A Dark Web: Part 5

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This is part 5 of a collective story being put together by some folks on the Freethought Blogs crew as part of a fundraiser to help cover the legal bills incurred by Richard

Carrier’s SLAP lawsuit. Check out parts 1-5 at the links below, and then dive in!

Part 1 is at The Bolingbrook Babbler.
Part 2 is at Freethinking Ahead.
Part 3 is at Impossible Me.
Part 4 is at Death to Squirrels.

 

Kyle tested the door handle. It opened with barely a click, and the team filed quietly into the back hall, guns drawn. Connie knew immediately that something was off. The diner’s sound system was playing some kind of spooky trance music, but she couldn’t hear anything from the guests they knew had packed into the small venue. She shivered as all of her body hairs stood on end.

“Hold,” her voice was soft, but Mateo could hear the tension in it.

“What’s wrong, Herbert?”

“I’m not…” She shivered again. How to explain? “I don’t hear people moving.”

Mateo frowned. While this wasn’t the first time she’d “heard” something wrong, the music normally drowned out a lot of noises.
“I don’t hear much talking or anything, but.”

Connie shook her head.

“Proceed with caution. Either this is a trap, or we’re in big trouble.”

“Bigger trouble than a trap?” Katie’s whisper had a little bit of a whine to it, and she started looking around, as if she was going to see spiders coming out of every corner.

“Just… Just be careful. I think people might have already been dosed.”

Katie nodded, and gripped the straps of her pack.

They began moving down the hall.

Connie kept her face blank and her breathing quiet as she thought. How to explain? Hey Mateo, I know we’ve been working together for years and you think we know everything about each other, but did I ever mention those crazy experiments I was part of? The ones where I was made part spider with the help of some kind of messed up science nobody’s ever heard of? You say I never mentioned it? Well, now I can “see” my surroundings through vibrations as they hit my body hair.
Kyle and Mateo stopped at the kitchen door. Mateo gently pushed it open and Kyle gave a quick look in. He shook his head. Empty. Connie shivered again. That’s what she was feeling, not just from the kitchen, but also from the main room of the diner. All those people had come in here – they’d watched them come in – but there was no one here.

Not even the advance team.

Connie didn’t say anything. Even after all these years, it was hard to be sure of what her senses told her. Augmentations or no, the human brain didn’t evolve to process this kind of input. Maybe they were all just doing something in the main room, and she couldn’t hear them…
They moved on down the hall. The dining room was empty, but for a few dozen coats piled on the tables. The lights were dim, the music still played, but there was no other sign that anyone had been here for longer than it took to put down their coats.

“What the fuck?” Mateo kept his voice quiet and calm, but she could see the tension in this shoulders. “Where is everyone?”

Kyle peered out the window.

“All the cars are still there.”

“Does this place have a basement?”

Connie shrugged. “It’s been years since I was-” She stopped talking.

“Connie?”

“Mateo?”

“You’ve been here before?”

“Did I say that?

Mateo holstered his gun, stalked over to her, and grabbed her by the shoulder, looking into her pale eyes.

“Talk. You’ve been tense ever since we got here, and as far as I know, you’ve never been here before. You’re hiding something, and we can’t have that on a team like this. Talk.”

“I-” Connie looked around. All three of them were staring at her. “Fine. Look. A few years back, I decided to find out where my family came from, OK? My folks left for some reason, and they wouldn’t talk about it, and I was curious.”

“It was here?”

Connie nodded.

“Did you talk to anyone here? Does anyone know you?”

“Talked to a few people. One knew I was from the Herbert family.”

“You have relatives here?”

“Mateo, no. Not for decades. Mary knew some members of my family when she was a kid. Apparently most of the women had the same very pale eyes as me, and she had a few childhood memories. They left town, probably when I was still a kid. Maybe before I was born.”

“Mary?”

Connie nodded.

“Mary’s Meat Shop?”

She nodded again.

“And she recognized you from your eyes?”

“I-”

“You should’ve told us.”

Kyle and Katie kept quiet, watching for any signs of the missing partygoers. Connie rubbed her arm over her forehead and nodded.

“Sorry.”

Mateo let go of her shoulder and sighed.

“I overreacted. I’m just freaked out. Where is everyone?”

“I-” Connie hesitated. Did she want to draw attention right now? Had to be done. “I thought I felt a vibration in the floor. There might be a basement that wasn’t in the building plans.”

There was a moment of silence, then Kyle spoke up.

“Probably behind the bar. Easy to bring up new stock that way.”

Katie stepped up to the bar, peered over it, looked back at the others, and nodded. They all went over to look. The floor mat had been rolled up, revealing a long trapdoor set in the floor.

Kyle frowned. “Why would they be down there?”

“Some kind of party thing,”suggested Katie. “Maybe they went for a spooky basement theme?”

Connie shook her head. “That doesn’t explain where the advance team went.”

Mateo went to a corner and bent down, sniffing.

“They didn’t do their work, either. I should be able to smell some of the stuff they normally put down.”

“Basement it is, then,” said Connie.

“Still feels wrong,” growled Kyle.

“Agreed,” said Connie. “Katie, stay up here and keep an ear out. We’ll call you down if the way is clear.”

Katie nodded with a glum expression.

“Ok. Open it.”

Mateo grabbed the ring set in the door and heaved. It swung up with a soft creak, revealing a metal staircase. Kyle went down, carefully, and waved for the others to follow. Connie went after him, and Mateo after her. He looked around, and then went back up to get Katie.

It was a standard storage basement, but there was a smell that set Connie’s teeth on edge. She couldn’t place it, but it was familiar. At the far end of the room was an open doorway, with a web-covered figure slumped in it. Connie approached, gun drawn, heart beating fast. A couple steps away, and it moved. Head turned to face her, and a muffled voice said, “Connie?”

“You’ve gotta be kidding me.”

Mateo and Kyle came up on either side of her.

“Damn,” Mateo cursed. “Katie, get some antivenin over here now!”

Katie hurried up, but Connie put a hand out to stop her. She bent over to peel some of the webbing off the figure’s face.

“Connie. I thought I could feel you moving around. What are you doing here?”

“Billy? What are you doing here? Why are you webbed up?”

“They dosed me. Knocked me out. This happens any time I stop moving too long.”

“What?” Kyle, Mateo, and Katie looked confused, and scared.

“Is he-” Kyle swallowed. “Are you saying that webbing comes out of you?” His voice cracked at the end of the question.

Billy nodded, and shifted a little. There was a click, and then a knife blade poked through the webbing in his lap. He wiggled it around, cutting away the web until he could get an arm free, and cut the rest of it away from himself. He stood and rubbed his head. The others backed away, but Connie just stood, staring at him.

“What? This didn’t happen to you?”

“Billy-”

“They must’ve given us different stuff or something. One sec, sorry about this, but if I don’t, I’ll end up getting really faint from hunger in a couple minutes.”

He gave them an apologetic shrug, bent to pick up a sheet of the webbing, and started stuffing it in his mouth. Kyle gagged.

“Connie.”

“Uh, yes, Mateo?”

“Was there anything else you forgot to tell us?”

Mateo was watching as Billy kept stuffing webbing into his mouth, chewing, and swallowing it.

“I-”

“Connie,” Katie put a hand on her shoulder. “I think you need to tell us.”

She sighed.

“Yeah. I guess I need to. You know how I’m one of the most senior officers working this job?”

They nodded. Kyle still looked pale, but he’d stopped gagging. Billy glanced at her over a mouthful of web and raised an eyebrow.

“It’s a bit more than that. Billy and I were at ground zero for all of this.”

“But this isn’t what happens when people get exposed!” Kate gestured at Billy. “We’ve seen death, some deformity, insanity, and in one case eggs,” she shuddered. “But never anything close to this!”

“We weren’t just exposed. We were…” she sighed. “We were test subjects.”

“What!?”

“They were experimenting on us at the same time as they were experimenting on the spiders.”

“Connie…” There was concern in Mateo’s voice.

“I’m fine, Mateo, really. I’m just… different.”

“But not like him?” Mateo jerked his head at Billy, who was about halfway through his strange meal.

“Not like him.” Connie shook her head vigorously. “Hell, he wasn’t like him last time I saw him. This might actually be an improvement.” Billy, mouth still stuffed with webbing, nodded emphatically.

“I got lucky, I guess. I can sense vibrations. That’s the main difference.”

“Sense vibrations?” Kyle looked confused

Connie held up a hand, and pointed to the hairs on the back of it. “My hair isn’t just hair anymore. Well, some of it is, but a lot of it is what’s called thrichobotria, they’re how spiders hear. In my case, it’s all over most of my body, and it can actually give me a pretty clear picture of what’s going on around me, even if I can’t see. Sort of like a more passive version of echolocation.”

“You’re…” Kyle took a step back. “You’re part spider?”

“Dehhh-” Billy started speaking then coughed. He still had a couple big handfuls of webbing to go. “Sorry. Throat’s dry. Didn’t tell them?”

“In this case it was need-to-know. They didn’t, until now, and the Company thought it would be better this way.”

“Well…” Mateo took a deep breath. “This explains more than it doesn’t.

“Are you kidding me?” Katie grabbed Connie’s hand, and whipped out a hand lens. “This explains nothing! This shouldn’t be possible! Hold still!”

Connie blinked, and Billy gave a muffled guffaw.

“They’re really fucking spider hairs! This shouldn’t be possible! There were rumors, but – DNA doesn’t just- You can’t-”

Connie gently pulled her hand away.

“Katie-”

“This is Scifi bullshit. What’s really going on?”

“I told you! I don’t know all the details of what they did to us. It was human and spider DNA, or sometimes spider venom, combined with, I dunno, some kind of serum to help it assimilate or whatever.”

“That sounds made up!”

“Katie, you’ve seen some of what that venom does!”

“Yeah, but that’s like, in the realm of teratomas and stuff.”

Connie lifted her hands and shrugged. “Not my area of expertise.”

“Uh – I can clarify”, said Billy. He had finished his meal.

Mateo looked at Connie, then at Billy. “Clarify, then.”

“Your teammate…”

“Katie”

“Katie’s right. It’s not possible, normally.”

Connie stared at him.

“Uh, y’all ever pay attention to news coming out of CERN?”

“The… No… No you’re kidding me.” Connie’s stomach churned. She’d just seen a news report that the people running the Large Hadron Collider were going to try contacting a parallel universe.

“Ground zero was in Texas.”

Connie nodded. “At a facility that was abandoned in 1993. They were going to build a particle accelerator like the one in CERN, but bigger.”

“It was never abandoned.”

“It… What?”

Billy gave her a wry smile. “I found out a few years ago. They always planned to declare it a boondoggle and ‘abandon’ it. They finished construction and it went online in 1997. Very covert. They made contact with an alternate universe, and managed to actually acquire some material from there. Maybe even go through? I’m honestly not sure. That’s how they developed the stuff they used on us, though.”

Connie stared at him. “I’m… I’m part alien or something?”

“Or something.”

“How did you know all this? What happened to you?”

“Weeeell, with my, uh, condition, they decided to keep me on behind the scenes. They never gave me much information, but I picked up bits and pieces.”

“Guys,” Katie clapped her hands once for attention. “What happened to the people who came here for a party? We were here to stop a drug deal and do a cover-up, remember?”

“Oh, that’s why you’re here. I guess they really meant it when they said autonomous operatives.”

“Wait just a minute,” said Mateo. “How could they keep a project that big secret?

“I dunno,” said Billy. “I guess they got good at it though, since you folks didn’t know this one was here.”

“This… What?” Connie’s hair was standing on end, and her senses were already telling her what was through that doorway and down the hall.

“This collider. They’ve been making a lot of them. I honestly don’t know why, and I don’t know what they wanted the party folks for. I was just supposed to guard the door, but they knocked me out as soon as I asked a question.”

Connie pushed past him and into the hallway. Right around the corner, it opened into a huge, echoing tunnel like the one at the Texas facility all those years ago. She looked up.

“Billy?”

“Yeah?”

“The facility in Texas didn’t have this many spiders on the ceiling.”


The 6th and final part is on Pharyngula, so go check it out for the thrilling conclusion!

In the meantime, please check out our fundraiser page, and consider whether you can help out!

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A post-election roundup of media takes on the 2019 Bolivia coup

When the Bolivian regime of Evo Morales was subjected to a right-wing coup in 2019, a lot of people in American and British media celebrated it as a “victory for democracy”, despite ample evidence that the claims of election-rigging were entirely unfounded. These same people seemed unwilling to grapple with the brutality of the new interim president, or her open racism towards the indigenous people of Bolivia. In the last few years, I’ve heard a lot of people saying that things like colonial abuses, or anti-democratic coups against left-wing governments in South and Central America are things of the past – that that was stuff we did during the Cold War, not NOW.

This is very clearly false. The aggressive, destructive nature of neoliberal capitalism has continued unabated since the dissolution of the USSR, as capitalist countries work to ensure that no competing system – especially a more democratic one – is allowed to succeed. I’ve said before that we need to stand in solidarity as a species if we’re going to survive the warming of our planet, and that goes beyond simply speaking out against coups or abuses happening at smaller scales. We also need to be on guard against the efforts to provide moral justification for these assaults on democracy. We should know, by now, to be suspicious of claims of election meddling, particularly when leveled against left-wing governments. We should remember the long and bloody history of the United States overthrowing democratically elected leaders, or aiding in their overthrow, with inevitably disastrous results.

If we’re going to build a better world, we must not only do the work of building, but also call out those who try to tear down efforts to do so, regardless of what’s happening. The Michael Brooks Show has done a good job of calling out people who either fail at critical thinking, or who willingly participate in the spreading of propaganda, and I agree with them that, in the wake of the recent victory for democracy in Bolivia, it’s worth taking a victory lap, not just for the sake of celebrating, but also to keep in mind what was said and done to justify and support a military coup that put a right-wing extremist in power. Those who oppose democracy try to claim its legitimacy for themselves, and we cannot allow them to do so.

 


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.

Video: Is capitalism devouring democracy? (Hint: Yes. Yes, it is)

Over the last few years, it has become increasingly clear to me that capitalism is not compatible with either a sustainable human existence on this planet, or with democracy. It’s an economic arrangement that, by design, concentrates power in a very UN-democratic way, and relies on the absurd fantasy of infinite growth on a finite planet. Studying the history of the 20th century highlights the incredible dishonesty involved in claiming that capitalism is required for democracy or freedom, when in reality it has been a force that has worked against both.

As Minister of Finance for Greece in 2015, Yanis Varoufakis got some first-hand experience with some of the ways in which the capitalist system works to keep poor countries poor, and to keep them from governing themselves. If you have to, play this in the background while you’re doing dishes or something, but this video posted in 2018 is worth your time.

Disturbing deep-water discoveries: Weddell waters warming

Beyond sea level rise, it often seems that most people don’t really consider the way warming will affect the planet’s oceans, or the ways in which that will affect us in turn. Sea level rise is an easy concept to grasp, and the effects are obvious and dramatic. I also think sea level rise is likely to end up being one of the easiest parts of global warming for us to deal with, even when it comes those changes happening within the oceans.

After rising waters, the next set of changes we’ll notice are those in the fisheries. Rising temperatures and rising acidity are already changing both the health and behavior of various forms of sea life. Beyond the efforts of marine biologists, the fact that a sizable portion of humanity’s protein intake comes from the ocean means that a drop in fish populations will be noticed around the world pretty quickly.

There’s another factor that’s likely to be harder for the layperson to detect, until it reaches the point of causing pretty dramatic changes at a global level. A network of huge currents wraps around the planet, moving heat, food, and oxygen not just from one part of the world to another, but also from the surface to the depths and back. The Arctic and Antarctic regions are where water cools, gains density as ice formation increases salt concentration, and drops down to the sea floor to run along the bottom.

These currents are the main reason that western Europe is as warm as it is. Without the constant flow of heat up from the equator, I’d be facing temperatures like those in the northern half of Canada, probably with a huge amount of snow from being so close to the ocean. Instead, thanks to the Gulf Stream, it’s unlikely to get cold enough for any snow to stick at all here.

If the current slows or stops, western Europe would experience a dramatic – though temporary – drop in average temperature, the ocean deeps could lose the constant supply of oxygen from the surface, and oceanic ecosystems the world over would undergo major upheaval.

That’s why it’s been worrying that so much of the heat trapped by our CO2 increase has been absorbed by the oceans, and why it’s very worrying that researchers have confirmed dramatic warming specifically in the deeper parts of the Weddell Sea, where the Atlantic meets Antarctica:

Over the past several decades, the world’s oceans have absorbed more than 90 percent of the heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse-gas emissions, effectively slowing the rise in air temperatures around the globe. In this regard, the Southern Ocean is pivotal. Though it only accounts for 15 percent of the world’s oceans in terms of area, because of the overturning that takes place there, it absorbs roughly three-fourths of the heat.

Until recently, very little was known about what happens to this heat in the depths of the Southern Ocean, due to the lack of sufficiently long time series. In order to trace the development down to the seafloor, researchers relied on regularly repeated ship-based measurements taken with ‘CTD’ probes (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth). These probes have now become so precise that they can measure changes in water temperature down to the nearest ten-thousandth of a degree Celsius. The data they gather can also be used to determine the water masses’ density and salinity.

For the past 30 years, AWI oceanographers have been taking these temperature and salinity readings during expeditions to the Weddell Sea on board the German research icebreaker Polarstern — always at the same sites, always from the surface to the seafloor, and always with extremely high accuracy. By doing so, the researchers have produced the only time series of its kind on the South Atlantic and the Weddell Sea, which has now allowed them to precisely reconstruct the warming of the Weddell Sea and identify potential causes.

Only the water below 700 metres is growing warmer

Their findings are surprising. “Our data shows a clear division in the water column of the Weddell Sea. While the water in the upper 700 metres has hardly warmed at all, in the deeper regions we’re seeing a consistent temperature rise of 0.0021 to 0.0024 degrees Celsius per year,” says Dr Volker Strass, an AWI oceanographer and the study’s first author.

These values may seem minuscule at first glance. But, as Strass explains, “Since the ocean has roughly 1,000 times the heat capacity of the atmosphere, these numbers represent an enormous scale of heat absorption. By using the temperature rise to calculate the warming rate in watts per square metre, you can see that over the past 30 years, at depths of over 2,000 metres the Weddell Sea has absorbed five times as much heat as the rest of the ocean on average.” Through the formation of bottom water in the Weddell Sea, this heat is then distributed to the deep basins of the world’s oceans.

Potential effects on global circulation

In the Weddell Sea, which represents the southern extension of the Atlantic Ocean and is roughly ten times the size of the North Sea, tremendous water masses cool down. In the course of sea-ice formation they take on salt, sink to deeper water layers as cold and heavy Antarctic Bottom Water, and then spread to the great ocean basins as a deep-sea current. This overturning is considered to be an important motor for the global ocean circulation. The warming of the depths of the Weddell Sea could weaken that motor, since warmer water has a lower density. Consequently, it is lighter and could fill higher layers of the water column.

“Our field data already shows a temperature-related loss in density in the deeper water masses of the Weddell Sea. This change is most pronounced in the Bottom Water,” says co-author and AWI oceanographer Gerd Rohardt. Whether or not the Antarctic Bottom Water will continue to fulfil its function as the deepest limb of the global ocean overturning circulation chiefly depends on how the density of the water masses above it changes.

This is all very concerning of course, but there’s one possible result that this article didn’t discuss. Seafloor conditions in various parts of the world have a combination of low temperatures and high pressure that lead to the creation of methane deposits generally called clathrates or hydrates. These are basically methane trapped in a sort of latticework of ice, buried in ocean sediments. The exact amount of methane trapped in this form on the sea floor is uncertain, but it is estimated to be at least double the quantity in all other known natural gas sources, which has been a source of some worry for climate scientists. Methane is a much more effective greenhouse gas than CO2, and while it has a smaller total effect on the planet’s temperature right now, that’s due to there being so much less of it in the atmosphere. A big increase would cause a dramatic spike in global temperature, and clathrates are known to be unstable formations. A drop in pressure or an increase in temperature can cause them to destabilize, releasing the methane, which then bubbles up into the atmosphere.

The Weddell Sea doesn’t seem to have a whole lot in the way of clathrates, but other parts of Antarctica do, and as the article said, the heat is spreading out along the bottom of the sea. Even if there aren’t similar pockets of warming in other places, it seems likely that this could result in a destabilization of a significant clathrate deposit at some point in the near future, leading to an acceleration in warming.

This doesn’t change what we need to be doing, really, but it does underscore the urgency of the situation we’re in, and the importance of acting with the assumption that things could get a lot warmer very quickly, and somewhat unpredictably. At this point it seems like it’s a matter of “when”, not “if”, but we may not know an event like that has started until it’s already underway.

I think it’s reasonable to say, all evidence considered, that we cannot rely on things like the current political structure of the United States, let alone “market forces” to take action quickly enough to avoid massive problems. It is vitally important for everyone reading this to get involved in local and regional organizing and networking. This can be the kinds of things I’ve discussed here, through existing mutual aid efforts, or through things like the Transition Town Network. Ideally, I would say all of the above – the more the various networks being formed right now have multiple points of overlap and contact with each other, the more resilient we become as a species, and the better able we will be to use those networks not just for meeting our material needs when times get tough, but also to exert coordinated political power to get government action.


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.

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!