Abolition requires more than just swapping out people. It requires reshaping the world.

If you’re at all aware of the history of U.S. foreign policy over the last century, any time a left-wing movement achieves some kind of success, you’re faced with the joy of a step in the right direction, mixed with the feeling that it’s only a matter of time before there’s another corporate-backed effort to put a far-right regime in power. It’s annoying, because that reaction feels sort of fatalistic – like no matter how much we do, there’s always a handful of obscenely wealthy extremists who prefer mass murder to anything that even looks like a threat to their power.

That’s the case right now, with the recent victory of Gabriel Boric in Chile’s presidential election. It’s impossible for me to see this welcome move to the left without remembering the events that made it such a big deal. With a nation as powerful, and as committed to capitalism as the U.S., it’s hard not to worry that we’re never going to actually have a shot at a better future without the U.S. itself undergoing revolutionary change. That change itself is constantly being fought by the U.S. government, more or less as part of standard operating procedure. A couple recent examples are the assassination of Michael Reinoehl by U.S. Marshalls (possibly on the orders of then-President Trump), and the imprisonment of Florida anti-fascist Daniel Baker in association with the events of January 6th. What’s interesting about that case is that Baker’s 44 month sentence is for merely suggesting that people on the left should do what Kyle Rittenhouse did in Kenosha, and organize an armed opposition to the fascist mob that was planning to attack the capitol and possibly murder lawmakers.

“Dan’s case speaks volumes about how the state represses the left much differently than it treats the far right,” Brad Thomson, civil rights attorney at the People’s Law Office, who did not represent Baker, told me. “Here, Dan was sentenced to three and a half years for online posts opposing another January 6 incident. But for actual participants from January 6, we’re seeing charges and sentences far below that.” Thomson added that “every case is unique, but the overall message people will get from this is that online speech calling for militant antifascist action will send you to prison for much longer than actually taking militant action with fascists.”

Any effort at ending capitalism on this planet will have to account for U.S. intelligence agencies, even if the U.S. armed forces never get involved. This has led to a lot of people calling – rightly in my opinion, for the abolition of the CIA. The problem is that as with policing, merely replacing the people currently involved in the organization won’t actually solve the problem. Beau of the Fifth Column does a good job of breaking down why:

We’re surrounded by a sort of global mental infrastructure, built over countless generations and maintained far better than any material infrastructure, by those whose power and privilege come from that very infrastructure. Trains and power lines help everybody, but those at the top can get power and transit for themselves, even if the rest of us are stuck without. The infrastructure of hierarchy and competition, on the other hand, only serves those at the top, and they will spend unimaginable sums to maintain and improve that infrastructure, by setting laws, and by spreading propaganda to the masses.

That’s why I no longer buy the idea that gradual or incremental reforms will save us. As things stand, we have to fight almost as hard for little changes as we do for big ones, and the little changes are both inadequate, and easily reversed. As with police abolition, success requires that we remove the justification for groups like the CIA, and for their actions.

There was a saying going around a while back, in some of the climate activist groups I was part of – if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together with others. Unfortunately, we need to go far and fast. We need a planet-wide overhaul of our political and economic infrastructure, and of the thought patterns and assumptions that support and perpetuate that infrastructure. Doing all of that at the speed I want to do it isn’t safe. I don’t see how it could be. The closer we get to real change, the more those at the top are going to rely on their oldest and most reliable tool: violence.

They will imprison people for the mere act of advocating armed opposition to militant fascism. They will summarily execute people who actually carry out such opposition. Many of the people who walk the halls of power today were themselves involved in ordering, aiding, or hiding numerous atrocities around the world, and it’s hard to see why they would stop now – it’s worked well for them so far.

The problem is that we’ve run out of safe options. Allowing things to continue as they are today means courting extinction, and at minimum guarantees hundreds of millions of needless deaths. As always, my preferred path forward relies on increasing our resilience and our capacity to take coordinated action, separate from any government systems or political parties. I think that gives us the best shot we’ll ever have at large-scale change with as little violence as possible. I also think it gives us our best shot at withstanding efforts to crush that change long enough to see it through. The biggest ray of hope I can see is that it’s getting harder for the government to hide what it’s doing around the world, and it feels like the U.S. empire is beginning to lose its grip a bit. It’s encouraging to see things like Boric’s win in Chile, and the return to power of the MAS party in Bolivia. Our job, in places like the U.S. and western Europe, is to do our part to keep an eye on what our governments are doing around the world, and to organize so that we can create ever-increasing political costs for the politicians and oligarchs behind this sort of foreign interference.

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

Bad news for the Thwaites Glacier

Most of the time, when we talk about melting sea ice, the focus is on the Arctic Ocean. There are a few reasons for this, the biggest one being that sea ice is a much larger part of what happens there, compared to the continent of Antarctica. It’s also a bit easier to measure what’s going on up there. Multiple countries have naval activity under the ice, and they keep track of thickness so they know where their submarines can or cannot surface. There are also many more people living in the Arctic circle, so more people pay attention to what’s happening there, because it affects their daily lives.

There are also three very big considerations when it comes to the rate and impact of global warming. The first is the albedo feedback loop – ice melts, exposing more water, which absorbs more heat, which melts more ice, and so on. Melting sea ice speeds the rate at which warming happens. The second is that as more and more water is exposed for more of the year, the warmth rising from the water pushes arctic air south, leading to the “polar vortex” events with which we’ve become familiar. And last but certainly not least, the ice and low temperatures of the Arctic play a big role (along with salt concentration, also affected by meltwater) in driving the big oceanic currents that bring oxygen into the abyss, and keep northern regions like western Europe nice and warm. As the planet warms and ice melts, it’s expected that those currents will change, causing a huge change in weather patterns all around the planet on top of those we’re already seeing. I will be writing more about that very soon.

All of that is why we most often hear about Arctic sea ice. This post is about what’s happening on the other side of the planet. Ice around Antarctica plays many of the same roles, and it is also being closely monitored, but it gets a bit less press. The biggest news we tend to see is when a particularly large ice shelf breaks up, and that’s what this news is about – a breakup that we’ve been waiting for, and that we’ve been hoping would happen slowly, and not soon.

So much for that.

Scientists have discovered a series of worrying weaknesses in the ice shelf holding back one of Antarctica’s most dangerous glaciers, suggesting that this important buttress against sea level rise could shatter within the next three to five years.

Until recently, the ice shelf was seen as the most stable part of Thwaites Glacier, a Florida-sized frozen expanse that already contributes about 4 percent of annual global sea level rise. Because of this brace, the eastern portion of Thwaites flowed more slowly than the rest of the notorious “doomsday glacier.”

But new data show that the warming ocean is eroding the eastern ice shelf from below. Satellite images taken as recently as last month and presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union show several large, diagonal cracks extending across the floating ice wedge.

These weak spots are like cracks in a windshield, said Oregon State University glaciologist Erin Pettit. One more blow and they could spiderweb across the entire ice shelf surface.

“This eastern ice shelf is likely to shatter into hundreds of icebergs,” she said. “Suddenly the whole thing would collapse.”

The failure of the shelf would not immediately accelerate global sea level rise. The shelf already floats on the ocean surface, taking up the same amount of space whether it is solid or liquid.

But when the shelf fails, the eastern third of Thwaites Glacier will triple in speed, spitting formerly landlocked ice into the sea. Total collapse of Thwaites could result in several feet of sea level rise, scientists say, endangering millions of people in coastal areas.

“It’s upwardly mobile in terms of how much ice it could put into the ocean in the future as these processes continue,” said Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, and a leader of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC). He spoke to reporters via Zoom from McMurdo Station on the coast of Antarctica, where he is awaiting a flight to his field site atop the crumbling ice shelf.

“Things are evolving really rapidly here,” Scambos added. “It’s daunting.”

Pettit and Scambos’s observations also show that the warming ocean is loosening the ice shelf’s grip on the underwater mountain that helps it act as a brace against the ice river at its back. Even if the fractures don’t cause the shelf to disintegrate, it is likely to become completely unmoored from the seafloor within the next decade.

Other researchers from the ITGC revealed chaos in the “grounding zone” where the land-bound portion of the glacier connects to the floating shelf that extends out over the sea. Ocean water there is hot, by Antarctic standards, and where it enters crevasses it can create “hot spots” of melting.

Without its protective ice shelf, scientists fear that Thwaites may become vulnerable to ice cliff collapse, a process in which towering walls of ice that directly overlook the ocean start to crumble into the sea.

This process hasn’t been observed in Antarctica. But “if it started instantiating it would become self-sustaining and cause quite a bit of retreat for certain glaciers” including Thwaites, said Anna Crawford, a glaciologist at the University of St. Andrews.

This would continue the already measurable acceleration of sea level rise, as NASA reported in 2018:

We’re a very long way away from the scenario in my “flooded Manhattanstories, and there’s no guarantee it’ll ever get to that point, but we are already seeing things like “ghost forests”, caused by salt creeping into the groundwater as seas rise, and multiple island nations are understandably concerned about their looming inundation. On the whole, I think adapting ourselves to sea level rise could be one of the easier climate problems to solve. It will require a lot of construction work, but that’s one thing that we’re generally quite good at, around the world. As always, I think the bigger problem is ensuring just treatment of those affected as part of a broader fight for environmental justice.

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

Suffocating Seas: An update on this blog’s namesake climate catastrophe

The title of this blog comes from a frustration I had, back in 2010, about the absurdly optimistic climate scenarios that were being described by politicians and pundits as “alarmist”. At that point in time, I remember people scoffing at the notion that we might see two feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, and most of the other effects of a warming planet, like crop failures, were largely ignored. Honestly, climate change in general was being largely ignored, which is part of how we got where we are today.

So I started out to write about worst-case scenarios, and the possibility of warming oceans leading to widespread anoxic conditions struck me as particularly worrisome. More on this later, but that exact scenario is the most likely cause of the Permian-Triassic extinction event, also known as The Great Dying. All the food we get from the sea requires oxygen to survive. Specifically, it requires dissolved oxygen, which means oxygen molecules in the water that are not part of the H2O molecules, but that saturate the space between water molecules. The air we breathe is around 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. In aquatic environments, H2O is roughly analogous to nitrogen in air, when it comes to respiration, but the concentration of oxygen available for “breathing” is much lower. This isn’t a problem – gills tend to be very efficient, and aquatic life has evolved to deal with that. What it does mean is that despite oxygen being a major component of water, most of what’s there isn’t actually usable for breathing. There are a number of factors that affect how much there is, but temperature is a big one, and it’s feeding into a rise in so-called “dead zones”.

As ocean and atmospheric scientists focused on climate, we believe that oceanic oxygen levels are the next big casualty of global warming. To stop this, we need to build on the momentum of the recent COP26 summit and expand our attention to the perilous state of oceanic oxygen levels—the life support system of our planet. We need to accelerate ocean-based climate solutions that boost oxygen, including nature-based solutions like those discussed at COP26.

As the amount of CO2 increases in the atmosphere, not only does it warm air by trapping radiation, it warms water. The interplay between oceans and the atmosphere is complex and interwoven, but simply, oceans have taken up about 90 percent of the excess heat created by climate change during the Anthropocene. Bodies of water can absorb CO2 and O2, but only to a temperature-dependent limit. Gas solubility decreases with warming temperatures; that is, warmer water holds less oxygen. This decrease in oxygen content, coupled with a large-scale die-off of oxygen-generating phytoplankton resulting not just from climate change, but from plastic pollution and industrial run-off, compromises ecosystems, asphyxiating marine life and leading to further die-offs. Large swaths of the oceans have lost 10–40 percent of their oxygen, and that loss is expected to accelerate with climate change.

The dramatic loss of oxygen from our bodies of water is compounding climate-related feedback mechanisms described by scientists in many fields, hundreds of whom signed the 2018 Kiel Declaration on Ocean Deoxygenation. This declaration has culminated in the new Global Ocean Oxygen Decade, a project under the U.N. Global Ocean Decade (2021–2030). Yet, despite years of research into climate change and its effect on temperature, we know comparatively little about its effect on oxygen levels and what falling oxygen levels, in turn, may do to the atmosphere. To address this unfolding crisis, we need more research and more data.

In the past 200 years, humans have shown remarkable ability to change the planet by altering the timescales in which the Earth cycles chemicals such as CO2. We need to evaluate any possible solutions for their impact on not just greenhouse gases but other critical elements of life, such as oxygen levels. As the financial world invests in climate change solutions focused on CO2 drawdown, and possibly including future geoengineering efforts such as iron fertilization, we run the risk of causing secondary harm by exacerbating oxygen loss. We need to evaluate potential unintended consequences of climate solutions on the full life support system.

Beyond enhanced monitoring of oxygen and the establishment of an oxygen accounting system, such an agenda encompasses fully valuing the ecosystem co-benefits of carbon sequestration by our ocean’s seaweed, seagrasses, mangroves and other wetlands. These so-called “blue carbon” nature-based solutions are also remarkable at oxygenating our planet through photosynthesis. The theme of COP26 chosen by the host country (U.K.) was “nature-based solutions.” And we saw a lot of primarily terrestrial focused (forestry) initiatives and commitments that are an excellent step forward. We hope this year’s conference and next year’s COP27 help oceanic nature-based solutions to come into their own, propelled by the U.N. Global Ocean Decade.

Putting oxygen into the climate story motivates us to do the work to understand the deep systemic changes happening in our complex atmospheric and oceanic systems. Even as we celebrated the return of humpback whales in 2020 to an increasingly clean New York Harbor and Hudson River, dead fish littered the Hudson River in the summer as warmer waters carried less oxygen. Ecosystem changes connected to physical and chemical systems-level data may point the way to new approaches to climate solutions—ones that encompass an enhanced understanding of the life support system of our planet and that complement our understanding of drawdown to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Roughly 40 percent of the world depends on the ocean for their livelihoods. If we do not stop marine life from oxygen-starvation, we propagate a further travesty on ourselves.

I think it’s important to understand that not all life on Earth has the requirement for oxygen that is common among the organisms that surround us. Because we require an environment with a certain oxygen saturation, we simply don’t interact with life forms that rely on, for example, sulfur as an electron receptor. This applies both on land and in the water, but possibly the most common anoxic environment on Earth is the muck under bodies of water. When oxygen concentration dips low enough, anaerobic life gets to come out and play, and that’s bad for us aerobic critters. If a dead zone becomes permanent, rather than seasonal like the ones described in the article I quoted, then the rise in anaerobic life, and its waste products, will mean that lack of oxygen will not be the only problem – you also see a rise in sulfur compounds that are poisonous to us all by themselves. It may also be possible for sulfide-saturated waters to release toxic gas that could suffocate coastal areas.

Our oceans are so huge that it’s hard to wrap our heads around the scale. From everything I’ve read, it should be thousands of years before heat-driven dead zones in the oceans start gassing low-lying land, but it does seem to be a real possibility. Furthermore, I think it’s worth remembering a few things:

The first predictions of global warming due to fossil fuel emissions, in the 1890s, projected a timeline of 3,000 years to the “palm trees growing in Sweden” mark. As it stands today, I think we will be lucky if it takes 300 from the same starting point (meaning we’re over a century in), and the most common refrain from living climate scientists seems to be that everything is happening faster than anyone expected.

Chemical changes like this aren’t really something a lot of people are talking about, but I think if they do happen, it will be similar to how sea level rise has been happening – unevenly, and more or less destructive depending on local conditions. It will be a long time before we get to the water levels in my “flooded NYC” stories, but we’ve already seen the city’s subways flooded a number of times in the last few years. I don’t think it’s out of the question for there to be localized “gas events” driven by aquatic dead zones centuries before anoxic conditions exist in a majority of our oceans.

We are living through an event unlike anything our species, or any of those with which we share the planet, have experienced. Knowledge of our history can help us, but it cannot guide us. The reality is that things are moving fast, and the only certainty we have is that the world in which our civilization was born no longer exists, and this new one is not pulling its punches.

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

If Chile is to be the grave of Neoliberalism, let this be played at its funeral!

Chile has been described as the birthplace of Neoliberalism. Specifically, it was the Pinochet regime that seized power from the democratically elected Salvadore Allende, with U.S. support, that then enacted a brutal regime of torture, murder, and privatization with the continued backing of the U.S. government, and advice from “the Chicago boys“, acolytes of Milton Friedman’s cult of The Invisible Hand of the Free Market that pioneered the ruthless profit-seeking and “marketization” of every aspect of life that has become typical of American capitalism in the decades since. I’ll pause here to once again link you to the free audiobook of Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine”.

Recently, the left has been rising again in Chile, finally moving back towards the kind of society they had been trying to build before capitalists tried to crush that dream, and presidential candidate Gabriel Boric has been credited with saying, “If Chile was the birthplace of Neoliberalism, it will also be its grave!”

Now, Boric has released the funniest political ad I have ever seen, and while I was going to take today off, I had to share it with you.

If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution!
If I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution!
If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.
A revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having.
If there won’t be dancing at the revolution, I’m not coming

-Emma Goldman

Scifi Saturday: Cary starts a hunt, part one

The musty-smelling room was long, dark, and featureless. To Cary, it seemed more like a truncated bit of corridor than an actual room. He thought he could see a large shape at the other end. Cary wiped his palms against his pants and stepped forward.

“I’m looking for The Houndmaster? The guide brought me here.”

“For what purpose?”

The voice was clear and cool, a bit higher than Cary’s own.

“I’m an apprentice in the Turtle Bay Fishers’ Guild. We need to find a pollution source. My mentor told me to figure it out.” Cary paused. “I think I need your help to solve it.”

A ceiling light flicked on, causing Cary’s eyes to water.

“And so this is your trial.”

Cary nodded, rubbing his eyes. “Find a problem and solve it.”

“Do you know, I once heard of an apprentice who created their own problem, the better to earn their full membership.”

Eyes clear, Cary took in the person at the other end of the room. The Fae seemed small, sitting on the floor with faer legs hidden by loose, brown cloth. Behind faer was curled an enormous dog that seemed to be carved out of stone or or some dull metal, with patterns engraved in on its surface. The Houndmaster reclined against the dog’s side, with its head resting on faer shoulder. The eyes seemed to be flat black stones, set in the dog’s ornately carved face.

“What happened to that apprentice?”

“They asked one of us to solve their problem, and fae did. They no longer live in this city.”

Cary blinked.

“Well, uh, I didn’t create this problem, and even if I did, it still needs solving.”

“Good answer. Tell me what you have found.”

“Pathogens on the incoming tide. I believe it’s a sewage leak of some sort, and I did some digging. There aren’t any treatment facilities upstream, so it’s probably someone or something that’s operating without oversight.”

“And it would not do for our city’s clear waters to be sullied. Good. This is work that needs doing, and there will be no debt or payment.”

The Houndmaster stood, and Cary took a step back, bumping into a wall where the room’s door had been. As the Fae rose from faer sitting position, faer legs were revealed to be mechanical, shaped like the hind legs of a dog, and made of the same material as the hound. Cary’s eyes rose, and he saw that the hound’s head had risen with the human Fae, separating from its massive body to remain on faer shoulder. Fae stalked toward Cary, faer footsteps inaudible, and stood in front of Cary, half a meter taller than him.

Faer face was smooth and round, with a small nose, and full, black lips. Metallic tattoos glistened with gold and silver patterns on faer temples and forehead, looking a little like a crown.

“Outsiders call me Houndmaster.” Fae stooped slightly, extending a short arm, banded with the same metallic tattoos. Cary closed his mouth, and lifted his hand to touch fingers with The Houndmaster.

“Now, we shall see what we can do.”

The Houndmaster turned to the side and knelt. As faer legs slowly folded, Cary glanced at faer back, seeing that a sort of sort of metallic hump seemed to emerge from the back of faer tunic, forming a platform that extended back from faer left shoulder, supporting the hound’s head. Kneeling, fae reached up, lifted the head, and gently placed it on the floor, facing the Houndmaster. Placing one hand on it’s head, fae leaned in and spoke softly.

“There is work to be done, and it requires your abilities.”

Fae’s head tilted to the side, as if listening. Cary could see the corner of faer mouth tug upwards in a small smile.

“Because we are not the only ones present, and we wouldn’t want our guest to feel neglected… No, Eldest. You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

The Houndmaster glanced up at Cary and shrugged.

“The pack is shy at times, and faen’ve recently welcomed a new member. If you earn their respect, faen may choose to speak with you.”

“How might I go about that?”

“That is not for me to say.”

Fae turned back to the head. “Will you aid us?”

For a long moment, there was no sound, and no motion, then the head’s black eyes lit up with a soft, golden glow, and The Houndmaster stood, returning the head to its place on faer shoulder. Fae turned and looked down at Cary.

“The pack has agreed. We will find the source of this pollution.”

“We appreciate that. Will you need my help?”

“You may accompany us, insofar as you are able.”

Cary blinked. “Do you move that fast?”

“Quite the contrary, but we will not stop until the source has been found, and if – as you suspect – it is under water, then we will follow our quarry into the depths. Do you dive? Have you a submersible?”

Cary shook his head. “Just a canoe.”

“Then you may follow in your canoe.”

“I’ll do that. If you need to keep anything on board while you work you’re welcome to.”

“No, there are no things we would need to keep on your boat. We will meet you at the southwest boundary of Turtle Bay in an hour.”

The Houndmaster turned and stalked to the back of the long room. Fae pressed faer palms against the wall. Glowing signs appeared on the wall around faer hands, and then both wall and signs faded showing the dim waters of Central Park. The Houndmaster stepped forward as the water poured in, not changing pace as fae entered the torrent. Cary stood frozen, and braced himself as fae disappeared into the rushing water, but the wall re-appeared, and the flood was cut off. The water spread out on the floor, and was only millimeters deep as it gently flowed around his shoes. The water sank into the floor, leaving it dry, and Cary stepped back through the newly re-opened doorway, and into the passage beyond.

As it had on his way into Manhattan’s Otherworld, a bright speck of light was projected into the air in front of him, and he followed it through the dim, dripping corridor, until it vanished by the lift. He entered, and was carried back to the surface. He stepped out into the warm air and bustling noise of Central Park’s floating market, and made his way through the evening crowd to his docked canoe. Cary stepped lightly into the vessel, sat, and pushed off. He had an hour to meet the Houndmaster, so he decided to save the outboard’s battery and move under his own power. His paddle bit into the water and he slid forward.


A warm breeze blew droplets of rain into Cary’s eyes as his canoe coasted close to the ivy-covered hulk of an ancient tower. His earpiece chimed softly as he passed his mentor’s lot beacon, and he dug in his paddle, turning the vessel into a gap in the ivy. Jo’s canoe was tied a metal railing, and his mentor was lounging in a hammock over the dark waters inside the building, her wrinkled face and silver hair lit up by the tablet she was looking at. He stilled his canoe near her hammock.

“Hey, Jo.”

She glanced down at him.

“Your face says you found somethin’.”

“I think there’s a sewage leak.”

“Really now?”

“Fecal bacteria in all four quadrants.”

“Well, sounds like you’ve found a problem.”

Cary nodded.

“Can’t have the fish getting contaminated. Where do we go from here?”

Jo raised a bushy eyebrow at him, and turned back to her tablet. Cary suppressed an urge to groan. Jo had taken him as guild apprentice when he was 10, and the past seven years had taught him to dread the moments when she simply didn’t answer a question. It invariably meant that she felt he should already know the answer, and so it was on him to figure it out, or to ask a better question. He set his paddle on the bottom of the canoe, and rolled his shoulders, thinking.

Jo was a senior member of the guild, and in addition to turning Cary into a competent fisher, had also shared her belief that any task that arose should be tackled immediately, lest it cut into their free time. The guild’s strict fishing quotas meant that each fisher started their shift knowing the maximum they could take. Jo had sent Cary to other fishers, to see how they worked, and it made him realize how many different approaches there were. He could see the value in the meditative approach that some of his guildmates took, but he preferred Jo’s goal of spending as little time actually working as possible. The key was always to take the time to do it right, so no followup would be needed.

The apprenticeship was his job, and so he had to take the time to do it right, and now his mentor had told him that he’d missed something. He glanced up at her. Whatever he’d missed, it wasn’t big, or she wouldn’t be smirking at her tablet. Even so, he was annoyed that he’d missed something. After seven years of apprenticeship, he was on the verge of becoming the guild’s newest full member. He’d even heard Jo telling Leon that he’d learned everything he needed, so that just meant-


Jo glanced at him, her smirk widening into a grin. Cary’s stomach fluttered as he stared up at her.


“Yup. This is your first chance.”

The last stage of his apprenticeship – find a problem in Turtle Bay or the Fishers’ Guild, and solve it. He looked at the water beside his boat, watching the phosphorescent glow that tailed a small school of fish. Jo wasn’t going to help him on this. Some mentors would help on a final task, but he knew Jo would be disappointed if he just gave a general request for help.

I can do this.

New York City was a complex web of collectives, all with their own purposes and ways of doing things. The Fisher’s Guild oversaw Turtle Bay, which meant maintaining the fishery for future generations, monitoring the water quality, and checking the “ruined” towers for signs of instability. When the city had been reclaimed, it was decided that Turtle Bay would remain a wild zone. At the time, it was a mix of whimsy and limited resources. A local legend held that there was a huge, ancient turtle that lived in the bay, and they had to make sure it had an ecosystem that would support her so she wouldn’t go looking for food in more populated areas. Nobody had ever seen the turtle, but the idea stuck. That had meant refitting the buildings for their new purpose as stable structures for vegetation, bird life, and as Cary had learned when Jo sent him up to inspect the building they were in currently, a thriving population of enormous spiders. He shook his head, putting those memories aside, and thought about his problem.

Because Turtle Bay was so closely monitored by the guild, it was a near certainty that the leak was outside their territory. In theory, Cary could simply alert the City Council of the problem, and they’d deal with it at some point, but he knew that Jo would find that to be unacceptable. She’d probably decide she hadn’t trained him properly, and set him to studying the city’s history or something. No, he needed to at least figure out how to track down the source of the contamination. He needed help from outside the guild.


Jo looked up.

“You have a plan?”

“I think so.”

“Run it by me.”

“Wherever the sewage leak is, it’s probably under water, or someone would have smelled it, right?”

“Seems reasonable.”

“So I need someone that can trace bacterial contamination in the water back to its source.”

“You have someone in mind?”

“Not exactly.”

“Then what’s your plan?”

“The guild has a good working relationship with the Fae, right?”

“As does anyone with half a brain.”

“So I’m going to Otherworld to incur a debt.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“I know faen’ve got people who can do this, and frankly it’s about time I made my own connections, don’t you think?”

Jo cackled.

“Good boy. Yes, that should do. You know how to get there?”

“Everyone who grew up here knows. I’ve never interacted with one, but faen do make sure that every child in this city knows where to go if there’s trouble.”

And every parent in the city knew that if the didn’t treat their children well, they might decide that living in Otherworld was preferable. It wasn’t perfect – it wasn’t even a system – but it did mean that Cary knew where to go.

“Ok. I’m off to Central Park then.”

Jo shook her head.

“Go tomorrow afternoon, late-ish. The current will be in the same direction and that’ll help the- whoever you manage to get trace the contamination.”

“Oh, good point.”

“Of course it is. Are you catching any fish tonight?”

Cary shook his head.

“I think I’d better make sure I’m well-rested, and I’ve got some things to attend to at home.”

“Give my regards to your parents if you see them, and update me when you have something.”

“Will do.”

He grabbed his paddle and moved to leave the building.

“By the way,” called Jo, “Stop by the boathouse and note your findings. Say you’re dealing with it so that nobody else will waste time on it.”

“Will do.”

Cary grinned as his canoe slid out from under the building. This would be his first solo entry in the guild’s logbook.


The gray sky was beginning to dim as Cary reached the southern boundary of Turtle Bay. Looking around, he saw the tall, Otherworldly form of the Houndmaster waiting for him on a small jetty. The hound’s eyes were still glowing, and several small drones were chasing each other around in the air nearby. As he approached, the aerial drones darted out to swoop around him, and then returned to the Houndmaster, settling to rest on faer head and shoulders. Now that faen weren’t moving, Cary counted six.

As he pulled his canoe alongside the jetty, the Houndmaster crouched slowly and gestured to the drones using him as a perch.

“These ones took a turn around the area, and the only traces of sewage faen could find were right by the water’s surface. I think it is safe to say that the source is below, so I will take the other half of the pack down, and see what we can find.”

“Sounds good to me.”

The drones took off again, and the Houndmaster stood, and stepped off the jetty with a splash that rocked Cary’s canoe. Holding his paddle to shade the water’s surface, he watched the Fae sink down, submersible drones darting out of the hound’s mouth. Fae hit the canal floor with a large puff of silt, and looked up at the drones. Bubbles emerged from faer “hunch”. The drones sniffed around a bit, and then faen moved southeast, followed by the Houndmaster. Fae moved along the bottom slowly, each footfall kicking up a puff of silt. The aerial drones kept pace with the rest of the pack, and Cary dug in his paddle and followed. Where the buildings created dark patches against the reflected sky, Cary could see fish following the Houndmaster, darting in around faer feet to eat things kicked up by the Fae’s passage. Bubbles rose from faer back at regular intervals.

As he glided forward, he also watched the aerial drones. In general, one or two would hover directly over over the Houndmaster, while the others would dart ahead and perch on railings, windowsills, or docks, until the Houndmaster was level with faen, at which point faen would switch out with the ones keeping pace. Occasionally, one would loop around Cary as if to make sure that he was still following. The Houndmaster’s pace was steady, so Cary stuck to paddling. The outboard was easier, but he preferred conserving its battery. A thought occurred.

As a drone looped back to check on him, he waved to faer.

“If you all want to save your energy, you can ride on my canoe, and I can keep following the bubbles.”

The drone came to a halt in the air, darted down to hover in front of his face, faer propellers giving a pleasantly cool breeze. Fae then darted over to the others, and faen all flew to the canoe and settled on the gunwales, extending little metal limbs to hold on.

“Good”, said Cary. “No sense in wasting energy when I’m already tagging along, eh? Let me know if you need anything.”

He wasn’t sure faen had the means to do so, but faen had understood his offer, and faen seemed able to communicate with the Houndmaster. He dug his paddle into the water and pushed them forward, following the trail of bubbles towards a pair of apartment buildings by the southwest edge of Turtle Bay. The Fae drones rocked a little with the motion of the boat, but faen held faenselves in place. Satisfied his passengers were safe, he looked up at the buildings. From the line of bubbles, it seemed they would be going between them, under the lattice of bridges that connected various floors. Dripping ivy hung down from the lowest bridge like a ragged, green curtain, and Cary could hear the sound of children at play as he approached. Peering up as he paddled, he could just make out shapes darting around in the support structures under the bridge. He felt a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. His family’s home was in a similar building, and the bottom bridge was one of their favorite playgrounds. By the time he’d taken on his apprenticeship and moved into his own flat a few rows down, he’d become an expert at swinging himself along the bars that made up the bridge’s support, and for the rare moments when he missed his handholds…


A small, dark shape tumbled into the canal, pulling a laugh from Cary. He looked up at the other kids, and moved his canoe to the leftmost edge of the canal.

“Passing under!”

A high voice called, “boat!” and the movement among the ivy paused.

“Hey mister!”

The one who’d fallen had surfaced and swum toward him, curly black hair cropped close against their head. A brown hand came up to wipe water out of their eyes.

“Those your drones?”

Cary grinned and shook his head.

“Fae, so be nice to faen.”

“Fae? Really? Are you Fae?” The kid grabbed onto the side of his canoe, looking up at him. “You don’t look Fae.”

“I’m not. I’m just a fisherman.” He pointed a thumb over his shoulder at Turtle Bay. “But we needed help. I’m Cary.”

“Greg.” Greg peered at the nearest drone. “Nice to meet you. I’ve never met a Fae before.”

The drone lifted off with a buzz, and landed on Greg’s head for a second, before returning to its place on the gunwale. Cary glanced toward the Houndmaster. The bubbles were stationary. Squinting, he could just make out the distorted form of the Houndmaster standing on the Canal floor facing them.

“Cary, right? Don’t faen talk?”

“The Houndmaster said faen will if faen feel like it, but I don’t think faen talk to outsiders much.”

“The Houndmaster?”

Cary pointed to the water. “Fae’s down there, waiting for us.”

Greg’s free hand plunged into a pocket in his shorts, and he pulled out a pair of goggles. He jammed them on his face, took a big breath, and dove. Peering over the side of the canoe, Cary watched him turning his head around, and then waving frantically at the Houndmaster. Fae waved back, and Greg surfaced with a shout.

“There’s a Fae in the water!”

“You’re just trying to get us to lose, too,” came the answer from above. “Let that person go through so we can keep playing!”

“No really! Fae’s working with the Turtle Bay Guild and fae’s right under the bridge, standing on the bottom! Fae waved at me!”

“It’s true,” called Cary. Everyone knew about the Fae, but faen kept to faenselves. Jo had once said faen enjoyed being mysterious.

“I’ll check.”

Another kid plunged into the water, and looked around, before waving at the Houndmaster, who waved again. The kid surfaced, and yelled to the others.

“It’s true!”

A second later, several kids dropped into the water at once, and the Houndmaster found faerself surrounded by children diving down to get a look. Fae waved at them, waited a moment, then turned and continued walking. The kids surfaced and surrounded Cary’s canoe.

“That’s so neat!”

“What’re you doing with faer?”

“Are there others around?”

“Did you see the big head on faer shoulder?”

“Yeah, with the glowing eyes”

“Faer legs are so cool! I want legs like that!”

Cary laughed, and answered the question directed at him.

“I found a little pollution in Turtle Bay and we’re trying to find the source.”

“Is it safe to be in the water?”

Cary nodded.

“Yes, and we’re going to keep it that way. Someone’s not taking care like they should, so we’re going to make sure it’s dealt with.” He glanced at his Fae passengers. “And yes, these ones are also Fae – faen’re part of the Houndmaster’s team.

“Oh! Sorry we didn’t say hi!”

This was followed by a chorus of greetings and waves. The drones lifted off, gently touched down on the bobbing heads, and then returned to the boat. It seemed that was how faen greeted children.

“Sorry kids, but I’ve gotta get moving. The Houndmaster’s getting ahead, and I don’t want to slow faer down.”

“Back up to the bridge and we’ll start over. Last one there has to be the ref!”

They all splashed toward the nearest building and began clambering upward, still chattering.

“Faen touched all of us! Do we have magic now?”

“Don’t be silly Milo. You don’t get powers unless you become a Fae.”

“Auntie Kat said faen don’t have powers, faen just use tech different.”

Cary paddled after the Houndmaster, grinning as he listened.

“Did you see fae just walking around on the canal floor? If that’s not magic, it’s close enough for me.”

“Faen wouldn’t take you, Ana. Everyone knows your parents treat you so well they probably get “parent of the month” medals from the Fae.”

“That’s not a thing, Walter.”

“I bet faen’ve got a list of good parents though. Faen’d have to.”


“If faen know who all the bad parents are, then it stands to reason faen know the good ones too.”


“You’re both being silly. Faen don’t know all the bad parents. Faen don’t have to. Faen just make sure that kids know where to go.”

“You see those drones? I bet faen have got them like that all over, to keep an eye on us.”

“Uh, help?

Cary brought his canoe to a quick stop and looked back. The child’s voice had a note of panic in it.

“Guys I’m stuck! I can’t- Ah!”

Greg, the kid who’d first fallen in the water, had lost his grip and was hanging upside down by his right ankle. It seemed to be caught in the vines a couple stories up. His right hand was bleeding.

“My ankle’s caught! I can’t- It hurts!”

“Oh shit! Greg hang on!”

“I think he’s hurt?”

“Mister can you help?”

Cary had already pulled his canoe around, and was paddling toward the wall as fast as he could. The drones lifted off and hovered near the crying child, but Cary was pretty sure faen couldn’t do anything to help. As he reached the building wall, he took a second to inspect it. The vines were old and sturdy, firmly gripping the building’s outer surface, which had been designed for that purpose. Their age, however, made them dangerous. Woody branches jutted out, making for easy climbing, but a painful fall if you were too close. One of the younger kids from his family’s building had had a fall like that and ended up losing an eye. Ray hadn’t been willing to play under the bridges after that.

Greg whimpered, and Cary grabbed a vine and hauled himself out of the canoe and on to the wall.

“I’m coming Greg, just hang on for a second. You’re gonna be all right!”

Part Two

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

Furious Friday: Wage theft

I feel like anger is unfairly denigrated in our society. We’re encouraged to be positive all the time, and told that anger is energy that could be better directed towards things like trying harder to succeed within neoliberalism, the best of all societies.

Fuck that.

Anger is a valid response to a huge portion of what goes on in the world. I’m angry that industrial chemicals known to be harmful are in my blood, even though I’ve never agreed to that contamination, or even lived near the factories responsible. I’m angry that the forests I wandered in my youth are suffering, and that species with which I worked will be extinct within my lifetime. I’m angry that my fantasy of being a mediocre science fiction author in a seaside cabin in Maine has been made all but impossible by the relentless greed of capitalists, and the rising seas and unstable climate chosen by a minority of my elders. I’m angry that my fellow humans are brutalized and scapegoated for problems they had no hand in creating. I’m angry that my brother’s children will never know even the illusion of a stable climate. I’m angry that the wisdom I received about the ancient rhythms of the natural world is no longer valid, because those rhythms have been destroyed.

And that anger is fucking valid. A better world was possible, and it was stolen from us, not by older generations, but by a tiny fragment of those older generations, whose vile work is continued by their heirs.

Humanity may have a long future – I’m doing what I can to make that the case – but even if we have a future, one simple fact remains: The future we were promised has been stolen from us. Lifetimes of happiness, love, and labor have been erased to provide obscene and useless amounts of wealth for a tiny-minded minority, fundamentally incapable of understanding the greatness of humanity, or the beauty of the world they seem intent on destroying.

No amount of “curse” words or obscenities can adequately express the rage within me, so I mostly focus on other things. On trying to make a world that – if I’m lucky enough to die of old age – will fill me with hope, instead.

But for now, anger is part of what drives me. It’s part of how I remember what’s important, and what fights are not worth my energy. It’s bad for me, I think, but it’s a part of me that cannot be removed while I live, or while the world is the way it is. I can only hope that enough people share my rage, and will be driven to do the work we need to build something better.

And so, let me share with you one of the many reasons for my anger, presented by Second Thought:

Those lauded as “job creators” – the people who we are told exemplify the best qualities of Capitalism – are stealing from the workers whose labor gave them their wealth. Being richer than most of humanity isn’t enough for them; they seem compelled by their greed to steal from even their worst-paid workers.

You should be angry.

Are you?

Rich people from the U.S. emit more than rich people of other countries, but there’s more to it than just that

This weeks’ theme, for those who missed it, is news that’s not surprising to anyone.

Science, in theory, provides reliable information about reality because after someone conducts research and figures out something new, other scientists come along and test their results, using their instructions. This is a good system, and it has worked. That said, it’s also very often not what actually happens. Because of how our society is structured, if you want to do research, and you’re not independently wealthy, you have to convince someone with money to fund your work. More often than not, that means you have to make the case that your research, no matter what it’s about, is somehow vitally important to solving some contemporary problem. You can’t just look into the physiology of shrimp because there are unanswered questions, you have to convince someone that doing so will either make a lot of money, or will save the world. This leads to grandiose claims in some cases and fraud in others, but it also means that it’s often hard to get funding for research that has already been done. Reproducing the results of other researchers is generally not valued by people with money.

This means that mistakes and fraud can be overlooked until someone tries to apply the erroneous research to a new study, and reality disagrees with the hitherto accepted understanding. This is very like an attempt to reproduce the first study, but it’s less conclusive than doing so directly, and it can take years for such errors to come to light. That is why I’m generally in favor of research into “obvious” topics. Checking people’s work is good, and it makes it less likely that we’ll have policy inadvertently rooted in nonsense.

In the case of studies like this one, it’s also worth quantifying, because we live in a society that is both science-obsessed, and scientifically illiterate. Being able to cite a study that covers a specific topic like the relative emissions between different populations of rich people is sometimes the only way to get someone to admit that reality.

That rich people release more carbon than poor people is no surprise, but I find it valuable that this study compares income groups to each other and to comparable income groups in other countries.

This idea of “emissions inequality” underscores how nations that are contributing to climate change the most are disproportionately affecting regions that produce far less greenhouse gases. But the report by the World Inequality Lab also shows that the wealthiest citizens of the U.S. and other countries are more responsible for rising temperatures than people who earn less money in those same nations.

In North America, the top 10 percent of people by income produce nearly 73 tons of carbon dioxide per person annually. In Europe and East Asia, the top earners release 29 tons and 39 tons, respectively.

At the other end of the income spectrum, however, the bottom 50 percent of North Americans emit 10 tons per person annually. In Europe and East Asia, the same category of earners release 5 tons and 3 tons, respectively.

“It is striking that the poorest half of the population in the US has emission levels comparable with the European middle 40 percent, despite being almost twice as poor,” the report states.

One reason is because the U.S. energy mix is more carbon intensive and there is a greater reliance on bigger, less efficient vehicles.

The report finds that if total emissions were divided by the global population, each person would release roughly 6.6 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. That’s about twice as much as is required to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by midcentury and well above the 1.1 tons per person needed to hold warming to 1.5 C.

Average emissions vary greatly by regions. People in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, emitted just 1.6 tons of carbon in 2019 compared with 20.8 tons for each person living in North America.

But inequalities within countries are growing, a shift from 1990 when the average person in rich countries contributed more carbon pollution than anyone else worldwide, according to the report.

The top 10 percent of emitters today are responsible for nearly half of all CO2, while the bottom 50 percent produce just 12 percent of total carbon pollution, the report finds. And while per capita emissions have decreased for poorer people in rich countries, they have increased substantially among the world’s richest 1 percent.

“Global economic inequality fuels the ecological crisis and makes it much harder to address it,” World Inequality Lab co-Director Lucas Chancel said in a statement. “It’s hard to see how we can accelerate efforts to tackle climate change without more redistribution of income and wealth.”

Having those numbers is useful for the propaganda war. The whole notion of “carbon footprints” is, in my view, an effort to individualize a systemic, collective problem, and convince people that they have to achieve carbon neutrality themselves, within a society that makes it incredibly difficult to do so. In other words, it’s a way to slow or prevent action, and it’s a trick I’ve fallen for myself. Another part of that shifting of responsibility is best exemplified by the comparisons made between the United States and China. The U.S. has made some progress in slowing the growth in our emissions rate, and at the same time, China’s emissions have been rising. Once China became “the biggest emitter” in 2007, those opposing climate action in the U.S. began using that to distract from historic emissions, and to say that the U.S. shouldn’t have to do anything unless China did as much or more. The problem with this argument is that it ignores the way U.S. corporations moved their manufacturing to China, among other places. A sizable portion of China’s emissions come from the production of goods sold in the United States and other places around the world. Fortunately, this report actually tries to account for that, which gives us an adjusted emissions calculation that considers emissions taking place outside the borders of the country to which they are assigned, which also means accounting for emissions within a given country that are driven by a different country:

The emissions levels outlined in the report differ from the way countries typically count their carbon contributions under international compacts like the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The report includes emissions produced within a country—its “territorial emissions”—as well as those embedded in the goods and services that a country imports and consumes—what’s known as its “carbon footprint.”

Using that calculation, the report finds that Europe’s carbon footprint is 25 percent higher than its territorial emissions. The carbon footprint for East Asia, where the bulk of the world’s goods are produced, is 8 percent lower than its territorial emissions.

“Factoring in the carbon that is embedded in the consumption of goods and services increases the inequality between high- and middle- to low-income regions, compared with when we count territorial emissions only,” the report states.

It’s also the best way to measure emissions associated with different standards of living, it concludes.

“From an equity perspective, it probably does make sense to talk about the carbon that you’re consuming in your country,” said Aaron Cosbey, a senior associate and carbon market expert with the International Institute for Sustainable Development, who was not involved with the report.

Changing the way emissions are reported, however, would require agreement among all the countries involved. And there are winners and losers from moving to a different system.

It matters how we talk about things. It matters how we frame discussions. A “heartwarming story” about elderly people volunteering to help their favorite restaurants with a labor shortage can also be seen as people who don’t need money taking away leverage that those who do still need a paycheck to survive could have used to negotiate for a living wage.

It’s honestly encouraging to see an analysis like this that accounts for the degree to which the global economy is interconnected, and to which nations – especially the United States – literally externalize things like pollution.

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

The “Nuclear Family” is a myth that limits our capacity to understand ourselves

Humans are a social species. Our greatest achievements, for good and for ill, have all come from the collective effort of thousands of people, often spread out over multiple generations. Mainstream discourse in the United States holds that the “Nuclear Family” is the foundation of all of that, and more conservative people will often go farther to claim that that structure – a cis man, a cis woman, and their children – has been central to all “greatness” in human history.

As with many such assertions, this quickly falls apart as we look at what’s known about human societies around the globe, but there’s a persistent effort to erase, denigrate, or dismiss any alternative ways of structuring our communities, past and present. Abigail Thorn’s video about witchcraft, gender, and Marxism explores the ways in which modern gender roles began to be enforced in Europe, and the role the witch hunts played in creating the world we all live in today. Where she focused on economic theory, concepts of magic, and historical eras, Saint Andrew’s video Rethinking Family focuses on family structures, and the roles they have played in making us what we are, in limiting our understanding of ourselves, and in limiting our power to resist oppression.

U.S. culture is obsessed with “the individual”, while also discouraging more than the most token expressions of individual identity. We are told to think and act as individuals (outside the workplace) and to define ourselves by work plus whatever we can do in our spare time – usually some form of consumer activity. In my view, understanding who we are as individuals requires some understanding of what we are as Homo sapiens, and in forcing everyone to conform to a particular vision of “the family unit”, we have been lied to about what we are. Not only does this make it difficult to truly understand who we, but that lack of understanding also greatly impedes our ability to shape ourselves, and determine the course of our own lives.

The Nuclear Family is an artificial construct, and one that has never been real in the idealized form we were taught to strive for. It’s past time to re-learn who and what we are, and allow humans to be humans.

A hotter planet means more extreme weather. Extreme weather means more expensive food.

Maybe lack of surprise is going to be a theme this week…

Agriculture, throughout human history, has been heavily dependent on predictable weather conditions. We have crops for every climate in which we live, but, they’re always tailored to the natural conditions, or to alterations like irrigation that rely on natural conditions. That means that we’ve known for a long time that, as climate change is now well underway and has planet-sized momentum, that our food supply will be affected. Just as increasing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere means that the planet will trap more heat until the new “insulation” is saturated, there’s no scenario in which that warming doesn’t change agriculture.

This past year has been a rough one for agriculture, and because our ability to access food is tied to markets and capitalism’s endless need for profit, that means that food prices are rising.

Global food prices in November rose 1.2% compared to October, and were at their highest level since June 2011 (unadjusted for inflation), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in its monthly report on December 2. After adjusting for inflation, 2021 food prices averaged for the 11 months of 2021 are the highest in 46 years.

The high prices come despite expectations that total global production of grains in 2021 will set an all-time record: 0.7% higher than the previous record set in 2020. But because of higher demand (in part, from an increased amount of wheat and corn used to feed animals), the 2021 harvest is not expected to meet consumption requirements in 2021/2022, resulting in a modest drawdown in global grain stocks by the end of 2022, to their lowest levels since 2015/2016.

The November increase in global food prices was largely the result of a surge in prices of grains and dairy products, with wheat prices a dominant driver. In an interview at fortune.com, Carlos Mera, head of agri commodities market research at Rabobank, blamed much of the increase in wheat prices on drought and high temperatures hitting major wheat producers including the U.S., Canada, and Russia.

Drought and heat in the U.S. caused a 40% decline in the spring wheat crop in 2021, and a 10% decline in the total wheat crop (spring wheat makes up about 25% of total U.S. wheat production). Economic damages to agriculture in the U.S. are expected to exceed $5 billion in 2021, according to Aon (see Tweet below). The highest losses are expected in the Northern Plains, where the spring wheat crop was hit hard by drought and heat. Fortunately, the 2021 U.S. corn crop was estimated to be the second largest on record, 7% larger than in 2020. The 2021 soybean crop was also estimated to be second largest on record, up 5% from 2020.


According to Reuters, global fertilizer prices have increased 80% this year, reaching their highest levels since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. Primary causes of the current high prices include extreme weather events (particularly the February cold wave in Texas and Hurricane Ida in August), which disrupted U.S. fertilizer production, and the high cost in Europe of natural gas, a key component in producing fertilizer). Fertilizer shortages threaten to reduce grain harvests in 2022, according to CF Industries, a major fertilizer producer.

Carlos Mera of Rabobank pointed out that Russia, a major wheat producer, hiked its export tax on wheat this year to incentivize keeping supplies at home. “That is quite scary,” said Mera. “Events like the French Revolution and the Arab Spring have been blamed on high food prices.” High wheat prices in 2011 (in the wake of export restrictions triggered by the 2010 drought in Russia) helped lead to massive civil unrest and the toppling of multiple governments (the “Arab Spring”).

As I will keep saying, we need to make radical changes to how we produce food, if we want to avoid mass starvation in my lifetime. More than that, as the article mentions, food shortages will cause political unrest and war, which in turn is bad for the environment, bad for agriculture, and in case this needs to be said, bad for humans. I’m also very worried that the nationalistic, and in some cases piratical behavior by wealthy and powerful nations will mean that the pattern of enforced poverty will continue, unless those of us living in those nations stand up to our own governments, in solidarity with those whose lives will be destroyed to keep us fed and happy.

I’m writing this as Storm Barra, which Wikipedia tells me is a “hurricane-force bomb extratropical cyclone”, rages outside. There has been some rain, but most of what I’ve noticed has been the wind. My area is already pretty windy, but this storm is really highlighting the degree to which cold temperatures haven’t been a problem here. Damp, and the mold it brings, is a constant concern, so there hasn’t been a lot of pressure to do things like make sure windows and their frames are fully sealed (it’s free ventilation!), and the flat has vents to the outside in every room. This means that while our home provides real shelter, it’s also very drafty, and doesn’t hold heat very well.

I’m wearing a wool sweater, a wool capote, and a fleece-lined wool hat over my clothes, because I don’t want to waste the gas or the money to keep the flat at a more comfortable temperature. It always strikes me as strange when I’m thinking about the horrors caused by global warming, while dressing like I’m outdoors to keep warm; it’s also the nature of climate change. The cold and darkness of winter can make it easy to feel like this crisis is still far enough away that we have time, but the numbers consistently point in the same direction – we’ve been out of time for a while now, and we should probably start acting like it.

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.