’re creating an avenue for communication between people who might otherwise avoid each other, and for better common understanding.

And you’re also creating a means to change how the government works at a local level, which seems to be a very important part of achieving state-level and national-level change.

This seems like a very practical approach that should get pretty reliable results. It’s a way to take some power for the people that would be pretty hard to stop.


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.

De-centralized solar power would save lives during disaster recovery

Regardless of what is feeding power to a centralized grid, disasters sometimes cut off that source of power. Sometimes power lines are broken, other times the generator is forced to shut down due to flooding, heat, or other conditions.

If this happens during hot weather, hundreds of thousands of people are faced with a choice between generating their own power, or losing perishable food and suffering – or dying – from the heat.

At the moment, most emergency generators available run on gasoline or diesel, which comes with a few problems. Ensuring a fuel supply can be difficult under disaster conditions, and stockpiling fuel can be dangerous, and can be vulnerable to damage from the same conditions that make the generator necessary in the first place. On top of that, having thousands of households burning fuel to power their cooling systems during hot weather is going to increase local, ground-level air pollution, and all the health problems that come with that.

And most urgently, these generators produce carbon monoxide, which can be lethal if there’s not adequate ventilation. NPR reports that in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, more people have already died from carbon monoxide poisoning than died from the storm itself, and tens of thousands are still facing weeks without power.

Eight of the 15 hurricane-related deaths confirmed by the Louisiana Department of Health are attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators, which can provide life-saving power in emergency situations but also pose a deadly threat if used incorrectly.

The unidentified victims of carbon monoxide poisoning range in age from 24 to 84 years old, and outnumber the deaths caused by drowning, fallen trees and storm cleanup.

Officials in Lake Charles said at a press briefing on Friday that five people in one house succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning after fumes from their generator — which was running in an attached garage — entered through a door that was either partially or fully open.

Most generator-related fatalities are caused by carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that can build up especially quickly in enclosed spaces. At certain levels, just five minutes of exposure is enough to be fatal.

Lake Charles Police Chief, Shawn Caldwell, acknowledged that many people are likely relying on generators in the aftermath of the storm but cautioned they should be used at a distance. The safest place for a portable generator is at least 20 feet away from any door or window.

“Chain it to a tree if there’s one left out in the yard,” he said, “but don’t let a generator cost your life.”

It’s common, in circumstances like this, to wave this sort of thing away as people being stupid about how they use their generators, but the reality is that people do make mistakes, especially in a crisis. Ignorance or carelessness does not need to be lethal. Beyond that, generators like this aren’t likely to be practical for emergencies in the long term.

Regardless of what mix of power sources we use to replace fossil fuels, the goal is to eliminate their use to the greatest degree possible. Under those circumstances, fuel for generators will become increasingly difficult and expensive to get. Under those circumstances, having access to individual-level or community-level solar power would save food, purify water, and save lives. We should expect climate-related disasters like this to be an increasingly large part of our lives going forward, and under those circumstances, I think federal and local governments should be investing in the widespread distribution of emergency photovoltaic generators to aid in relief efforts, help maintain communications, and to reduce the harm caused when the power grid becomes unavailable.


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.