Video: Why Electric Cars Won’t Save Us

I got sidetracked with a personal issue, so I’m going to have to hand you over to Youtube again. I think this video is a useful look at the electric car phenomenon, and gets at myths and fantasies that I’ve fallen for in the past.

I think electric cars do have a valid place in society, but not as anyone’s default transportation – more for localized transit from mass transit stops to areas not accessible, and for folks with disabilities that require them.

Research team develops new theory for studying mountain stream inhabitants

If we’re to have any chance of re-designing our society to exist in some form of stewardship of the ecosystems of this planet, we need as thorough and understanding of those systems as possible. I’ve written about bioindicators before, and I continue to like that perspective on studying climate change ecology. I also think it’s really neat when research comes along that tests how well theory applies to a particular set of circumstances. It’s moments like this that not only teach us new things, but give us hints about how to improve our search for knowledge.

A new tool can better assess an important but overlooked indicator of global warming: the variety of bugs, worms, and snails living in high mountain streams.

Water-based invertebrates are especially vulnerable when the climate swings from historic droughts to massive floods. Because they serve as food for other forms of alpine life, such as birds, bats, frogs and fish, ecologists worry about the insects’ ability to thrive.

Understanding how these small creatures are affected by climate change requires understanding where we ought to find them. Yet, classic ecological theories did not account for what a team of UC Riverside ecologists and their UC collaborators found on a recent survey of aquatic life in California’s Sierra Nevada.

As a step toward protecting them, the team applied a new theory for predicting biodiversity to high mountain streams. That theory, and the results of the field survey that gave rise to it, are now detailed in an article in the journal Ecological Monographs.

“We’ve come up with new ways of thinking about biodiversity in high mountain Sierra streams, because the old ways weren’t successful for us,” said Kurt Anderson, associate professor of evolution and ecology, and article co-author.

“Classic theories of stream ecology weren’t developed in the Sierras, so we are adapting a new set of ideas to better explain what we’re seeing up there,” Anderson said.

One such classic theory is the River Continuum Concept, which discusses how stream ecosystems function as they move from the stream sources down to bigger, more open rivers. According to the continuum concept, there should be a smooth gradient of change from high to low elevations. The team surveyed for stream biodiversity along a gradient, to test concepts like this one.

“We saw a change, but only partially and not for the reasons the theory said we should,” Anderson said. “For example, we found that lakes tended to interrupt the smooth change we were supposed to have seen.”

The UCR team observed that diversity of invertebrates generally increased in waters headed down and was lowest in steams situated immediately below lakes.

“We believe the lakes may have a disconnecting effect and are causing the downstream waterways to have to start over again in building diversity,” said Matthew Green, UCR ecologist and first author on the new paper.

The team also found a great variety of life forms in cold, isolated streams high up in the headwaters. Despite the general trend toward an increase of diversity moving downstream, sometimes, differences in species among isolated headwaters could be as great as those between upstream and downstream.

“These are the aquatic life forms that are at the edge of the precipice of climate change,” said Dave Herbst, a researcher from the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory, a UC Natural Reserve, and co-author on the paper.

The areas just below lakes were dominated by only a few species of invertebrates and insects with the ability to filter food particles. Other sites with mixed food sources had more species present.

The team recommends that interconnected systems of flowing water be protected from diversions, and from habitat damage caused by unrestrained land development. When waters are allowed to flow as they should, the number of resources available to creatures that live in them support higher diversity.

“That is what will permit these small, but crucially important life forms to thrive,” Anderson said. “Where intact habitats have been compromised, restoration efforts may be key to providing the entire ecosystem with resilience to the coming adversities of climate change.”

Also, for sentimental reasons, I like hearing about benthic macroinvertebrate research.

Sci Fri

Bad writing day. Instead you get part of a story series I haven’t worked on in a while:

There, ahead of the ship it lay! Brigadoon, enchanted refuge at the edge of space! Brigadoon, whose glimmering form lay ahead of us, given a misty halo by the Carina Nebula! And my hands did sweat as the ship docked, and my hands did tremble as I opened the door and stepped forward into a new world.

And then did Ariadne, dark of eye and dark of humor elbow me aside, saying,

“Could you not stand in the doorway? We’ve got shit to move here!”

Downcast I stood aside, and let our own lightning elemental sweep by, searing the world around her as she fled for the wires and conduits that welcomed her rage.

Then did Ebb Spacedragon, steadfast and true, roll forward in her gleaming carriage and lay a hand upon my shoulder. Strength flooded into me once more as she gazed upon me and said,

“I don’t think she even remembers her first time on a space station. Take your time, and if you’re still mad about it, put something snippy in the blog.”

And then she was gone, rolling down the jetty, followed by our chuckling comrades, and then by me. All of us were hushed as we entered the vast hall into which the jetties led, and the silence of ten thousand tons of empty rooms and hallways washed over us. My heart racing, I walked to the dormant fountain that ran the length of the room, slumbering in wait for us. I ran my hand along the smooth stone as I felt the vastness of our home spreading out around me.

Then pain! Fearful, stabbing pain, like needles in my hand. I cried out and leapt away from the cursed fountain, glancing back in terror at the source of my torment. There, crouching upon the stone was a dread beast, with daggers for teeth, and needles for claws, its tail lashing as its evil, slitted eyes gazed up at me.

“Gregg,” I cried. “Did you not swear your furry pets would leave me be? Were they not to remain in your room where they would not shed everywhere?”

“Sorry, Eagun, I just felt like they deserved a chance to explore too, yeah?”

“The pact,” said I, “has been broken, and now there will be much difficulty ere we can repair it!”

“You know damned well I never agreed to keep them locked in my quarters. Don’t worry, I’ll help with keeping the place fur-free. I don’t want any getting into the reactor center. You’d be surprised how much damage a decent tuft of fur can cause.”

“I dare say,” I replied, “but can it even be done? Some surprises are best left in the imagination!”

“I’ve had cats in space stations for years. We need positive pressure in the center anyway to keep any other contaminants out. Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing.”

And with that he was gone, his belongings floating after him.

“We all know what we’re doing!” cried Lisa. She approached the dread beast and sat on the fountain next to it. “That’s why we’re here, right? Eight, Ebb, and Gregg put a lot of thought into who it would take to run this place! I’m so excited to get started!” She held her finger before its fanged maw with reckless courage as it craned its neck up, and ran the side of its face along her long, silver nail. “Honestly Eagun, I know we haven’t known each other very long, but I can’t believe you don’t like Erwin! He’s such a friendly kitty!”

“Spare me your hollow cheer, Provisioner Tambridge. Not only will my first expedition into space be plagued by vicious beasts, but I will assuredly die in a fur-fueled conflagration, far from any world I’ve known.”


“Why, O Why,” I sighed, “could our Mattersmith not have had sensible, furless, sessile pets like Good Anansi?”

“I like you, Eagun, but don’t drag me or my teachers into this,” said Anansi, and he crept through a doorway and down the hall to his new lair.

With grins suppressed and eyebrows raised, my companions followed, leaving me alone with my thoughts. The beast rolled before me in the fountain, displaying its fearsome armaments as it stretched out on its back.

“And so,” I said “Begins our new life on Brigadoon, Space Station in the Mists!”

If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into it. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!

Unions even help workers who aren’t unionized.

It has warmed my heart to see the wave of labor organizing in the United States, and the apparent blind panic it has caused among executives and their ilk. It’s long been pointed out that when a country has strong unions, it improves conditions even for those workers who aren’t organized, because bosses have a choice between offering jobs that look as good as what unions can get, or having their workers unionize.

I have to say, I didn’t expect to see this happening so quickly.

In this case, it’s a desperate attempt to prevent more Starbucks franchises from unionizing, but the basic pressure seems to be the same. The bosses know that they can’t do without workers, and that they can afford to pay a lot more, and treat people a lot better.

When the U.S. had no real organized labor movement, our rulers could get away with the pretense of benevolent leadership, but now there’s zero ambiguity. People who are worth thousands of millions of dollars only get to that point by viewing their right to every cent they can hoard as more important than anyone else’s right to anything.

Organize. Organize with your fellow tenants. Organize with your fellow workers. Throw out constructed social norms like not talking about your wages. The more power we get, the more they will fight back, but there’s no other path to a better world.

But do you really know how many bees you’ll need?

I don’t know the exact numbers, but a lot of folks hear about declining bee populations, and seem to assume that’s talking about European honey bees. While it’s good to protect and care for our honey bees, the vast majority of bee troubles in the world are suffered by the myriad of wild species, many of which are specialists, surviving by pollinating one plant in particular. That means that if one bee that almost nobody is aware of goes extinct, it could soon be followed by a plant, and any other organisms that depend on it. That has big implications for any efforts at ecosystem management, so I’m glad that this team of researchers was looking into what sort of bee community is needed for a healthy meadow:

Previous research on bees as pollinators tended to focus on specific plants — frequently crops — or on entire communities of plants as if they were a single entity. This tended to over-emphasize the contribution of the most common bees, especially since 2% of the bee species provided 80% of the pollination in crops. But no previous work had asked the basic question: How many pollinator species are needed to pollinate all the species in a given community of plants?

Roswell and his colleagues have now shown that the more plant species there are, the more bee species are needed for pollination. They found that the less common bees often visited specific plants others didn’t. Their findings shed new light on the role of rare species in ecosystems — critical to conservation efforts because rare species are most at risk of extinction from habitat loss, pollution, climate change and other factors. The study appeared April 13, 2022, in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“Our work shows that things that are rare in general, like infrequent visitors to a meadow, can still serve really important functions, like pollinating plants no one else pollinates,” said Roswell, who studies diversity and pollination in the UMD Department of Entomology and is a co-author of the study. “And that’s a really good argument for why biodiversity matters.”

The researchers surveyed 10 plots in New Jersey that included wild meadows and seeded fields over one year. They observed bees from over 180 species making nearly 22,000 visits to over 130 different plant species. The team used these encounters to estimate the pollination services each type of bee provided to each plant, because a plant’s most frequent floral visitors are typically its most important pollinators.

Their analyses showed that an entire meadow community relied on 2 ½ to 7 ½ times more bee species for pollination than a single typical plant species does. They also found that the locally rare species accounted for up to 25% of the important pollinator species, and that number was greatest in meadows with the most plant diversity. This suggests that at larger scales like entire ecosystems, the number of locally rare species that are important for pollination is even greater.

“We were looking at meadows that might be a few acres in size,” Roswell said, “but a typical bee flies over a couple of square miles, which is a really large and complicated landscape filled with lots of different kinds of plants that flower at different times and are visited by different insects. At that scale, even more diversity of pollinators is likely to be important.”

As I’ve said before, I’ve largely given up on stopping climate chaos and mass extinction in my lifetime. My goal is to do what I can to slow it, and to help humanity survive long enough to get our act together. Part of that will need to be ecosystem management. As we work to survive a rapidly warming climate, we should invest whatever resources we can on helping the rest of the biosphere survive as well. Part of doing that is going to be understanding the general shape of a healthy ecosystem, so we can best decide how to help.

Tenrec Tuesday

As you may have guessed, there’s no post from Tegan this week. Grad school has her swamped, and considering that’s the reason we’re in this country, it’s more than reasonable than posting here is pretty low priority by comparison. Instead, you get a low-effort post from me about something that starts with a “T”!

When I was a kid, most of my interests revolved around nature, and specifically animals. A majority of the media I consumed was nature documentaries, and magazines like National Geographic and Ranger Rick. Somewhere among all of that, I discovered tenrecs. I don’t remember when it was, exactly, just that they fascinated me. I now invite you to share my fascination:

When you count the fish, the fish may be counting you…

Once Upon A Time, in a land far, far away from where I’m writing this, I worked for a non-profit science education research corporation called TERC. I did a number of different kinds of work there, but my favorite was designing lesson plans and activities to help people learn about ecology and climate science. One of teams I was on did a lot of outreach to schools, museums, nature centers, aquaria, and other organizations that dealt with science education in New England, with the goal of building connections between schools and “informal” educational institutions, so that kids could do actual research activities as part of their science education.

Climate change ecology is a field that spends a lot of time on phenology – the study of seasonal behavioral patterns. The first lessons in our Climate Lab project involved spring leaf-out, and bird migration, for example, and some of the first research I dug up for a list of recorded changes due to climate change was fish moving north earlier in the season, because the water was getting too warm. It makes sense, right? With the temperature rising, and the weather getting more unpredictable, plants and animals have been getting mixed signals from their environment, and it’s been throwing everything into chaos for at least a couple decades now. Insects and plants come out early because it’s warmer. That’s fine for the insects, but it’s terrible for the plants and the birds. A lot of migratory birds rely on things like day length or some evolved internal clock or sense of Earth’s orbit. That means that they can’t change their timing in response to changes in weather – climate change doesn’t affect that.

So the birds arrive late, because the bugs were out early, and their offspring either starve, or don’t get as good a start on life. More than that, the annual horde of caterpillars are no longer kept in check by birds, so they do a lot more damage to the plants they eat, which in turn makes them less resilient.

And that’s just one set of relationships. It doesn’t touch on how mammals fit in, the effects on things like pollination, or how the damage to the migratory bird population affects the ecosystems in South or Central America where they spend their winters. As I studied this stuff, I got a distinct feeling that although I couldn’t see it, the entire surface of the planet was seething around us, like the ripples on the surface of a pot of water just about to boil. Plants and animals are evolving – changing their shapes and sizes in response to their changing environment. The birds I mentioned before are changing their migratory timing, but they’re doing it the hard way; the individuals who migrate too late often can’t keep their young alive, and those that migrate earlier do a little better. Generation by generation, death by death, everything around us is changing; but it’s not changing fast enough.

If we ever get our act together, politically, and start trying to actually clean up our mess, we’re going to want to know what’s been happening in the ecosystems around us. That will give us the tools we need to help shore up their weaknesses, and help rebuild the ecosystems on which we depend. That’s why it’s essential that the sciences continue to be a priority as we deal with this chaotic new world, and why I was so proud to be part of a project that was teaching people how to participate in that research, even without any actual training in science.

The activities I helped design were often based on the specialties and resources of the nature center in question, be it fish or fowl, and at the tail end of my time at TERC, I started working on materials connected to the Mystic River Watershed Association (MRWA. In particular, we were focused on fish migration. Salmon are probably the most famous (and in my opinion best-tasting) anadromous fish, but the waters of the world are teeming with fish that live most of their lives in the ocean, but swim up streams and rivers to breed. Probably the second most famous, at least in the Boston area where I used to live, is the Alewife. The Alewife is an anadromous herring that historically ran in streams along the northern Atlantic coast of North America. It’s the name of the northernmost station on the MBTA’s Red Line, and the name of a nearby brook. Alewife brook used to be filled with the fish every year, but in living memory, it has been a polluted roadside canal inhabited by algae and invasive carp.

That said, there have been conservation efforts along the coast, in contrast to the control efforts further west, where canals and shipping have turned them into an invasive species. The MRWA is responsible for one of the conservation successes, and they oversee a fish ladder to allow Alewife and their cousin species the blueback herring to get over a dam and into the Mystic Lakes, where they spawn. In this case, “oversee” is literal, as they’ve got a camera to record the fish during their seasonal runs, to help track the population.

The problem is, the only way to be sure of their numbers is to literally count them. It’s a monumental task, and one that’s ripe for counting errors. They’ve found a brilliant solution, and it gets back to the kinds of educational activities I mentioned at the beginning. There’s a website where anyone in the world can look at sections of video, count how many fish they see, and enter that number. The video presented is random, and your count is considered along with everyone else who entered a count for that same video. That means that if I count a leaf as a fish, your more accurate count basically cancels out my error. When you have a dozen different people looking at each video, the odds are pretty good that an accurate consensus will emerge. There’s no need for a supercomputer or for someone to spend countless hours watching blurry fish go by a window, and trying to stay focused enough to get an accurate count.

Some poor intern, or maybe a graduate student, working late into the night for far too little money, running on cheap coffee and food from the vending machine down the hall. Everyone else is in bed by now, but he has to count the endless stream of fish, and every time he loses track, he has to restart the video, until time seems to blur together and his Sisyphean task becomes a surreal daydream. And now the fish aren’t just swimming by. They’re looking at him through the window. No. It’s a video. He’s in the computer lab but… They see him. He’s certain of it. Are they- could they be counting him?

The image shows Ancient Aliens producer Giorgio Tsoukalos saying,

This brings us to the reason I wrote this post.

Suppose there are some coins on the table in front of you. If the number is small, you can tell right away exactly how many there are. You don’t even have to count them – a single glance is enough. Cichlids and stingrays are astonishingly similar to us in this respect: they can detect small quantities precisely – and presumably without counting. For example, they can be trained to reliably distinguish quantities of three from quantities of four.

This fact has been known for some time. However, the research group led by Prof. Dr. Vera Schluessel from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Bonn has now shown that both species can even calculate. “We trained the animals to perform simple additions and subtractions,” Schluessel explains. “In doing so, they had to increase or decrease an initial value by one.”

Blue means “add one,” yellow means “subtract one”

But how do you ask a cichlid for the result of “2+1” or “5-1”? The researchers used a method that other research groups had already successfully used to test the mathematical abilities of bees: They showed the fish a collection of geometric shapes – for example, four squares. If these objects were colored blue, this meant “add one” for the following discrimination. Yellow, on the other hand, meant “subtract one.”

After showing the original stimulus (e.g. four squares), the animals were shown two new pictures – one with five and one with three squares. If they swam to the correct picture (i.e. to the five squares in the “blue” arithmetic task), they were rewarded with food. If they gave the wrong answer, they went away empty-handed. Over time, they learned to associate the blue color with an increase of one in the amount shown at the beginning, and the yellow number with a decrease.

But can the fish apply this knowledge to new tasks? Had they actually internalized the mathematical rule behind the colors? “To check this, we deliberately omitted some calculations during training,” Schluessel explains. “Namely, 3+1 and 3-1. After the learning phase, the animals got to see these two tasks for the first time. But even in those tests, they significantly often chose the correct answer.” This was true even when they had to decide between choosing four or five objects after being shown a blue 3 – that is, two outcomes that were both greater than the initial value. In this case, the fish chose four over five, indicating they had not learned the rule ‘chose the largest (or smallest) amount presented’ but the rule ‘always add or subtract one’.

Computing without a cerebral cortex

This achievement surprised the researchers themselves – especially since the tasks were even more difficult in reality than just described. The fish were not shown objects of the same shape (e.g. four squares), but a combination of different shapes. A “four”, for example, could be represented by a small and a larger circle, a square and a triangle, whereas in another calculation it could be represented by three triangles of different sizes and a square.

“So the animals had to recognize the number of objects depicted and at the same time infer the calculation rule from their color,” Schluessel says. “They had to keep both in working memory when the original picture was exchanged for the two result pictures. And they had to decide on the correct result afterwards. Overall, it’s a feat that requires complex thinking skills.”

To some it may be surprising because fish don’t have a neocortex – the part of the brain also known as the “cerebral cortex” that’s responsible for complex cognitive tasks in mammals. Moreover, neither species of fish is known to require particularly good numerical abilities in the wild. Other species might pay attention to the strip count of their sexual partners or the amount of eggs in their clutches. “However, this is not known from stingrays and cichlids,” emphasizes the zoology professor at the University of Bonn.

She also sees the result of the experiments as confirmation that humans tend to underestimate other species – especially those that do not belong to our immediate family or mammals in general. Moreover, fish are not particularly cute and do not have cuddly fur or plumage. “Accordingly, they are quite far down in our favor – and of little concern when dying in the brutal practices of the commercial fishing industry”, says Vera Schluessel.

I’m afraid it’s true; the whole science education and alewife thing was just a red herring.

Aside from all the other ways this kind of research is useful and interesting, I think it makes a good reminder of how evolution actually works. Contrary to popular mythology, no species on this planet is more or less “evolved” than any other. We’ve all been here the same amount of time, and we all evolved as conditions guided us. When being able to do just a little math helps something survive and reproduce, then that ability will stick around. It’s the same as light-sensitive cells evolving into eyes. Natural selection isn’t random, but the fact that we ended up where we are as a species is random.

As sapient animals, we’re in this weird position where we survive by killing and consuming other life forms, but we can also recognize that those life forms are literally our relatives. I have yet to square this feeling with the fact that I’m not a vegetarian, but when I learn something like this about a fellow animal, I just want to cheer on my “cousin” for being smarter than we realized.

If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into it. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!

Sunday Sermon: From sewer to stovetop, it’s the little things.

Folks who’ve been reading this blog for a while might remember that when I moved into my current flat, its appliances were in less than stellar condition. It was almost two months before I had a fridge that was more than an insulated cabinet with a light, for example. The other noticeable problem was that only three out of four burners on the glass-top stove worked, and one of those three had a big crack across it. A couple months ago, the cracked burner died, and one of the two that remained would blow a fuse if we didn’t cut off power to the stove before turning the burner on or off.

I’m telling you all of this, because this week the property management company finally got around to getting us a new stovetop, and it’s frankly delightful to have a clean, functional stove.

It’s easy to under-estimate just how wonderful modern appliances are. In addition to your standard range of gas and electric ranges, I’ve cooked on wood stoves, a variety of camp stoves (one of which dumped boiling water on me – I don’t recommend it), and camp fires of various sizes. Through high school and college, I spent a lot of time camping in pretty much all conditions that occur in New England, including three summer jobs that had me doing so professionally. My preference for that has always been your standard camp fire (in high school I often had to light them without matches or lighters), but the reality is that there’s a lot of work involved in using and maintaining wood stoves. Not only that, but cooking with wood indoors generates enough air pollution to do real harm, over time.

Having a modern stove isn’t as important as having clean, running water, but I think it’s something that many of us are too inclined to take for granted.

It’s also something that’s worth considering, as it’s one of the uses of energy that a lot of people are going to have to change, if we ever get around to ending fossil fuel use. It’s my understanding that gas is the preferred stove type for people who love cooking, and I do understand why. It gives you the ability to easily control temperature, and switch from full heat to none at all almost instantly. Electric stoves take longer to reach the desired temperature, and to cool down. This means that you’ve got a dangerously hot surface just sitting there when you’re done with it, but it also means that if you want to reduce the heat of something you’re cooking, you have to remove it from the surface, like you would with a wood stove. That fact alone tends to mean that you need a bit more space to cook the same meal on an electric or wood stove than you do with gas.

That said, we have to stop extracting fossil gas. We should have stopped years ago. For most of us, that means the kinds of electric stoves I’ve been using for most of my adult life. For some people – and I’ve no idea how this would be decided – there is a renewable source of cooking gas that will always exist in reliable proportion to our population, plus livestock. That source, of course, is sewage. Biogas is not a new thing. The fact that every sewage treatment plant and garbage processing center in the world doesn’t have a biogas setup is yet another grim example of just how little our leaders care about climate change. The technology has been cheap and easy for so long that it was a key part of Mad Max: Beyond The Thunderdome, when I was was one year old:

There’s no question that the potential biogas supply, at least from human waste, is smaller than the fossil gas supply, but all of the carbon in biogas came from the atmosphere, and so at worst it’s carbon-neutral, and when it comes to replacing fossil fuels, reliability may count for almost as much as actual energy production. It means you can count on that amount of power being available, always in proportion to the population, just like you can count on the daily fluctuations in solar power generation.

I also think it’s worth mentioning that the amount of power that can be generated this way is significant.

Thames Water generated enough renewable energy from sewage in 2021 to cook 112 million Christmas turkeys.

The UK’s largest water company created almost 140 million cubic metres (m3) of biogas last year via its sewage treatment process. This was transformed into more than 300 million kWh of electricity.

Crossness sewage works in Greenwich was the biggest producer of renewable energy in 2021, churning out more than 18.5 million m3, enough to cook 15 million turkeys, while Mogden sewage works in Twickenham and Beckton in Newham generated approximately 18 million and 12 million m3 each.

“Creating our own clean, green energy is an important part of our sewage treatment process and we’re generating more and more each year,” commented Matt Gee, Thames Water’s energy & carbon strategy and reporting manager.

“Doing this allows us to power our sites with renewable, eco-friendly fuels, and as we continue to generate more, we want to export it to be used in our local communities.”

Eliot Whittington, director of the UK Corporate Leaders Group, of which Thames Water is a member, added: “As more and more of the world sets strong targets for climate change, it’s essential that action follows ambition.

“Thames Water’s investment in renewable energy is a great Christmas present to the UK’s climate targets and to the communities it operates in and makes a strong down payment on its long-term ambition to be net-zero by 2030.”

The company, which has already cut emissions by almost 70% since 1990, completed a biogas project at Chertsey sewage works in October last year. The £700,000 scheme is the latest in a roll-out which also covers Thames Water sites in London and the Thames Valley. Three-quarters of the firm’s boilers now run on biogas and it is aiming to convert all sites by the end of 2025.

Thames Water has been running biogas plants for a while now, and it’s been generating them a tidy profit, in addition to the ability to honestly say they’re doing something about climate change. They’re also a good example of how far we have to go when it comes to even the lowest-hanging fruit of climate action.

Half the reason global warming is so extremely dangerous to us is the speed at which it’s happening. If we’d stayed on the timeline Svante Arrhenius predicted around the beginning of the 20th century, we’d have hundreds of years before the planet’s temperature got to where it is today, and while we might not have been proactive about that change, we might well have had time to do it from generation to generation, and still avoid catastrophe.

I’m not saying that to frustrate you with what might have been, but to emphasize that reducing emissions really can buy us time, according to the same physics that tells us how great the danger is. There are a myriad of “small” things that can be done at local and regional levels that really will make a difference, and will likely improve people’s quality of life at the same time. Better insulation for homes, more efficient appliances, more people working from home, and yes – more sewage and other organic waste used to generate biogas – really can slow things down, and give us time to adapt, and to do other things that will also slow the change.

This problem is too big for any of us to tackle as individuals, but there are aspects of it that can absolutely be tackled at the local level, an that touch our lives pretty directly. That local action can inspire the same thing to happen elsewhere, and with things like the internet, one community can help others follow in their footsteps. We’ve never faced a crisis like this before, but we’ve also never had more capacity to coordinate with people on every part of this planet.

And we can keep on cooking with gas while we do it. In theory, anyway. I’m still using electric, but that’s more than fine, especially now that I have a shiny new stove!

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Video: The ongoing harm of French colonialism in Africa

While it could be argued that the colonial era is over, there is zero question that the power dynamics, harm, and injustices of colonialism continue around the world to this day. Occasionally, something will happen that draws attention to this fact – the U.S. government brutalizing Native American people for standing in the way of oil profits, for example. These sensational moments are a very real part of colonialism’s ongoing violence, but I think it’s fair to say that they’re a small portion of the overall damage being done. It’s the sort of subject that can only really be tackled in pieces, simply because of how much of humanity is still dealing with the damage done by the colonial empires. For various reasons, I think I tend to focus on the Americas, but the Gravel Institute has put together a great video on the legacy of French imperialism in Africa:

Having a social life interferes with blogging

Socializing with Tegan’s colleagues, so today you get a discussion of animals that abuse the rules of Physics.

“Animals are the NPCs, plants are the boss.”

– Kayleigh

Edit: Met some cool people, including an Uillean piper who was at the table we ended up sitting at, and joined us to chat about the joys of playing double-reed instruments and gig musicianship.