We must learn to channel our inner pocket gopher

Biomimicry is a fascinating concept in a lot of ways. The basic idea is pretty straightforward – evolution is a process of trial and error that’s been doing on for billions of years, and there are certain physical or behavioral patterns that show up repeatedly, or hang around for eons, because they work. So, we study those things, figure out how and why they work so well, and then find ways to apply them to technology. It has been pretty popular for while now, and I’ve seen it applied to renewable energy, architecture, military tactics, medicine, and more.

This is not a new process for our species. If I had to guess, I’d say we were learning how to do things by watching other animals long before our ancestors were human. Watching and trying out things done by other organisms seems to be a basic part of the “monkey” operating system in general. Myths, legends, and fables from around the globe are filled with people learning important lessons from nature, and that’s one of those ancient traditions that I think is absolutely worth keeping.

This time, however, it’s a little different. There are lessons for us to consider for our society, but they’re not new lessons for us. In pocket gophers, we find an example of evolution finding a useful approach to agriculture that matches one we’ve discovered for ourselves before:

“It really depends on how ‘farming’ is defined,” says Putz. “If farming requires that crops be planted, then gophers don’t qualify. But this seems like a far too narrow definition for anyone with a more horticultural perspective in which crops are carefully managed — such as fruit trees in forests — but not necessarily planted. With this perspective, the origins of agriculture included Mesopotamian annual cereal and pulse crop cultivation as well as maize cultivation in the Americas, but many cultures around the world developed agriculture based on perennial crops, many of which they didn’t plant but did tend.”

I don’t think that this approach to subsistence is a viable way to generate food for all of humanity, but I do think that it would be a brilliant way for us to both add variety to our diets, and to repair the harm we’ve done to ourselves by trying to separate ourselves from “nature”. Because of the changes we’ve made to Earth’s biosphere, we desperately need to prioritize ecosystem management, if only out of self-preservation. I think that this approach is one we should strongly consider. That said, I think it is time to learn what the gophers have to teach us:

“Southeastern pocket gophers are the first non-human mammalian farmers,” says F. E. “Jack” Putz of the University of Florida, Gainesville. “Farming is known among species of ants, beetles, and termites, but not other mammals.”

Veronica Selden and Putz report that pocket gophers don’t just eat roots that happen to grow in the paths of new tunnels they excavate. Instead, they provide conditions that favor root growth, by spreading their own waste as fertilizer. As a result, the authors argue that — by promoting root growth in their tunnels and then harvesting or cropping those roots — southeastern pocket gophers have stumbled upon a food production system that qualifies as farming.

[…]

Selden and Putz suggest that root cropping may explain why gophers keep and defend such extensive tunnel systems. The tunnels are comparable to rows of crops. If indeed what they’re doing counts as farming, then the gophers are the first non-human mammal known to farm.

“Pocket gophers are great examples of ecosystem engineers that turn over soil thereby aerating it and bringing nutrients back to the surface,” says Putz. “They eat only roots, some of which they grow themselves, and seldom interfere with human activities.”

They note that further study may reveal whether gophers eat fungi and how seasonal variation in the energetic contributions of roots growing into tunnels relates to their activity cycles. It’s not clear yet how their underground activities affect vegetation at the surface.

“Whether or not [pocket gophers] qualify as farmers, root cultivation is worth further investigation,” the researchers write.

I hereby declare that they qualify as farmers. Glad I could clear that up.

The article also mentions that these roots make up anywhere from 20% to 60% of the gophers’ daily calories. That’s a pretty broad range, at least to my eyes, but it wouldn’t surprise me if studying creatures like this is pretty difficult, especially if you don’t want to harm them and their farms in the process. Regardless, I think this is really cool!

I also think it’s worth underlining the fact that they are not necessarily incompatible with human agriculture – just the way we do it right now. Youtube is full of videos about how to kill pocket gophers, but I could see them actually being extremely useful for the “edible ecosystem” approach.

I also, as a science fiction writer, am fascinated by the possibilities that could be uncovered by modeling ourselves more after the humble gopher. Specifically, I think we should live underground, and farm in tunnels.

Sort of.

Underground cities have been discussed as a way to adapt to climate change for a while now. I’ve dabbled in the concept a bit – I’ve got a stalled novel about a solar-powered steampunk society living under the vast, lethally hot desert of the American Midwest, a few centuries in the future. Maybe if I hit a future patreon goal I’ll patch some of it up and publish it here for fun (sign up at patreon.com/oceanoxia, featuring new content and rewards starting in August!). I think there are a lot of problems with underground living – especially at the scale of a modern city – of which we can see only those on the surface. Even so, as I keep saying, we’re facing the end of the world as we know it, and that means that we need to be open to modes of living that would not have been worth the effort in the past.

I also don’t think that we need to resort to living in tunnels and farming indoors or underground to take advantage of this. Farming from tunnels could also be a way of doing it safely in extreme heat, as well as irrigating crops without the evaporative water loss from spraying. Subsurface irrigation is a thing that’s been used for a while now (though less than it should be in these days of shrinking water supplies), but I think it’d be interesting to see it combined with things like hydroponics or aeroponics as a way to continue taking advantage of direct sunlight, without putting farmers at risk.

Also we should store things in our cheeks.


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Video: New York Times debunks corporate climate lies

I never look to the New York Times for my climate news, but this popped up in my Youtube feed, and I was pleasantly surprised by it. The concept of “Net Zero” long predates the current corporate vogue, but I think it has always acted to protect the unrealistic notion of continuing fossil fuel use, and just “cancelling it out” through various forms of carbon capture, and other things declared to be “offsets”. Basically, it’s the foolish hope – a hope that I held before gaining a better understanding of the world – that we can somehow solve this problem while keeping our society more or less the same as it was at the end of the 20th century. I will always be in favor of pulling excess carbon out of the air, but we can’t afford to fall for capitalist misdirection and misinformation. We haven’t the time.

Carbon capture is a distraction we cannot afford.

I’m in favor of carbon capture as a general concept. I’ve written before about using plants for that purpose, and I continue to think that we should be doing that.

But.

Without eliminating fossil fuel use, carbon capture is a distraction we cannot afford.

A new report from Imperial College London has outlined the degree to which carbon capture worked between 1996 and 2020, as well as the degree to which it has been over-estimated:

The researchers compared estimations of stored carbon with official reports, and found that the reports lead to overestimates of actual carbon stored by 19-30 per cent.

They calculated 197 million tonnes of carbon were captured and stored between 1996 and 2020, which represents a significant achievement in climate change mitigation. However, the researchers say the lack of consistent reporting frameworks mean current reported rates of carbon capture are overestimated, giving an inaccurate picture of the technology’s contribution to fighting climate change. This, the researchers say, disempowers us in meeting climate mitigation strategies like the Paris Agreement and risks hiding issues that could otherwise be easily solved, such as inefficiencies in facility technology and transport.

Lead author Yuting Zhang, PhD candidate at the Department of Earth Science and Engineering, said: “Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is rightly a cornerstone of climate change mitigation, but without a centralised reporting framework we approach climate change on the back foot when we need to be more proactively tackling the issue with robust and accurate reporting.

I’m sorry, but in light of this report, I have to disagree with the lead author. If this is an example of what carbon capture and storage has to offer, then we cannot rely on it at all. Once again – 197 million tonnes of carbon captured and stored over a period of 24 years. For comparison, we emitted 36.3 billion tonnes in 2021 alone. The decrease in emissions from the 2020 lockdowns was 2 billion tonnes, which is over ten times what was captured during that 24 year period.

Taking this seriously as “a cornerstone of climate change mitigation” feels like declaring a toddler with a bucket to be a cornerstone of our firefighting strategy. This is not the first time I’ve wondered whether industrial carbon capture is anything more than a greenwashing campaign, fueled by a willful detachment from reality. As always, I’m glad for this research. It’s good to have numbers on how carbon capture has been going (as badly as all the rest of our climate “action”), and how the propaganda surrounding it has over-sold its usefulness.

The study authors suggest centralizing the process of tracking and reporting on carbon capture and sequestration. That’s fine. It seems like a good idea. I also think it’s worth noting that it’s not like any of our other climate mitigation efforts have been going any better, so it’s possible that if we ever take the issue seriously (you know, before it kills us all), carbon capture will make a huge difference. Even so, if that happens, it won’t matter if we’re still generating so much carbon dioxide. Carbon neutrality is not enough. It shouldn’t need saying, but freezing CO2 levels where they’re at right now is still a catastrophe – it’s just a slower one.

Carbon capture and storage is rightly a cornerstone of climate mitigation, but without a rapid elimination of fossil fuel use, it will do little more than help our rulers deflect blame for the horrors they have wrought.


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!

Tegan Tuesday: Returning to our roots with reopened canals

As some people may know, I grew up in Syracuse, NY. Like many American kids, my history classes offered extensive lessons into the history of both my state (New York) and my specific area (Syracuse). The history of both of these places is much the same as other former-colony-turned-American-state, but one of the most distinctive elements is the Erie Canal. I liked the idea of the canals. I know several verses of the Erie Canal Song, and found the storybook depiction of a barge driver enchanting. The Erie Canal is also deeply embedded in the local area I grew up in. I’ve driven by any number of companies named after Clinton’s Ditch, as the canal was dubbed, and driven on any number of “Erie Boulevard”s across NYS. My sibling had the opportunity to ride a barge through a lock as a class trip when they were learning about the canal. I also have a soft spot in my heart for the romanticism of doomed enterprise. Canals were the height of sophisticated goods transit from the 1770s through the 1830s and “canal mania” involved a lot of speculative investing and scams attempting to cash in on the craze. The power of canals died when the railroad came in by the mid-19th century. Trains can be built faster, don’t offer “swamp fever” (aka malaria) to those constructing it, and can move the goods cheaper and faster. In fact, the portion of the canal in my home town had been completely paved over and was one of the many Erie Boulevards crossing the state. A doomed cause and a romantic vision of life on the waterways.

Cue my surprise to read about an existing and functional canalway between Glasgow and Edinburgh. A recent Smithsonian Magazine article talked about the history of the canal and the writer paddled across Scotland for a holiday. Why did Abe and I never look into this? Don’t worry — it’s been added to our to-do list for whenever we are next in Scotland. Apparently the first canals were built in Scotland in the 1760s, although most have since been abandoned or are defunct waterways. The following map shows all of the waterways in the UK and Ireland with canals in orange, rivers in blue, and streams in grey.

The image shows a map of the U.K. and Ireland, with the coasts outlined in blue-green, rivers as a tangle of thick blue lines, and streams as gray mass between the blue veins of the rivers. The canals are orange lines that connect various rivers to each other. The most extensive canal network was in South and Central England, with one large canal line across southern Scotland from Glasgow to Edinburgh. There are a couple smaller canals further North in Scotland, and there are several long canals extending into Ireland, mostly leading back to Dublin. You can also see just a bit of France in the bottom right corner.

Canals weren’t as big in Scotland as they were in England, but you can see the clear horizontal line connecting the west coast (Glasgow reaches the ocean thanks to the River Clyde) to the east coast (Edinburgh is already on the ocean). The connection is actually made of two canals. From the West, the Forth and Clyde Canal runs east to Falkirk, and from the east, the Union Canal runs west to Falkirk. The canals haven’t been used for industry since the early 20th century and a number of the locks were filled in during the 1960s. The Union Canal in particular had had its 11 locks disengaged back in 1933 before they were filled in. The canals began a slow slide throughout the last century from ‘important shipping route’ to ‘garbage dump’ and were on the verge of being completely paved over or filled in, due to their danger to local communities — crumbling infrastructure, drowning risk, harzardous waste dump, and of course the insects and animals that love a swamp. But starting in the 1980s, preservation groups took an interest.

British Waterways was the original organization that spoke for the Scottish canals, but they soon split off into a new group called Scottish Canals, who wanted to bring life and purpose back to the old canals. What is a canal if not a manmade river? There is already extensive research showing how access to nature and greenery, such as along a river, has a wide number of benefits for the local community and the residents therein. Revitalizing an existing canal would offer this same benefit to a community without the luck of a natural river area. Apparently the 1990s had efforts to change the local image of the canals with houseboat residents and amateur boaters alike being asked to use the waterways. The Smithsonian article interviews a University of Glasgow professor who I’ve met (with the outrageously memorable name of Minty Donald) who was one of the early adopters of the Scottish canals for houseboat living. I personally cannot attest one way or the other as to the visual impact or impression of the canals as we lived near the River Clyde and never went near the canal.

Part of the revitalization efforts was the need to reconnect Glasgow to Edinburgh — those closed locks made the trip unnavigable. Enter the Falkirk Wheel! The Scottish government wanted a project to invest in for the new millennium and the case was made that reconnecting the canals was also a way to connect the Scottish past with the future and to reinvest in the existing infrastructure of the country. Construction began in 1998 and was fully completed in 2002, finally reconnecting the two cities by water for the first time in 70 years.

This is an approach more countries should be considering. A number of fields look to existing water powers to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels, but especially international shipping has started to bring old fashioned technologies into the future through wind and water. Reintegrate the canals! It is far easier to move items – or people – on water than on land, and in many cases, the infrastructure is still there. It’s slower than moving things by truck or rail, but given the degree to which we need to chill out as a species, that’s far from a bad thing. The issue is the funding to update and maintain said infrastructure. This is finally, finally, finally starting to become an issue around the globe (mostly due to how many systems are falling apart thanks to neglect), but there is a lot still to be done, and will only get done with large numbers of people highlighting what needs fixing. But changing the community’s engagement with their local waterways, à la Scottish Canals, is a good start.


Tegan is back! Well, for me she never left, but she’s been working overtime the last month, so she couldn’t help out at this end of things. As always, if you like the content of this blog, please share it around, and please consider supporting this work at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Due to my immigration status, I’m not allowed to engage in conventional wage labor, so writing is my only form of income. Even as little as 1$ a month can make a big difference when a crowd of people are pitching in, so every little bit really does count!

Morbid Monday: Heatwave edition

It is far too hot. Over the last three years, the cool climate of these islands has spoiled me a little, but at 31.1°C/88°F, I’d be suffering even if I was more accustomed to the heat. It’s at times like this that I find it hardest not to think about what the rest of my life might look like. A fair amount of attention has been paid to the fact that this heat wave is almost identical to a hypothetical 2050 forecast run two years ago to raise awareness about climate change.

One of the most consistent themes in climate science over the past couple decades has been the ways in which the temperature is rising faster than expected, and the ways in which that’s causing problems faster than expected. The current heat wave has already killed over one thousand people on the Iberian Peninsula, and it is an absolute certainty that it has killed a great many people in the other affected countries. And, in case you need reminding, there are other heat waves happening around the world at the same time, and we are only halfway through July.

This is at 1.2°C over pre-industrial temperatures.

The rate of warming has been increasing, and it’s pretty much certain that that acceleration will itself accelerate in the coming decades. We are currently on track for a whole host of worst-case scenarios, and what do our political leaders do? Toady up to the same vicious monsters they’ve always aligned with, and push for more fossil fuel extraction.

Either these people actively want to bring about the extinction of humanity, or they are so senile, pampered, ignorant and arrogant that they truly cannot comprehend what is happening. Whether through malice or incompetence is irrelevant – these people are on track to getting us all killed.

In case it wasn’t clear, that’s not hyperbole. The path we’ve all been forced to take will lead to our extinction if we don’t make extremely big changes extremely soon. That extinction could happen a lot faster than a lot of people seem willing to consider.

And it’s going to be a miserable death. I’m writing this at 2am because I decided to just sleep through the hottest part of the day. The sun set a few hours ago, and it has cooled down a little, though there’s still depressingly little breeze. I’m irritable in the heat, and physically uncomfortable. It feels like it’s tiring just to exist, let alone work. Year after year, decade after decade, it’s going to just keep getting hotter. Heat waves are going to keep getting longer, and more intense, which means more and more people are going to suffer and die, and all of this was preventable.

Never forget that.

Never forget the future that these fuckers have stolen from us, and never forgive them for their crimes.

In spite of it all, I still think a better world is possible. I think we can reforge our civilization into one that can actually last, and can uplift everyone. What we can’t do is build that world in the image of the one we’ve got today. Obviously that means a more just and equal society, but it also means radically different infrastructure.

Take this heat wave, for example. Even without melting pavement, the way we live will not work in the climate we’re creating. If we want to avoid massive death from heat, we’re going to need to make air conditioning available to everyone. We also have to end fossil fuel use as soon as possible. Part of the reason scientists have been pushing for a proactive approach to climate change is that the energy transition will itself require a huge amount of energy. That means more emissions. The longer we delay it, the more we’re adding momentum to an avalanche that’s already set to destroy us.

But let’s say we end all fossil fuel use by 2030. The temperature is still going to keep rising. Even if greenhouse gas levels stayed the same, it would be at least 20 years before we reached thermal equilibrium. Ending fossil fuel use will also cause a drop in aerosol pollution, which will cause a spike in temperature, as that pollution will no longer be reflecting sunlight. And greenhouse gas levels are going to keep rising, because amplifying feedback loops, from permafrost to forest fires, are already active.

You know how futurism in the mid-20th century had everyone expecting flying cars and futuristic cities by this point in history? Well, the cars don’t seem practical, but I think we’re going to increasingly going to need cities that allow people to navigate without having to go outside.

I’ve been called alarmist a number of times by a number of people over the last decade, but I think most people have caught up to the idea that this really is an emergency. We really are facing ever-worsening heat waves and storms. We really are facing massive crop failures leading to planet-wide famine. This is happening, and it’s killing us.

And as it does, we have to keep paying rent.

Keep paying taxes to a government that funnels all that money into death and profit, while scolding us for “not doing enough”.

So we have to keep going. We have to keep surviving so we can change things. Personally, I highly recommend shaving your head. When I realized my immigration status didn’t allow me to get normal work, I decided to try out a mohawk, and I honestly like how it looks. I also am a huge fan of how much it helps  me stay cool. I sharpened my razor and shaved yesterday, and I can feel every breeze leeching a little heat off of my scalp. I honestly don’t think I can ever go back to having a full head of hair. It’s just too hot.

That’s the one upside, if you can call it that. The meme going around is that we live in a cyberpunk dystopia, but without any of the cool fashion or gadgets, and medical technology. Well, we’ve got some of the gadgets, and I know a number of wonderful people who’ve been able to make incredible changes to their bodies, to improve their lives. Mainly it feels like what we’re missing is the aesthetic and the organized resistance movement.

Fortunately, both of those are under our control.


Support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia for more uplifting content like this! It’s a little sparse there right now, but I’m working on a couple things to make it a  more useful resource in its own right, as a sort of supplement to this blog.

Video: Slavery is still legal (for cops)

I want to (belatedly) thank Abbey over at Impossible Me for making me aware of That Dang Dad. He’s an ex-cop who’s now a police and prison abolitionist, and someone that I think everyone should check out. You are all probably aware of the fact that the 13th amendment was written to protect convict slavery, shortly before the country was filled with laws designed to convict newly freed black people of crimes. That has been the state of things ever since, even as the laws stopped explicitly targeting black people. This video is a good look at both the history of convict slavery in the U.S., and the current state of things. Here’s a teaser – it’s not good, and it’s a “bipartisan” problem.

How heat waves weaken plants (and thoughts on parallels in Humanity)

If one makes the questionable decision to look into the rhetoric and arguments of genocide deniers, one common refrain sounds a bit like, “It’s not a genocide, because a lot of them just died from starvation, disease, or exposure to the elements. The reality is that poor conditions are deliberately inflicted because we know that those conditions make people more vulnerable to disease, and less likely to fight back. I’m starting with this rather grim opening, because we’re entering an era in which the natural world is getting more dangerous not just for us, but for most other species on the planet. Basically, poor conditions are increasingly becoming the default, and that’s making everybody suffer.

Today’s example is plants. Plants are being made more vulnerable to disease by the changing climate. This is not new, and it’s not limited to plants. What is new, is this research into why that is:

Scientists have known for decades that above-normal temperatures suppress a plant’s ability to make a defense hormone called salicylic acid, which fires up the plant’s immune system and stops invaders before they cause too much damage. But the molecular basis of this immunity meltdown wasn’t well understood.

In the mid 2010s, He and his then-graduate student Bethany Huot found that even brief heat waves can have a dramatic effect on hormone defenses in Arabidopsis plants, leaving them more prone to infection by a bacterium called Pseudomonas syringae.

Normally when this pathogen attacks, the levels of salicylic acid in a plant’s leaves go up 7-fold to keep bacteria from spreading. But when temperatures rise above 86 degrees for just two days — not even triple digits — plants can no longer make enough defense hormone to keep infection from taking hold.
Further experiments revealed that the cellular machinery needed to start reading out the genetic instructions in the CBP60g gene doesn’t assemble properly when it gets too hot, and that’s why the plant’s immune system can’t do its job anymore.

The team was able to show that mutant Arabidopsis plants that had their CBP60g gene constantly “switched on” were able to keep their defense hormone levels up and bacteria at bay, even under heat stress.

Next the researchers found a way to engineer heat-resilient plants that turned on the CBP60g master switch only when under attack, and without stunting their growth — which is critical if the findings are going to help protect plant defenses without negatively impacting crop yields.

The findings could be good news for food supplies made insecure by climate change, He said.
Global warming is making heat waves worse, weakening plants’ natural defenses. But already, up to 40% of food crops worldwide are lost to pests and diseases each year, costing the global economy some $300 billion.
At the same time, population growth is driving up the world’s demand for food. To feed the estimated 10 billion people expected on Earth by 2050, forecasts suggest that food production will need to increase by 60%.
When it comes to future food security, He says the real test will be whether their strategy to  protect immunity in Arabidopsis plants works in crops as well.

The team found that elevated temperatures didn’t just impair salicylic acid defenses in Arabidopsis plants — it had a similar effect on crop plants such as tomato, rapeseed and rice.

This is not the only way in which climate change is affecting agriculture, but it’s definitely a big one. What’s neat about this is that the researchers have also made progress on figuring out how to combat this effect, at least partially:

Follow-up experiments to restore CBP60g gene activity in rapeseed thus far are showing the same promising results. In fact, genes with similar DNA sequences are found across plants, He says.

In Arabidopsis, keeping the CPB60g master switch from feeling the heat not only restored genes involved in making salicylic acid, but also protected other defense-related genes against warmer temperatures too.

“We were able to make the whole plant immune system more robust at warm temperatures,” He said. “If this is true for crop plants as well, that’s a really big deal because then we have a very powerful weapon.”

This is good. I still think we need to move food production indoors, but that’s going to be at least as big of a task as ending fossil fuel use, and anything we can do in the meantime to increase crops’ resistance to heat will save lives. If you’ve been paying attention to farmers recently, you probably already know that food prices are likely to spike in the next few months. That’s due to a mix of factors, but global warming is definitely part of it, and it’s going to become an increasingly big part as the years drag on. That’s also going to be compounded by the ways in which the heat will affect us, both physiologically, and through deprivation of necessary resources and conditions. There’s been a lot of talk about how we’re likely to have more pandemics soon, but I haven’t heard much said about how that will be exacerbated by humanity simply being less resilient due to the constant pressure of climate chaos.

As always, we have the solutions, we just also have a political and economic system designed to prevent change, no matter the harm that does. We desperately need to build a different system.


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!

Video: How Britain Sabotaged the Caribbean

If we want to build a better future, we need to understand our past, and how it led to our present. As a global species facing global crises, that means learning the history of places far from where we live. There’s so much to learn, this is necessarily a lifelong process. That’s doubly true when you account for ongoing efforts to mislead people, in order to maintain the current global power structure. As I learn, I try to learn from those people who’ve been hurt by the the way things are, as it’s hard not to hear the perspective of those whose lives and countries are doing well.

You should all be following Andrewism’s youtube channel, and contributing to his patreon if you can afford it. I’ve learned a huge amount from him. One of the many things discussed in this video is the concept of underdevelopment as a weapon that has been used against former colonies, to force them to continue generating wealth for colonial empires. Just as the creation of capitalism protected the power of the feudal lords, so did the “liberation” of colonies protect the power of the former empires that had ruled over them. This is everywhere on this planet right now. It’s so ubiquitous, and so normalized that a lot of people in wealthy nations don’t even seem to realize it’s a thing they don’t think about.