Cody’s Showdy takes a look at Biden’s first year in office

I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s felt like time has been moving strangely over the last couple years. Part of my problem is that I was just getting used to life in Scotland when the pandemic hit. We had a year in some form of lockdown, and then another international move, getting used to another new country, and trying to make this blog work as a source of income (because my visa doesn’t allow me to do normal work – help out on Patreon if you can!), and then I realize that it’s been a whole year since Biden took office back in the States.

I voted for Biden, mostly because I felt that a conservative neoliberal whose primary defining features are “not Trump” and “not Bernie” would be better than the naked fascism of a second Trump term. I stand by that, but I have to admit that as low as my expectations were, Biden has disappointed me. I thought that his ego would have him actually fight for the agenda he ran on, or at least see how much he could do directly through the executive branch, but apparently even that was too much to hope for. At this point, it seems like he’s committed to handing Congress to the GOP in 2022, so that he can do nothing for the rest of his time in office, and blame them for it, and blame the left for somehow causing the Democrats to lose their elections.

As usual, Some More News has done a pretty good summary of the situation:

I’m starting to feel like the only real change we can expect from Biden’s victory is for his administration’s seemingly deliberate incompetence to convince more people that the Democratic Party is not actually on our side, and it’s not interested in the progressive policies on which it runs. The electoral process – as it currently exists in the U.S. – is something that has clearly demonstrated its inability to actually serve the people, or meet the need of our time. By all means vote, but if that’s the end of what we do, the we will never see the world we say we want. We have to build collective power so we can take control away from those who would drive us to extinction.

Terrifying Tuesday: The Military-Industrial complex

It’s easy, when looking at the scale of what’s happening to the climate, and forget that there are other problems that are nearly as big as the climate crisis, and that could be just as hard – or harder – to deal with. The “Military-Industrial Complex”, along with its attendant “Military-Entertainment Complex” is a massive conglomeration of entities that profit from war both directly and indirectly. I would say that if there’s a unifying mission for this Complex, it is the maintenance of capitalist supremacy, and the obscene power and profit that comes with that.

What makes this terrifying is that as a group, these are people who traffic in death, terror, and manipulation to achieve their ends, and I personally see no reason to think that they would limit themselves to atrocities outside the U.S.. As grim as it sounds, one of the advantages of a movement that doesn’t rely on charismatic leaders is that it’s harder to stop the movement by assassinating said leaders. We have to take power away from the most powerful – and most murderous – people on the planet. I don’t know how to do that, but I also don’t know how to deal with things like the climate crisis without doing it. Fortunately, another advantage of a truly democratic movement is that it doesn’t rely on the ideas of any one person. If we do it right, we’ll have countless minds bringing all their diverse training and ability to the task, and that’s no trivial power.

Moody Monday: The emotional cost of climate change.

It’s often difficult for me to gauge what “the general public” is thinking about stuff like climate change. That said, I do get the feeling that a lot of people have begun to accept that we’ve failed the first “test” of climate change. It’s too late to avoid large, abrupt changes to how we live, and everyone in power seems dedicated to convincing us all that good changes are possible. We don’t live in a society that encourages real hope or real empowerment for the population. It’s a lot to cope with, and given that humanity has never faced a crisis like the climate chaos we’re causing, I guarantee that nobody will have all the answers. These are uncharted waters, and the best we can do is look out for each other, learn from each other. Psychology isn’t necessarily their area of expertise, but climate scientists do have a great deal of experience in confronting the scale of this crisis, and finding ways to keep on keeping on.

Leaping Larvae! A new insect jumping technique has been discovered!

It’s a problem we’ve all faced – what do we do when we need to hurl ourselves through the air, but we’re too squidgy to pull off the latch-mediated spring actuation mechanism that all the cool bugs are using? Well, whether or not you wanted an answer to that question, you now have one, and in my opinion it’s pretty neat:

While there are other insect species that are capable of making prodigious leaps, they rely on something called a “latch-mediated spring actuation mechanism.” This means that they essentially have two parts of their body latch onto each other while the insect exerts force, building up a significant amount of energy. The insect then unlatches the two parts, releasing all of that energy at once, allowing it to spring off the ground.

“What makes the L. biguttatus so remarkable is that it makes these leaps without latching two parts of its body together,” Bertone says. “Instead, it uses claws on its legs to grip the ground while it builds up that potential energy — and once those claws release their hold on the ground, that potential energy is converted into kinetic energy, launching it skyward.”

The discovery of the behavior was somewhat serendipitous. Bertone had collected a variety of insect samples from a rotting tree near his lab in order to photograph them when he noticed that these beetle larvae appeared to be hopping.
[…]
“The way these larvae were jumping was impressive at first, but we didn’t immediately understand how unique it was,” Bertone says. “We then shared it with a number of beetle experts around the country, and none of them had seen the jumping behavior before. That’s when we realized we needed to take a closer look at just how the larvae was doing what it was doing.”

To determine how L. biguttatus was able to execute its acrobatics, the researchers filmed the jumps at speeds of up to 60,000 frames per second. This allowed them to capture all of the external movements associated with the jumps, and suggested that the legs were essentially creating a latching mechanism with the ground.

The researchers also conducted a muscle mass assessment to determine whether it was possible for the larvae to make their leaps using just their muscles, as opposed to using a latch mechanism to store energy. They found that the larvae lacked sufficient muscle to hurl themselves into the air as far or as fast as they had been filmed jumping. Ergo, latching onto the ground was the only way the larvae could pull off their aerial feats.

It’s not something I spend a lot of time looking for, but it always cheers me up to learn about a moment when a bunch of scientists said, “wait – that shouldn’t be possible!” and then went about figuring out why it is possible. I don’t generally think of beetle grubs as particularly acrobatic creatures, but apparently I misjudged them. When life gives you lemons, latch on to them with your little claws and fling yourself into the void.

Scifi Saturday: Lights in a Dark Pool

The room was small, and it smelled of salt water and bleach. As she stood in the doorway, Caroline heard the gentle slosh of waves lapping against the walkway that went around the interior of the building. Similar walkways were layered above her, each with their own set of rooms. Some of the other residents were using their walkways as balconies, their voices a dull murmur in the dim light. Music echoed sadly around the dim, watery courtyard. Someone started shouting, and Caroline tensed, then took a deep breath. Different place, different people, nobody here knew her well enough to shout at her like that. She glanced back, then stepped into her new home and closed the door.

Silence.

The murmured conversations, the shouting, the music, the water – all cut off in an instant. She let her backpack slide off her shoulders holding on to it by one strap. The crisp breeze from the central AC vent slowly brought her out of the haze of travel as she looked around her room.

A small bed was fixed to the wall about one meter below the ceiling, with a ladder going up to it. Underneath it was a simple desk and a chair. The desk was no more than a flat surface with a softly glowing screen built into it. The small latch at the front edge told her it could flip up. The rubberized hinges near the wall told her what she already knew – this room was expected to flood sometimes. Bookshelves, cabinets, lights, and power sockets were all at shoulder height or above. In the corner opposite the bed was a small shower stall, with a squat toilet for a drain, and a fold-out sink that emptied into the same. The door behind her had a fingerprint lock already tuned to her, and a deadbolt she could throw from the inside. A small screen gave her a view of the walkway outside her door, and the dark pool of the “courtyard” beyond it.

Caroline took a deep breath, a smile tugging at her lips. It was hers. For as long as she wanted it, this sad little room, and its wonderful silence were hers. She stretched up to hang her backpack on a hook at the top of the door, and walked over to the bed’s ladder. It was cold to the touch, but completely solid. It didn’t shift or even creak as she climbed up it and lay on the bed. If she reached up, her fingertips touched the ceiling. There was a socket and a couple holes where she could hang her own display screen if she wanted one she could look at while lying in bed. That was high on her list of things to get, once she had money.

Had she ever tried to sleep in a place this quiet? It seemed like the gentle rumble of the train from Indiana, and the murmur of other passengers was the nearest thing to the silence that rang in her ears that first night. In the end, she clambered off the bunk, and used the console in her new desk to bring up the noisemaker she’d used at night to drown out her family’s shouting and shows. It brought bad memories, but then it brought sleep.

Caroline’s alarm woke her at 7am, and hunger kept her from the temptation to sleep in. She slid down from the bed, and took down her backpack to dig out a food bar. She took a big bite and chewed it as she filled her water cup at the tap, and dropped a caffeine tablet in it. The cup fizzed softly as she set it on the desk, and began digging supplies out of her bag. When she left her parents’ house she brought paints, a couple blank canvas boards, and five finished paintings. She swallowed, and took another bite. The bar was bland. A little salty, a little starchy, a little oily. She folded the wrapper over the end of the bar, and sat at the desk, putting a blank canvas board and stared at it. She washed down the food with a swig of sparkling, bitter-sweet caffeine tonic and let her mind wander.

She hadn’t said goodbye. Did she regret that? Caroline wasn’t sure. She’d left a note, and gotten out of their lives like they’d always said she could, if she had a problem. No need to look back. The train from Indiana had been a smooth ride, but cold compared to the heat to which she was accustomed. As the train neared the east coast, New York’s famous clouds had set in, and the world seemed chilly and gray. The warm humidity and salt air of the city had been an encouraging welcome as she left the train. The residence office was in the train station, and her trip from there to the public housing complexes had been short, and mostly indoors. She’d only caught the occasional glimpse of the canals that criss-crossed the city. The blank canvas remained blank. She took another swig of tonic and got up.

Time for a run. Her clothes weren’t ideal, but they were what she had right now. She left her room and walked to the monitor desk. Every floor had someone keeping an eye on the public spaces. Right now it was a young woman with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail.

“Um, hi.”

The woman looked up from her tablet.

“Hello.”

“Is…” Talking was hard. “Sorry, I’m new here. Is there somewhere I could run?”

“Run?”

“As in, go for a run? For exercise? Maybe some kind of footpath or something? Foot dock?”

“Oh.” The woman looked at the air above Caroline’s head, then at the gently rippling water beside them. “Yeah. Causeway two floors up. Moving walkways if you’re in a hurry, normal flooring if you’re not. Watch out for people getting on and off. Design’s not great so people run into each other sometimes if it’s busy. ‘Specially new people.” She shrugged, as if in apology.

“Thanks,” said Caroline. “The elevator’s that tube near the end of the hall?” She gestured to where she’d come in the night before.

“The lift. Yeah.”

“Ok. Ok, thanks again.” Caroline turned to go, then paused. “Uh, hey what’s your name?”

“Maud. I’m here sometimes. Schedule isn’t regular but you’ll see me around.”

“I’m Caroline. Thanks for your help, it was nice to meet you.”

“Nice t’meet you.” Maud glanced up, making brief eye contact. “Welcome t’New York.”

“Thanks”

Caroline waved at Maud, who was already staring at her tablet again, and walked down the hall to the lift. Made a kind of sense that someone working a job like that wouldn’t be very talkative. The causeway was a long, echoing hall that stretched off out of sight along the Broadway Canal in both directions. A sparse, but steady stream of people glided past on the moving walkway, with rather fewer using the stationary paths on either side. The people didn’t look any different from those she’d grown up around in Terre Haute, except that she wasn’t seeing any of the heavy tans she was used to. New York’s famous clouds brought famous rain, and most of the population spent most of their lives indoors, it seemed. The glass wall across from where she exited the lift overlooked the canal, the view occasionally blocked by vines growing down the walls of the building. She waited for a gap in commuters, and then scampered across the causeway to peer out the windows. A few locals gave her a funny look, but she ignored them and pressed her face and hands against the warm glass.

Where Terre Haute had pulled back from the rising seas, put up levees, and kept its feet dry, New York City had done some re-engineering of its buildings and sewers, and then let the water take the streets, until the Island of Manhattan became a humid archipelago of buildings, many covered in dripping plants. The water below reflected the ever-gray sky, rippled by the occasional drop of water, falling leaf, or fish pushing at the surface. To the north, almost out of sight, she could see a rowboat crossing the canal, and as she peered down red light caught her eye. A small submersible drone was slowly gliding below the surface, a red light blinking on its back at regular intervals. Behind it drifted what appeared to be a net full of bits of garbage. She’d always heard the canals were kept clean, apparently this was how.

The Terre Haute Harbor wasn’t exactly filthy, but most folks didn’t swim in it. Apparently New Yorkers were in and out of the water all the time. Following the blinking red light with her eyes, Caroline caught glimpses through the surface as ripples reflected the shadowed walls of the buildings, rather than the gray sky. The water was clear enough to see to the bottom, some ten or fifteen meters below the surface. She thought she could see fish, but it was hard to tell. If they were there, they blended in with the bottom of the canal, which combined with the reflected sky to render them almost invisible.

A jogger passed by, reminding her of why she was there. Turning from the canal, she looked up and down the causeway. Rather than cross the moving walkways again, she started jogging slowly with the flow of traffic. The unmoving section she was on had a shiny surface, but it had a subtle give to it. Every impact of her feet was just a little lighter than she expected. Without thinking, she picked up her pace, running lightly down the seemingly endless causeway.

The commuters streamed by on one side, and the canal on the other, as Caroline lost herself in the rhythm of her feet and her breathing. She ran in a meditative state until a sudden change in the light caused her to look around, and then the smell of food caused her to stop.

The causeway had taken a slow turn to the left, running through one of Manhattan’s massive skyscrapers. The entire floor had been turned into a food court. Chairs and tables filled the space next to the causeway, and behind them food stalls offered a variety of foods. After the blandness of her food bar, it felt like her sense of smell was heightened. When she reached the first booth, she confirmed what her nose had told her. Pieces of chicken, starched and deep fried, glazed with an orange-golden sauce that seemed to be glowing softly under the food court’s warm lighting. The tangy, sweet smell made her mouth water as she stared at the food.

“What can I get for you?”

Caroline jumped, and stared at the man behind the counter. He was watching her with a raised eyebrow, and the tight lips of someone suppressing a grin. She felt her face flush.

“I don’t haveanymoney,” she explained as she charged away. She eagerly sought that trance she’d been in before, but was distracted by the intrusive image of herself, looming over the food, mouth slightly agape, completely oblivious to the person on the other side of the counter.

She decided to focus on her surroundings. Having left the food court and its tower, she once again had a long glass wall to her right. As she ran, the view alternated between thick mats of vine, and the damp, plant-covered buildings across the canal. She ran through another building, this one with a café and lounge, and emerged to find that the window was on the other side of the causeway. In place of the glimpses of New York City, she had a long wall of artwork.

Caroline slowed, and stopped, looking at a pattern of solid black vertical columns and flowing colors. She walked on, and the flowing colors twisted together, ever tighter, until they became brightly colored cords of rope forming a mesh around the columns, which then began to take on colors of their own. The work of different artists took over as she walked, and the columns and rope mesh merged together into a glowing animation of countless people and machines re-enforcing and rebuilding the foundations of the columns, now revealed as towers. The tiny animated workers and machines got onto a broad flat structure, and floated up as the canal barriers were lowered, and the sea flowed in. A glorious sunset reflected on the waters of the canal and the windows of Manhattan’s towers, and the video looped back and began again. Next came an impressionistic painting of clouds partly covering the sun, and those same towers falling under a shadow, with the last rays of sunlight landing on the waters outside the city.

Running forgotten, Caroline kept walking, following as the history of the city was passed off from one artist to the next, through the attempt to re-impose the ancient empire, to the revolution that ended the Redwater Occupation, to the rise of the New Guilds and the arrival of the Fae, and…

And she had reached the present. A wizened old man stood on an elevated platform, ignoring the world as he worked with bright metal wires that flowed from the metallic detailing of the previous piece. Caroline’s eyes wandered across the man’s project. A long section of wall was covered in complex engraved patterns. The artist was laying copper, gold, and silver wires into the engravings, filling in the patterns with different colors, revealing the larger picture. History was being recorded before her eyes; New York as it existed in the present, laid out in shining wire patterns. It was a story that she couldn’t see, because it was still being written.

And she was part of it now.

She watched the man inlaying wire for a time, then turned and walked back the way she came. There weren’t enough people for it to matter that she was walking in the “wrong” direction. Even so, she almost ran into a couple other people as she followed the mural back in time. She passed the beginning and kept walking, lost in thought until the smell hit her again. The food court had desserts, sandwiches, wraps, soup, noodles, and half a dozen other things, but the smell that hit her first was that same orange chicken. She looked up,  stumbled backward, and fell over.

The man from the food court was standing over her, eyebrow raised even higher, and his grin now unrestrained. He was holding a tray.

“I saw you coming back. You don’t need money at food courts. They’re covered by the city so people who don’t have money aren’t just stuck with food bars. I’m Mick”

He set the tray on a table next to him and offered Caroline a hand. She took it, and bounced to her feet.

“Caroline thank,” said Caroline. “I mean, thanks. I’m Caroline I didn’t know. I’m new in town anduh…”

“Yeah, that was kinda clear. Where are you from?” He sat down at the table with her, and pushed the tray towards her. She began eating.

“Ar’hm fom Turhote.”

“What brought you east?”

She swallowed.

“Don’t want to talk about it.”

He nodded and stood.

“If you have any questions about the city, I’m here about half the week.”

“Thanks.”

He went back to his food stand, leaving Caroline with her meal. The chicken tasted as good as it had smelled, and came with broccoli and salty stir-fried noodles. As she ate, she looked around the food court. There were windows overlooking the canals, farther from the causeway. About halfway between causeway and window was a column of stone and moss that had water trickling down from the top, near the ceiling. As she watched, lights embedded in the “stone” glowed and faded, making the whole fountain sparkle like something from a cartoon. She watched it, mesmerized, as she ate. She placed her tray in one of the tubs set out for that purpose, and went back to Michael’s counter.

“Hey look, sorry for cutting you off, I just…”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“How often can we get a meal at places like this?”

“Once per day, though I don’t recommend eating orange chicken every day.”

Caroline rolled her eyes.

“About that mural thing.”

“The story of Manhattan?”

“Yeah. Kind of. Also the fountain.”

“The fount-”

“How do artists get money here?”

“Ah.” Michael scratched his chin. “I honestly have no idea, but I have a friend who might? Check back tomorrow, and I’ll let you know when Roark has time for a chat.”

“Oh, that’s great! Thanks Michael, and thank your friend in advance when you talk to them. It’s lovely to have all the food and shelter I need, but…”

Michael gave her a crooked grin.

“But the guaranteed food is boring as hell, and you need resources for your art?”

“It’s like you know artists!”

“And I’ve lived in places similar to where you probably are right now. They put you at water level?”

Caroline nodded. “Pretty close.”

“It won’t flood. It hasn’t in decades and they say the water has begun to fall.” He pulled a pendant out of his shirt; a stylized combination of sun and moon, with three stars above them. “And when the waters fall enough, the clouds will fade away, and we’ll get to see the sky again.”

“Oh!” She glanced out the window, and back at Michael’s pendant, as he tucked it into his shirt again. “Yeah, I’d heard about that, and I’ve seen it now, of course. I never even thought about what it might be like to live with only clouds!”

“You get used to it. Maybe that’s why we’ve got so much other stuff going on.”

“Like the art?”

“Like the art.”

Caroline stepped back as a couple customers came in from the causeway, and Michael served them. As they left, Caroline returned to the counter.

“I should get home and figure out what to do next. I’ll check back tomorrow?”

“Sounds good. I’ll do my best to have an answer for you for when Roark can talk to you.”

“Thanks again, for the food and for the help!”

“I like it here, and I want everyone else to like it here too.” Michael waved at her. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

“Tomorrow.”

Caroline walked back to the causeway, and spotted a tall man emerging from a small lift. The sign next to it made clear that this was a place to cross under the causeway. She turned and found the lift on her side. She crossed and resumed her run, jogging back to her new home.

To be continued…


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.

An update from Shaun on the BBC transphobia saga

As you may recall, I did a short post this past November about bigotry, which included a video about the BBC’s transphobia. Shaun put out another video in early December following up on that, and we have now come to part three:

Unsurprisingly, the folks at the BBC seem to be hoping that if they just ignore the problem (that being people who don’t like big news companies spreading transphobic bullshit), it’ll just go away. Wouldn’t it just be terrible if instead of going away, the problem got bigger? On an unrelated note, there’s some interesting stuff in the description of this video. A sample letter, a “contact us” link – all that jazz! It’s amazing to think how far the internet has come!

When research and development starts to feel like a delaying tactic

I am endlessly frustrated by the fact that there are so many things that we could be doing about climate change, and we just…

Don’t.

Even without the obvious large-scale stuff like replacing fossil fuels with renewable and nuclear power, we could be rebuilding or relocating cities to deal with sea level rise, and building greenhouses, and making sure everyone who wants one can have a solar water heater, and the list goes on.

But I think the one that annoys me the most is carbon capture and sequestration. It’s not that I think it’s a bad idea to pull CO2 out of the air and sequester it; quite the opposite. It’s that of all the challenges created by this climate crisis, this is perhaps the easiest one to tackle, and something we could start doing at a massive scale today if we wanted to. Instead of doing that (and eliminating fossil fuel use), we seem to be investing money in ever-more elaborate ways to capture carbon using “cutting-edge” technology.

“Our new method still harnesses the power of liquid metals but the design has been modified for smoother integration into standard industrial processes,” Daeneke said.

“As well as being simpler to scale up, the new tech is radically more efficient and can break down CO2 to carbon in an instant.

“We hope this could be a significant new tool in the push towards decarbonisation, to help industries and governments deliver on their climate commitments and bring us radically closer to net zero.”

A provisional patent application has been filed for the technology and researchers have recently signed a $AUD2.6 million agreement with Australian environmental technology company ABR, who are commercialising technologies to decarbonise the cement and steel manufacturing industries.

Co-lead researcher Dr Ken Chiang said the team was keen to hear from other companies to understand the challenges in difficult-to-decarbonise industries and identify other potential applications of the technology.

“To accelerate the sustainable industrial revolution and the zero carbon economy, we need smart technical solutions and effective research-industry collaborations,” Chiang said.

The steel and cement industries are each responsible for about 7% of total global CO2 emissions (International Energy Agency), with both sectors expected to continue growing over coming decades as demand is fuelled by population growth and urbanisation.

Technologies for carbon capture and storage (CCS) have largely focused on compressing the gas into a liquid and injecting it underground, but this comes with significant engineering challenges and environmental concerns. CCS has also drawn criticism for being too expensive and energy-intensive for widespread use.

Daeneke, an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow, said the new approach offered a sustainable alternative, with the aim of both preventing CO2 emissions and delivering value-added reutilisation of carbon.

“Turning CO2 into a solid avoids potential issues of leakage and locks it away securely and indefinitely,” he said.

“And because our process does not use very high temperatures, it would be feasible to power the reaction with renewable energy.”

The Australian Government has highlighted CCS as a priority technology for investment in its net zero plan, announcing a $1 billion fund for the development of new low emissions technologies.

How the tech works

The RMIT team, with lead author and PhD researcher Karma Zuraiqi, employed thermal chemistry methods widely used by industry in their development of the new CCS tech.

The “bubble column” method starts with liquid metal being heated to about 100-120C.

Carbon dioxide is injected into the liquid metal, with the gas bubbles rising up just like bubbles in a champagne glass.

As the bubbles move through the liquid metal, the gas molecule splits up to form flakes of solid carbon, with the reaction taking just a split second.

That is genuinely neat. I think it’s amazing that we can do that, and I have no doubt that there are going to be good uses for that technology in the future.

But, as I said earlier, we have everything we need to start large-scale carbon sequestration right away, without using any fancy new technology. As was mentioned in the interview I embedded in yesterday’s agriculture post, we could take existing farmland that’s not currently in use, plant cover crops, bale them up, and store them where they can’t rot. We could pull vast amounts of carbon out of the air by doing that, and it would almost certainly require fewer resources than elaborate processes like these liquid metal bubblers. This obsession a lot of people seem to have with finding some technological “quick fix” seems like a desperate ploy to avoid having to change, and to justify continued inaction.

The problem is not technical, it’s political.


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.

From home gardens to communal greenhouses: changing agriculture for a changing climate

Before getting to the main point, I just wanted to vent for a moment. When I was looking through articles on food prices, two caught my attention for the same reason – they talked about the predicted price increases, but in discussing causes, they limited themselves to “supply chain problems” and corporate greed. The first article was, unsurprisingly, Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire; I would have been shocked if they mentioned climate change. The second I find a tad more worrisome, and it’s abc15 in Arizona, a “local” news source. The media’s love for ignoring climate change is a well-known phenomenon, but I find it discouraging that even in the most obvious circumstance, with “bad weather” being a known factor in the ongoing rise in prices, it’s not even mentioned. This kind of “reporting”, whether through malice or incompetence, serves to downplay the severity of the crisis we’re in, and to slow any efforts to respond to it.

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I want to dig into the issue of food prices and agriculture a bit, as well as what we can be doing to both prepare our food supply for a hotter, more chaotic climate, and to decrease agricultural emissions.

These days, food shortages are a matter of policy. We produce enough food to feed everyone, but that’s not actually the goal of a lot of global food production. Things that humans could be eating, like grains, are used to feed livestock, so that wealthy countries have access to unlimited beef, pork, and chicken. Food that was produced for humans is left to rot because giving it to the hungry either wouldn’t generate profit, or would actually cost money. We create artificial scarcity for profit, and rather than rationing food to make sure everyone gets fed, we ration it to make sure those with money can buy as much as they want – by increasing prices. This is further complicated by the nature of our “just-in-time” production and distribution system, which is designed to maximize profits by removing the costs of buying more than a business needs, and of storing the excess. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted this problem, as there was a sudden spike in demand for certain goods, in a system that has no slack. Further, the same profit motive has always resulted in mistreatment of those people – like truck drivers – which means that they are also stretched to their limits. For all the pandemic and the Suez Canal incident put the supply chain in the spotlight, the relentless greed of the aristocracy was already starting to cause problems well before that.

As with so much else, there is a great deal that needs to change if we want a better future; with climate change already affecting global agriculture, and still on track to collapse the world’s fisheries by 2050, the time to make those changes is now. When I wrote about this before, I focused on factory-style production of high-protein algal and bacterial foods. I still think they’re something we should invest in right away (along with things like lab-grown meat), both because of the potential to provide a great deal of food, and because it’s a relatively new technology. There are going to be challenges in scaling it up, and would be better to run into unforeseen problems before large portions of the population are dependent on this stuff for survival. That said, I’m generally of the opinion that we would be wise to invest in a diverse array of food sources, both to distribute food production closer to where it’s consumed, and to reduce the chance of something disrupting the whole world’s supply. That’s why I like the community greenhouse solution that Aron Kowalski describes in the discussion below. The whole thing is worth your time, but I’m specifically talking about the bit starting around 29 minutes in:

 

Having collectively owned greenhouse farms for both food and recreation sounds like a brilliant idea to me. Even if you’re in an area without cold winters, climate-controlled green spaces like that can be a wonderful break from the world. It also makes me think of the Vietnamese arrangement that lets people who’re willing to do the work have space in a collectively owned rice field, to grow their own rice:

Even better, I’m willing to bet it would be possible to build indoor rice paddies pretty much anywhere in the world, even when the climate won’t allow them outdoors. The amount of food you can get that way never ceases to amaze me. I think it’s also worth noting that even with existing indoor farm models, there are models that combine vegetable farming with fish farming:

A sprawling new building that will soon be constructed in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania—at 250,000 square feet, roughly the size of two entire city blocks in Manhattan—will be the largest vertical farm in the world when it’s completed in 2023. Inside, though, you won’t find just vegetables: Tanks full of fish will sit near vertical stacks of trays filled with certified organic microgreens.

In the vertical farming industry, which is raising billions from investors, many startups grow greens like spinach or bok choy inside carefully-managed indoor spaces, and then selling the fresh produce to local consumers. But Brooklyn-based company Upward Farms is unusual in its use of fish, a version of a centuries-old practice called aquaponics. While others use synthetic fertilizer in their growing systems, the company uses fish waste that it filters out of tanks to provide nutrients to its plants. Both the fish and greens are then sold for food.

There’s a near-infinite array of ways to use communal greenhouse space, especially if the greenhouses are viewed as an integral part of the communities that work them. It can range from the methods currently being explored by for-profit enterprises, to dedicated food production zones like the aforementioned rice paddies, to space for people to experiment with new crops or techniques.  Additions or changes could be made with community approval, to better serve the wants or needs of that particular community, and to accommodate those interested in making food production their primary occupation. What’s important is that it’s done by and for the people, and that we change how things work to both allow and encourage people to take a little time to grow food.

As Kowalski said in the video at the top, it would be a good idea, on an individual level, to plant a garden if you have the ability, but remember that this is very much like the broader climate crisis – we need systemic change, and a revolutionary shift in societal priorities. We can have a society that clings to its greed as it withers away, or we can have one with indoor food forests with fish ponds, walking paths, and food carts, all next door to mostly-automated vertical farms that produce a majority of the food for the nearby population. I don’t think this would necessarily be “economical” as it’s reckoned today, but it would yield far richer rewards than any future the status quo can offer. Since we have to reshape society anyway, why not aim high?


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.

Happy M.L.K. Jr. Day!

Apparently the agriculture post is going to take me another day – sorry about that!

For any readers outside the United States, today is the celebration of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a leader from the Civil Rights Movement, and a man whose legacy has been misused and abused since well before his death. Of the famous leaders of that movement, King is often viewed as the “correct” one because of his focus on nonviolence, but the reality is that he was treated as an extremist while he was alive, and many of those who love to praise him today are explicitly opposed to most or all of what he fought for. Fortunately, it seems that more and more people are speaking out against that kind of hypocritical crap, and telling the truth about King and his place in history.