Humanity is acting as a force of nature, and we have little time to develop responsibility to match that power.

“Oh, there is a brain all right. It’s just that the brain is made out of meat!”

“So… what does the thinking?”

“You’re not understanding, are you? The brain does the thinking. The meat.”

“Thinking meat! You’re asking me to believe in thinking meat!”

“Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you getting the picture?”

Excerpt from “They’re made of of meat”, by Terry Bisson

The scale of the warming event humanity is causing right now seems to exist pretty close to the boundary of what we, as a society, are capable of processing with our meat computers. I don’t think it will always be out of our grasp, but it seems to me that when it comes to how we understand the cosmos, we really do have a collective consciousness. Just as interactions between the different kinds of matter in our brains seem to expand our cognitive capacity, so to do the interactions between individual humans, between groups of humans, and between generations of humans transcending our lifespans.

As a group, we are continually expanding the list of concepts we can conceive of, but I feel like we’re still stuck on the notion that we’re insignificant compared to the sheer size of the planet we live on. How could we be affecting something so mind-bogglingly huge that a significant portion of the species can’t bring themselves to believe it’s actually round? Because our power, as a species, has recently increased beyond what “common sense” might lead us to believe. I think we’re tricked by our sense of individual identity into feeling that our collective power is bounded by what we each do alone.

My favorite effort to describe the scale of what’s happening around us is the measurement of Earth’s rising temperature in units of atom bombs per second. It’s around four. Every second of every day, an amount of heat equivalent to four atomic explosions is trapped by the extra insulation we’ve been putting into the atmosphere.

Once, we were just one species among millions. We made changes to the world at a scale similar to things like beavers. Now, we have become a force of nature when it comes to the size of our impact on the surface of this planet.

In the new paper, published in the journal npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, the research team found that changes in the last 50 years to an important weather phenomenon in the North Atlantic — known as the North Atlantic Oscillation — can be traced back to human activities that impact the climate system.

“Scientists have long understood that human actions are warming the planet,” said the study’s lead author Jeremy Klavans, a UM Rosenstiel School alumnus. “However, this human-induced signal on weather patterns is much harder to identify.”

“In this study, we show that humans are influencing patterns of weather and climate over the Atlantic and that we may be able to use this information predict changes in weather and climate up to a decade in advance,” said Klavans.

By now, I think, the fact that we are affecting global weather patterns is familiar to most people. In many ways, that’s a fairly easy pill to swallow. It’s not hard to imagine how the endless extraction and burning of carbon could affect the air and water around us. We can see the changes we’ve made in our environments, and have vivid images like burning rivers and smog-choked cities to help us understand.

Unfortunately, it goes beyond that.

Not long after a devastating earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, I began to hear people discussing the possibility that there might be a climate link. At the time, this seemed absurd to me. It felt like the kind of hyperbolic doomsaying that environmentalists have always been accused of. After all, it’s one thing to affect air and water temperatures, but how could warming cause something like an earthquake? It couldn’t, of course.

Not by itself.

The problem is that earthquakes don’t come out of nowhere. They’re a release of tension that’s constantly building up as the hard material of Earth’s crust drifts on the molten magma of the mantle. They’re like a medieval crossbow; the crank allows for an archer to pull back on a bowstring that requires far more force than any human is capable of exerting unaided. Once that tension is built up, very little strength is required to release it.

A weather event can’t cause an earthquake, but if a large storm hits the right area, landslides and flooding can move enough material around that it could, in theory, release tension that was already building. We’ll likely never know if that’s what happened in Haiti, but the terrifying reality is that it certainly could be, and it’s something that could happen in the future. If that’s possible, I think it’s also fair to worry about the kinds of tension buildup that result in volcanic eruptions.

When I was first considering these ideas, I was also put in mind of the concept of “isostatic rebound“. In brief, when a glacier or ice cap melts away, vast amounts of weight is dispersed, to the point that Earth’s crust actually floats up on the magma below it, just as a boat rides higher in the water as you unload it. The amount of ice being lost in Greenland, for example, is not only causing that island to gain elevation, it’s also literally redistributing gravitational forces in the region, with global effects on the distribution of ocean water.

Considering all of these factors, and the fact that much smaller activities like those related to “fracking” can cause earthquakes more directly, I think it’s fair to say that our effects on the climate are not limited to air and water. We are also changing the forces that cause earthquakes and volcanoes. It’s hard to tell what those effects might be or when they might be felt, but it does make me worry about things like the Yellowstone supervolcano.

We’re not just changing the climate and biosphere of the planet, we’re acting on the scale of a force of nature when it comes to the crust – the solid matter on which all life we know of exists.

Unfortunately, it goes beyond that.

On March 14th, 2011, at around 05:46 UTC, days became shorter by 1.8 microseconds. This was caused by a massive earthquake off the coast of Japan that redistributed enough mass that our planet’s rotational axis shifted by 17 centimeters, and pulled enough mass toward the center of the earth that its rotation sped up just a little. As the article notes, this is something that happens to some degree with most big earthquakes. The fact that it could happen was news to me, but not to the collective consciousness of our species (or at least the parts of us that study such things). Going back to the earlier discussion of climate and earthquakes, it seems pretty clear at this point that the warming humanity is causing through greenhouse gas emissions can literally affect the balance of the entire planet as it spirals through space. It’s unlikely to be enough that we’d notice without checking, but that’s the situation we have created for ourselves.

Taking all of this into consideration, I hope it is not too much of a shock to my readers to learn that this has, in fact, already occurred:

Using data on glacier loss and estimations of ground water pumping, Liu and her colleagues calculated how the water stored on land changed. They found that the contributions of water loss from the polar regions is the main driver of polar drift, with contributions from water loss in nonpolar regions. Together, all this water loss explained the eastward change in polar drift.

“I think it brings an interesting piece of evidence to this question,” said Humphrey. “It tells you how strong this mass change is — it’s so big that it can change the axis of the Earth.”

Humphrey said the change to the Earth’s axis isn’t large enough that it would affect daily life. It could change the length of day we experience, but only by milliseconds.

The faster ice melting couldn’t entirely explain the shift, Deng said. While they didn’t analyze this specifically, she speculated that the slight gap might be due to activities involving land water storage in non-polar regions, such as unsustainable groundwater pumping for agriculture.

Humphrey said this evidence reveals how much direct human activity can have an impact on changes to the mass of water on land. Their analysis revealed large changes in water mass in areas like California, northern Texas, the region around Beijing and northern India, for example — all areas that have been pumping large amounts of groundwater for agricultural use.

“The ground water contribution is also an important one,” Humphrey said. “Here you have a local water management problem that is picked up by this type of analysis.”

Liu said the research has larger implications for our understanding of land water storage earlier in the 20th century. Researchers have 176 years of data on polar drift. By using some of the methods highlighted by her and her colleagues, it could be possible to use those changes in direction and speed to estimate how much land water was lost in past years.

We appear to have reached the point where we can calculate our extraction and movement of natural resources like groundwater by the ways in which that activity is changing the speed and angle of our planet’s rotation. It’s incredible that as a species, we’ve gotten to the point where we’re capable of making such calculations, but it also drives home the central point of this article.

Humanity is now, by the scale at which such things are calculated, a force of nature on this planet. Our activities are effecting literally the entire planet. Through collective thought and collective labor we have become powerful enough, as a species, to shake the foundations of the Earth, and that fact should terrify anyone, especially given how the use of that power is currently decided.

This, more than the weapons with which our rulers are so enamored, is proof that we are meddling in forces that can erase us from existence. Give any untrained person control over something like an explosive or a truck, and there’s a very real danger that they will kill either themselves or someone else. In general, we don’t allow people to wield that kind of power until they’ve demonstrated the ability to do so safely. I want humanity to reach the stars some day, and to fulfill the potential that has inspired countless science fiction writers before me; but in order to get there we must develop a degree of collective responsibility that is commensurate with that terrifying power, and we must do it quickly.

If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my recent move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!

You should watch this video on mutual aid

I’ve already added this to my direct action post, but the more people see it, the better off the world will be. If pressed to describe my political movement leftward, I would say that the values with which I was raised haven’t changed a whole lot, but my understanding of the world has changed deepened a great deal. I think I’ve mentioned before that I was opposed to American imperialism and to capitalism before I realized I was. I’ve participated in activism around monstrosities like The School of the Americas/WHINSEC, the sanctions against Iraq and later invasion, the embargo against Cuba, climate change, and more. For all of that, I would say I’m relatively new to being “A Leftist”. I’ve learned enough to know that I have a huge amount left to learn. One of the most important things I’ve been learning is that there are a myriad of people looking to share what they’ve learned.

One theme I’ve encountered – a sort of a joke, I guess – is that the anarchist strategy for revolution is “do mutual aid and then we win”. Obviously, this kind of analysis is going to be too simplistic for any political theory that’s been around for a while, but at the surface level, it’s easy to see why people dismiss anarchism in this way. Part of the problem often seems to be a lack of understanding about what mutual aid actually is, what makes it different from the various things often described as “charity”, and where it fits into a desire for rapid, revolutionary change.

This video from Saint Andrewism covers all of that and more. Watch it, check out the rest of the channel, and support him on patreon if you can.

The danger of fascism has not gone away. Not even close.

As the world’s largest and most aggressive military power, I think it’s fair say that the rise of fascism in the United States is a matter of great concern for our entire species. I do not think that an overtly fascist U.S. would succeed in its goals over the long term. Fascism is an ideology that, dependent on fiction and scapegoating, will always carry the seeds of its own destruction. That said, beyond the entirely reasonable fear for the groups targeted by white supremacist fascism, there’s also the concern that the anti-environmentalist tendencies of the right would continue interfere with the global response to climate change badly enough and for long enough that we would be unable to cope with the approaching climate chaos.

I think for a lot of Americans, the Trump presidency was a wake-up call. That’s good, as far as it goes, but for whatever subset of the population didn’t realize how urgently change was needed before 2016, there’s a very real danger that Biden’s victory and the Democratic Party taking control of Congress will “hit the snooze button”. The conditions that gave rise to the Trump presidency have not gone away, and for all the talk about how different Biden and the Democrats are, they are not at all likely to do what’s needed to keep the U.S. from sliding further into overt, white supremacist fascism. The leaders of that party are wealthy, comfortable, and more concerned with maintaining their personal positions of power than they are with the future of the country or the species.

They may favor change, but only if that change doesn’t threaten their wealth and power. That means that the economic hardships, escalating nationalist and white supremacist propaganda, and the growing feeling of doom brought on by ecological and climate collapse will continue to push much of the white population of the United States towards fascism. The problem is that the economic system that governs most of the world is fundamentally incompatible with the ideals of democracy that are supposed to be at the core of a free and just society. Capitalism is designed to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those whose primary interest and ability is the hoarding of money. The results of this have always been the same – those at the top use their resources to solidify their lofty positions in society by funneling an ever-increasing amount away from everyone else. Under capitalism, society simultaneously becomes more authoritarian, while becoming more difficult for the growing pool of those at “the bottom”.

So-called “social democracies” mitigate this process through progressive tax structures and generous social safety nets, but from what I can tell that only slows the process, and shifts the burdens of it onto those colonies and “former” colonies that have been ruthlessly exploited for their resources throughout the history of capitalism. As those at the top continue to demand more, they erode social safety nets of all forms, to both take more of society’s wealth, and to increase the number of people desperate enough to agree to bad pay and conditions, in order to survive in a world with no other options.

The left and the extremist right both claim to offer solutions to these problems. On the left, we want to change the nature of the system that brought us to this point. We want power and wealth to be distributed more evenly, not just because we want everyone to have their needs met, but also because allowing a small ruling class to run everything, while exempting themselves from the problems created by their rule, threatens to destroy us all.

The right’s solution is to turn those with the least power into scapegoats. Minorities and foreigners are blamed for our problems, and punished with increased poverty. When that inevitably fails to solve anything, the number of groups being blamed, and the severity of the punishment is increased. This cycle gets repeated, until ethnic cleansing is the only “solution” left (since taking power away from those in charge is obviously off the table). A “correction” like the New Deal may be able set this process back a bit, but it’s not capable of actually stopping it.

And while this is underway at any stage, we will remain unable to deal with problems that, as with climate change, are driven by the endless need for accumulating wealth that makes up the foundation of any version of capitalism.

Biden and the Democratic party cannot save us, and they never could. What they can do, at least in theory, is slow the process down for a short while, to allow for the kinds of work that will empower us to save ourselves.

Whether it’s peasants with torches and pitchforks, unions going on strike, or mass political unrest of other kinds, collective power and collective action has always been the solution to the lethal greed and irresponsibility of the aristocracy. As it stands, those living in the heart of the American Empire lack the organization to force revolutionary change – violent or otherwise.

We need to use what time and resources we have to change that.

It’s hard to know how this effort will end up going. The willingness of the powerful to use violence to keep their power may be one of the most reliable trends in human history, and it has been a central feature of the United States of America from the beginning. I believe our best chance at both avoiding violence and at surviving it if avoidance becomes impossible is through encouraging people to look out for each other, and to begin relying on each other as communities, rather than on governments or corporations. We need to start rebuilding society from the ground up, within the crumbling structure of the systems that currently govern the world, so that we can use all these marvels of technology for the benefit of life as a whole. 

If we don’t, then momentum will carry us to an era of horrors that will make the 20th century look peaceful by comparison. We cannot afford to waste the next four years. We cannot afford to relax. Biden’s victory might have bought us time, but only if we work on organizing to change course now.



If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my recent move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!

It’s not over till it’s over: Antarctic ice edition

As the planet’s warming becomes harder to ignore, despair is going to be a growing challenge in the propaganda war. The dire warning of ecological collapse, deadlier weather, rising seas, and famine are all valid; humanity faces the greatest danger in history, and the exact timing of how that will play out is unknown.

It is terrifying, depressing, and will likely become more so.

At the same time the future, while not a total mystery, is an unknown. We do not know all the effects a given course of action may have. A lot of attention is rightly given to amplifying feedback loops (processes that both speed the warming and also maintain or increase themselves), but there are also suppressing feedbacks that can slow or reverse the warming.

For example, it’s possible that a well-designed effort to “green” an area of desert could take on a momentum of it’s own, and simultaneously pull CO2 out of the air, while improving the conditions for further plant growth. Turning the considerable power power of our technology to projects like that could prove very effective at improving life around the globe, but it’s very hard to know the results before we try.

Another example is ice. The melting of the Arctic Ocean has both accelerated global warming through albedo loss (dimming), and made weather in the northern hemisphere more chaotic and dangerous. There have been proposals to slow or reverse that trend by increasing the reflectivity of existing ice, or by adding artificial icebergs to replace the ice that has melted. Obviously there’s a lot of debate about safety and effectiveness.

Antarctica had, until recently, gotten less attention. While albedo is a concern there, the bigger worry is how the degradation of sea ice will affect the terrestrial ice cap on top of the continent. Melt enough, or raise sea levels enough, and you could see a dramatic increase in ice flowing from land to sea, accelerating sea level rise. The good news is that, in the opinion of those people studying this, we haven’t reached that point yet, and with hard work, we could delay that process:

As Severinghaus says, if 12 feet of sea level rise happens over a few thousand years, it’s far easier to deal with than if it happens over a century or two. I personally think it’s too late, due to the aforementioned positive/amplifying feedback loops, to prevent at least a couple centuries of warming, but there are many things we can do to slow it. As scary as it may be to contemplate large parts of the planet becoming too hot for human habitation, the real threat to our global ecosystem is the speed of the warming. Life evolves, and will inevitably do so for as long as it exists. The slower the change, the more likely species will adapt, ecosystems and their services will remain, and our ability will grow to reshape our society into something that can last.

Because we are causing this crisis, we know that we have the capacity to affect its progress, and that means that, as long as we remain able to act collectively, we have real hope for a better world.

If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my recent move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!

This fire season looks bad for California.

If you or anyone you care about lives I’m California, now is a good time to prepare for a possible evacuation.

I would say this goes for anyone living in an area known to have seasonal fires. The exact contents of your “bug-out bag” and other evacuation prep may vary depending on your needs, but it’s a good idea to have something ready in case of short notice.

Not only will it make it easier for you to move it you need to, it means any time saved by preparing now time you can use to help others, should the need arise.

All the work still remains

I’m glad cop who killed George Floyd has been found guilty, and glad that he will not be free during the 8 weeks until sentencing.

This one conviction- if upheld -will change little. It has not brought justice, and so it cannot bring peace.

There is too much wrong with the systems that govern this world, too much at stake, and too little time for the change we need.

The work must continue, at every level.

The meaning of freedom in a finite life

One of the more common themes throughout history has been disagreement between society’s rulers, and those being ruled, about how society ought to be run. Fortunately, history has also shown that if enough people are able to work together towards a common vision of a better world, we can bring about needed change whether our current rulers want it or not. One difficulty we face is that in the midst of so much messaging designed to present the way things are as the only way things can be, it can be hard to actually find that vision through the clutter. I think many of us have a vague desire for a life similar to the one with which we’re already familiar, but “better”. In a lot of our daily lives, the desire for change is less about wanting something good to start, and more about wanting something bad to stop.

While most people can agree on what our basic needs are, I think it’s generally understood that the basics required for survival do not guarantee a fulfilling life, and that different people have different ideas of what a “fulfilling life” would mean. There are always going to be some limits; my right to do whatever I want doesn’t extend to causing problems for other people. When it comes down to it, though, the common thread in pretty much all the myriad visions of a good life seems to be the ability to control how we spend our time.

The problem of capitalism – in this context – is that “free time” is viewed as an extravagant luxury, rather than a human necessity. Only those who don’t need to work for a living are entitled to free time. For the rest of us, any time not spent earning money seems to be viewed as a vice more than anything else, and sufficient justification for poverty. If I’m not spending every minute of my time in pursuit of money, then any financial problems I have are my fault, and evidence that I am a burden on society, in some way.

The system cannot fail me, I can only fail the system.

Not only that, but the time I’ve spent trying to turn this blog into a source of income that will keep me fed and sheltered is now a liability. If – as is likely – I have to spend time hunting for wage labor again, I will have a “gap” in my C.V./resumé. If I want someone else to pay me to do work that they want done, and that I am competent to do, I will also have to justify the time I have spent not working for the financial gain of someone else.

Throughout 2020, as the United States struggled to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, this cultural hatred of free time was brought into sharp focus. At a time when hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved by keeping people at home, the the capitalists running our country seemed to be mostly horrified and offended at the notion that – for just a few months – a majority of the population might be allowed to simply exist, without having to do work apparently for the sake of doing work. There seems to be a deeply held belief that without the threat of misery and death through poverty, nobody would do any work at all.

I think it’s worth pointing out that for the ruling class, this does not seem to be about whether the resources needed to keep everybody housed, fed, and so on would exist if people were “paid to stay home”, but rather about the endless need for escalating profits. Never in my lifetime has the United States so openly told its own people that their lives are worth less than the desire of rich people to keep getting richer. The justification given, however, is not generally that multi-millionaires or billionaires might stop seeing their “net worth” rise, or might even see it decline a little. That’s not a line of argument that’s very persuasive to those of us whose concerns relate more to the basic necessities of survival.

Instead we are told that if people are allowed to control how they spend their own time, nobody will do the work that’s needed for humanity to survive, and we’ll all starve from laziness or something. We must be coerced into doing the work deemed necessary by those who have more money than us, and their right to decide that is justified by their legal control of that money, and the access to resources that it represents.

It should be clear to most people that this is nonsense. If meeting the material needs of humanity was the driving force behind capitalism’s relationship with labor and production, then we would have eradicated hunger and houselessness long ago. Certainly we would have eradicated them before anybody was able to measure their wealth in hundreds of millions of dollars, let alone billions. The scarcity suffered by so many of us is manufactured for the sake of controlling how people spend their time.

Poverty is the tool used by the capitalist class to force everyone else to work for their benefit, and as a result, most of humanity is denied the freedom – the free time – to pursue happiness.

Any society will require work to maintain, but no society in history has lacked people willing to do that work, provided the ability to do so in reasonable safety, and to have time and energy to spend on other things. The only time coercion is required, is when people are asked to do work that is neither necessary for survival, nor pleasant or interesting to do. If there is a job that needs doing, and there’s nobody willing to do it, then surely we can find ways to make that work more appealing. I’d love to divide my time between writing, growing food, and maintaining my home. I would happily also spend a day or two every week on pretty much any kind of work useful to society, in exchange for the ability to spend the rest of my time on those pursuits. I’d spend more time than that, depending on the work in question, and I know I’m not alone. How many of you have known someone who enjoyed a job that would make you miserable?

Do you enjoy building houses or furniture? What about inspecting or cleaning sewers? What about milking venomous snakes to make medicine, or studying spiders to further our understanding of biology? What about dissecting dead animals to discover what killed them? What about nursing sick people? Delivering mail? Repairing appliances? Teaching children? Farming? Teaching adults? What about composing music, or performing music composed by others? Cleaning boat hulls? Painting houses? Gathering evidence to help settle a dispute? Building roads? Dismantling broken electronics? Cleaning up pollution?

How many pages could I fill simply listing the kinds of work needed for a just and functional society with our level of technology? What jobs, of the tiny handful I’ve listed would you be willing to do because they needed doing, and you had the time and inclination, knowing that your needs were already met?

Which of them would you be willing to do in exchange for access to your favorite form of entertainment, your favorite drug, or your favorite foods?

Which of them would you do because it would allow someone you love to work on something that makes them happy?

I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone who wasn’t willing to do some form of work that would make another person miserable.

A society that actually values the freedom of each human to pursue happiness, rather than endlessly growing “profits” isn’t just one that would be more pleasant for humanity as a whole, it would also be far more sustainable at pretty much every level.

Plenty of us would prefer to have toys or tools that last a long time, rather than disposable ones that pollute the environment when they have to be replaced.

How many of us would prefer to make tools or toys that last a long time, rather than ones that we knew would stop working soon, not because it’s not possible to build a better one, but because it’s more profitable to make and sell more items of lower quality?

With all the incredible technologies available to us, do you really think that it’s not possible for food to be distributed around the world based on need? Do  you really think it wasn’t possible to maintain a resource stockpile for pandemics that we’ve always known would happen? Do you really think we just don’t have the resources for everyone to have clean drinking water? Do you really think we need to have people claiming ownership of homes they will never need for themselves, just so they can charge other people for access? Do you really think our society is made better by forcing artists to do work they hate just to survive, rather than making art?

Is it so hard to imagine a society where all of our collective knowledge and skill is used for the health, education, and free time of everyone, rather than for one or two people to own a dozen yachts they never use, or to have private airplanes?

Is it so hard to imagine a society in which nobody gets rich off of war?

I don’t think it is, but it does require that we have the time and energy to do so, and the ability to learn from the passions and expertise of our fellow humans.

We have a finite time as sapient creatures on this planet, and it seems to me that the quality of our lives is centered around how we spend that time, and how our use of that time affects our fellow sapient creatures, both in the present, and in the future.

I believe we can work together to dismantle a system meant to control our existence, and to build a society that values our lives and our ability to enjoy them as best suits us, and I think that free time as the only true “freedom to pursue happiness” should be the central priority around which we rally.

If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my recent move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!

Social constructs as humanity’s greatest threat, and our greatest source of hope

When the “Fight for Fifteen” movement began in the United States in 2012, the argument for increasing the minimum wage was the same as it is now – the cost of living has risen faster than the minimum wage, and so the effective income of America’s poorest was going down, year by year. Now, in 2021, the fight is still for a minimum wage of $15 per hour, even as the cost of living has continued to skyrocket. The reality is that in 2012, $15 was still too low to actually meet the cost of living in many parts of the country, so with those costs even higher now, why are we still talking about a minimum wage increase that was inadequate nearly a decade ago?

Because the driving force in capitalism is the desire for endlessly growing profits, and the most straightforward way to generate those profits has always been finding ways to “cut labor costs” by underpaying the workers on whom the company depends. From slavery, to sharecropping, to scrip, to child labor, to unsafe conditions, to industrial pollution, the story of capitalism has been an unbroken chain of the capitalist class finding any means – legal or not – to shift the costs of their business onto those with less money and power. So the effort to increase the minimum wage, so that those at the bottom can afford to live while continuing to enrich those at the top, has faced constant opposition from the most powerful people in the country.

We’re stuck fighting for what was already a compromise favoring the rich a decade ago.

This problem is not unique to the question of wages, and it has translated to infuriating delays on the most pressing issues of our time.

It’s been 63 years since the first publicly televised warning about climate change. At the time, it wasn’t clear how  long the process would take, partly because of inadequate understanding of the issue itself, and partly because there was no way to tell exactly how humanity would respond to the impending crisis. By 1980 it was clear that, largely due to rapidly rising annual CO2 emissions, the timeline was a lot shorter than initially thought. The need for urgent action was clear.

Now, decades later, we’re still stuck in an endless loop of rebutting and debunking “arguments” that were refuted long ago. As with the fight over the minimum wage, this stagnation is not because of any legitimate objection to the science, or even the proposed solutions. It’s because the richest and most powerful people in the world don’t want to change the system that brought them their wealth and power. Just as capitalists have invested heavily in opposing minimum wage increases, unionization, universal healthcare, and many other things, they have also paid a number of people very well to repeat these obvious lies across all media, no matter how many times they are debunked.

As I often say, we have missed the window to avoid catastrophic levels of change. The degree of catastrophe is still under our control – we could simultaneously work to end our fossil fuel use, and to prepare our society for unavoidable changes before they become truly catastrophic. Just as buildings can be designed to better withstand earthquakes, so to can our society be re-structured to withstand higher temperatures, higher sea levels, and ongoing ecological collapse.

The problem is that people are going to respond to the conditions in which they find themselves with the tools that are available to them. Just as the foreign policy of colonial powers, especially the United States, has led to refugee crises around the world as people flee homes made uninhabitable by forces beyond their control, so too are people beginning to respond to the changes in climate as best they can.

Some of this is taking the form of more refugees, though the exact numbers are hard to separate from those fleeing warfare and manufactured poverty.

Some of it comes in the form of increasing the use of fossil fuels – as the primary energy source used in the world – for things like air conditioning:

To survive the summer heat, Qatar not only air-conditions its soccer stadiums, but also the outdoors — in markets, along sidewalks, even at outdoor malls so people can window shop with a cool breeze. “If you turn off air conditioners, it will be unbearable. You cannot function effectively,” says Yousef al-Horr, founder of the Gulf Organization for Research and Development.

Yet outdoor air conditioning is part of a vicious cycle. Carbon emissions create global warming, which creates the desire for air conditioning, which creates the need for burning fuels that emit more carbon dioxide. In Qatar, total cooling capacity is expected to nearly double from 2016 to 2030, according to the International District Cooling & Heating Conference.

And it’s going to get hotter.

By the time average global warming hits 2 degrees Celsius, Qatar’s temperatures would soar, said Mohammed Ayoub, senior research director at the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute. In rapidly growing urban areas throughout the Middle East, some predict cities could become uninhabitable.

“We’re talking about 4 to 6 degrees Celsius increase in an area that already experiences high temperatures,” Ayoub said. “So, what we’re looking at more is a question of how does this impact the health and productivity of the population.”

The danger is acute in Qatar because of the Persian Gulf humidity. The human body cools off when its sweat evaporates. But when humidity is very high, evaporation slows or stops. “If it’s hot and humid and the relative humidity is close to 100 percent, you can die from the heat you produce yourself,” said Jos Lelieveld, an atmospheric chemist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany who is an expert on Middle East climate.

That became abundantly clear in late September, as Doha hosted the 2019 World Athletics Championships. It moved the start time for the women’s marathon to midnight Sept. 28. Water stations handed out sponges dipped in ice-cold water. First-aid responders outnumbered the contestants. But temperatures hovered around 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 28 of the 68 starters failed to finish, some taken off in wheelchairs.

Workers are particularly at risk. A German television report alleged hundreds of deaths among foreign workers in Qatar in recent years, prompting new limits on outdoor work. A July article in the journal Cardiology said that 200 of 571 fatal cardiac problems among Nepalese migrants working there were caused by “severe heat stress” and could have been avoided.

The U.S. Air Force calls very hot days “black flag days” and limits exposure of troops stationed at al-Udeid Air Base. Personnel conducting patrols or aircraft maintenance work for 20 minutes, then rest for 40 minutes and drink two bottles of water an hour. People doing heavy work in the fire department or aircraft repair may work for only 10 minutes at a time, followed by 50 minutes of rest, according to a spokesman for the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing.

In early July, Qatar’s Civil Defense Command warned against doing outdoor work between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., putting gas cylinders in the sun, turning on water heaters, completely filling fuel tanks or car tires, or needlessly running the air conditioner. It urged people to drink plenty of fluids — and to beware of snakes and scorpions.

Because we’ve delayed for so long, we are in the process of making the problem much, much worse simply by trying to survive while preserving an unjust and unsustainable system.

For all of the the talk – entirely justified – about the dangers of natural amplifying feedback loops and runaway global warming, I think we’ve neglected this particular feedback, because we’re not used to thinking of ourselves as being part of nature. Animals  and plants across the entire surface of this planet are changing where and how they live in response to the warming, and Homo sapiens is no exception to that trend. We are responding, in many ways, as we always have – by managing our surroundings, and by protecting the social structures to which we are accustomed.

This way lies extinction.

There’s a lot of talk these days about social constructs,  and a lot of misunderstanding, both willful and not. Social constructs are effectively the rules that humans have created for ourselves to deal with the difficulties of being a social species. I would argue that they exist in all animal species that exhibit any sort of social behavior. Things like behavioral mating displays (as opposed to physical features like mating plumage in birds), territorial marking and disputes, and various power dynamics fall into this category.

Human social constructs seem to be a mix of things that might be considered the study of “evolutionary psychology” (if that field wasn’t overrun by psuedoscientific nonsense) and things – like the ideas of race created and enforced by European colonial powers – that were created and maintained quite deliberately. The current hierarchy of wealth and power in most of the world seems to be a mix of the two. Sticking with the European example, as the one with which I am most familiar, the current capitalist class system was created in part, to protect the positions of those who had been at the top of Feudal society. This is probably closest to the surface in the United Kingdom, but if you poke around, you’ll find that the ruling classes of so-called “Western Society” (another social construct with little basis in reality) have many members whose families were also powerful under Feudalism.

It’s easy to feel like all of these problems are unavoidably part of “human nature”, and so absent an external force, we’re simply unable to make the changes needed. Under this fatalistic line of thinking, we will either develop some technological miracle, like fusion power, that will solve everything without the need for systemic change, or we will destroy ourselves. I think this view is best encapsulated in the concept of “capitalist realism”. I also think, as I’ve said before, that this view of an unchanging “human nature” is part of the larger framework of indoctrination that has been developed to get people to accept the destructive and unjust nature of capitalism. It’s similar to the myth that the people living in the Americas, Africa, and parts of Asia  prior to European colonization did little or nothing to manage their land or organize their societies.

Social constructs have been central to our most powerful tool as a species – our ability to make collective use of our distributed knowledge and skills. That, I would argue, is what truly lies at the heart of “human nature”, and what all the myriad of human societies throughout the history of our species have had in common. This is part of what gives me hope for the future. While it’s rare to see truly revolutionary change in any one human’s life, we have found countless ways of organizing ourselves, and changed them as need have dictated. Social constructs are a form of infrastructure, and just as with all other infrastructure, they serve us best when we constantly examine, maintain, update, and improve them.

I can’t promise that we’ll do what we need to in the time we have. What’s happening on this planet right now is unlike anything our species has ever faced. It is as much an unknown as space travel was at the beginning of the 20th century. We’re better at figuring out what’s likely to happen (thanks to social constructs like mathematics and the scientific method), but the best we can do is calculate likely futures based on what we understand today. What I will say is that I believe we have the physical and conceptual tools we need, as a species, to build a better world, even in the midst of the rapid warming and ecological collapse that has been forced upon us by our “rulers”, past and present.

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”

― Ursula K. Le Guin

If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my recent move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!

Police violence continues:The GOP isn’t the only problem

During the Obama years, his administration’s responses to the Keystone protest, Occupy Wall Street, and the birth of the BLM movement showed about of people that the Democratic party was either unwilling or unable to solve our problems.

They won’t fix anything now, either.

Well-meaning or not, the Democrats are not going to save us.

We have to save ourselves.