Turns out Antarctica has had rivers this whole time

The image is a variant of the “astronaut with a gun” meme. It shows two astronauts, looking down on Earth from space. The first says, “wait, there are rivers under the Antarctic ice sheet?”
The second, pointing a gun at the first, says, “There always have been.”

I remember learning about the existence of lakes under the Antarctic ice sheet a while back. It was something that just hadn’t occurred to me as a possibility, but if they’re there, they’re there, and that’s pretty neat. I think part of my brain insists on forgetting that while Greenland is big, Antarctica is quite a bit bigger. It makes sense that the diversity of sub-ice conditions on a continent would lead to liquid water in some places. I thought, “Cool! I bet there’s interesting microbial life down there”, and didn’t really give it much thought after that.

But, now that I think of it, if there are conditions for liquid water under billions of tons of ice, then it makes sense that those melt points wouldn’t necessarily be where water would pool into lakes. If there are sub-ice lakes, then there must also be water flowing under there, right? Still, there hasn’t been actual evidence for them, beyond the discovery of lakes. Now, a team of researchers has discovered a large river system under the ice.

The 460km-long river is revealed in a new study, which details how it collects water at the base of the Antarctic ice sheet from an area the size of Germany and France combined. Its discovery shows the base of the ice sheet has more active water flow than previously thought, which could make it more susceptible to changes in climate.

The discovery was made by researchers at Imperial College London, the University of Waterloo, Canada, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, and Newcastle University, with the details published today in Nature Geoscience.

Co-author Professor Martin Siegert, from the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, said: “When we first discovered lakes beneath the Antarctic ice a couple of decades ago, we thought they were isolated from each other. Now we are starting to understand there are whole systems down there, interconnected by vast river networks, just as they might be if there weren’t thousands of metres of ice on top of them.

“The region where this study is based holds enough ice to raise the sea level globally by 4.3m. How much of this ice melts, and how quickly, is linked to how slippery the base of the ice is. The newly discovered river system could strongly influence this process.”

Currently, Antarctica doesn’t have the same kind of surface melting seen in Greenland, where summer meltwater flows down through cracks and holes in the ice, and then flows along the ground underneath it. I guess there’s also been no clear sign of rivers emptying into the seas around the continent before now, so it has been impossible to calculate what effect, if any, sub-surface water could have on ice melt and sea level rise. It seems pretty unequivocal – these rivers are not caused by global warming. They’ve always been there, we just haven’t been able to detect them. What scientists need to figure out is how these rivers are or are not represented in past calculations about ice movement, and what role they will play as the temperature continues to rise.

That such a large system could be undiscovered until now is testament to how much we still need to learn about the continent, says lead researcher Dr Christine Dow from the University of Waterloo.

She said: “From satellite measurements we know which regions of Antarctica are losing ice, and how much, but we don’t necessarily know why. This discovery could be a missing link in our models. We could be hugely underestimating how quickly the system will melt by not accounting for the influence of these river systems.

“Only by knowing why ice is being lost can we make models and predictions of how the ice will react in the future under further global heating, and how much this could raise global sea levels.”

For example, the newly discovered river emerges into the sea beneath a floating ice shelf – where a glacier extending out from the land is buoyant enough to begin floating on the ocean water. The freshwater from the river however churns up warmer water towards the bottom of the ice shelf, melting it from below.

Co-author Dr Neil Ross, from the University of Newcastle, said: “Previous studies have looked at the interaction between the edges of ice sheets and ocean water to determine what melting looks like. However, the discovery of a river that reaches hundreds of kilometres inland driving some of these processes shows that we cannot understand the ice melt fully without considering the whole system: ice sheet, ocean, and freshwater.”

If Antarctic surface melting starts catching up to Greenland, that would cause the existing river systems to “flood”, just like a big storm does on warmer continents, but it’d be more constant. Presumably that would speed up the movement of ice, which would itself increase heat generated from friction, which would melt more ice, and so on. This isn’t the kind of thing that’s going to happen overnight, but it could be a process that, once started, would be difficult or even impossible to stop. As with so much else in the climate crisis, momentum matters.

I do want to end on a more speculative note, however. Since we now know that these rivers do connect with the oceans, are there fish that use them? Anadromous fish exist in every other continent, so far as I’m aware, but I don’t know if there’s enough food in these rivers’ microbial ecosystem for the babies to feed themselves. On the other hand, there would be no danger of aerial or terrestrial predators. I know we’ve already solved the eel mystery, but are there any other fish that seem to just sort of disappear for part of the year?

I’m not going to lie – I’m very much hoping they discover ecosystems based on sub-ice volcanic activity, similar to deep-water hydrothermal vents. There could be all sorts of critters just living out their lives in complete darkness under there!

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Dog-distracting for Halloween

Since Halloween is fireworks season in Dublin, and tomorrow is a bank holiday, we’re at a friend’s house helping distract her dogs. Bella hates fireworks as much as Raksha did, but where Raksha would just pace and pant and hide under my desk, Bella barks at fireworks (and airplanes).

We’re playing Munchkin Cthulhu with Over The Garden Wall on in the background. It seems to be enough to mask the booming overhead.

Bella is a sheltie who hates loud noises with a fiery passion, and barks at them so they know of her hatred.


Lucy is a yellow lab sleeping with her snout on my foot. She’s more bothered by Bella’s freaking out than by the fireworks.

Unlearning Economics takes a look at worker democracy

I’ve decided that I’m doing NaNoWriMo this November (that’s National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated), so I’m taking this weekend to catch up on sleep and housework, and to more thoroughly block out the novel, so I can crank out 50,000 words before the end of the month. Today’s low-effort post is a great video on worker democracy from Unlearning Economics, from last December. The concept of governing a business using some form of democratic process is not a new one, but it’s one that is unfamiliar to a lot of folks living in capitalist societies. This video is a deep dive into the subject, broken into chapters you can see if you go watch the video on Youtube. It covers the basics of what’s meant by “worker democracy”, myths and misconceptions, strengths and weaknesses, and ends with what I consider to be a strong case for expanding the various forms of democratic business governance.

Video: Meet the tayra

Back in high school, I spent a lot of time tromping around in the woods in New Hampshire. In the winter, I’d sometimes go out tracking for hours, and my favorite animals to track were always mustelids. I think it’s a tie between mink and fisher. Mink were fun because in addition to the challenge of tracking something that’s as comfortable swimming as it is walking, when they came to big hills, they’d slide down them on their bellies. Sometimes they’d run back up the hill and do it again, or if there was a gully, they’d move down it by running up one side, then sliding down it, and running up the other side, zig-zagging back and forth. Fisher didn’t slide so much, but they also tended not to stick so close to streams, and they were more likely to lead me to other animals. Follow a fisher for long enough, and the odds were good I’d find something else. They also had their own way to play in the snow. If it was deep enough, they’d run up a tree, and jump off, leaving a perfect spread-eagle hole in the snow. It always looked like something out of a cartoon.

I tend to think of the Tayra as the South American version of the fisher. I don’t know how closely they’re related, beyond sharing the same family, but it seems like they occupy a similar niche in their respective habitats.

Global warming is already causing measurable evolution in animals

One of my favorite things about science is the way, when you’re on the right track, the information you’re getting forms an increasingly coherent picture. For an example from atmospheric physics, it was predicted that because anthropogenic global warming would happen due to increased greenhouse gasses – increased insulation – then all that extra heat getting trapped in the atmosphere should mean that less heat was reaching the upper layers. That means that as greenhouse gas levels rose, and temperatures followed them, we should also be able to measure a decrease in temperature in the upper atmosphere. Sure enough, that’s exactly what’s happening:

Combined data from three NASA satellites have produced a long-term record that reveals the mesosphere, the layer of the atmosphere 30 to 50 miles above the surface, is cooling and contracting. Scientists have long predicted this effect of human-driven climate change, but it has been difficult to observe the trends over time.

“You need several decades to get a handle on these trends and isolate what’s happening due to greenhouse gas emissions, solar cycle changes, and other effects,” said Scott Bailey, an atmospheric scientist at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, and lead of the study, published in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics. “We had to put together three satellites’ worth of data.”

Together, the satellites provided about 30 years of observations, indicating that the summer mesosphere over Earth’s poles is cooling four to five degrees Fahrenheit and contracting 500 to 650 feet per decade. Without changes in human carbon dioxide emissions, the researchers expect these rates to continue.

With this trend being measurable, climate science deniers now have to answer another question – if the rise in greenhouse gases isn’t enough to trap significant amounts of heat in the lower atmosphere, then why is the upper atmosphere cooling and shrinking? If the rise in temperature is – as some still claim – due to increased solar activity, why isn’t the upper atmosphere even warmer than the lower atmosphere? Shouldn’t the external heat source be causing the opposite trend?

Of course it should. The reality is that over a century of climate science has given us a pretty decent idea of how things work up there, and so the predicted warming has come, along with its predicted effects.

And so that brings us to another predicted result of rising temperatures – that it would have an effect on ecosystems, and that the changing conditions would drive evolutionary change in plant and animal populations. The only question was how quickly they would evolve, and whether it would be fast enough for them to survive. It should not surprise you to hear that scientists have been measuring evolution driven by global warming for a while now, and as with the mesospheric cooling, if the planet’s not warming, and the warming’s not having an affect on ecosystems, then why are all these animals evolving as though that’s exactly what’s happening?

I want to note how this change is actually happening. It sounds almost cartoonish to say that lizards are evolving longer arms and shorter legs so they experience less drag when they’re flapping off a twig like a flag in a hurricane, but of course that’s exactly the kind of adaptation you’d expect in a world where the odds of encountering a strong hurricane are increasing. It’s one of the ways in which evolution tends to actually be pretty intuitive, once you get the hang of how it works.

I figure I’ll quickly go through the other changes for those of you unable to watch the video – In the Gulf of California, Humboldt squids, also known as jumbo squids, are becoming significantly less “jumbo” in response to higher temperatures. Apparently they have a high degree of plasticity in how their phenotype responds to the environment, one generation to the next, and so the population in question has apparently cut its size and life cycle in half. I also like how the video emphasizes that not all species are capable of such dramatic change in so little time.

In the arctic, little auks (also known as dovekies, apparently) historically exploit the intense temperature gradient around melting sea ice to eat cold-stunned plankton that encounter the meltwater. The melting ice has moved that feeding ground from being right by where the auks breed, to an hour away, as the dovekie flies. That’s a lot of extra energy to spend – enough that it could doom the species – so they just… didn’t. They found a different temperature gradient just four minutes away, where the fjord’s meltwater met the ocean, and they’ve been feeding on the cold-stunned plankton there.

As the video goes on to state, this doesn’t mean all species are capable of adapting to climate change. When the average limb length of a Caribbean anole population changes, that doesn’t mean that we’ve got the same number of lizards and they all just have different legs. It means all of the ones with different proportions died. If you lay tens of thousands of eggs at a time, like the squid, then your population can probably bounce back pretty quickly if a few of you adapt to changing conditions. For those of us who reproduce more slowly, a drop in population like that means that it will take that much less to kill off everyone that remains. We’re the only species we know of that has – at least in theory – the ability to adapt our behavior and surroundings before it’s forced on us by disaster. Unfortunately, we also seem to be the only species on this planet that has to deal with ideology and propaganda designed to suppress that ability. This is a fascinating time, from a scientific perspective, and the adaptability of these critters is a good reminder that the end of this is not yet written. We can’t predict all of the changes that will occur as a result of the rising temperature and some of those changes may end up making our own adaptation a little easier, in ways we’ve yet to predict.

A man can dream, anyway…

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Hurricanes are on track to being too much for the U.S. economy to handle

It kinda feels like hurricanes are getting worse, doesn’t it?

Back in August, I talked about how we’ve entered what I call The Age of Endless Recovery after researchers at UC Davis actually put numbers on how extreme weather events are hurting economic growth in the United States. Since then, the hurricane season has hit, devastating communities from the Caribbean north. The thing is, a lot of our awareness of these events depends on news corporations choosing to cover them. There’s been a lot of news about named storms, but I haven’t seen nearly as much attention paid to the drought in China, for example (and yeah, I haven’t been better on that). I also can’t help but think about the way crime reporting has convinced many people that violent crime is increasing, even as the trend has been in the opposite direction. I also know that the rhetoric about extreme weather getting more frequent and worse has led some people to think that climate scientists have been predicting that hurricanes specifically will be getting more frequent and worse. The actual prediction has been that while rising ocean temperatures will increase the number of tropical cyclones, the increase in wind shear will lead to a decrease in the number of those cyclones that survive long enough to become actual hurricanes. So, fewer hurricanes. The problem is that the warmer water that makes more of those cyclones will also make the hurricanes that do form much more likely to be powerful. I’ll let Peter Hadfield explain in this old Potholer54 video:


I think the effect of this is that it will feel like there are more storms, because there are more that are big enough to require politicians to request aid, and get good ratings over multiple news cycles. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a matter of things making sense on the surface. Research out of UW Madison found that hurricanes really are getting stronger:

In almost every region of the world where hurricanes form, their maximum sustained winds are getting stronger. That is according to a new study by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Center for Environmental Information and University of Wisconsin–Madison Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, who analyzed nearly 40 years of hurricane satellite imagery.

A warming planet may be fueling the increase.

“Through modeling and our understanding of atmospheric physics, the study agrees with what we would expect to see in a warming climate like ours,” says James Kossin, a NOAA scientist based at UW–Madison and lead author of the paper, which is published today (May 18, 2020) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research builds on Kossin’s previous work, published in 2013, which identified trends in hurricane intensification across a 28-year data set. However, says Kossin, that timespan was less conclusive and required more hurricane case studies to demonstrate statistically significant results.

To increase confidence in the results, the researchers extended the study to include global hurricane data from 1979-2017. Using analytical techniques, including the CIMSS Advanced Dvorak Technique that relies on infrared temperature measurements from geostationary satellites to estimate hurricane intensity, Kossin and his colleagues were able to create a more uniform data set with which to identify trends.

“The main hurdle we have for finding trends is that the data are collected using the best technology at the time,” says Kossin. “Every year the data are a bit different than last year, each new satellite has new tools and captures data in different ways, so in the end we have a patchwork quilt of all the satellite data that have been woven together.”

I actually really like this article, because of its links to Kossin’s other work, because in addition to being stronger, he’s found evidence that they’re traveling further (makes sense to me), but moving more slowly, which means much more flooding:

Kossin’s previous research has shown other changes in hurricane behavior over the decades, such as where they travel and how fast they move. In 2014, he identified poleward migrations of hurricanes, where tropical cyclones are travelling farther north and south, exposing previously less-affected coastal populations to greater risk.

In 2018, he demonstrated that hurricanes are moving more slowly across land due to changes in Earth’s climate. This has resulted in greater flood risks as storms hover over cities and other areas, often for extended periods of time.

“Our results show that these storms have become stronger on global and regional levels, which is consistent with expectations of how hurricanes respond to a warming world,” says Kossin. “It’s a good step forward and increases our confidence that global warming has made hurricanes stronger, but our results don’t tell us precisely how much of the trends are caused by human activities and how much may be just natural variability.”

Now, those of you who’ve been paying attention will know already that there’s no such thing as a natural disaster. In this age of science and technology, we have both the knowledge and the resources to largely disaster-proof our populations. Horror shows like Hurricane Katrina, or any recent catastrophic storm, are almost always so devastating because those in power didn’t think that adequate infrastructure was worth the expense. We prioritized money over life, and so life was lost. You may also be familiar with the saying, “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure”. If we prepare for conditions that we know will occur; if we build real levees and sea walls, if we reinforce and maintain the electrical grid, if we move communities away from places where sea walls won’t work – if we do the things that science has shown will help to mitigate the harm done by extreme weather events – we can save both lives and money.

Unfortunately, that is not the trend we’re on right now. A new study out of the Pottsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research shows that we’re on track for hurricanes that do more damage than the US economy can handle:

“Tropical cyclones draw their energy from ocean surface heat. Also, warmer air can hold more water which eventually can get released in heavy rains and flooding that often occur when a hurricane makes landfall,” says Robin Middelanis from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Potsdam University, lead author of the study. “It’s thus clear since long that hurricane damages will become bigger if we continue to heat up our Earth system.” While we might not have more hurricanes in the future, the strongest among them could get more devastating.
“Now, one of the important questions is: can we deal with that, economically? The answer is: not like this, we can’t,” says Middelanis. “Our calculations show, for the first time, that the US economy as one of the strongest on our planet, will eventually not be able to offset the losses in their supply chains on their own. Increasing hurricane damages will exceed the coping capacities of this economic super-power.”

I think it’s worth noting here that for poorer countries, natural disasters are probably at or beyond that threshold already. It’s also worth remembering that the poverty of those countries is almost invariably due to the abuses of imperialist powers. Haiti is probably the best example, at least in the “New World”, as they were forced to pay France for the crime of winning their independence, and have been repeatedly invaded, robbed, and otherwise harmed by the United States in particular. As we work to change our relationship with the environment, we must also work to end these economic injustices that have been deliberately maintained by the rich and powerful of the world. Unfortunately, this research shows what we’ve known for a long time: if we don’t change course in a big way, even wealthy nations are going to get stuck in a downward spiral, and they will absolutely steal more resources from poorer nations in an attempt to maintain their own comfort. The grim reality is that our entire system, from food production, to infrastructure, to trade, is all set up to work in climate conditions that no longer exist. The farther away we get from those conditions, the more things will break down.

The scientists looked at the 2017 hurricane Harvey that hit Texas and Louisiana and already then cost the enormous sum of 125 billion US Dollars in direct damages alone, and computed what its impacts would be like under different levels of warming. Importantly, losses from local business interruption propagate through the national and global supply chain network, leading to additional indirect economic effects. In their simulations of over 7000 regional economic sectors with more than 1.8 million supply chain connections, the scientists find that the US national economy’s supply chains cannot compensate future local production losses from hurricanes if climate change continues.
“We investigated global warming levels of up to 5°C – which unfortunately might be reached by the end of our century if climate policy fails us,” says Anders Levermann, head of complexity science at PIK and scientist at New York’s Columbia University, a co-author of the study. “We do not want to quantify temperature thresholds for the limit of adaptation of the US economy’s national supply chains, since we feel there’s too much uncertainty involved. Yet we are certain that eventually the US economy’s supply chain capacities as they are now will not be enough if global warming continues. There is a limit of how much the US economy can take, we just don’t know exactly where it is.”

“Bad for people”

Ironically, in the case of hurricane Harvey it is in particular the oil and gas industry in Texas which suffers from the impacts of hurricanes driven by global warming – while global warming is in turn driven by the emissions from burning oil and gas, plus of course coal. The fossil fuel extraction sector is big in that region of the US, and it is vulnerable to cyclone damages. The computer simulations show that production losses in the fuel sector will be amongst those which will be most strongly compensated by countries like Canada and Norway, but also Venezuela and Indonesia, at the expense of the US economy.
“When things break and production fails locally, there’s always someone in the world who is happy to make money by selling the replacement goods,” says Levermann. “So why worry? Well, reduced production means increasing prices, and even if that means it’s good for some economies, it is generally bad for the consumers – the people. Also from a global economic perspective, shifts due to disrupted supply chains can mean that less efficient producers step in. It’s a pragmatic, straightforward conclusion that we need to avoid increasing greenhouse gas emissions which amplify this kind of disruptions.”

It seems likely that I have different political and economic goals from the people who wrote this article, but I think their analysis is solid when it comes to how global warming will affect the United States, absent significant change. It’s important to remember that even within the economic framework that neoliberals claim to believe is so perfect, the rising temperature means disaster on the horizon. It’s also important to remember that the people in power almost certainly know this, and rather than trying to change course, they seem to be preparing to set themselves up in fortress bunkers while the rest of us starve, burn, drown, or agree to serve them in exchange for the scraps they decide to give us (I’ll probably have a rant about that out soon).

In the end, it comes back to the same thing. We need revolutionary political change if humanity is to have a future worth fighting for. Giving all the power to pathological money hoarders has led to global catastrophe, and there is no real plan, within this political and economic system, to make the world better. At most, some of the people at the top are hoping for a technological miracle that will save everyone else without them having to give up anything. Revolutionary change doesn’t have to mean war, though people in power tend to choose that over losing their power, but it does mean we need lots of people working together in an organized fashion. Things aren’t likely to collapse all at once, but it seems pretty clear where we’re heading. Our ruling class sees all of us as expendable, and as less important than their hoards, so we will have to figure this out for ourselves.

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!

Fascist voter intimidation is a problem that will not go away by itself.

Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.

― Jean-Paul Sartre

It brings me no joy to say that I think this Sartre quote will be important to keep in mind over the next few years. Even without the recent rise in open antisemitism from the right, I think the general idea is important to keep in mind, when dealing with the presence of a growing fascist movement in society. That “they don’t believe in words” bit applies to pretty much all of reality. Whether this is a deep belief, or just a worldview they adopt to justify what they want to do anyway, concepts like “truth” and “reality” are about who has the power to impose their will, not about any kind of verifiable fact. They’ll say otherwise, of course, just like they’ll lie about anything else, but it’s like with Trump – the absolute truth is whatever suits their goal in the given moment.

When it comes to elections, their goal is power. That’s not the same as saying that their goal is to win an election. They do want to win the election, of course, but only so they can use that power to make it harder for anyone else to win the next election. Ultimately, their only use for elections is to provide an appearance of legitimacy, while they feel they need it. If they feel that pretense is no longer necessary, they will shed it just as quickly as they’ve shed the pretense that they’re not racist, or not transphobic.

The same holds true for so many of their so-called beliefs, that unless you happen to know how to decipher their obscurantism and lies, you often have to infer their actual goals from the effects of their actions and the direction in which they seem to be heading. They may say that they’re OK with legal immigration, and that race has nothing to do with it, but at the same time, they’re lying about what constitutes legal vs illegal immigration. They may say that they care about law and order, but they ignore or actively seek to violate laws that go against the hierarchy they believe should exist. For fascists, that hierarchy means “us” at the top, and “them” at the bottom. It’s very, very similar to this famous Frank Wilhoit quote:

Conservatism Consists of Exactly One Proposition, to Wit: There Must Be In-Groups Whom the Law Protects but Does Not Bind, Alongside Out-Groups Whom the Law Binds but Does Not Protect.

When they say “law and order”, they’re talking about a self-serving definition of natural law, and natural order, from a Social Darwinian perspective. Anything is justifiable in defense of that version of law and order in particular. Imprisonment without trial, planting evidence, perjury, torture, murder, theftanything is justifiable.

That’s why efforts to subvert democracy are on any list of characteristics of fascism. It’s not because fascist regimes in the past were authoritarian – though they were – it’s because fascism as an ideology views the concept of “fair play” as weakness. Victory and power are all that matter, hence the Nazi slogan of “Seig heil” – hail victory. That’s also why we should expect fascists to keep trying to scare people out of voting:

Consider this: Two armed individuals – dressed in tactical gear – were spotted at a ballot drop box in Mesa on Friday night, according to Maricopa County officials. The pair left the scene when the County Sheriff’s Office arrived.

“We are deeply concerned about the safety of individuals who are exercising their constitutional right to vote and who are lawfully taking their early ballot to a drop box,” Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates and Recorder Stephen Richer said in a joint statement on Saturday.

There’s reason for concern, especially with candidates who have questioned the results of the 2020 election running as GOP nominees this year – including a full slate of them in Arizona, which became a hotspot of election denialism in the wake of Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in the state. And across the country, there’s concern about how some GOP-controlled county boards run by election deniers will oversee this year’s elections.

Read this report from CNN’s Kyung LahThe Arizona Secretary of State’s Office has already referred to the US Department of Justice and Arizona Attorney General’s Office a separate report of voter intimidation:

The unidentified voter reported that they were approached and followed by a group of individuals when the voter was trying to drop off their ballot at an early voting drop box on Monday.

CNN on Thursday obtained from the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office the report in which the voter detailed the alleged incident. It occurred, the voter wrote, around 6:40 p.m. at the Juvenile Justice Court drop box in Mesa, within Maricopa County.
The voter wrote that a “group of people” filmed, photographed and raised accusations against them as they attempted to return their early ballots.

The voter wrote that a “group of people” filmed, photographed and raised accusations against them as they attempted to return their early ballots.

See for yourself. “There’s a group of people hanging out near the ballot dropbox filming and photographing my wife and I as we approached the dropbox and accusing us of being a mule,” the voter said, adding that the group took photographs of them, their license plate and followed them out of the parking lot.

Part of the incident was captured on surveillance video, as seen here.

Arizona has referred six cases of voter intimidation to the Department of Justice, for its current primary, but this problem goes well beyond the long-standing U.S. tradition of voter intimidation by fascist vigilantes. Florida governor Ron Desantis has already shown that he’s willing to engage in human trafficking for a PR stunt, but he’s also arresting people for “voter fraud”, because they mistakenly believed they were allowed to vote. To be clear, they voted under their own names, and most of them did so after requesting and receiving explicit permission to do so from the Florida Department of Elections:

Of the 19 people arrested by DeSantis’ Office of Election Crimes and Security, 13 were Black and 12 were registered Democrats. Most had applied to register to vote under Amendment 4, a voter-approved 2018 ballot measure meant to restore voting rights for 1.4 million former felons. The stakes transcended Florida and criminal justice reform—a botched state voter purge of purported former felons played what one federal civil rights commissioner called an “outcome determinative” role in the 2000 U.S. presidential election.

Most of the applicants who were arrested were approved by the Florida Department of Elections, which sent their voter registration cards ahead of the 2020 elections. All were charged with third-degree felony voter fraud, a crime punishable by as many as five years behind bars and up to a $5,000 fine.

“The arrests are a grotesque abuse of power by Gov. DeSantis,” ACLU of Florida continued. “Although the governor and Legislature claimed that they passed S.B. 7066 in 2019 to ‘clarify’ Voting Restoration Amendment 4, in reality, the law created an unworkable pay-to-vote system that is intentionally difficult and complex to navigate.”

Bear in mind that in the United States, being arrested and charged with a felony can have devastating affects on your life. Even if you don’t miss work because the cops took you away, many places will still fire you for having been arrested. If you have a conviction on your record, your rights are already limited in most of the country, whether or not you have a conviction on your record. I say that because while a judge has thrown out the case, the disruption to these people’s lives is still very real, as is the message it sends. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re allowed to vote – you might get arrested for doing it anyway.

This will not end here. Remember – the only limit on what they will do, is what they think they can get away with, and they will never stop pushing that boundary. This is also not something that can be solved solely by voting. I really, really wish it was, but when you have a fascist party openly working to subvert democracy (Remember when the GOP candidate successfully sued to stop a recount?), it’s hard to come to any other conclusion. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to grab your muskets and rise up, but it does mean that you should be considering what it would look like to participate in organized resistance that goes beyond protesting authorities who’ve already shown they’re happy to attack and maim protesters and journalists. The momentum of our political and economic system is pushing us towards fascism, and the Democratic Party as it currently exists is neither willing nor able to actually change that. The leadership of the party all benefit from the system as it is, and many of them have done so for decades. Voting is still important, in my view. It can get small improvements, like Biden’s recent pardon for federal cannabis convictions, and while that’s not nearly enough, it’s still going to make a few thousand people’s lives a bit easier going forward.

But that’s not enough to change the momentum. The reality is that democracy requires more work than most people have been putting into it. That’s also largely because of systemic problems. Most people’s childhood education doesn’t include stuff about community organizing, how to run a union, or how to form an underground resistance against an authoritarian regime. Once we’re in the work force, a lot of people barely have time to get enough sleep, let alone do more work that doesn’t even come with a paycheck. And yet, somehow, we have to find a way to do more, or at least to do differently. We have to rediscover how to build, sustain, and wield collective power, and we have to figure out what it would look like to have actual self-governance in a modern society.

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Video: Why Didn’t “Defund the Police” Happen?

As the horrors of U.S. law enforcement continue, apparently unabated, I’ve encountered people who blame the current so-called crime wave on the defunding of the police. The problem is that as far as I can tell, nobody has defunded the police at all, anywhere. There were a couple places that made a nod in that direction, but I don’t think any of them have followed through so far. Biden’s “No, let’s fund them more” argument has won out. This video from The Renegade Cut digs into the issue, and also into some of the discussion around whether or not “Defund the Police” was a good slogan.

In particular, there’s an argument that the movement didn’t succeed (yet) because the slogan wasn’t specific enough, and was too scary. My view is that no matter what slogan was used, the propaganda against change would go just as hard, and lie just as much. For example, U.S. conservatives have consistently accused Biden and the rest of the Democratic Party of defunding the police, which – as I mentioned – is very much not the case. Trying to come up with a more innocuous or more comprehensive slogan would not help us. It’s like the way the Democrats are attacked for being socialists, despite the obvious effort they’ve made to keep even the most approachable of social democrats from getting any real power. The slogan starts conversations, and it says what we want to do. Trying to tone it down would just be seen – possibly correctly – as dishonesty, and used to further conspiracy theories. Better to let the idea become mainstream through persistent use, and through aggressive countering of misinformation from the right. That will remove the shock, and make it far easier to push the idea in the years to come.

Re-wilding is good, but research into the ecosystem roles of ancient trees shows we must preserve existing wilderness.

There are a lot of different ways to approach climate change as an issue. The primary focus is, rightly, on power generation and on ending fossil fuel use, but there’s plenty of other stuff that we can be doing at the same time. Returning cleared or developed area to some form of ecosystem – managed or otherwise – is a big part of that. For myself, I tend to focus on the more active, progressive, and left-wing angle of environmental justice. This means thinking about how to change the relationship between people and their environment, as well as eliminating the political and economic structures that, for example, prevent indigenous people the world over from managing their land, or simply pushing them off of any land that a (usually white) corporation decides it can use to make money.

A lot of environmentalism over the last century has been heavily informed by the white supremacy of the colonial powers, and has been used to justify preventing development in poor countries, as well as preventing people from living off the land. The misguided notion that humans must exist in conflict with nature let to the equally misguided notion that caring for the natural world means, mostly, keeping humans out of it, which has caused problems for a lot of people, mostly non-white. All of this is why the focus on environmental justice caught on, and the intersection between environmentalism and other subjects like racism, economics, colonialism, and so on.

That said, there are a lot of things that the environmental movement yesteryear got right, and taking care of trees is one of them. Specifically, it turns out that there are measurable benefits to having very, very old trees around:

“Ancient trees are unique habitats for the conservation of threatened species because they can resist and buffer climate warming,” write the authors, including Gianluca Piovesan (@Dendrocene) and Charles H. Cannon (@ruminatus). Some of these trees, such as bristlecone pines in the White Mountains, USA, can live up to 5,000 years and act as massive carbon storage.

Ancient trees are hotspots for mycorrhizal connectivity, the symbiotic relationship with underground fungi that supplies plants with many of the nutrients they need to survive. This symbiosis with fungi also helps reduce drought in dry environments. Ancient trees play a disproportionately large role in conservation planning and yet are being lost globally at an alarming rate.

Of course they are, and in case it wasn’t obvious, that deforestation is being driven by the greed of a small number of humans with way too much power, not by human need, or any vague bullshit about human nature. Fortunately, as with most of our environmental problems, it’s pretty clear what we should be doing, if we can get together the power to do it:

The researchers propose a two-pronged approach to protect ancient trees: first, the conservation of these trees through the propagation and preservation of the germplasm and meristematic tissue from these ancient trees, and second, a planned integration of complete protection and forest rewilding.

“Mapping and monitoring old-growth forests and ancient trees can directly assess the effectiveness and sustainability of protected areas and their ecological integrity,” they write. “To carry out this ambitious project, a global monitoring platform, based on advanced technologies, is required along with public contributions through community science projects.”

Currently, protecting ancient trees in forests, woodlands, historic gardens, and urban and agricultural areas remain limited by national policy levels. “The current review of the Convention of Biological Diversity and Sustainable Development Goal 15 ‘Life on Land’ of Agenda 2030 should include old-growth and ancient tree mapping and monitoring as key indicators of the effectiveness of protected areas in maintaining and restoring forest integrity for a sustainable future,” write the authors.

“We call for international efforts to preserve these hubs of diversity and resilience. A global coalition utilizing advanced technologies and community scientists to discover, protect, and propagate ancient trees is needed before they disappear.”

I will add that for those with the ability, I think there’s a lot to be said for  direct action. That can be anything from the long-standing tactic of camping out in trees to keep them from being cut down, to the ongoing movement to defend the Atlanta forest. This kind of activism is dangerous, both because of the inherent dangers of aerial camping, and because it will bring you into conflict with governments and with capitalists, both groups with a history of violence against environmentalists.   I also want to make very clear that if we are acting to preserve the ecosystem services provided by ancient trees, then that means we also need to make sure that younger trees get a chance to become ancient. There’s merit in defending very young forests, because they won’t always be young, if they have a chance to grow.

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Research suggests the “Clathrate Gun” is shooting blanks

Seafloor methane deposits, known as “hydrates” or “clathrates”, have long been a source of worry for climate scientists and activists, myself included. These deposits require a combination of high pressure and low temperature to remain stable, and the fear, mentioned in this video I used in presentations a decade ago, is that warming sea water will cause them to destabilize, and vent that methane into the atmosphere. If the size of the deposit that destabilized was big enough, it could cause a big jump in global temperature. As this post’s title suggests, this has been called the “Clathrate Gun Hypothesis“, when applied to past warming events and the extinctions they caused.

I’ll be honest – I’ve just sort of been assuming that they’ve been leaking into the atmosphere for a while now, partly because of phenomena like this one I wrote about back in March. It turns out, I was wrong, at least where it counts. It does seem that some methane is bubbling out of these deposits, but apparently none of it is reaching the atmosphere:

Deep below the ocean’s surface, the seafloor contains large quantities of naturally occurring, ice-like deposits made up of water and concentrated methane gas. For decades, climate scientists have wondered if this methane hydrate reservoir might “melt” and release massive amounts of methane to the ocean and the atmosphere as ocean temperatures warm.

New research from scientists at the University of Rochester, the US Geological Survey, and the University of California Irvine is the first to directly show that methane released from decomposing hydrates is not reaching the atmosphere.

The researchers, including John Kessler, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and DongJoo Joung, a former research scientist in Kessler’s lab and now an assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography at Pusan National University in Korea, carried out the study in mid-latitude regions—Earth’s subtropical and temperate zones.

While the stability of the methane hydrate reservoir is sensitive to changes in temperature, “in the mid-latitude regions where this study was conducted, we see no signatures of hydrate methane being emitted to the atmosphere,” says Joung, the first author of the study, published in Nature Geoscience.

How methane hydrates form, stabilize, and degrade

Locked away in ice-like methane hydrates, methane has no effect on climate. But released into the atmosphere, it acts as a powerful, heat-trapping gas. Today’s atmosphere contains methane emitted from human activities—such as fossil fuel extraction and use, agriculture, and landfills—and methane emitted naturally from wetlands, wildfires, aquatic environments, and coastal zones and onshore seeps.

Ocean sediments are massive storehouses for ancient reservoirs of natural methane in the form of methane hydrates.

“The amount of methane locked up in gas hydrates globally is staggering,” Joung says.

Scientists have hypothesized that the release of even part of this reservoir could significantly exacerbate climate change.

Says Kessler: “Imagine a bubble in your fish tank going from the bottom of the tank to the top and exploding and releasing whatever was in that bubble to the air above it—that was the way many people viewed how hydrate decomposition might contribute to our warming world.”

Gas hydrates form where both methane and water meet at high-pressure and low-temperature conditions. In the parts of the ocean located in the temperate and subtropical mid-latitudes, hydrates can remain stable only at depths below about 500 meters (approximately 1640 feet) beneath the sea surface. Generally, hydrates become more stable the deeper they are beneath the sea surface.

That means the upper stability boundary for methane hydrates—500 meters—is a “sweet spot.” It is the most susceptible to melting under warming seawater temperatures, and it is the shortest distance a bubble of “previously-hydrated” methane would have to travel before reaching the atmosphere.

But even in this sweet spot, the researchers did not observe evidence of hydrate methane being emitted to the atmosphere.

This is good news. I don’t know how universal it is across the planet, since they specify “mid-latitude regions”, but my limited understanding is that below a certain depth, there’s not a lot of different conditions on the sea floor, at least of a kind that would affect methane deposits in other regions. Still, it’s fair to ask: what makes them confident enough to publish?

To conduct their study, the researchers measured unique isotopic “signatures” of oceanic methane in samples of seawater they collected from various depths in the mid-latitude regions of both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. This allowed them to directly identify the origin of methane in seawater.

To make even one measurement, they need an enormous amount of water—a single sample includes about two thousand gallons of seawater. The researchers used a giant suction hose to collect the samples and employed a novel technique their team developed that involves extracting methane from each sample. The researchers compressed the methane into cylinders that they then brought back to Kessler’s lab on the River Campus to prepare for analysis.

As the researchers documented, ancient methane is being released from the seafloor. However, they found negligible amounts of this ancient methane in the surface waters. They concluded, based on earlier studies, that this methane gas first dissolves in the deeper waters and then oceanic microbes biodegrade the methane, turning it into carbon dioxide before it leaves the water.

Previous work by Kessler’s group and others found that these processes are active in the mid-latitude regions and that similar processes helped to mitigate the effects of methane released during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Carbon dioxide, while also a greenhouse gas, “can be incorporated into other carbon reservoirs in seawater,” says Kessler. While some of the carbon dioxide could also be emitted into the atmosphere, it would happen over much longer time scales—thousands of years—and the warming wouldn’t be as acute.

This is actually doubly good news, because one of the worries about this is tied to the boundless, murderous greed of the fossil fuel industry, and their desire to collect and sell enough of that methane to be profitable. We should stop that if at all possible, because even if they could guarantee no leaks or spills (and they can make no such guarantees, though they’ll probably try), the CO2 released by the burning of that gas would reach the atmosphere far faster than in the process described above. However, the fact that this process did reduce the methane emissions from that disaster. If some company does significantly destabilize a large deposit, it seems that the ocean really would absorb a significant amount of it – may be even all. As always, this doesn’t change our course of action, but it’s good to know that we don’t have to worry about this particular problem popping up to speed up the warming even more.

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!