Disability, accessibility, and the end of the Long 20th Century

In supporting my wife’s graduate studies, I’ve come to learn of the concept of a “long century”, defined as a given century, plus the years immediately before and after it, in which the cultural and historical events are not truly separable from the century in question. For example, the Long 18th century is centered on the 1700s, but is generally considered to run from 1688 to 1815, with different dates being used depending on specific fields of study.

When historians of the future, if humanity survives that long, write about 2020, I think they will mark it as the end of the Long 20th century. The COVID-19 pandemic of this year was that final block of the Jenga tower that caused the already unstable edifice of the capitalist empire of the United States to come crashing down, and moved the world from the mindset of the 20th century into a new era in which humanity came to terms with a world that is more different from the one we’ve known than the 20th century, for all its radical changes, was from the 19th.

We are living through changes to how humans live that will resonate for generations to come. Obviously, there’s an urgent need for changes in order to survive rising temperature of the planet, but cities around the world are already making plans for changes to city life to account for the dangers presented by pandemics. We’ve long known that modern society, with its reliance on rapid global transit and the way so many of us live so close to each other, is vulnerable to communicable disease. During the second half of the 20th century, we got used to the idea that modern sanitation and modern medicine – vaccines in particular – would protect us from major outbreaks. Habitat destruction and the spread of humanity into new parts of the world are combining to bring us into contact with previously isolated animal populations, and consequently with diseases to which humans have not been previously exposed at any meaningful level. It may have been a century since the last pandemic of this kind, but it will not be another century before the next one.

The need to change how we live is now not just a necessity driven by climate change, but also by the more familiar fear of disease outbreaks.

With that need for change, comes opportunity. It’s commonplace for new construction to be used to meet needs not considered in the past. Plumbing and electricity are the default, where once they were new. Energy efficiency is now considered in the design and construction of all new buildings.

With the rising seas, cities are being designed to hold back the water, or to allow it to enter without causing real harm.

While I wish the changes to our lives were not being driven by such dire necessity, watching them happen, and doing what I can to help them along, is honestly something that gives me some measure of happiness. It’s a feeling of progress, opportunity, and hope.

There’s one opportunity, in particular, that I think we should be doing our best to take full advantage of. With so much that needs changing, and the need for a radically new approach to putting human wellbeing at the center of how we do things, accessibility should also be centered. There are grand visions of a cleaner, greener world, in which we lift everyone out of the needless poverty of the past, and compared to the scale of those visions, it should be an easy matter to ensure that with the shaping of this new world, it’s designed from the ground up to be wholly inclusive of all of humanity.

Most of the world has made considerable advances in accessibility, but most of the world also still has a long way to go.

It’s likely that, going forward, most of the world is going to be adopting mask-wearing as the default in day-to-day living. This is a good thing overall, but it presents a problem for folks who’re hearing-impaired and rely on lip-reading to aid in communication. Clear plastic visors can help with this problem, but they may not be as good as masks for preventing the spread of droplets from an infected person (though both is the safest option). To get around this problem, people have turned to masks with clear plastic panels sewn into them to make the mouth of the wearer visible.

For those who can’t read lips, or who have both impaired hearing and impaired vision, things like voice-to-text apps are becoming more widely available, which can, in turn, mesh with existing technology like the Braillenote – a machine that converts keystrokes into braille in real time as you type, and other similar devices.

Another big change to come from the pandemic was that many companies rapidly shifted to having their employees work from home. This makes sense, as no company wants to lose work time to a lockdown, or provide extra paid leave to employees who aren’t working. The problem, as many people with disabilities have pointed out, is that many of these companies have been claiming for years that working from home simply wasn’t possible, so disabled employees had to find ways to manage working in-office or navigate the treacherous waters of self employment. That so many companies were able to make the switch so quickly, when their majority-abled work forces required it, highlights a couple things. The first, which should not be surprising, is that most companies are happy to lie about what is or is not possible, particularly when doing so increases their control over their workers. The second is that the abled people have failed to stand in solidarity with our disabled colleagues. 2020 has reminded us that when we act together, we do, in fact, have the power to force change. If we want to save humanity from the climate instability we’ve caused, we will have to practice solidarity on a global scale like never before, and that requires that, to the best of our ability, we ensure that everyone’s needs are met. That includes building a system that is more just and equitable along the lines of race, gender, and sexuality, but it also requires that we do the same with regard to disability.

There are laws like the ADA that have done a huge amount to expand accessibility (thanks to the efforts of advocates working to ensure compliance), but as with other areas of discrimination, unscrupulous corporations cannot be relied on to do right by their employees, and relying solely on the legislative and legal processes seems insufficient to me. Solidarity and collective action are a must on this, as with everything else.

The move to  a much larger “remote” work force has also caused a boom in the use of various Orwellian methods of surveillance as companies try to maintain the same level of direct control and micro-management of their employees as they have on-site. It seems pretty clear that this lack of trust is encouraged by the employer/employee power dynamic of capitalism. The products of an employee’s labor all belong to the employer, and many employers seem to view their workers as wage slaves, belonging entirely to the employer for the period of time that’s paid for. During that time, the employees do not belong to themselves, but to the company. It’s easy to maintain that dynamic in a centralized location where managers can provide direct oversight, but when workers are operating remotely, it’s both harder to maintain, and more intrusive to try.

Unfortunately, this level of micro-management is also something that people with disabilities often have to deal with. To begin with, there’s the degree to which those who need financial assistance in meeting their medical needs find themselves subjected to enforced poverty, and even have their relationships effectively regulated by the government. Make too much money, and you lose your support, even though you don’t make enough to pay for everything yourself. Get married, and you might also lose your support. The problem goes beyond that though, with insurance corporations monitoring the lives of people like patients with sleep apnea through the CPAP machines they use to allow them to sleep, as a way to try to force more costs onto the patients.

Capitalism has always been a joint venture between the capitalist class and the government, not unlike the feudal system from which capitalism was born. As we enter this new chapter in human history, we will need to remake almost every aspect of our lives. In discussing that, the focus has largely been on the material changes to our day to day existence, but I think that’s more of a distraction than anything. Responding to climate change means improving standards of living across the board, and should mean keeping most or all of the modern marvels that have improved life for so many. What really needs to be remade is every aspect of how our lives are governed, and how we relate to the rest of the planet. In doing that, we will also gain the ability to reshape our material conditions in the ways that are needed.

In doing that, we must ensure that we do not leave anyone behind.


Despite everything happening in the world right now, life goes on, and I’m still required to spend money in order to live. My work is supported by a group of wonderful people over at patreon.com/oceanoxia, and I would be immeasurably grateful if you would consider joining their ranks. How much you give, and for how long are entirely under your control, and every little bit helps a great deal, as my household is very short on money right now. Thank you for reading, and take care of yourselves.

My next post is taking a long time, so here’s a video from @thoughtslime that you should watch

I’m working on a longer, more involved post, but that won’t be done till sometime tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s a Thought Slime video that I think you should watch.

 

You’ll note that when it comes to solutions, it comes back to the same approach I’ve been pushing (as have others, thankfully) – we need to work to directly build alternatives to the increasingly hellish system we’re trapped in, in order to deal with the increasingly hellish world it’s creating.

America’s leadership seems to think the country is collapsing, and they’ve decided to respond by looting it.

I’ve discussed before how big corporations seem to behavior like piratical, landless, colonial governments that loot countries for private gain. Historically, colonial countries like the United States have acted as the bases of operations for these entities – their “home territory” where they are protected from any repercussions for their actions. In the video below, Richard Wolff makes a compelling case that not only is the United States collapsing, but those currently in power are aware of it, and their actions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic amount to looting the base before they abandon it to seek out a new haven, without regard for the death and misery left in their wake.

Zac Cope described the emergence of fascism in the domestic governance of an empire like the United States thusly:

Geographically speaking, on its own soilfascism is imperialist repression turned inward whilst on foreign soil it is imperialist repression
employed by comprador autocracies. (Divided World Divided Class: Global political economy and the stratification of labour under capitalism, page 294/page 309 of the PDF)

Considered through that lens, this is the United States being subjected to the same plundering that has plagued current and former colonies the world over, not at the hands of the vengeful victims of our own crimes, as the white supremacists have claimed would happen, but at the hands of the very institutions that were built up through the plundering of other nations.

Whatever the future holds for the United States, it appears that the people currently running it – both politicians and corporate executives – believe that the country is collapsing, and rather than fighting to ease the suffering of the people, they grabbing what they can, while they can. Those charged with caring for the population have demonstrated no interest in doing so, and the leadership of the Democratic Party has been fully complicit in this.

I think it’s reasonable to expect that whatever happens in November, and whatever the next few years bring, residents of the United States should not fully rely on their government to do what must be done. Reach out to people around you. Form networks. Think about how to get necessities for yourself, should the governmental and trade systems on which you rely begin to fail. Maybe I’m being alarmist – it would be nice – but even if I am, this organizing work will be beneficial, similar to how transitioning to renewable energy would have side benefits. It will make your communities more resilient to things like climate change, and it will mean that you will be able to exert collective political power if you need to. We live in a very atomized society, and we must change that if we are to work together to overcome the concentrated power of the ruling classes, and to fix the world.

Form networks, get results.


Despite everything happening in the world right now, life goes on, and I’m still required to spend money in order to live. My work is supported by a group of wonderful people over at patreon.com/oceanoxia, and I would be immeasurably grateful if you would consider joining their ranks. How much you give, and for how long are entirely under your control, and every little bit helps a great deal, as my household is very short on money right now. Thank you for reading, and take care of yourselves.

Good news: Artificial cooling can be made significantly more efficient and environmentally friendly

Given the current rate at which the planet is warming, there is no longer any question – our lifestyles will be changing dramatically, and they will probably keep changing for the rest of our lives. As I’ve stated many times, I think the pathway to survival for humanity requires us to retain most of the advantages of modern technology as we make our way on this newly hostile planet. It’s possible that the most important piece of technology for us to hold on to is the ability to lower the temperature of enclosed spaces.

Hotter weather means we’re going to need increased indoor cooling to stay healthy and happy in general, and in some places we’ll need it to stay alive, at least for part of the year. We’ll also need to be able to refrigerate or freeze food to keep it from spoiling, and refrigeration is essential to various areas of scientific research. The problem is that the refrigeration process tends to release chemicals with various harmful environmental impacts. Chlorofluorocarbons were probably the first ones that gained widespread attention for the damage they did to Earth’s ozone layer, but while phasing them out did help with that problem, they were mostly replaced with hydrofluorocarbons, which have their own problems. Now, research has indicated that there’s a great deal of potential to reduce that pollution without losing the ability to preserve food and life through artificial cooling.

A new IIASA-led study shows that coordinated international action on energy-efficient, climate-friendly cooling could avoid as much as 600 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gas emissions in this century.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are mainly used for cooling and refrigeration. While they were originally developed to replace ozone-depleting substances that are being phased out under the Montreal Protocol, many HFCs are potent greenhouse gases with a global warming potential up to 12,400 times that of CO2 over a 100-year period.

[…]

“Our results show that the global cumulative HFC emissions from refrigerant use in cooling technologies would have been over 360 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent between 2018 and 2100 in the pre-Kigali baseline scenario. In addition, indirect CO2 emissions from energy production of electricity used in cooling equipment will be approximately the same order of magnitude if the world continues along its present path, without any additional changes in energy policy,” explains IIASA researcher Pallav Purohit, who led the study.

“We found that if technical energy efficiency improvements are fully implemented, the resulting electricity savings could exceed 20% of future global electricity consumption, while the corresponding figure for economic energy efficiency improvements would be about 15%,” adds study coauthor and senior IIASA researcher Lena Höglund-Isaksson.

The researchers say that the combined effect of HFC phase-down, improvement of energy efficiency of stationary cooling technologies, and future changes in the electricity generation fuel mix would prevent between 411 and 631 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gas emissions between 2018 and 2100, thereby making a significant contribution towards keeping the global temperature rise below 2°C. Transitioning to high efficiency cooling can therefore double the climate mitigation effects of the HFC phase-down under the Kigali Amendment, while also delivering economic, health, and development benefits.

The findings further show that reduced electricity consumption could mean lower air pollution emissions in the power sector, estimated at about 5 to 10% for sulfur dioxide, 8 to 16% for nitrogen oxides (NOx), and 4 to 9% for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions compared with a pre-Kigali baseline.

“To be consistent with 1.5°C scenarios, by 2050 HFCs should be reduced by between 70 and 80% compared to 2010 levels. According to the Kigali Amendment and Maximum Technically Feasible Reduction (MTFR) scenarios we analyzed, we could achieve 92.5% and 99.5% reductions in 2050 compared to 2010 levels, respectively. This means that both scenarios surpass the 1.5 °C threshold. If carefully addressed during the transition to alternatives that have the potential to relieve global warming, improvement potentials for energy efficiency in cooling technologies are extensive and can bring significant electricity savings,” Purohit concludes

Retaining the ability to cool things down, while decreasing harmful emissions from doing so and decreasing the energy spent to do it means that we are that much more likely to have energy to spare for things like hydrogen production, indoor food production, and carbon sequestration efforts. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that much of modern technology depends on the ability to lower temperature within enclosed spaces. Losing that would mean losing a number of major aspects of modern medicine, manufacturing, and food transport, so being able to do it more cleanly is a big deal.


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!

Oceanoxia just turned 10 years old!

One of the side effects of decades of denial and misinformation surrounding climate science has been that in any given conversation on the subject, nobody’s really sure what the other parties believe. Spend enough time interacting with people on this, and you’ll find people who think that we’re about to go into an ice age, that the climate isn’t changing at all, that the severe changes are still a century or more away, all the way to believing that humanity will be extinct within a decade and there’s nothing we can do about it. I always get a little dark amusement from people trying to “convince” me that the situation is dire and that we’re running out of time, because that’s been a central theme of my writing for a decade now, which is certainly less time than many have been working on the issue, but the changes in public opinion that I’ve seen in that time have been significant.

I was in one such conversation in the wee hours of this morning, and it seemed like I might need to provide some bonafides that I take the issue seriously, so I went to look up the very first blog post I ever published on Oceanoxia. It’s been long enough that I couldn’t remember exactly when that was – if it was some time in 2010 or 2011. Imagine my surprise when I realized that it wasn’t just 2010, but it was the 6th of October, 2010!

Happy birthday to me!

So in honor of this auspicious day, that I hadn’t realized was coming, I’m clattering out this short retrospective.

I started this blog in a fit of pessimistic irritation at the “worst-case scenarios” being discussed at the time, and the overly optimistic views of most people I knew who were engaged in some form of climate activism. I couldn’t cite an exact source, but I remember hearing someone on the news saying that two feet of sea level rise by 2100 was an alarmist prediction, and that it would never get that bad. People I talked to who were on board with the need for change seemed to largely think that we were close to the point where if we just emitted less, we’d never see dangerous warming, and I even had some people tell me that I was being too alarmist by suggesting people start getting in the habit of storing food for emergencies.

And so Oceanoxia came into being, born of frustration, and the fear that I would live to see the beginning of the end for my species.

One of the likely effects of a warming planet is the eventual shutdown of the “ocean conveyor” currents that help oxygen and nutrients cycle between the surface and the deep ocean. If the poles warm enough to keep the water on the surface from sinking, the bottom of the ocean will eventually lose all of its dissolved oxygen as it is breathed in and not replaced by the photosynthetic organisms on the surface (which are also declining). This means that the only organisms capable of surviving down there will be ones that don’t breathe oxygen – anaerobic bacteria.  On the surface, this isn’t a problem, but as things get warmer, and those bacteria multiply, the seas will fill with toxic chemicals created through anaerobic respiration.

The best example of this is Green Lake in Fayetteville, NY – a lake with an anoxic bottom layer that has become filled with hydrogen sulfide. This has happened in the oceans in the past, and may have been a significant factor in massive extinctions. One hypothesis as to the cause of the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event, when something like 95% of all life on the planet died, is that this deadly gas buildup leaked out of the ocean, and covered much of the Earth’s land masses in poisonous gas.

I am writing this blog for several reasons. One is to provide a place for me to think aloud about what is going on in the world; another is for me to, ideally, provide a view on science and climate change that others might not have encountered before (as well as links to others who may write about particular topics better than I). The last reason is that I think there is a fundamental problem with the way climate change has been framed, both by scientists and by the general populace.

When scientists first voiced their recommendations about global warming, their warnings were based on what they thought the most likely outcomes were. They went middle of the road, they went for predictions that had the highest accuracy, and for that they were labeled alarmists and their careful, conservative predictions were called extreme, and so no real action was taken.

It’s well past time to re-adjust the frame of this “debate” – to outline where the extremes REALLY are. It’s fine to act on advice of the likely outcomes, but for those who do not make science a priority,  who do not have the time or inclination to dig for details, we need to have the REAL worst-case scenarios out there for comparison.

It may shock you to hear this, dear reader, but trying to focus on worst-case scenarios can get a bit depressing over time. I eventually shifted toward a more… constructive approach. The sub-header of my old blog still has the following quote:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” – Antoine de Saint Exupéry

It became clear to me that future dangers are not enough, by themselves, to motivate people to make changes on the scale we need. We also need a vision of a better future. Running blindly into the darkness may be easy to do when there’s a predator immediately behind us, but if we’re trying to get to a situation where we no longer need to worry about predators, we need to be able to see where we’re going. Ideally, we will also look forward to getting there. I think it’s a hard sell to tell people that we need to make changes so we can just barely survive on a sweltering hell-world.

At this point I think the future will be a sweltering hell-world, probably within my lifetime. There is, and will be, cause for much grief surrounding this fact. At the same time, I do not think that our future is inevitably one of bare survival and suffering. I believe that with existing technology, and a shift away from the insanity of capitalism, we can create a new version of human society that can not only survive, but thrive. I believe that the path to survival is one that requires us to end needless poverty and suffering. The current system, based on the greed of a tiny ruling class and the absurd fiction of infinite growth, will lead us to extinction, and it is my greatest ambition to die of old age, and to look forward from my death bed, and see humanity continuing on into the future, long past my ability to predict.


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: Climate grief

This is the podcast version of my recent blog post Climate Grief: Mourning a lost homeworld.


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!

Not good: Research shows irrigation has limited ability to save crop yields from drought

I’ve written before about my view that we need to get away from food production that relies on seasonal weather patterns, and some new research has been published that reinforces that opinion. In particular, the capacity for irrigation to mitigate the effects of drought:

“Plants have to balance water supply and demand. Both are extremely critical, but people overlook the demand side of the equation, especially in the U.S. Corn Belt,” says Kaiyu Guan, principal investigator on two new studies, Blue Waters professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at Illinois.

The demand Guan refers to is atmospheric dryness, often expressed as vapor pressure deficit (VPD). The drier the air, the more moisture is sucked out of pores, or stomata, in plant leaves. Plants have to open stomata to take in carbon dioxide as their food, but if they sense the atmosphere is too dry, they’ll close pores to avoid drying out. Keeping stomata closed too long leads to reductions in photosynthesis, plant growth, and grain yield.

The kicker? Plants shut down stomata due to atmospheric dryness even when there’s an adequate supply of moisture in the soil.

“If you only consider rainfall and soil moisture, which is how most people think about drought, that’s mostly describing the supply side. Of course if you have low soil moisture, plants will be stressed by how much water they get. But the supply is often pretty sufficient, especially here in the U.S. Corn Belt,” Guan says. “However, the demand side from the atmosphere can also severely stress plants. We need to pay more attention to that drought signal.”

Guan’s two recent studies used multiple technological approaches, including field measurements, various sources of satellite data, hydrological model simulations, and government crop yield statistics. The first study, published in Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, used data from seven sites across the Corn Belt to conclude VPD accounts for nearly 90% of the changes in crop stomatal conductance, a proxy for drought stress, and approximately 85% of changes in gross primary productivity, a measure of productivity.

“By comparison, soil moisture typically accounts for 6-13% of these measures for corn and soybean, and up to 35% when considering time lag effects,” says Hyungsuk Kimm, doctoral student in Guan’s group and the study’s lead author.

In the other study, published in the Journal of Hydrology, Guan’s team focused on grain yield. Yield depends on many factors related to water cycles, but the researchers found that VPD explains the biggest proportion of variability in crop yield and also provides the earliest warning for yield loss when comparing with other water cycle metrics and traditional drought indices.

“This led us to build a new drought index integrating VPD, soil moisture, and measures of evapotranspiration, which can account for more than 70% of yield variation. Our index outperforms all the existing drought indices,” says Wang Zhou, postdoctoral researcher in Guan’s group and the study’s lead author.

Guan adds, “In these two studies, we tried to understand the demand side of drought from two major angles, one using eddy covariance data which measures landscape water and carbon use very accurately — the gold standard — and the other leveraging satellite data and model-simulated hydrological variables correlated with regional yield,” Guan says. “In both, we demonstrate VPD is more important than soil moisture to explain the crop drought response in the U.S. Midwest.”

The researchers are continuing to look into things like how to breed more drought-resistant crops, but I honestly feel that that is too little, too late. There are limits to how drought-resistant you can make any given plant, and from what I can tell there are not predictable limits on how severe droughts and heat waves may be getting in the coming decades. If we want to avoid food shortages, we should be working on indoor food production. That could be the various techniques mentioned in my recent post on climate change and agriculture, or it could be something like seawater greenhouses, but in any case, there is zero question that the world’s food production is vulnerable to droughts, and there is zero question that droughts and heat waves are going to continue getting worse.

In my opinion, there is no greater threat to the United States in the coming decades than the degree to which our food production relies on the stability of a climate that is now so unstable that it’s warming at a rate that may be unprecedented in the history of life on this planet.

I continue to believe that if we take urgent action, we can survive what’s coming, and even build a better human society in the process, but we do need to act, and the longer we continue to delay, the higher the death toll will become.


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!

“…rather luxurious caves with highly-efficient facilities…”

A lot of discussion about solving “the energy problem” of climate change focuses on changing sources of energy, and finding ways to store energy. This makes a lot of sense. Fossil fuels are an incredibly efficient way to store and transport chemical energy that can be easily converted into heat and motion. If we’re going to stop using fossil fuels, that means finding an alternate means to store and transport energy, and while battery technology is improving, it’s got a ways to go. I think we’re well past the point at which we should be working much harder to roll out the technology we currently have, but it’s good that research continues.

That said, the question of efficiency in the use of that energy is one that can sometimes fall by the wayside. Most of it seems to revolve around the red herring of individual action, with things like LED lightbulbs, more efficient appliances, and better energy habits like turning off lights, and using less heat or cooling. It turns out that changing how we use power can dramatically reduce how much we need to maintain a “modern” standard of living.

The study led by the University of Leeds has estimated the energy resource needed for everyone to be provided decent living standards in 2050 — meaning all their basic human needs such as shelter, mobility, food and hygiene are met, while also having access to modern, high quality healthcare, education and information technology.

The findings, published in in the journal Global Environmental Change, reveal that decent living standards could be provided to the entire global population of 10 billion that is expected to be reached by 2050, for less than 40% of today’s global energy. This is roughly 25% of that forecast by the International Energy Agency if current trends continue.

This level of global energy consumption is roughly the same as that during the 1960s, when the population was only three billion.

The authors emphasise that achieving this would require sweeping changes in current consumption, widespread deployment of advanced technologies, and the elimination of mass global inequalities.

However, not only do the findings show that the energy required to provide a decent living could likely be met entirely by clean sources, but it also offers a firm rebuttal to reactive claims that reducing global consumption to sustainable levels requires an end to modern comforts and a ‘return to the dark ages’.

The authors’ tongue in cheek response to the critique that sweeping energy reform would require us all to become ‘cave dwellers’ was: “Yes, perhaps, but these are rather luxurious caves with highly-efficient facilities for cooking, storing food and washing clothes; comfortable temperatures maintained throughout the year, computer networks — among other things — not to mention the larger caves providing universal healthcare and education to all 5-19 year olds.”

The study calculated minimum final energy requirements, both direct and indirect, to provide decent living standards. Final energy is that delivered to the consumer’s door, for example, heating, electricity or the petrol that goes into a car, rather than the energy embedded in fuels themselves — much of which is lost at power stations in the case of fossil fuels.

The team built a final energy-model, which builds upon a list of basic material needs that underpin human well-being previously developed by Narasimha Rao and Jihoon Min.

The study compared current final energy consumption across 119 countries to the estimates of final energy needed for decent living and found the vast majority of countries are living in significant surplus. In countries that are today’s highest per-capita consumers, energy cuts of nearly 95% are possible while still providing decent living standards to all.

Study lead author Dr Joel Millward-Hopkins from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds said: “Currently, only 17% of global final energy consumption is from non-fossil fuel sources. But that is nearly 50% of what we estimate is needed to provide a decent standard of living for all in 2050.”

“Overall, our study is consistent with the long-standing arguments that the technological solutions already exist to support reducing energy consumption to a sustainable level. What we add is that the material sacrifices needed to for these reductions are far smaller than many popular narratives imply.”

I’ve long maintained that the path to a sustainable human society that responsibly manages its effects on the rest of the biosphere continues in the direction of scientific and technological advancement. There are a few reasons for that. The first is that I don’t believe it’s possible to convince most people to give up the comforts and safety of modern technology. Primitivist visions of the future might appeal to some people, but for most, it’s a non-starter. Second, I think it’s too late for that.

In the years I’ve been active on the issue of climate change, I’ve repeatedly encountered the attitudes discussed in the quote above – If I care so much about the problems of modern technology, why don’t I just go live in a cabin in the woods somewhere. Obviously this is a bad-faith argument, and it misses a lot of points, but I’ve always been personally annoyed by it because I’d love to do that. I’d love to live in a small hut by the sea, keep a goat and some chickens, and grow most or all of my own food, while writing science fiction and fantasy. That future is no longer possible. Even leaving aside the money required to set up and maintain such a lifestyle in a capitalist society with mandatory participation, I can’t do it because the climate is changing. My crops will fail from heat waves or droughts.. My seaside home will flood. That kind of agrarian lifestyle may have been possible in the world in which my parents were born, but that’s not this world.

For us to survive in this world, we need to be able to artificially cool our homes and workplaces. We need to be able to withstand increasingly unpredictable and powerful weather. We need to shift to food sources that don’t rely on the seasonal weather patterns and stable ecosystems of the past. We desperately need to transcend the boundaries of nation-states to work together in solidarity to face the existential threat of climate change.

The press briefing for this research that I quoted above ends with a vital statement.

Study co-author Professor Narasimha Rao from Yale University said: “This study also confirms our earlier findings at a global scale that eradicating poverty is not an impediment to climate stabilization, rather it’s the pursuit of unmitigated affluence across the world.”

Not only do we live in a post-scarcity world, where poverty is created and maintained as a matter of policy for the benefit of the ruling class, but in order to survive what’s coming in our lifetimes, we need to end that way of doing things. We must work together for the material betterment of all, if we’re to have any shot of survival.


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!

Infographics! All about Black Bloc

With Antifa being shaped into the leftist bogeyman of our era, with intense focus on “scary” protesters dressed all in black and wearing masks. I think it’s appropriate that the masks have become a sign of caring for the health of our fellow humans, and of working collectively toward a better, healthier world, because in many ways that’s what the development of Black Bloc tactics is all about. Twitter user @Luxinvictus_ put together some infographics that might be useful, either in informing yourself, or in sharing information with folks you know who may be freaked out by GOP propaganda about protesters.

The image is text on a pastel purple back ground, with pink-ish text boxes. The text reads as follows: All About Black Bloc -

The image is text on a pastel purple back ground, with pink-ish text boxes. The text reads as follows: All About Black Bloc -

The image is text on a pastel purple back ground, with pink-ish text boxes. The text reads as follows: All About Black Bloc -0 If you need help or aid, ask Black Bloc. If you want to help, normalize Black Bloc. Wear it in your daily life. Have conversations with your community and peers about local events and actions taking place. For a calendar of local actions, please follow the link below (followed by arrows pointing down to the URL  TinyUrl.com/SeattleBLMCalendar

Click image for Seattle BLM protest calendar

The image is white text on pastel violet text boxes, over a background resembling pastel tiles with swirling violet, blue, and darker purple colors. The text reads as follows: The vast majority of protests and protesters do not engage in any property destruction. The vast majority of property destruction targets facades of state oppression and racist big business (big banks that fund violent, non-consensual, illegal fossil fuel projects on unceded native lands, businesses owned by Amazon, which builds tools for ICE, gives millions to racist city council candidates, abuses essential workers, etc.) In rare cases, very racist small businesses get targeted (Rove, whose co-owner murdered Charleena Lyles, major gentrificaters, etc.)

The image is white text on pastel violet text boxes, over a background resembling pastel tiles with swirling violet, blue, and darker purple colors. The text reads as follows: "Protests Turn Violent!" and other misconceptions -continued- In extremely rare cases, less racist or even anti-racist small businesses are harmed. This is always strongly discouraged on the spot, often apologized for, and repairs are often crowd-finded on the spot or soon thereafter. Revolution is messy, but it is not necessarily violent chaos. Spreading the corporate media narrative makes it more dangerous for everyone. Please share this info.

Click image for Seattle BLM event calendar