Nord Stream gas leak underscores the need to end all fossil fuel use

From what I can tell, there are still rather a lot of people clinging to the notion that we’ll be able to keep the fossil fuel industry by just capturing all the carbon that’s emitted, and storing it. That line of thinking is useful in two ways – first and most importantly, it justifies continued obsession with short-term profits. The second is that it’s a framing of the problem that doesn’t require systemic change. At it’s core, I think the popularity of this idea comes from its appeal to the group of insatiable ghouls who would rather see humanity go extinct than lose their ill-gotten fossil fuel empires. It’s the bedtime story they tell themselves to quell those rare pangs of conscience, and to give their sycophants an excuse to maintain their blind loyalty.

The reality is that we must end the extraction and use of fossil fuels, and we must do it as quickly as we can.

Even if the day-to-day operations of fossil fuel corporations didn’t do massive environmental damage, and leak unforgivable amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, the fact remains that the infrastructure is both prone to failure (because the corporations are too greedy to spend on improvements), and it’s also vulnerable to attacks. We do not currently know for sure whether the Nord Stream pipelines burst due to accident, negligence, or a deliberate attack, but no matter what the cause turns out to be, we are all being hurt by this:

Scientists fear methane erupting from the burst Nord Stream pipelines into the Baltic Sea could be one of the worst natural gas leaks ever and pose significant climate risks.

Neither of the two breached Nord Stream pipelines, which run between Russia and Germany, was operational, but both contained natural gas. This mostly consists of methane – a greenhouse gas that is the biggest cause of climate heating after carbon dioxide.

The extent of the leaks is still unclear but rough estimates by scientists, based on the volume of gas reportedly in one of the pipelines, vary between 100,000 and 350,000 tonnes of methane.

Jasmin Cooper, a research associate at Imperial College London’s department of chemical engineering, said a “lot of uncertainty” surrounded the leak.

“We know there are three explosions but we don’t know if there are three holes in the sides of the pipe or how big the breaks are,” said Cooper. “It’s difficult to know how much is reaching the surface. But it is potentially hundreds of thousands of tonnes of methane: quite a big volume being pumped into the atmosphere.”

Nord Stream 2, which was intended to increase the flow of gas from Russia to Germany, reportedly contained 300m cubic metres of gas when Berlin halted the certification process shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine.

That volume alone would translate to 200,000 tonnes of methane, Cooper said. If it all escaped, it would exceed the 100,000 tonnes of methane vented by the Aliso Canyon blowout, the biggest gas leak in US history, which happened in California in 2015. Aliso had the warming equivalent of half a million cars.

The Aliso Canyon gas leak was the first time I can remember that the public was able to actually see greenhouse gas emissions in a major way, thanks to this infrared footage:

I don’t know if anyone had their minds changed by that incident and the coverage of it, but if so it clearly wasn’t enough. I’ve said in the past that one of my concerns with nuclear power is the danger posed by war and by terrorism. I still think we should be using nuclear power, but I think that security and the dangers of a rapidly changing climate are both valid concerns if we’re going to massively increase our use of that technology. Fossil fuels have all of the same problems, except that they are already driving us towards extinction at a rate few believed possible even a couple decades ago.

This leak, to use an overly-appropriate simile, is like pouring gasoline on a flame.

I believe the warming of our climate has already gained enough momentum that it would keep warming for centuries even if we cut off all fossil fuel emissions tomorrow. I believe we can influence that, and in time possibly even reverse it, but it’s important to understand that we are already rolling down that hill. Our current emissions mainly serve to accelerate us further out of control.

And this? Well, I suppose time will tell how severe of a problem it is, but we did not need this right now. We really didn’t. Things were going badly enough already.

Prof Grant Allen, an expert in Earth and environmental science at Manchester University, said it was unlikely that natural processes, which convert small amounts of methane into carbon dioxide, would be able to absorb much of the leak.

Allen said: “This is a colossal amount of gas, in really large bubbles. If you have small sources of gas, nature will help out by digesting the gas. In the Deepwater Horizon spill, there was a lot of attenuation of methane by bacteria.

“My scientific experience is telling me that – with a big blow-up like this – methane will not have time to be attenuated by nature. So a significant proportion will be vented as methane gas.”

Unlike an oil spill, gas will not have as polluting an effect on the marine environment, Allen said. “But in terms of greenhouse gases, it’s a reckless and unnecessary emission to the atmosphere.”

Germany’s environment agency said there were no containment mechanisms on the pipeline, so the entire contents were likely to escape.

The Danish Energy Agency said on Wednesday that the pipelines contained 778m cubic metres of natural gas in total – the equivalent of 32% of Danish annual CO2 emissions.

We’re not going to see a global spike in warming that’s clearly due to this leak. It’s a lot, but it’s not that much. That’s the good news. That said, this would not have happened if sundry global “leaders” were not continuing to build new fossil fuel infrastructure as though change is neither wanted, nor needed. I suppose for them, it’s not. They can just leave when things get rough. It will be interesting to see what changes are attributable to this leak – it wouldn’t shock me if there was measurable local warming associated with the methane plume and prevailing winds. This is just speculation but it’ll take time for that much gas to disperse around the world, which means it should be in higher concentrations in some areas for a while.

The real problem is that I can say with complete confidence that this will not be the last massive natural gas leak. There will be more. If greed and lust for power continue to fuel war around the world, then whether or not this pipeline was attacked, others definitely will be, wherever warring nations depend on this energy source. More than that, changing weather conditions will also lead to pipeline ruptures, and the day to day operations of the natural gas industry are already criminally destructive to the climate. Even if all emissions were captured at the smokestack and tailpipe, the gas leaked daily, and the gas leaked from incidents like this will continue adding speed to our “downhill” tumble into global warming hell. At this stage, the mere existence of the fossil fuel industry is a global security risk.

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that we’ll see the needed change any time soon. That means that we keep looking for ways to build collective power, and we keep preparing to help our communities through disasters when they hit. There’s a lot of grim news out there, so just remember that it’s not over till it’s over. Till then, we fight.

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The Alt-Right Playbook: The Cost of Doing Business

I had intended to have a more involved piece done today, but that didn’t end up getting finished (though I did make some delicious marmalade chicken as a treat). Fortunately, Innuendo Studios just came out with a new installment in his series The Alt-Right Playbook. If you’re not already familiar with it, the series covers a wide array of tactics used by the modern U.S. fascist movement, mostly focused on their used of rhetoric and propaganda. While I’m aware that my taste is far from universal, I find these videos to be both very watchable, and very important if you want to understand what is happening in politics these days. As far as I knew, the series ended in 2021, so I was pleasantly surprised to see there was a new addition. I don’t know if more videos will be coming, but I hope so!

Video: Some More News about the GOP’s recent foray into human trafficking

As you have no doubt heard, the Republican Party of the United States of America has taken to engaging in human trafficking for political stunts. They tricked Venezuelan asylum seekers into taking a flight to Martha’s Vineyard, without warning anyone there that they were about to need to take care of a bunch of refugees. This was apparently done under the belief that the people of that island would freak out at the presence of scary brown people, and their hypocrisy would be exposed. Mano Singham did a good breakdown of the history of this sort of tactic, most infamously the “freedom rides” during the Jim Crow era, so you should check that out, but you know I couldn’t resist posting the Some More News take on this story:

This follows on the theme of fascists seeing humans as disposable tools.


Tegan is home at last, so we’re celebrating with a couple cat pictures.

Tegan is finally home from three weeks out of town, and both His Holiness and I are very happy. She’s still catching up on sleep and recovering from her journey, so I decided to use today to share a couple cat pictures. The first is from our semi-regular turn about the village. St. Ray likes to sample the various grass patches on offer, and sniffing around for traces of the various outdoor cats and strays that pass through “his” territory. When we first started this tradition, I was worried that I’d be cleaning up grass-filled puke around the apartment, but it seems to agree with him just fine, and he’s almost as insistent about his constitutional as he is about being fed. I particularly like this shot, because for some reason his legs look disproportionately short and stubby – like one of those “munchkin cats”. I think it’s just that he’s crouching a bit to make sure he’s got the best leverage for his salad.

The image shows a brindled black and gray-brown cat with white legs, a white chest, and a white muzzle and forehead. He’s craning forward with his mouth open wide to take a big chomp out of a blade of grass. The grass is growing by a tree, whose trunk fills the lefthand third of the photo.. You can see a sun-dappled patch of lawn behind the cat, and out-of-focus bushes and mulch behind that. The angle of the photo, combined with the cat’s plush fur and chunky stature make it look like his legs are comically short and stubby.

Salad is important whether or not Tegan is home.

Her homecoming is slightly marred by the fact that we are distancing in the apartment for a bit, so he doesn’t get to have both of us on the same piece of furniture. It also means that the windows are open, otherwise the distancing would be pointless. That means that it’s very chilly in here. The walls are cement, and do a great job of staying cool. That’s lovely in the summer, but Autumn has landed with a resounding crunch, the days are getting shorter fast, and it’s not uncommon for it to be colder inside than outside. This means that the natural thing to do is to huddle together for warmth, but Tegan and I are being downright irrational, so he has to cuddle with us one at a time. Normally, when he hangs out on the bed, he’ll be just under an arm’s length away, but yesterday he came and curled up as tightly against me as he possibly could:

The image shows myself (a bearded human) and His Holiness (a cat) on a bed. My gray sweater fills up most of the photo, with my head craning to fit in the bottom left corner. You can see the green flannel sheet and a bit of a black t-shirt in the top left corner, by my shoulder. His Holiness is curled very tightly under my armpit, and is resting his head on my chest. For all he’s a chonker, he looks tiny in this picture.

He’s currently doing his shift on Tegan’s lap in the other room as I write this, and he’ll shift back to me when she goes to sleep, ’cause there’s not room for both of them on the couch. Even if things aren’t fully back to normal, we’re all glad to be in the same building, and within yelling distance of each other. Tegan and I holler conversations, and he spends the two hours or so before each of his three feedings screaming about his impending doom to all who can hear.

Truly, nothing says domestic bliss like a small mammal screaming at the top of its lungs

If you want to forestall the looming starvation of His Holiness Saint Ray the Cat, or you want the ability to request more cat posts, you can support me and my work at I’d like to increase the number of people giving $5 per month and under. That seems to be a better foundation for crowdsourced income, so if perchance you were thinking that your three pennies per day isn’t enough to make a difference, well, you can stop thinking that now! How exciting for you!

Reminder: Children are disposable tools to fascists. They don’t actually care about them.

As fascism rises around the world, we’re going to see a lot of bigotry and oppression justified in the name of “protecting children”. One of the worst offenders in the United States right now is Tucker Carlson. He’s a white supremacist and a fascist, and he’s also most watched “news” host on cable. I don’t believe that literally every attack from conservatives is projection, but it’s certainly their favorite tool, and I think this is no exception. Carlson is happy to engage in stochastic terrorism because of the left “sexualizing children” by teaching them about things like gender and consent, but he was also happy to insist repeatedly and over objections that when a teacher gave a lap dance to a child, no crime was committed:

Fascists see children as a means to an end. They’re a way to build and exert power. They’re props in the political theater. They’re worth murdering doctors to defend one day, and they’re lazy moochers for wanting food the next. The mere existence of gay or trans people is a threat to all children everywhere, but it’s fine to support people like Donald Trump or Josh Duggar.

The only boundary on their actions is what they think they can get away with, whether it’s lying about their concern for children, or engaging in human trafficking for political stunts, or overthrowing democracy and murdering people they disagree with. They will keep pushing farther until they are forcibly stopped. That’s why turning out to oppose them en masse is so important at this stage, and it’s why more organizing and networking are needed, so that communities can mobilize quickly to defend themselves and each other when a hospital or school is targeted.

Exposure to air pollution in the womb and early childhood linked to abnormal brain development

I talk a lot about the need for us to clean up air pollution as part of our climate response, despite the fact that doing so speeds up the warming. Air pollution has been linked to a wide array of health problems, and higher temperatures mean more poisonous air. We didn’t need another reason, but now we have one. I feel like this isn’t a big shock, but researchers have now found a link between in-utero and early childhood pollution exposure, and abnormalities in brain development:

A study published in the journal Environmental Pollution has found an association, in children aged 9‑12, between exposure to air pollutants in the womb and during the first 8.5 years of life and alterations in white matter structural connectivity in the brain. The greater the child’s exposure before age 5, the greater the brain structure alteration observed in preadolescence. The study was led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a research centre supported by the ”la Caixa” Foundation.

Tracts or bundles of cerebral white matter ensure structural connectivity by interconnecting the different areas of the brain. Connectivity can be measured by studying the microstructure of this white matter, a marker of typical brain development. Abnormal white matter microstructure has been associated with psychiatric disorders (e.g., depressive symptoms, anxiety and autism spectrum disorders).

In addition to the association between air pollution and white matter microstructure, the study also found a link between specific exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and the volume of the putamen, a brain structure involved in motor function, learning processes and many other functions. As the putamen is a subcortical structure, it has broader and less specialised functions than cortical structures. The study found that the greater the exposure to PM2.5, especially during the first 2 years of life, the greater the volume of the putamen in preadolescence.

“A larger putamen has been associated with certain psychiatric disorders (schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, and obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders),” says Anne-Claire Binter, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study.

“The novel aspect of the present study is that it identified periods of susceptibility to air pollution” Binter goes on to explain. “We measured exposure using a finer time scale by analysing the data on a month-by-month basis, unlike previous studies in which data was analysed for trimesters of pregnancy or childhood years. In this study, we analysed the children’s exposure to air pollution from conception to 8.5 years of age on a monthly basis.”

As someone with a somewhat “abnormal” brain, I think it’s important that we not dismiss or dehumanize the “victims” of this sort of thing. Groups like Autism Speaks and the anti-vax movement have done real harm by treating autism as a fate worse than death, and acting as though autistic people have no agency, thoughts, or lives worth living. I want a world in which people of all neurotypes are able to thrive, not a eugenical fantasy of uniformly “normal” brains.

I think it’s a clear good for us to have a better understanding of how air pollution affects us. Obviously it’s not enough to doom our species at this stage, but it’s worth remembering that it is affecting us in a myriad of ways, some of which are not immediately obvious.

Another strong point of this study is that the data analysed came from a large cohort of 3,515 children enrolled in the Generation R Study in Rotterdam (Netherlands).

To determine each participant’s exposure to air pollution during the study period, the researchers estimated the daily levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM2.5 absorbance) at their homes during the mother’s pregnancy and until they reached 8.5 years of age. When participants were between 9 and 12 years analysed of age they underwent brain magnetic resonance imaging to examine the structural connectivity and the volumes of various brain structures at that time.

The levels of NO2 and PM2.5 recorded in the present study exceeded the annual thresholds limits specified in the current World Health Organization guidelines (10 µg/m3 and 5 µg/m3, respectively) but met European Union (EU) standards, an indication that brain development can be affected by exposure to air pollution at levels lower than the current EU air quality limit values.

“One of the important conclusions of this study” explains Binter “is that the infant’s brain is particularly susceptible to the effects of air pollution not only during pregnancy, as has been shown in earlier studies, but also during childhood.”

“We should follow up and continue to measure the same parameters in this cohort to investigate the possible long-term effects on the brain of exposure to air pollution” concludes Mònica Guxens, ISGlobal researcher and last author of the study.

There’s a part of me that worries this information will be either ignored, or abused. Ignored, because those most exposed to air pollution tend to be those with the least power. I also worry about what governments and corporations might try to do with this knowledge.

There’s also a part of me that tends towards excessive optimism and hopefulness. I don’t know if it’s as strong as my pessimistic side, but it’s there nonetheless. That side of me hopes that research like this – in addition to helping make the case for change, will also open the way for new treatments. There’s a lot that I like about how my brain works, but there are many aspects of it I could do without. It seems to me that understanding the causal factors at work here should shed new light on the development of our brains in relation to our environment, and possibly even ways to tinker with that even into adulthood. It also seems like it moves us closer to figuring out more targeted medications for temporary effects.

This may be another one of those studies that seems important, but is never heard from again, but I don’t think it’s likely.

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!

Puerto Rico is demonstrating yet again that capitalism cannot solve climate change.

I wrote a few days ago about the total failure of Puerto Rico’s privatized power grid under Hurricane Fiona. As of seven hours before writing, half the island is still without power. In case it’s unclear to anyone, this – both the failure of privatization and the arrival of another hurricane – was entirely predictable. That’s what makes it all the worse that it seems as though most or all of the rebuilding from that disaster was done without any attempt to guard against the next hurricane. Many of you may have seen this already, but the most dramatic example from Hurricane Fiona is this bridge that was build shortly after Maria:

A temporary metal bridge in Puerto Rico, built in the wake of Hurricane Maria, was swept away in the rushing floodwaters of Hurricane Fiona.

The bridge, over the Guaonica River in Utuado, was destroyed Sunday, the same day Fiona made landfall on the island, officials said at a news conference.

It’s been five years, and they still just had a temporary bridge. Why didn’t they build something sturdier, or something that could be lifted out of the way of entirely predictable floodwaters? How much damage did that bridge do on its way downstream?

To me, this is emblematic of the Age of Endless Recovery. Puerto Rico had not rebuilt from Maria before Fiona hit, and what rebuilding they did do seems to have been dragged down by the same kind of greed and corruption that plagues all the rest of the United States. We know that storms are going to be getting stronger. We know that Puerto Rico is in dire need of resilient infrastructure, as is most of the rest of the world. If we valued human life and wellbeing above profit, then we would prioritize infrastructure that won’t be destroyed by entirely predictable weather events.

This is one of the many reasons why I think capitalism is incompatible with real climate action, or with the long-term survival of humanity. From the perspective of a construction corporation, there’s more profit to be made in building the same bridge every few years, than in building one bridge that can actually meet the demands of its location, and last for decades with maintenance. Obviously, this is not a problem limited to Puerto Rico, but remember the fundamental rule of climate catastrophe in our society – it hits those at the bottom first and hardest. While there are a myriad of communities in the United States and its colo- sorry, territories – Puerto Rico is both a laboratory for disaster capitalism, and for the shambling, undead horror that is Reaganomics. You know how conservatives of both parties always talk about lowering taxes to attract rich people “because of all the prosperity that brings”?

Puerto Rico has done wonderfully at attracting rich people, and I hope it’s clear to all of you that doing so has not helped the people of that island. The defining trait of a rich person is their selfishness, and there is no reason whatsoever to assume that they will spend a cent on something that doesn’t benefit them personally. They moved there for tax purposes, because they don’t care about things like infrastructure. It’s far better for them to just leave the island until the peasantry has managed to pull it back together, and then they’ll move back.

Capitalists do not care about climate change, or about the billions of lives that are at risk. Capitalism means that the capitalist class has total freedom, paid for by the rest of us. They have open borders. They can go anywhere they want whenever they want.

Our entire society has been designed to reward greed and ruthlessness, and this is the result. Obviously it’s good to provide material help to those in need if you’re able, but if we want the world to get better, we need to change how people interact with politics, and build the collective power we need to actually topple the hierarchy that’s currently driving us towards extinction.

Video: How the Rich REALLY Cause Climate Change

I talk about systemic change a fair amount on this blog. The effort to solve climate change through “individual action” has failed. More than that, it has become increasingly clear that that approach was backed by fossil fuel corporations because they knew it would never work. Folks have been focusing more on the rich, recently, but there’s still a lot of attention paid to the individual habits of those people – their short jet rides, their wasteful houses, their massive yachts. This video is a good overview of how the rich really cause climate change, through their systemic control of society:

Video: The Anti-Trans Disinformation Pipeline

I’ve been working on a couple posts about this general topic for a while now, and I’m hoping I’ll have them done soon. This is one of those topics where my own ignorance on the subject makes me wary of mistakes. It’s also one of those problems where the longer I take to finish a post, the more stuff I have to add in. The fascist effort to erase trans people from U.S. society is moving at a horrifying speed, and they are quite openly using stochastic terrorism as a weapon. Jessie’s work is always worth looking at, but I think this particular breakdown of how the right wing is creating and aiming outrage is important. They are trying to get people killed. They are trying to create a climate of terror, with the goal of either killing all trans people, or forcing them into hiding. This is not a drill, and while I think it is related to the 2022 midterms, I do not think it will go away without a very deliberate mass movement to crush this genocidal campaign.

Reminder: Action on climate change will cause a short-term increase in temperature, so we should plan for that.

It is my opinion that humanity’s response to climate change, going forward, should be guided by the assumption that it’s going to keep warming for at least a century. If we can get things under control faster than that, it’ll be a nice surprise, but it would be dangerous and reckless to assume that we’ll be able to do it. That means that we cannot simply focus on reducing emissions. We must also be working to prepare for the warming that we know we can no longer avoid. There are a number of reasons for this belief. Feedback loops like methane from melting permafrost are part of it, as is my view of global politics, but a big part is the fact that air pollution has been keeping the temperature lower than it would otherwise be.

Basically, some air pollution reflects sunlight back into space, reducing the amount of solar energy that actually reaches the planet. As we reduce air pollution, more sunlight hits the planet, and the temperature rises more quickly. This is something we’ve known about for a long time, but apparently worldwide efforts to reduce air pollution since 2000 have been successful, and that has caused a measurable increase in the planet’s temperature:

In a new international analysis, Professor Johannes Quaas, a meteorologist at Leipzig University, and colleagues from across Europe, China, and the US have now documented robust evidence of this effect on the climate of improved air quality. “We analysed data from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. They have been providing comprehensive satellite observations of the Earth since the year 2000, measuring incoming and outgoing radiation, but also clouds and aerosol pollution. The latter has decreased significantly across North America, Europe and East Asia since 2000,” says Professor Johannes Quaas, lead author of the study, which was initiated in a meeting by the two European research projects CONSTRAIN and FORCES.

This has also reduced the cooling effect of aerosols. Compared to the year 2000, it has led to an increase in the warming effect that is up to 50 per cent of the one by CO2 increases in the same period. This means an acceleration of the drivers of global warming compared to the previous period. “Our study should not be interpreted to mean that we should now be emitting more aerosols to cool the climate. On the contrary: aerosols are harmful to human health and the environment, which is why we need to keep reducing emissions,” Quaas concludes. And it is why air quality legislation has become increasingly stringent since the 1970s and is being implemented by more and more countries. Professor Quaas and his colleagues on the new study stress the ever more urgent need for rapid and strong reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

This effect will continue as we keep reducing air pollution. As the study authors say, reducing air pollution is very important. Not only will it save lives under normal conditions, but the higher temperatures of the coming decades will make air pollution much more dangerous than it already is. While geoengineering projects could change the equation in theory, relying on them to save us seems like a bad idea; at best, they would kick the can down the road. As I’ve said before, I think we’re likely to need the time that would buy us, but only if we’re actually using it to end fossil fuel use and to adapt to those change that are set in stone.

There was a little leeway in the 20th century, but we blew that. Things are more volatile now, and we’re out of time. Still, it’s good that air pollution has been going down, and it’s good to have confirmation that our understanding of how things work is accurate. It’s going to be a bumpy ride no matter what, but we do know what we need to in order to get through it.

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!