A useful video from the Gravel Institute on the future of work envisioned by Silicon Valley

I’ll have some more substantial stuff up shortly, but in the meantime, I though you ought to watch and share this video. It’s a useful breakdown of one of the tactics being used to get around labor regulations, in the absence of a powerful labor movement to oppose them. A lot of this feels similar to the tactics used by Walmart and Amazon to gain monopolistic power.


Responses to light pollution: The infernal glow of an eco-friendly society

If you’ve ever moved far outside of the latitude to which you’re accustomed, you know how disorienting it can be to have day length change. My move to the British Isles had me confronting both the extremely long nights of a northern winter, and the surreal experience of realizing at 9pm that it was still about an hour before “night” started. I can only imagine how disorienting artificial light can be to creatures without the capacity to understand what’s going on.

The image shows a Manx Shearwater crouching on the ground. It's a bird with a long beak, hooked at the end, and tubular nostrils characteristic of its order. The back head, and beak are a dark slate gray, with a white throat and belly.

Photo by Martin Reith

When Tegan and I were working on our doomed application to live on the Isle of Rum, we were looking at even longer nights over the winter, and a community that had zero light pollution. As one of the world’s major breeding sites for the Manx Shearwater, every home has blackout curtains, so that the juveniles won’t get confused by artificial light, and head towards the village rather than down to the sea. There are also no street lights, or any other lights at night. One of the things I was looking forward to, had we been allowed to live there, was the night sky, when the weather allowed it to be visible. If you’ve never been far enough away from artificial light sources to see what the sky looks like without all that interference, I very much hope you’re able to experience that some day.

There are a lot of reasons why it would be good for our ecosystems to cut down on light pollution, but I think it’s also important to acknowledge that the bright lights of cities aren’t there just because of convenience, neglect, or aesthetic reasons. Places with high concentrations of people tend to have more crime, and crime is more likely to happen under cover of darkness. When I was in college, I attended a seminar on sexual assault in which we were asked to say whether we felt safe walking across campus at night, and how that feeling changed if one of the street lamps was out. The results were pretty consistent – most female-presenting people were not remotely comfortable crossing campus in the dark. That’s not an irrational fear, and it’s not something that we should discount in thinking about how to re-imagine our use of light.

It’s also important to note that not all places are going to have the same requirements, and those requirements are likely to change depending on the season. It may be that the ban on artificial light isn’t necessary outside of the month or two during which juvenile Shearwaters are heading to sea, for example. There may also be places where the potential for ecological disturbance is low enough that there’s no need for change beyond energy conservation.

Image shows a suburban street, wet from recent rain, and illuminated by red street lamps. There's some white and yellow light coming from the houses, but the dominant color, aside from the dark blue of the night sky, is the red from the street lamps

And in some cases, it may be that the only change needed is in the color of outdoor lighting. Enter the town of Zuidhoek-Nieuwkoop, Netherlands, that has installed red street lights, to be more hospitable to bats.

It turns out that while most insectivorous bat species don’t care a whole lot about artificial lights, there are some that care a great deal, and that face serious problems from the fact that not only do they need to go out of their way to avoid most lights, their prey tends to have the opposite reaction. That means that for these species, there’s actually less food they can access, even with stable insect populations, as the insects congregate around the lights the bats have to avoid. Red lights solve both of these problems:

Artificial light at night can have a disruptive effect on bats, but not if the light is red. Switching to red light may therefore limit or prevent habitat loss for rare, light-shy bat species. The latest issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B publishes results from five years of pioneering research led by the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW).
It’s the first time researchers have succeeded in measuring the effects of light with different spectra on the activity of slow-flying, light-shy bats in their foraging habitat. “We’ve found these bats to be equally active in red light and darkness,” says principal researcher Kamiel Spoelstra. “White and green light, on the other hand, substantially reduce the bats’ level of activity.”

The effect of red light on more common bat species such as the pipistrelle is reduced as well. Unlike a strong increase in activity of this species in white and green light, the activity in red light is comparable to darkness. This is caused by the strong attraction of insects to white and green (and not red) light. Pipistrelles opportunistically feed on these accumulated insects.

Real-life conditions

“The lack of effect of red light on both the rarer, light-shy species and the more common non-light-shy bats,” concludes Spoelstra, “opens up possibilities for limiting the disruption caused by external, artificial lighting in natural areas, in situations where having light is considered desirable.”

I don’t know if there’s any research into how the color of street lights affects safety for humans, but this is a great example of how we can put our understanding of animal behavior and physiology to use, and provide a service for humans – illuminated streets at night – that won’t interfere with the local wildlife, because the animals that might care about artificial light can’t detect those wavelengths. As always, it’s unlikely there’s ever going to be a “perfect” solution – perfection is more of an aspirational concept than an achievable goal – but there are many changes available that will help a lot, without causing us any real harm. It might be strange live somewhere that glows red at night, or to see the white wind turbines we’re used to replaced by purple ones, but we live in a world that’s increasingly alien to the on e on which we involved. I, for one, rejoice at the notion of building a new society that embraces that strangeness.

If you find the contents of this blog useful or entertaining, or if you think that it’s moving in that direction, please consider becoming a patron at patreon.com/oceanoxia, and/or encouraging others to do so. I’d to keep writing, and keep building this into a useful resource for those who want a better world, and to do that, I need money to survive. I’m still pulling in far, far less than minimum wage, and it’d be awesome if I could close that gap.

Kick them when they’re down: The fight we’re in isn’t fair, and we shouldn’t pretend it is.

This is a useful interview on how to deal with tech monopolies, but I think it doesn’t go far enough. The approaches that Doctrow lays out are, I think, an excellent starting place. If we want humanity to survive the next century or two, and to simultaneously build a more just and happy society, we need to be working on a whole lot of changes all at once. That means the kinds of power-building work I’ve talked about before, but it also means using the the political system we have now to make that other work easier, to whatever degree we can. That means both direct organizing, and working through our representative democracy. We have to do it all.

Under the current system, the default approach to change is a sort of timid incrementalism that always seems to treat history as a settled matter, starting yesterday. That means that when a dramatic change is made, there’s generally a great deal of opposition and complaining, but then as soon as anyone suggests changing things back, it’s treated as just as big a problem as the initial change. Change is viewed as both generally bad, and as value-neutral. The problem isn’t the kind of change, it’s the scale of that change.  Taking steps to undo the damage done by “Reaganomics”, or even by the Trump administration, is met with similar or even increased level of hand-wringing, as the initial damage. It’s different people making a stink, but they make about the same level of stink, and more importantly, the media treats it as all being the same.

It’s all just a game played by opposing teams, and it’s “fair” to give both sides equal footing.

Of course, this ignores the fact that, when one side fetishizes procedure and incrementalism, while the other side is committed to getting their way no matter the cost, you get predictable results. Things either move in the direction preferred by the more committed side, or they don’t move at all.

Changes in social norms – like the gradually increasing acceptance of homosexuality – can happen under this framework, but not any real changes in how power is distributed or used.

We tend to treat it as an unassailable truth that the way we operate now is the best way to operate, and so truly systemic change is anathema. That’s why, for all the changes seen in the United States over the last century, power has continued to rest primarily in the hands of the capitalist class, which has used its power to whittle away those changes in things like labor law and social safety nets that gave more power to the working classes.

People whose primary goal is the accumulation of wealth and power will always use the wealth and power they currently have to get more. The more they have, the more they are able to reshape society to funnel more to themselves, and to prevent others from preventing that. This is a path that leads inevitably to monopoly and to oligarchy. Even if someone like Bezos or Gates were to decide that they should burn through all of their personal net worth to solve one problem or another, the end result of that is that they would lose the personal power that society gives to capitalists, and someone else would increase in power by comparison. At best, the changes made by one multibillionaire would be temporary, and rolled back by those multibillionaires who chose instead to continue hoarding power.

Ultimately, the only way out of this trap is to make it impossible for individuals to hold that level of power. Until we do that, there will always be people like the Kochs, like Bezos, like Musk, or like Gates, pulling strings around the globe for their personal benefit, and asserting control over resources that we desperately need for things like dealing with pandemics, or with global climate change.

We need to use the tools we have – taxation and regulation – to decrease the power of the ruling class, much as FDR was doing when he talked about taking power away from “economic royalists”, but we cannot simply stop there. We can’t win in a metaphorical bout of fisticuffs and then walk away having “taught them a lesson”, while still leaving them with outsized wealth and power. History has shown that they will, in general, respond by stabbing us in the back. Their goal is dominance, not winning in a fair fight.

Take away all of their power, and don’t give it to anyone else. Use it for degrowth, for new energy infrastructure, and for adaptation to coming climate change. Use it to make sure that nobody can use poverty or deprivation to force others to work FOR them.

We have to knock down the ruling class and kick them while they’re down. We have to remove that class from existence. That does not mean that we have to kill anyone, necessarily. Ideally, the “horrible fate” I want for today’s billionaires includes guaranteed healthcare, food, shelter, freedom of speech, expression, and movement, and so on. The one thing I want to take away from them is their ability to govern the lives of other people, and I don’t want that ability to go to anyone else in their stead.

We are in a fight for our lives, and for the lives of those with less power than each of us might personally be able to wield. We are fighting against people who have attained their power by exploiting every loophole and weakness they can find, and cheating every person they can. We are not in a fair fight, and we should not pretend otherwise.

If you find the contents of this blog useful or entertaining, or if you think that it’s moving in that direction, please consider becoming a patron at patreon.com/oceanoxia, and/or encouraging others to do so. I’d to keep writing, and keep building this into a useful resource for those who want a better world, and to do that, I need money to survive. I’m still pulling in far, far less than minimum wage, and it’d be awesome if I could close that gap.

“What do you expect me to do, fix it? I’m only 10.”

There is no excuse to look away from this. This video contains no wounds, no blood, no corpses, and no screaming. It does, however, contain children faced with the impossible task of coping with the relentless, crushing violence of a genocidal campaign by an ethno-nationalist government that wants to erase them from existence. There is no “both sides” here. There can’t be with a power imbalance this colossal.


Update: Work-work balance, science fiction and non-fiction

As most of my readers are no doubt aware, in addition to the primary content of this blog, I also write fiction – mostly sci-fi and a little fantasy. Lately I’ve been increasing the amount of time spent working on my science fiction, and that has led to a bit of a drop in posting here. This post is a bit of an explanation, a bit of an apology, and a bit of talking about what the future looks like for me.

In the short term, I don’t expect any major changes to Oceanoxia. I intend to keep posting, and to increase both the frequency and quality of my non-fiction work here. This is partly because it’s my primary means of income, meagre though that is right now, and partly because I feel like it’s the way I can best help to bring about the changes I want to see in the world.

That said, there are limits to the concepts I feel I can effectively explore through nonfiction work and advocacy, and part of my goal has always been to help people see various possibilities for our future. In that regard, my science fiction has begun to fall into three general categories. The first, that some of you have hopefully seen, takes place in the United States somewhere around a couple thousand years in the future. Sea levels are still very high, but just starting to fall slowly, and New York City is a sort of solarpunk archipelago and rainforest. So far everything about that scenario takes place in Manhattan, which has a layout pretty similar to its current arrangement, but with canals where the streets would be, and big lagoon where Central Park currently stands. I’m still figuring out what sort of society it is, but it’s not too far from a version of anarcho-communism or something like it. Cooperatives and councils handle most of the collective projects that are currently managed by government and corporations. Housing and food are guaranteed, and people divide their time between work that helps society run, and activities that fulfil them, at least where the two purposes don’t overlap. Whether or not an activity is allowed depends largely on whether it harms other people in some way, and while there’s collective oversight of things like construction, if someone is “caught” doing something like construction outside of said oversight, there has to be demonstrable harm or danger to people in order to justify intervention.

Because my explorations haven’t gone much outside of New York, I’m honestly not sure what the rest of North America looks like, except that it’s no longer the heart of any sort of empire, and hasn’t been for some centuries. Problems created by greed, hatred, and so on still exist, but they’re not supported at a systemic level in the way we see today, and so have less power to destroy lives. Not a perfect world, but a better one.

The second category is in the far more distant future – tens of thousands of years. Have I mentioned I’m an optimist? I tried not to be for a while, but it got tiresome. At this point in time, humanity is interstellar, and has been for a very long time. The stories I’ve worked on thus far also take place in a better society, but this one is an interplanetary association of sorts, with the various planets governing themselves along similar lines to what I described in the “flooded New York” setting. Some use governments, some don’t, but access to food, shelter, and healthcare are all guaranteed, and insofar as there’s a currency, it’s the hydrogen that’s used in fusion engines to both power technology, and to manufacture and “print out” most materials needed for society. It’s sort of like replicator technology in Star Trek, but rather than just “materializing” finished products, the matter forges synthesize raw materials of varying complexity from molecules formed in a series of fusion reactors, each fueling the next. This setting is also one in which I explore fascism, as a number of planets – including Earth – are under the sway of a fascist society that’s in a sort of “Cold War” with the society I just described. I view fascism as a set of ideologies and political tactics that I think are likely to plague humanity for a long time to come, and likely to re-emerge from time to time, as ignorance, complacency, or fear lead people to those practices. Some of what I’m working on deals with resistance against such a fascist regime, and some does not. The anti-fascist societies are – again – not perfect. There are families and corporations with interplanetary power and influence, and that leads to predictable problems. I’ve been putting less time into this end of things in the last couple years, but I’ve recently resumed work on a novel taking place in this setting, now that I feel like my skill as a writer is closer to being able to tackle the subject matter.

The third category is one I think of as “the gauntlet“. It’s a set of stories taking place within the next century or two, depicting humanity’s struggle to survive a warming climate and the collapse of the current global capitalist order. Reflecting my own expectations for the near future, this is definitely my least optimistic project, and contains a lot of stuff that I fervently hope will be viewed as laughably pessimistic in a couple hundred years, if not my own lifetime (again, I’m optimistic enough to hope that my work will be considered at all on any useful scale. I think there’s a degree of egotism required to continue in this line of work). Some of this stuff is more optimistic, as it deals with the first glimmers of the world explored in the first category above.

Some of this fiction I’ll share here directly. Some is exclusively for my patrons. Some I’ll send away in the hopes that some publication will pay me a little. In any case, there’s going to be more of it around in general. If you want more of my time to go to this blog, and more of my fiction to be available to either you, or to the general public, the best way to achieve those goals right now is to support me via patreon, and encourage others to do the same. The closer I am to being able to actually cover living expenses, the more I’ll be free to just directly share my work with whoever wants to read it, which is my preference. The second best way is to share any of my work that you find to be valuable, by whatever criteria you judge such things.

Life’s chaotic for most of us right now, so however you relate to my work, take care of yourself, and those around you.

Just as the U.S. government helped create Al-Qaeda, the Israeli government helped Hamas

The United States has a long, horrific history of funding, training, and arming extremist groups – particularly right-wing ones – in the hopes that those groups will destabilize the regions in which they are active. This has led to countless atrocities all around the world, many of which have been used as excuses for our state of endless war.

As one of America’s closest allies, and the biggest recipient of American military aid, it probably shouldn’t be surprising to learn that the Israeli government followed this strategy when it came to Hamas.

Remember this, when Hamas is used to justify murder and brutality committed against Palestinians, as part of the Israeli government’s effort to maintain apartheid conditions, and pursue a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem.

Israel has all the power in this situation. The Israeli government is capable of de-escalating things, and moving the region towards peace, but they have consistently chosen not to, maintaining and escalating the cycle of bloodshed.

Mitigating the harm of climate change, using changes in the climate

One thing that is fast becoming a central theme of my work is the notion that, in addition to decentralizing political power, and creating a more democratic economy than capitalism can provide, we also need view ourselves as a part of the “natural world”. That means moving away from the historical trend of using technology to separate ourselves from the rest of the biosphere, and instead more fully integrating human civilization with the ecosystems that surround us.

This includes a lot of the standard stuff from the solarpunk genre: urban agriculture and urban wildlife, waste management that minimizes or eliminates pollution, and an end to wasteful things like planned obsolescence. It also goes beyond that, to molding ourselves to better suit our ecosystems, and to reduce the amount of labor and energy required to survive in a sometimes hostile landscape.

As the climate warms, the trend in much of the world seems to be towards stable or increasing annual rainfall, but with all of that rain coming in a smaller number of more intense storms. The practical effect of that is a worsening cycle of drought, flooding, and erosion, as the majority of the year is too dry for most plant life, and the sudden, intense rainfall floods the landscape causing landslides, and washing away both plant life and topsoil.

This, in turn, is likely to worsen the next year’s drought, while doing little to provide actual relief, as the water all rushes out to sea, or evaporates quickly following the downpour. The result is a cycle that’s likely to affect a huge portion of currently inhabited land, starting with the areas already suffering from this, like California:

As climate change intensifies the severity and frequency of these extreme events, amplifying refill rates could help the state reach a more balanced groundwater budget. One practice, called water banking or managed aquifer recharge, involves augmenting surface infrastructure, such as reservoirs or pipelines, with underground infrastructure, such as aquifers and wells, to increase the transfer of floodwater for storage in groundwater basins.

A newer strategy for managing surface water, compared to more traditional methods like reservoirs and dams, water banking poses multiple benefits including flood risk reduction and improved ecosystem services. While groundwater basins offer a vast network for water safekeeping, pinpointing areas prime for replenishment, gauging infrastructure needed and the amount of water available remains key, especially in a warming and uncertain climate.

“Integrating managed aquifer recharge with floodwaters into already complex water management infrastructure offers many benefits, but requires careful consideration of uncertainties and constraints. Our growing understanding of climate change makes this an opportune time to examine the potential for these benefits,” said senior author David Freyberg, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford.

The researchers designed a framework to estimate future floodwater availability across the state. Developing a hybrid computer model using hydrologic and climate simulations and statistical tools, the team calculated water available for recharge under different climate change scenarios through 2090. They also identified areas where infrastructure investments should be prioritized to tap floodwater potential and increase recharge.

As things currently stand, flood waters tend to be dangerous. They sweep up badly stored chemicals, human and animal waste, and sediments carrying pollution from past eras, resulting in a mix of poisons and bacteria that can do a lot of harm. Building infrastructure to catch that water, clean it, and direct it into aquifers would be a huge investment, but one that I think would be well worth it, and have benefits lasting far into the future.

Similar to things like food forests and managed prairies, water conservation and banking practices can help us build up not only our own resilience, but also the resilience of surrounding ecosystems.

Image shows the flooded terraces of a Balinese rice farm, creating a sort of managed ecosystem of grasses, trees, and ponds climbing up mountainsides

“For most crops, irrigation simply provides water for the plant’s roots. But in a Balinese rice terrace, water is used to construct a complex, pulsed artificial ecosystem. Water temples manipulate the states of the system, at ascending levels in regional hierarchies.”

The industrial revolution, colonialism, and capitalism all worked to devastate the biosphere of this planet in ways we’re still working to fully understand. We must turn from being consumers of the world, to being stewards of it. In the past, rhetoric like this might have been used to push the idea that we should just “leave nature alone”, but I want to be clear that that’s not what I’m suggesting.

The ecological collapse we’ve created means that we have a responsibility to use our technology and understanding to help our ecosystems survive, for our own benefit. That’s likely to mean increased intervention in what remains of wild spaces, at least in some ways. I think it’s obvious we should work to end the conditions that drive practices like deforestation and over-fishing; but it may also mean things like using banked or desalinated water to irrigate drought-stricken “wilderness”, if we can find ways to do so.

This is a complex issue, and must be approached as such. The measures taken to help one region could prove devastating in another, and it’s almost certain that such efforts will only work if undertaken in a cooperative manner across the arbitrary borders that divide the world into “nations”. As I’ve said before, a better world is possible, but I believe it will require the creation and maintenance of global solidarity. We cannot continue to indulge exploitation and bigotry, if we want to survive.

If you find the contents of this blog useful or entertaining, or if you think that it’s moving in that direction, please consider becoming a patron at patreon.com/oceanoxia, and/or encouraging others to do so. I’d to keep writing, and keep building this into a useful resource for those who want a better world, and to do that, I need money to survive. I’m still pulling in far, far less than minimum wage, and it’d be awesome if I could close that gap.

Renegade Cut: Why Riots Happen

America’s “protest season” has begun, and the government has continued its brutal response to any calls for systemic change. Because injustice has not been corrected, political unrest will not cease. As they saying goes, “No justice, no peace”. This video is a useful examination of riots, and how violence is defined, justified, or condemned within our society. Education alone will not save us, but it is a powerful tool in the struggle for a better world.

The video has been “age-restricted”, I suspect due to a mass-flagging campaign by those who object to any content critical of police, and of white supremacy. You’ll need to sign in to see it, but I think that’s worth doing.


A video, and some thoughts on the current state of U.S. fascism

As I’ve said before, I don’t think the threat of fascism will be leaving the United States any time soon. This video does a good job of outlining the ways in which the modern Republican Party has become either fascist, or part of a fascist movement. A lot of these elements were present prior to Trump’s entry into politics, and I think it’s fair to say that there was a growing fascist movement that brought Trump to power, and that was empowered in turn by his presidency.

That said, I think it’s also worth noting that if Biden doesn’t make good on the efforts to pitch him as a new FDR (a comparison that seems to be either wishful thinking, or a feeble effort to placate left-wing dissidents), then the threat will remain as strong as it has ever been. At this point in time, any efforts to blame America’s problems on outside forces will, in my opinion, feed America’s fascist movement. As long as the problems caused by neoliberalism remain, any efforts to fix things by focusing on an outward enemy will leave the public with two choices – one is to reject the efforts at scapegoating altogether, and to join in the effort to replace capitalism with something better.

The other is to conclude that if both parties are saying that China (or any other scapegoat) is the cause of our problems, maybe the people whose rhetoric on that issue is more aggressive will actually “do something about it”. I don’t know what the future holds, but climate jokes aside, the United States is on very thin ice right now. The momentum seems to be pushing in a very bad direction, and it’s going to take a lot of careful work to turn things around.