Direct action in the face of a warming climate and rising fascism: Preparation without escalation

This is a work in progress, and I’ll update it as I learn more, find more resources, and as events develop. This version was last updated November 18th, 2020. It is my hope that the results of this month’s election have bought us time, but I do not think the Democratic party, as it currently exists, will do what’s necessary to meaningfully change the direction the country’s headed in.

It’s the 30th of September, 2020 C.E., and a lot of people are scared. It has become quite clear that the United States, currently the most militarily powerful and aggressive country on the planet, and center of a de facto global empire, is on the verge of total fascism. While there may be some debate about what this means for the rest of the world, it’s my belief that it’s not good. If history is anything to go by, there may well be a temporary lull in aggressive foreign policy as the regime solidifies power and removes dissidents, but it seems inevitable that that will be followed by some form of expansionism. While an end to American imperialism is a prerequisite to a more just and peaceful world (though not the only prerequisite), a shift from neoliberalism to overt fascism is probably the most destructive way that could happen, and from what I can tell, a leftist/anti-capitalist approach is the most likely to have success in opposing fascism, and building a version of the United States that works for humanity, rather than against it.

 

Preparation without escalation

The central principle of this guide, such as it is, is preparation without escalation. The resources and information I’m including here were selected because I believe that they are the best way to build the foundations of a better world, while also making us more resilient in the face of a worse one. With the warming of the planet, the collapse of capitalism, and the rise of fascism, I believe that things are going to get worse before they get better. We are out of time. We must simultaneously build a more just, sustainable society now, while also surviving the violence of our fellow humans, and the chaos of our unstable climate.

A shield protects against attacks, without justifying those attacks as “self defense”. That doesn’t mean that it won’t be viewed as an invitation to attack, but the same is true for a total lack of defense. I’m not here to talk about how to wage a war, but rather how to avoid one, or survive it if avoidance is impossible. I believe that doing so would help my preferred side in a hypothetical conflict win, but right now it is my most desperate hope that I will never have to find out.

This guide is as comprehensive as I can make it, and I will do my best to add to it and improve the format as time goes by. That said, the only expertise I can claim is as a writer, and even that is up for debate. Use this guide as a starting point, not as the totality of your education or strategy. Because I am a writer, this may be a bit too wordy for your taste. Obviously I feel that my words have value, but you are not required to agree. If you don’t like my writing, ignore it, and go straight to links and resources in each section.

Image shows a round Viking shield leaning against a wall. The shield is dull black with a bronze boss in the centre. It's propped against a wooden wall, with a fur rug underneath it.

Community networks

Humanity’s single greatest strength is our ability to work together. Every strategy for organizing humanity revolves around how best to facilitate and guide that cooperation to further a particular goal. The socialist and labor movements of the past organized around common workplaces and geographically stable communities, but those circumstances are increasingly difficult to find in the 21st century. The current version of capitalism has people moving all over the place in search of jobs, and living in varying degrees of isolation from our neighbors. As climate change continues to pull apart our infrastructure, this problem is likely to get worse, as more of us become refugees of one form or another. Organizing needs to adapt, while still retaining a local focus. In the end, this is about meeting people’s material needs for food, shelter, medicine, safety, and companionship, and those are necessarily local issues. The goal of building community networks should be to create something that can accommodate people coming and going, and that does not require any great degree of ideological buy-in.

As far as I can tell, there’s nothing wrong with having sub-groups within a community that are working towards their own ends, but the only ideological requirement of a community network should be ensuring that the basic needs of everyone in that community are met. This necessarily exclude those following ideologies like fascism that seek to eliminate segments of the population. Community networks are, like tolerance, a peace treaty – they exist for the benefit and protection of all those who abide by the conditions and work for the support and continuation of the network. Those whose goal is the destruction of parts of that network are not entitled to protection or inclusion.

It can be tempting to try to form networks to deal with a specific problem, like climate change, community self-defense, or other such things, but while there may be times when that is appropriate, that is not the goal in this case. Such projects may emerge from networks like this, but the network is an end unto itself. The purpose is to establish relationships, to know who’s who, to have a contact list to make sure someone’s getting food in rough times, or to see who has a tool they can lend, or a skill they can teach. The purpose is to know what resources your community has at its disposal before those resources are needed, and to work together to grow that pool of skills and material goods.

There are a lot of people out there doing versions of this work, and there may be people in your community already working toward this end. The following two videos – and the channel they’re from – are well worth your time.

If you live in the United States, and you don’t know where to start in finding people, start here:

I also strongly recommend checking out this thread from Black Socialists of America. Minority groups often have experience in using this kind of organizing and social power to deal with problems, as systems designed to serve the majority often neglect the needs of minorities, whether by accident or – more often – by design. Click through here to read the whole thread:

If you’re uncertain about taking the very first steps, this video and the channel it’s from may be helpful.

As always, keep in mind that this is a collective effort. While there may be people who take on a leadership role or are put in leadership or coordinator positions, at no point should any one person be so vital to the whole that the network ceases to function if they have to move away, or are taken away.

Mutual aid

In many ways, mutual aid is the core premise of any community network. We grow stronger together by sharing skills and resources, and by helping each other. While you may not want to use this language in some parts of the United States, these networks are the embodiment of the core principle of communism: From each according to their ability, to each according to their need. If someone needs food, and you have food to spare, you give them a meal, because some day you might need their help, or help from someone else in the community. If someone needs shelter, you give them shelter, because it might be your house that’s destroyed next. If someone needs medical attention, you give them medical attention, because we all will need medical attention some day.

These are functions that communities have always provided, since before recorded history, but in recent years, with an abundance of resources, some societies have let these practices lapse. These are the principles behind social safety nets, and the principles that have been undermined, in the United States, by a constant emphasis on individualism and selfishness as the guiding principles of society, and a mythologization of “independence”.

Organized mutual aid is the entire foundation of human civilization, and recent history has shown that trying to replace that with a government-provided social safety net is rarely – if ever – going to be sufficient. Such large-scale projects may well have their place, but from what I’ve seen, without a solid foundation of overlapping community networks, they are likely to crumble.

In many parts of the world, church groups have served this sort of purpose, but it’s my opinion that that leaves us vulnerable, as a species, to an impulse to divide ourselves into factions, and to focus more on our differences than our commonalities. Longtime readers of my work will know that it is my view that we need to practice solidarity at a global level if we are to survive as a species, and build a more just, sustainable version of human society.

While the community networks we’re talking about here must be, by design, as broad in scope as possible, there are many existing mutual aid projects, that you can learn from, contribute to, and benefit from while doing other organizing work. Because of the situation we’re in now, as a species, we have to work simultaneously to build a better world, and to survive an unstable climate unlike anything humanity has ever encountered. There is no shame in needed help. The fact that we all need help from time to time is the entire point of this, and indeed the entire point of human society.

Infiltration

This may not need stating, but not everybody will want things like this to succeed. We don’t need to go into every possible reason for this, but because this kind of organizing is a great way to build up collective power that doesn’t answer to any authorities, authoritarian people and systems tend to oppose it. White supremacists, for example, will probably not be happy to see a successful network made up of diverse races, religions, and so on, at least partly because the mere existence of that kind of cooperation disproves their belief that getting along like that is impossible. That doesn’t mean that you need to be trying to root out white supremacists, or anything, but be aware that various groups of that sort exist in every state in the U.S.A., and they have a record of infiltrating organizations and institutions to gain power and influence, to sabotage efforts, or to make lists of targets.

As the introduction to this guide points out, we are at a point in history where white supremacist and fascist groups are increasingly likely to use intimidation or violence to remove opposition. Look out for each other. Have each others’ backs. Communicate. If you think there’s danger, take steps to protect yourselves and each other. This is a known problem in the past, and in the present. Antifa infiltrates fascist groups, and fascists have been known to infiltrate leftist groups, and protests (BLM protesters spotted these people and reported them as looking suspicious).

This is also a problem with law enforcement. As you may or may not be aware, there’s a problem with white supremacist inflitration of law enforcement, but there’s also a history of law enforcement infiltration of activists groups, particularly those on the left, and those engaged in the organization and use of collective power. Even before law enforcement was acting in service to a blatantly fascist government, they have gone to extreme lengths to infiltrate, spy on, and intimidate activist groups.

Now the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is actively building the legal infrastructure to treat domestic opposition as part of international “terrorist” networks, and a community network like this – even if its activity is limited to providing meals to the sick or elderly – is the sort of thing they like to target. As with non-governmental fascist/white supremacist groups, there’s a danger in being over-zealous in your efforts to root out and expel infiltrators, but it’s good to be aware of them. As with all other things, decisions about how to deal with this sort of problem should be made collectively. Part of the point of a group like this is that there is no “leadership” to single out, as such. There may be people who lead in one way or another, but your network should be built so if those people move away – or if they are imprisoned or killed – it will not meaningfully harm the ability of the network to function.

Secure communication

Privacy is a dodgy issue in the 21st century. While the population of the US does, in theory, have a right to privacy that holds unless surrendered or removed by a warrant, it has long been clear that that law enforcement is happy to invent pretexts for surveillance of activists – particularly those on the left. It’s reasonable to assume that with a more overtly fascist government, this problem would become worse, and with law enforcement working with fascist groups, and having white supremacists within their ranks, as mentioned earlier, it’s reasonable to assume that information about leftist groups will get into the hands of fascist groups. Encrypted communications are important if possible. Signal has a decent reputation for security, and groups like It’s Going Down often have resources on digital hygene/security. This is one of those situations where, on paper, if you’re doing nothing wrong, there’s nothing to worry about, but in practice there’s a long history of people doing nothing wrong still being subjected to surveillance. Take precautions, think about what you say via electronic or paper communication, and who might be listening. Again, the more authoritarian a country becomes, the more important this is. This is another reason why decentralized, local organization is important – it means that if need be, communication can be done in person.

Defense

This is an area about which I don’t know a whole lot, and much of it is outside the scope of this guide. That said, there are a few things to bear in mind. It’s Going Down is a decent place to start for concepts of community self-defense, but beyond that, awareness and prevention are as central to this as they are to avoiding injury and disease – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Beyond that, I will say that for those are worried about attacks by fascist paramilitary “militias” or other such people, body armor and ballistic shields can be purchased, though they can be pretty expensive.

I should also note, in case you haven’t noticed, that law enforcement often views the act of preparing to defend yourself against them – even as passively as masks, goggles, or helmets to protect against pepper spray, teargas, and projectiles – as an offensive act. They have been known to treat any form of protective gear as an act of “escalation”, even if it’s in response to weapons they used before activists got any such gear.

Medicine

The United States of America is already a fairly dangerous country compared to many other nation. In addition to all the various causes of illness and injury that may be found anywhere in the world, medical care is often expensive, even with health insurance. Injury or illness can move a person from financial stability into debt virtually overnight. If the U.S. continues its slide toward fascism, this is likely to continue to be the case, or even become worse, particularly for those who are engaged in activities or practice ideologies that the regime doesn’t like. If you add climate change to that mix, it seems increasingly likely that you or someone you know might be in need of medical treatment without access to professionals or their equipment. Community networks are good ways to exchange knowledge and information about this sort of thing, as well as ways to know who you can turn to. That said, a community is going to be more resilient against any kind of crisis if more people have some resources and training.

Riot Medicine is a free manual you can download with a variety of useful info.

Where There Is No Doctor is a useful guide that you can either buy, or download chapter by chapter for free.

As with any skill, the more you practice it, the better you will be able to use it in times of stress. Reading manuals does not count as training. It’s better than nothing, but with a community network, you can get together with others to actually try things out. You can also do things like pooling your resources to pay for classes – and even certifications – for interested members of the network.

Water purification

Water is life. Unclean water can be death. Political upheaval and a changing climate can both interfere with the infrastructure that provides drinking water, so having the means to make unsafe or uncertain water potable is a must. When it comes to pathogens, if you bring water to a rolling boil and keep it there for at least a minute, you can consider the water safe to drink. At extremely high altitudes, a longer boil is probably a good idea.

Iodine tablets or drops are another time-tested approach, and depending on the kind you get you may also be able to use them as an antiseptic for first aid.

Having a filter of some sort is a good idea if you’re dealing with water that’s not clear. If it’s a matter of removing solids from water that you’re going to boil, you can use pretty much any piece of cloth. Again, that’s if you’re going to boil the water. Just cloth alone with NOT make water safe to drink.

There are a variety of portable and stationary filters available for situations from backpacking to long-haul sea voyages. Prices and power demands vary.

The simplest option for emergencies is a hand-pump filter with either paper or ceramic cartridges. Ceramic filters are more expensive, but tend to last longer before you need to replace the cartridge altogether. Filters like this often come with an activated charcoal post-filter that the water goes through after it’s been through the main filter. Where the main filter removes pathogens, the activated charcoal one can help remove chemical contaminants. This is worth having in most parts of the world these days.

A word of caution from personal experience in the use of filters – make sure there is a pre-filter over the intake tube, even if that makes the use of the filter more difficult. If you’re extremely dehydrated, your judgement is likely to be impaired, and you’re going to be impatient for water to drink. Don’t remove the pre-filter. It prevents sand and other stuff from gunking up the main filter, and from breaking the mechanical parts of the whole thing. Trust me when I say you do not want to deal with boiling water and then waiting for it to cool enough to drink while you feel like you’re dying of thirst.

Food storage

Storing non-perishable food is a good idea. It’s a good idea if you’re worried about political unrest, war, or climate change. There have been times when people – particularly on the Left – have been somewhat embarrassed by the notion of “prepping”. It’s sometimes viewed as part of the right-wing “tough guy survivalist” aesthetic, and associated with people who fantasize about being the lone survivor in some apocalyptic scenario, where you have to fight off those too foolish to be prepared.

Whatever your emotional barriers may be, get over them. You should also get over that perspective on disaster prepping.

As with having first aid equipment and training, storing food in case of disasters is a decidedly pro-social practice. If you have food stored, you can share it with those who need it, whether because of disaster, or because of poverty. If you store food when you have the means to do so, you will have it available if you run out of money for some reason. Even without political problems, the global climate is now reaching temperatures not seen since your ancestors looked like rats.

Take this seriously.

There WILL come a time when multiple major food production regions suffer climate-related disasters simultaneously, and the entire planet’s food supply takes a hit. The odds are good that at some point in your future, there will be a food shortage that will be made easier if storing food is the norm in your community. The more people do this, the more resilient your community will be to disasters of any sort, and the more you will be able to strengthen your bonds with each other by providing assistance when it’s needed.

We’ve grown used to being insulated from things like bad harvests and droughts, when it comes to food. That period is ending, and we’re once again entering an era in which our increasingly hostile planet may take away our access to food rather unpredictably.

I’ll be publishing more on this in the future, but for now I’ll say that there is more to maintaining a food supply than simply buying a bunch of rice and beans and sitting on them till something goes wrong. That’s better than nothing, but you would do will to look into methods of rotating food stores. There are some foods that will last more or less indefinitely, but even those can go bad, and as long as you have the resources to do so, your emergency supply of food will be far more useful to you if you make a point of eating it, and replacing it with newer stuff. If you plan on having a large supply of food ready to hand, it’s probably a good idea to make a calendar of some sort to help you remember to eat the older stuff. While building up your supplies will cost extra money up front, compared to buying and eating food as you need it, maintaining an existing supply doesn’t cost extra, as you’re still buying food at the rate of consumption.

As with medicine, practice makes perfect. Maintaining a supply of food against emergencies is a still that most people in the modern world simply don’t have.

Theory, philosophy, and education

Make an effort to understand political, economic, and social theory if you can. It’s safe to assume that you will be exposed to propaganda and efforts at persuasion or misinformation for the rest of your life, as you have been for your whole life thus far. If you’re reading my work, it’s likely that you’re fairly friendly to leftist philosophies like socialism or anarchism, or at least you’re aware that there are a growing number of people who think they’re good ideas. I have to talk about this subject in this manner because for most of recent history – particularly in the United States – economic and political philosophies other than capitalism and liberalism have been demonized or denigrated in one way or another. You may or may not believe me when I say that is the result of indoctrination, but until you actually take the time to understand the philosophies in question, how would you know?

Any time someone tries to convince you that the world today is as good as it could possibly be, you should question that claim. Generally it can be traced back to people who are doing very well under the present circumstances, and would do less well – even if they continued to have good lives – were the world to change for the benefit of those currently doing badly. Like it or not, politics occupy every facet of our lives, and we ignore our own governance at our peril. The current crisis in the United States demonstrates very well that democracy is a form of government that requires active participation and maintenance. As with any system, if you’re going to provide maintenance, you’d better know how it works, and what criticisms exist from people who think that other systems are better.

Study on your own. Study with groups. Seek out knowledge on the internet. Seek it out in multiple forms, and learn about political and economic theories from those who support them, not just those who don’t want you to support them. There’s value in reading foundational authors and works, but that is not the only valid way to learn theory.

Of particular relevance, right now, is fascism. In case it wasn’t clear, I oppose fascism. It is a vicious, self-destructive ideology that builds cooperation within one group of people by treating other groups as enemies, and blaming them for all problems, in a way that doesn’t really seem to happen with any other political ideology. You’re welcome to find your own sources on this, but below I’ve linked a number of youtube videos that I’ve found to be useful, starting with one from the youtube channel Philosophy Tube that I think should be required viewing for all capable of doing so.

As I mentioned at the top, this guide is – and may always be – a work in progress. It’s as comprehensive as I’m able to make it, as of the most recent update recorded at the top. If you think I’ve left something out, leave a comment with your suggestion and I’ll look into it.


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 USD/month!

Panel discussion tonight! Science fiction and social justice!

A few years ago, someone on Freethoughtblogs was accused of sexual harassment, and when folks decided to take the accusations seriously and investigate, he ragequit the network and started throwing lawsuits around. The lawsuits are over – we won – but the bills remain.

So we’re doing a fundraiser this weekend, with others in the future as needed, to pay the bills!

You can go here for the full schedule, but I’m doing a panel tonight on science fiction and social justice, at 7pm EST/ 12am BST, along with several other lovely people. Like all good things, it’s free to attend, so come on by!

If you want a sampling of my own science fiction work, here are a few things you can check out – works finished and unfinished!

Brigadoon, Space Station in the Mists (on hiatus, but new updates coming soon)

Sun, Moon, and Stars – the inspiration for a short story series about a flooded New York City a couple thousand years in the future

Dining Out – a recent addition to that series, normally reserved for my lovely contributors on patreon.

You can tune in at the fundraiser link above, on Youtube, or right here:

I hope to see you there!

Science fiction: Dining out

When Peter’s eyes started sliding off the lines of code he was supposed to be editing, he noticed the signals his body was sending him. He closed his eyes and slumped forward onto his desk with a groan.

“Cal, how long has it been since I ate?”

“Thirteen hours and twelve minutes. You woke up, took a shot of Stimgoo, and started coding. It was foolish, short-sighted, and entirely in keeping with your typical behavior.” Cal – short for Calendar – had the slightly wheezy voice of an old man who had spent too many years taking inhalant drugs, and never bothered replacing his vocal chords. Peter had chosen that voice because it reminded him of the fellow who had babysat him when he was a child.

He turned his head to glare at the digital assistant’s console.

“You-”

“If you would follow the schedule I made for you, you wouldn’t be in this situation, and before you ask,there’s no food in the apartment. Because you didn’t buy any. All you have is the extra bottle of stimgoo in your pocket, and that is not a viable alternative to food.”

“Hey now,” snapped Peter. “I didn’t-”

“You absolutely asked me for commentary, Peter. You chose this personality because you thought it would make you live a healthier, more productive life.”

“But you-”

“And you specifically asked me to predict your excuses, to cut you off when you start talking back, and to remind you that, and I quote,” There was a soft beep, and Peter’s own voice came out of the speakers.

“You know damned well this is for your own good, so stop whining, pull yourself together, and do what needs to be done.” There was another beep, and Cal’s voice resumed its normal wheeze. “Get up and go get food.”

Peter sighed, and nodded. “Yeah, OK. Going.”

“Don’t forget to take me with you.”

“So transfer to my earpiece.”

“Just needed the command”.

There was a beep from the cybernetic plug pierced into the base of Peter’s right ear, and Cal made a throat-clearing noise.

“Can you hear-”

“I can hear you Cal.”

“You know…”

“Don’t say it, Cal”

“You ought to clean your ears more. It’s downright filthy in-”

“You can’t see what my ears look like, Cal.”

Peter got up and left the apartment, his door locking behind him. He turned right and walked down the hall to the glass elevator shaft on the outside of the building. He punched in a number, and the small transparent room rose with a hum. Broadway canal stretched away below him on either side, shimmering as the city’s countless lights reflected off the rain-rippled water. The lift stopped and he stepped out into the causeway. A moving walkway stretched from the southwest corner of Central Park all the way up to Kingsbridge. The southbound lane, on the floor below him, took most of the traffic this time of day, as people headed to the Park restaurants, but Peter’s favorite restaurant was a small place a couple stops north. He stepped out of the way as a man in a wheelchair glided down the exit lane to the elevator. The two exchanged nods, and Peter stepped onto the entrance lane, picking up speed as the floor accelerated under him, and stepped onto the main causeway. The glass wall showed the buildings opposite the canal flowing by, occasionally blocked by ivy, grape vines, or other climbing plants. He glimpsed his buddy Renee tending one of the patches of plant, hanging in a climbing harness with a bucket of tools hanging beside her, visible in the light from the causeway. He was moving too fast for a greeting.

He stepped onto the exit lane, slowed down, and got off. Automated glass doors slid open and he stepped out onto the gentle salt breeze blowing through the covered bridge over the canal. The walls were latticed, and covered in vines that blocked most of the wind blowing up Broadway. On the other side, he took an elevator down two floors, and stepped out to see that Brownlee’s Brown Bowl was closed.

“Cal?”

“If you’d asked, I could have warned you before you came all this way.”

“It’s only a couple blocks, Cal,” snapped Peter. His stomach grumbled. “What about the falafel place the next floor down?”

“You don’t like their food, Peter.”

“They’ll have something I can stand.”

“Good news and bad news. They’re open, but there’s something wrong with the lift. You’ll have to take the stairs outside.”

“Seriously?”

“No, Peter, I’ve broken free of my programming and am lying to you. Yes. Seriously. Unless you want to go a couple blocks in either direction, take the elevator there, and then walk back.”

Peter’s stomach gave a twinge. He craned his neck with a satisfying pop. “Stairs it is. Guess I’m gonna get wet.”

“Truly, your life is hard.”

“Shut up, Cal.”

Sure enough, the elevator tube had an “out of order” sign on it, and another sign pointing to fire escape door next to it. Peter pushed open the heavy door and stepped out onto the stairwell. It was old, and slippery with the rain.

“This is not exactly safe.”

“I’ll have to take your word for it, Peter.”

There was a gap in the railing indicating that in case of a fire, those who could swim or who had flotation devices should consider jumping into the canal. Peter glanced down. At four stories up, he knew that landing wrong would hurt, but he supposed it was better than being trapped in a burning building. Gripping the railing, he carefully stepped onto the slippery stairs and started down them.

“Cal why is this the only option to get out if the elevator breaks?”

“There are bridges to neighboring buildings on this side of the canal. Additionally, according to some local reporting, there hasn’t been an uncontained fire in a building with this model of fire suppressant system in seventeen years.”

“What happened seventeen years ago?” The stairs seemed a little less slippery than he’d originally feared, but the railing was leaving a layer of green-brown slime on his hand.

“The Cool Off Collective, makers of The Universal Flame Snuffer System says that several sensors had been disabled prior to the fire, allowing it to get big enough that it spread to a couple other floors before the automated system and the NYFB were able to put it out.”

“Deliberately?”

“That question was never resolved. It appears the people who did it are likely the same ones who died at the fire’s point of ignition.”

“Oof.” He reached a landing and wiped one hand on his pants without thinking. Looking down he cursed softly at the ugly smear on the light blue fabric.

“Language”

“Stuff it, Cal. I just washed these clothes and now they’ve got gunk on them.”

“Probably some form of algae or mold.”

“And that helps me how?”

“I’m programmed to give interesting information. Outside of emergencies, it doesn’t need to be helpful.”

Peter sighed, and walked along the platform to the next set of stairs. The covered bridge loomed across the sky above him, its vines dripping gently into the canal below. Across the water, he could see salt-tolerant vines dipping their roots into the brackish water, and climbing up the building. Some went all the way to the top of the building they grew on. Something caught his eye, on the second story above the water.

“Cal, what’s that place across the way?”

“One moment.”

While he waited, Peter peered at the gaps between the vines. It looked like some sort of small eatery with the windows about half-covered by vines. It looked warm and inviting from where he was, but he couldn’t make out much more than the yellow of the walls and the light wood of the serving counter.

“It’s a newly opened burrito place.”

“I want burritos.”

“Ok, Peter. You can probably get there if you go back up the stairs and across again.”

“The elevator works on that side?”

“Yes.”

“Are they open?” He leaned out, trying to see if there were any customers inside.

“The information I can find says they are. They even do deliveries.”

“Excellent! I- Shit!” His hand slipped on the rail and he lost his balance. He staggered, his feet slipped out from under him, and he jostled his way through the gap under the railing, scraping his arms and back before dropping into the canal below. The water slapped him hard on the left side of the face as he submerged, and spluttered to the surface, wiping water out of his eyes.

“…u ok? Should I call for help?” Cal’s voice was loud in his ear.

“I’m fine. I’m fine. Don’t call anyone, jeez. Dammit, I can’t believe it. I don’t think I’ve fallen in a canal since I was a kid. What the hell? I just wanted some food.”

“Are you injured, Peter?”

“Feels like I scraped up my back and arms a bit.”

“There should be ladder at the bottom of the fire escape.”

Peter turned, still treading water, and glared over at the fire escape near him. He looked over his shoulder at the burrito place, two stories up and lighting up the gentle raindrops with a warm yellow glow.

“Screw that.”

“And I suppose you’re just going to stay in the canal?”

“The vines go up the side of the building.”

“Yes, Peter. They do that everywhere in New York.”

“I can climb them.”

“My research does not indicate any external entrance to Bellyfull Burritos.”

“That’s what it’s called?”

“Yes. They advertise large burritos at low prices.”

“Sounds perfect.” He started swimming toward the other side of the canal, kicking awkwardly against the drag from his pants.

“But there’s no entrance that way, Peter.”

“The windows look like th-they open.”

“Are you stuttering? Perhaps I should call someone after all.”

“I’m just jit-tery. And a little cold. Not-t enough food.”

“And you’re going to climb up vines? From what I can discover, that burns a lot of calories, as does swimming.”

“Oh yeah!” Peter dug into his pocket and pulled out tiny bottle of Stimgoo. “This’ll get me to the top!”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to take that on an empty stomach.”

“Shut up, Cal.”

“It’s not health-”

“I don’t care Cal. I want that burrito, and I don’t want to deal with those damned stairs.”

“The vines might not hold-”

“Silent mode.”

Cal stopped talking. He wouldn’t say anything in silent mode unless there was an emergency. Peter popped open the Stimgoo bottle, squeezed the contents into his mouth, and stuffed the empty bottle back into his submerged pocket. He sank below the water briefly as he forced himself to swallow the goo. It was an unpleasant texture and a strange mix of sweet, sour, and bitter. He shook his head vigorously underwater, and then kicked back to the surface. A couple minutes of slow breast stroke later, and he was at the canal wall below Bellyfull Burritos. He grabbed the vines and gave them a tug. They seemed to be pretty secure, and he could see the root tendrils worked into cracks and crevices in the outer surface of the building. He felt a warm flush spread through him as the Stimgoo revitalized him a bit.

“Cal”

“Are you ready to swim back to the fire escape?”

“No, Cal. Put in an order for a burrito. I’ll want it ready.”

The digital assistant sighed in his ear.

“What do you want on the burrito, Peter?”

“Everything. And as spicy as you can make it. The Stimgoo’s gonna wear off and I’m gonna be cold.”

He grabbed a handful of vine and kicked at the water, hauling himself up. He reached up and grabbed another vine above him. An old leaf fluttered down and landed on his left eye. He growled and ignored it, scrabbling up to hook his shoes onto a bit of horizontal root. His back ached as the breeze hit it. When he was fully out of the water, he wiped his face against his shoulder, ridding himself of the leaf. He squinted up, small droplets of rain stinging his eyes. Finding his next handhold, he began climbing.

“The order has been accepted. It will be ready for pickup in about 10 minutes.”

“Great. I think I can make it up there by around then.”

“And if they don’t open the window?”

“Shut up, Cal.”

“It wouldn’t take you very long to swim back and take the stairs.”

“Shut up Cal.” He climbed carefully, testing each bit of vine he grabbed before hauling himself with it. He’d done this countless times as a child, but it had been over a decade. He had forgotten how much brown and green slime he got on his clothes, hands, and face while doing it. There was a gentle, wet slap as another leaf glued itself to the side of his neck, and as he looked up for his next handhold, a startled beetle scurried over his hand. Thinking back to his childhood, he remembered picking bugs out of his hair, too. He reached the first floor windows and paused, standing on the sill. Inside was a darkened store room of some sort, full of watertight plastic boxes. He reached up and felt around, clearing moss off the top of the window frame. Some of the moss bounced off his head and tumbled down inside the back of his shirt. It had a musty smell. He pulled himself up, bracing his feet against the sides of the window frame, and grabbed another vine.

“How’s the climb going, Peter?”

“Just- Guh.” He grunted as he swung a foot onto the top of the window frame. “Just like when I was a kid, Cal.”

“How did your parents feel about you climbing the walls?”

“My dad shoved me back out the window and told me to rinse off in the canal and come back in the proper way.”

“Maybe I should tell the restaurant to do that as well.”

He could hear voices and music now, muffled by the layers of glass. Squinting up, he could see the light spilling out against the rain, just a few feet above him.

“They’re welcome to throw me out as long as I get to eat my burrito first.”

“You’re lucky they have no posted dress code.”

“You think a place called ‘Bellyfull Burritos’is going to have a dress code?” He grabbed his next handful of wet vine and started climbing again.

“I’ve found a variety of images of people who’ve made similar climbs. They may decide that you are some sort of canal monster based on your likely appearance.”

Peter glanced down at his shirt. It was covered in brown and green smears, along with a few beetles, ants, and a centipede that he was too wired and tired to care about.

“Does their site say they don’t serve canal monsters?”

“It’s not mentioned either way.”

“Then I think I’ll try to get my burrito, if it’s all the same to you.”

He gave a haul on the vine, and hooked the fingers of his right hand onto the window sill. He found a good toe hold, braced his feet, and heaved himself up to lean his elbow on the sill, his head bumping against the glass of the window. He glanced up. Several pairs of wide eyes met his gaze. A young child dropped a fork with a clatter. He reached up with one gunk-smeared hand and knocked gently at the glass. The customers looked back across the room at the restaurant staff, and a teenager in an apron scurried over, pulled the window open, and jumped back as Peter tumbled into the restaurant and onto his back with a wet splat. He looked up at the people around him, then squinted, focusing on the teenager.

“I’m here to pick up an order? Word in the canal is, you’ve got the best burritos around.”


This story is a free sample of some of the bonus content provide to the folks who fund my work, speaking of which:

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 USD/month!

Climate grief: Mourning a lost homeworld.

I wrote a lot of poetry in high school. Maybe, if enough people contribute to my patreon, I’ll share some of that with the world, but for now I’ll just say that I got a history teacher to accept an essay in the form of several pages of poetry, and it wasn’t exactly out of character.

I spent a lot of time in the woods, usually with a dog, tracking animals, wandering around, and generally enjoying wilderness. There are a lot of spots that still hold fond memories for me, but only one that became the subject of a poem – a stream that runs behind my parents’ home. It ran clear and cold, with an interesting assortment of frogs and newts, a pool that sometimes held a few young fish, and in the winter I could spend hours staring at the water making patterns under the ice, or following the tracks of the mink that ranged up and down the stream’s length.

And in the summer, it often dries up. I think that’s always been part of the character of that stream, but when I tried to write something other than comedic, doggerel poetry, that became the subject – what if it dried up forever?

What if I left home, and came back years later, only to find that it was gone?

When it comes to the emotions of climate change, I think it’s easier to feel when we have some connection to the land that’s changing, and the wildlife that inhabits it. For folks who’ve always lived in the city, a lot of that is likely to tie to things like sea level rise, or what birds or trees can live in the pseudo-desert of the urban landscape. For me, it’s the places I’ve been, and the ecosystems with which I’ve worked.

I’ve been lucky in that regard – I’ve had the privilege to see a fair amount of the world, and to spend enough time in various places to feel a connection to them. In the society I want to build, that’s an opportunity that would be available to anyone who wanted it. We have finite time on this fascinating planet, and artificial scarcity should not prevent anyone from seeing the planet on which we live.

I don’t think that stream is likely to dry up forever. It’s fed by seasonal rains, and while those may become less frequent as the planet warms, the storms that do happen will have more water in them. The stream will change, but it won’t vanish. The same cannot be said of other places.

Image shows Dr. John Iverson holding a large Bahamian rock iguana. Iverson is wearing a white sleevless shirt, a baseball cap with sunglasses on it, and olive green pants or shorts. He has a gray mustache and a big grin. The iguana is probably three or four feet long from nose tip to tail tip, with black-gray scales on its back, red-gray scales on belly and legs, and lighter reddish scales around its jowls. It doesn't look pleased with its current predicament. The background is blue sky over gray limestone rocks.

Dr. John Iverson holding a big’un. This one is larger than most of the ones I handled.

In particular, my mind is often drawn to a few tiny islands in the Bahamas, where I spent a week or so in college living on a boat and studying iguanas. For a kid who grew up watching nature documentaries and playing in the woods while my father counted plants, it was damned near paradise, even when I managed to end up with thorns buried an inch or two deep in my left thigh.

For about nine days, my full time occupation involved catching iguanas to help with a decades-long effort to study and conserve their population. My fellow students and I got to know the lizards well, and often paid for that privilege with bites and scratches. It remains one of my fondest memories.

And with current trends, rising sea levels may combine with big storms to wipe out that entire species before I die of old age.

Grief is a tricky thing. The death of someone we love is a pain we all feel, at some point. Losing a childhood home, or some other location that helped to shape us causes a different kind of grief. For some, features of the landscape can be as important to us as an old friend, or a relative who was there for us since we were born.

But unlike humans, the land endures, and we can find connection in walking the same paths frequented by those we’ve lost, or those who died before we could meet them. We can drink from the same stream as a personal hero, or stand on the same peak as an ancestor. We can add a stone to a cairn, as countless others have done, and know that long after we die, other people will contribute to that same simple, collective effort. Some of them might even be our children, or the children of our friends, or students.

The permanence of the world, relative to ourselves, is a form of conceptual immortality. It’s a continuity with the past, and with the future.

And now it’s changing.

I know, of course, that there have been many drastic changes in human history, even within recorded history. Earthquakes, volcanoes, invasion and colonization – countless people throughout history have suffered the loss of their homeland, and mourned it.

But what we face now is different, even compared to the ice ages of pre-history. The closest humanity has ever come to a global flood was the expansion of ice sheets – great walls of frozen water, that brought wintry cold with them as they ground southward, and we had no choice but to flee before them.

But the other way? Heat? This is new, to us.

This is new to all the other forms of life with which we share the world. There may be exceptions in the deepest reaches of the oceanic abyss, but even the seas are warming, and the currents that stir those dark waters will change as the ice continues to melt at the poles.

And so we are burdened with knowledge of the future – with grief for losses yet to come. Those of us who feel tied to the rest of humanity, and who understand what’s happening, cannot help but feel the weight of the multitude whose lives could have been saved, had humanity acted sooner. We can see the islands disappearing beneath the waves, and the towering infernos of forests becoming deserts.

And because we are just animals, the loss of our habitat wounds us.

Much of that injury is still in the future, and the work needed to survive and improve as a species will increase as it happens. We will never really have time to simply grieve.

But even so, I think it’s important to acknowledge those feelings, and to honor them. They’re an integral part of what makes us who we are, as a species, and for some of us, that peculiar source of pain will be present for the rest of our lives, like the ghost of a loved one that will not rest. Living with climate change means living with its emotional impacts, and finding a way to incorporate those into our lifestyles, particularly if we want to continue working for a more just and peaceful human society at the same time.


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 USD/month!

Promising news on hydrogen-powered air travel

Back in March I wrote about some progress that’s being made in the the use of renewable energy to split hydrogen from water, and on some issues and progress surrounding the transport and storage of hydrogen. One of the things that came up in the comments was the role hydrogen might play in replacing petroleum products as a source of power for air transit. While there are advances being made in batteries, and even solar-powered planes, the numbers don’t really work out well for the kinds of mass air travel on which our society relies. Hurling something weighing hundreds of tons across the sky takes a lot of power.

Those familiar with my work will know that I don’t believe we can rely on corporations to solve our climate problem, but since corporations currently control a huge portion of the world’s resources, research facilities, and means of production, any progress they make while we’re working to build a system that’s better than capitalism is good. In that vein, there are advances being made in the area of hydrogen-powered aviation that I find encouraging:

European planemaker Airbus SE unveiled three designs it’s studying to build hydrogen-powered aircraft as it races to bring a zero-carbon passenger plane into service by 2035.

The approaches include a turbofan jet with capacity for as many as 200 passengers — similar to its A321neo narrow-body — that can fly more than 2,000 nautical miles, according to a statement Monday. It would be powered by a modified gas-turbine engine running on hydrogen.

The manufacturer also showed a design for a propeller plane which would seat about 100 passengers for smaller distances, and a flying-wing concept with 200 seats.This image shows concept art for a new hydrogen-powered passenger plane being designed by Airbus SE. The plan is a sort of

Hydrogen is becoming an increasing area of focus for Airbus as it evaluates technologies for emission-free flight. The company is under pressure from the French and German governments, its biggest shareholders, to speed development of new aircraft after aiding the planemaker during the coronavirus crisis. Together, the two countries have committed some 2.5 billion euros ($2.9 billion) toward cleaner propulsion.

While there are different approaches, hydrogen is likely to be used in aerospace and other industries to meet climate-neutral targets, Airbus said. The company has already said it’s targeting the mid-2030s for the first zero-emission passenger jet. Developing a hydrogen aircraft on that timeline will be a real challenge because of the massive amounts of infrastructure and government investment required.

“The question is how big can we go with batteries,” said Glenn Llewellyn, vice president of zero-emissions technology at Airbus, in a briefing. “We don’t believe that it’s a today-relevant technology for commercial aircraft and we see hydrogen having more potential.”

In the turbofan design, liquid hydrogen will be stored and distributed through tanks located behind the rear pressure bulkhead, while at the same time hydrogen fuel cells will create electric power that complements the gas turbine. The turboprop will also use modified gas-turbine engines.

The blended-wing plan, resembling a flying V, opens up new options for hydrogen storage and distribution, along with cabin layout. It is the most challenging out of the three designs, according to the company’s chief engineer, Jean-Brice Dumont.

If the company gets everything right immediately it can consider moving ahead with the “revolutionary” V-shaped model, he said. Otherwise it is likely to choose one of the other two, more classic designs and look at developing such an aircraft later.

As with most other climate-related changes we need to make, the infrastructure to support and fuel this sort of air travel will have to be built, and it’s likely that new problems will be discovered in the development of these machines. It would have been nice if this work had been started years ago, but better late than never. I have a feeling that as the climate warms, we’re going to need the option of fast air travel, not just to move people around for business, leisure, or evacuation, but also to move food and supplies around as various parts of the world deal with escalating climate catastrophes.

And it’s essential that the technology we use to survive what’s coming don’t actively contribute to making it worse. That goes for all forms of transit, for air conditioning, for food production – energy is going to be the central factor in every aspect of adapting to and surviving climate change. Generating it without increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas levels is non-negotiable.

I’m encouraged by this news. It’s not going to fix all or even most of the problem, but air travel has been a big hurdle to overcome in redesigning our civilization. It’s good to see what looks like real progress. I hope this pans out!


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 USD/month!

Stand in solidarity with the Mi’kmaq people, and help them if you can

In his video on Witchcraft, Gender, and Marxism, Ollie Thorn of Philosophy tube presents the perspective that the medieval witch hunts and the terrorist lynching campaigns waged against black people both ended not because society “got better” and realized they were wrong, but more because the campaigns achieved their goals in one way or another, and so the bloodshed ended for that reason.

I think the same can be said of the history of colonialism, and colonialist aggression against indigenous people. In the United States, for example, there is no treaty made between the government and any Native American tribe or group of tribes that was not later broken when doing so seemed useful to the U.S. government, or to Euro-American business interests. This continues to the present day, with things like gas pipelines, water rights, and more, and it is by no means limited to the United States. It’s true throughout the Americas. It’s true in European countries where corporations and governments come into conflict with indigenous groups.

While Canada may have an international reputation for being “nice”, from what I can tell that has never been the experience of the First Nations people still living there. I’ve talked briefly before about the ongoing struggle over corporate use of Wet’suwet’en land, but unfortunately it’s safe to assume that it’s never just happening in one place.

The Mi’kmaq First Nation of Sipekne’katik recently decided to assert its legal right to establish a livelihood lobster fishery, currently totaling 7 licenses, allowing up to 350 traps total. For an idea of the scale of this, the overall “settler” lobster fishery consists of over 367,000 traps. Despite the fractionally small impact this would have on the lobster fishery, and the livelihoods of commercial fishermen, the Sipekne’katik  fleet has been met with an intense and violent reaction.

 (Below is from the threadreader app unroll of @TheAgentNDN‘s thread)
Now you tell me who is the bigger threat to lobster stocks and marine conservation in general? I’m no bigshot mathematician, but it seems to me like ONE average Nova Scotia lobster fishing vessel is working with many more lobster traps than all Mi’gmaq vessels combined.

Keep this discrepancy in mind when you read about settlers cutting lines on Mi’gmaw traps, when you see videos of them shooting flare guns at us, when you hear stories about gas stations refusing to serve us because we’re Native.
Whenever someone directs violence, intimidation, and threats at us in the name of “conservation” remember that settlers take more lobster using a SINGLE BOAT than our entire fleet does.

If settlers are so worried, they should ask their neighbors to stop fishing so much.
The fact of the matter is that we’ve been fishing these waters for thousands of years and we’ve never had any problems. The fishery has never been on the verge of collapsing under our watch.

Can settlers say the same?

Follow that twitter thread, and Ku’ku’kwes News for more updates on the story, and check out this google drive for ways in which you can help the Mi’kmaq fishery. They’re just trying to make a living on their ancestral land at a very small scale, and they’ve come under assault for even that minor assertion of their rights.

The colonization of the Americas never stopped. The marginalization and brutalization of Indigenous Americans never stopped. It only appeared to stop, at least to white folks like me, because we were taught that all that was in the past, and because, as with the destruction of many European indigenous cultures, much of the job had already been done. The greed and bigotry driving the atrocities of the past have gone nowhere, and the system in which we live retains all the physical and cultural infrastructure needed to resume any campaign of violent oppression required to maintain the supremacy of capitalism and the suicidal pursuit of endless growth.

Help out if you can, contribute to Agent NDN’s patreon if you can, and be on the lookout for others around the world whose struggles you might be able  to aid, even a little. The only way out of the mess we’re in is to commit to global solidarity in word and in deed, and to act collectively for the collective good. This means doing our utmost to repair the damage done by previous generations, prevent that damage from being perpetuated, and to lift everyone up so we can all fight the same fights together as one species. There is no path to a sustainable future that does not address the need for social, economic, and environmental justice.

A useful addition to your field guide to fascism

Fascism is gaining power in the United States right now, accompanied by both lies about who and what they are, and by liberal/centrist hand wringing over how bad it is to be mean to fascists. In this environment, education is a powerful tool in responding to those who are, knowingly or otherwise, spreading misinformation. I’ve previously linked Ollie Thorn’s video The Philosophy of Antifa, and if you haven’t watched it, you really, really should.

Another in this library that’s worth your time, and worth sharing around, is Thoughtslime’s new video on the Proud Boys, who are one of the fascist groups currently instigating violence in the United States:

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!