To the great surprise of nobody, economists under-value human life.

I think this post’s headline could be applied to a large number of groups, but in this case economists are grossly under-valuing the lives of young people in particular.

So, you know, only the future of the species:

Many economic assessments of the climate crisis “grossly undervalue the lives of young people and future generations”, Prof Nicholas Stern warned on Tuesday, before the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Economists have failed to take account of the “immense risks and potential loss of life” that could occur as a result of the climate crisis, he said, as well as badly underestimating the speed at which the costs of clean technologies, such as solar and wind energy, have fallen.

Stern said the economics profession had also misunderstood the basics of “discounting”, the way in which economic models value future assets and lives compared with their value today. “It means economists have grossly undervalued the lives of young people and future generations who are most at threat from the devastating impacts of climate change,” he said. “Discounting has been applied in such a way that it is effectively discrimination by date of birth.”

This is increasingly obvious to anyone who’s paying attention to the world, and as has been pointed out many, many times, in addition to being short-sighted, dangerous, and cruel, the mainstream economic perspective is also much more about protecting those who are currently wealthy, than it is about creating a vibrant economy, even by capitalist standards. The amount of work that needs to be done to stop our contribution to global warming and adapt to what we can’t stop is astronomical. Even within the “endless growth” model that’s currently driving us towards extinction, there are more “opportunities” for work than ever before. Renewable energy, nuclear energy, prepping cities for sea level rise and extreme weather, creating a climate-proof food production system, and so on. This could have spurred a new golden age, if capitalism worked as advertised, but instead we’ve had stagnation and increasing misery as the planet becomes increasingly hostile to human life.

Stern’s remarks are based on a paper to be published in the Economic Journal of the Royal Economic Society and made to mark the 15th anniversary of the landmark Stern review on the economics of the climate crisis in 2006. It concluded that the costs of inaction on climate were far greater than the costs of action and that the climate crisis was the biggest market failure in history.

Since the publication of the report, carbon emissions have risen by 20% and Stern was scathing about much of the economic analysis that has informed policymakers. “Cavalier treatment of risk, and the missing of the very rapid technical progress, means the models have been profoundly misleading,” he said. The theory of discounting had not been related to its ethical foundations, he added, or allowed for the risk that global heating will make future generations poorer.

Political action has been slow since 2006, Stern said, because of the persistence of the “damaging” idea that climate action cuts economic growth and also because of the global financial crisis, which diverted attention and cut middle-class incomes, making politics more “fractious”.

Even if climate action was somehow “bad for the economy”, so are things like sea level rise and global crop failure.

Oh, and people dying. Lots of people dying is bad for any economy.

Here’s the thing, though – “young people”, including children, can see how little their nations value their lives. They can see the increasingly bleak future being forced upon them, and they’re watching their own chances of reaching old age decrease as world “leaders” continue to dither and delay, all to protect the wealth and power of the rich and powerful. Millennials are now middle-aged (or reaching it), and it’s been a running sort-of joke for years now that our retirement plan is to die before we reach that age. I have a vague feeling that the anxiety behind that might be worse for Gen Z.

Under these circumstances I have to wonder how much longer kids will feel there’s any point to half the things demanded of them as we’re all forced to pretend that everything’s normal. Why bother with school, if it feels like you’re just waiting until the annual wildfires move a bit faster than expected? Why bother worrying about a future that seems increasingly unlikely to exist? For that matter, why pay taxes to a nation that would rather murder foreigners than save the lives of its own citizens?

On the one hand, it’s getting easier and easier to see the need for revolutionary change, and I’m seeing a lot of interest in things like direct action and alternatives to capitalism. On the other hand, this is a crushing emotional burden that is both unfair and unnecessary.

This is just a thought, but maybe we shouldn’t continue making decisions based on the advice of people who got us in this position?

Friday Film Review: Vamps (2012)

Tegan and I were looking up Wally Shawn yesterday evening, and we discovered he’d been in a 2012 film we’d never heard of called Vamps. Out of curiosity we watched the preview and, well…

So as you may have seen, the movie is written and directed by Amy Heckerling of  Fast Times at Ridgemont High fame, and it is exactly the kind of movie the trailer would lead you to expect. It’s sort of the Galaxy Quest of vampire films, and not just because Sigourney Weaver brings her best for it. It’s got a very ’90s feel, and fully embraces the fact that it is a trashy vampire comedy with an absurdly star-studded cast. In addition to Weaver and Shawn, we’ve got Alicia Silverstone, Kristen Ritter (nice to know why Jessica Jones is so strong), Richard Lewis (Prince John to you), and a myriad of others who came together for what we feel was a labor of love for Heckerling.

I’m unaccustomed to writing film reviews, but the terms “high camp” and “solid B movie” both come to mind. The plot keeps you guessing, the characters are over the top and absurdist, and yet it packs a powerful emotional punch. They might have left out a vampire trope or two, but not many, and Wallace Shawn makes a surprisingly believable Van Helsing, and a convincing overprotective father.

It’s genuine, goofy, and of course a bit gory. Most violence happens off-screen, and what we do see is pretty cartoonish and surprisingly not bloody. I will, however, give one content warning. There is a notorious clip from the 1929 French surrealist film Un Chien Andalou, which remains one of the most convincing and disturbing practical effects in film history. If you want to avoid it, look away for a minute or so when you see a black and white film clip involving a straight razor.

We’re adding this to our list of movies to force our friends to watch.

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 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.

A glimpse of the distant future if we utterly fail

I’ve become so accustomed to the fact that climate change increases both droughts and floods, that when I saw research on the precipitation patterns during “hothouse earth” eras, I immediately assumed that it was about an extreme version of that pattern. It turns out I was both forgetting what “hothouse” really means, and underestimating how strange weather patterns can get at high planetary temperatures. While I think it’s possible we could reach these temperatures again, it wouldn’t be any time soon, even in the worst-case scenarios scientists look into. At the moment, I think it’s looking like we’ll see warming of around 5-6°F (I’m using Fahrenheit because this research report does) by 2100, whereas this research was looking into conditions far beyond that.

 Today, we are experiencing the dramatic impacts that even a small increase in global temperatures can have on a planet’s climate. Now, imagine an Earth 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than today. Earth likely experienced these temperatures at various times in the distant past and will experience them again hundreds of millions of years from now as the sun continues to brighten.

Little is known about how the atmosphere and climate behaved during these so-called hothouse periods. In a new study, researchers from Harvard University found that during these epochs of extreme heat, Earth may have experienced cycles of dryness followed by massive rain storms hundreds of miles wide that could dump more than a foot of rain in a matter of hours.

“If you were to look at a large patch of the deep tropics today, it’s always raining somewhere,” said Jacob Seeley, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental Science and Engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at Harvard and first author of the paper. “But we found that in extremely warm climates, there could be multiple days with no rain anywhere over a huge part of the ocean. Then, suddenly, a massive rainstorm would erupt over almost the entire domain, dumping a tremendous amount of rain. Then it would be quiet for a couple of days and repeat.”

“This episodic cycle of deluges is a new and completely unexpected atmospheric state” said Robin Wordsworth, the Gordon McKay Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering at SEAS and senior author of the study.

There’s always the caution that these results are from a climate model, but the reality is that these models were good enough to predict the cooling effect of the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption, and as you are no doubt aware, computers and our ability to use them have both improved somewhat in the last 30 years. Climate models these days can do a pretty good job of mimicking realty. So back to the original article – they wanted to see how the atmosphere and water cycle would respond to a 64x increase in atmospheric CO2, leading to sea surface temperatures of 130°F

At those temperatures, surprising things start happening in the atmosphere. When the air near the surface becomes extremely warm, absorption of sunlight by atmospheric water vapor heats the air above the surface and forms what’s known as an “inhibition layer,” a barrier that prevents convective clouds from rising into the upper atmosphere and forming rain clouds.

Instead, all that evaporation gets stuck in the near-surface atmosphere.

At the same time, clouds form in the upper atmosphere, above the inhibition layer, as heat is lost to space. The rain produced in those upper-level clouds evaporates before reaching the surface, returning all that water to the system.

“It’s like charging a massive battery,” said Seeley. “You have a ton of cooling high in the atmosphere and a ton of evaporation and heating near the surface, separated by this barrier. If something can break through that barrier and allow the surface heat and humidity to break into the cool upper atmosphere, it’s going to cause an enormous rainstorm.”

That’s exactly what happens. After several days, the evaporative cooling from the upper atmosphere’s rainstorms erodes the barrier, triggering an hours-long deluge. In one simulation, the researchers observed more rainfall in a six-hour period than some tropical cyclones drop in the U.S. across several days.

After the storm, the clouds dissipate, and precipitation stops for several days as the atmospheric battery recharges and the cycle continues.

The researchers are clear that the temperature increase they looked at far exceeds anything scientists are now predicting, but it’s fascinating to think about what life would be like – assuming humans could survive anywhere on such a planet – a cloudburst cycle like that. If we do enough in our lifetimes, we should be able to prevent those temperatures from occurring within the next billion years or so (yes, I’m ridiculously optimistic about humanity’s capacity to survive), but it’s sobering to think how radically different this familiar planet can become.

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 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.

Well, wouldja look at that? The Omicron variant was in Europe before it was detected in Africa.

Remember how I said that most African countries are better at detecting and dealing with epidemics than places like Europe and the U.S.? Omicron had already been in Europe for a number of days before Botswana raised the alarm. The Dutch just missed it.

Dutch health authorities announced on Tuesday that they found the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus in cases dating back as long as 11 days, indicating that it was already spreading in western Europe before the first cases were identified in southern Africa. The RIVM health institute said it found Omicron in samples dating from November 19 and 23.

So did the Belgians and the Germans.

And yet, despite the undisputed fact that this variant has been detected on every continent, the travel bans targeting African countries remain in place, and continue to harm the economies of those countries. The bans need to be lifted, and so-called “Western Civilization” needs to get its head out of its own ass and take a global perspective on this global problem. I feel like I shouldn’t need to say this, but it’s possible – just possible – that lives are at stake, so maybe they should listen to the WHO and change their policies.

The World Health Organization on Sunday echoed calls by South Africa’s president for countries to eschew travel bans targeting southern Africans amid the spread of the heavily mutated Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

“Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of Covid-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” the WHO said in a statement calling for borders to remain open. “If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based, according to the International Health Regulations, which is a legally binding instrument of international law recognized by over 190 nations.”

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, added that “the speed and transparency of the South African and Botswana governments in informing the world of the new variant is to be commended. WHO stands with African countries which had the courage to boldly share lifesaving public health information, helping protect the world against the spread of Covid-19.”

In recent days, dozens of nations including the United States have prohibited travelers from numerous nations in southern Africa due to concerns about the Omicron variant, which was first identified in Botswana earlier this month. On Friday, the WHO classified the new strain as a “variant of concern.”

On Sunday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa urged nations that have imposed bans on African travelers to rescind what he called the “scientifically unjustified” restrictions.

“The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic,” Ramaphosa said. “These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our southern African sister countries.”