The only kind of mouse my cat has the energy to pounce on…

This looks like it’s going to be a busy week, but fortunately, His Holiness decided to be weird today, so I have a couple pictures to share. Specifically, he decided that he just had to curl up on my hand and mousepad, and go to sleep. This was very cute, but also not terribly functional, because His Holiness is not the most svelt of cats, and he didn’t really fit very well.

His Holiness is a chonky British shorthair from the streets of Somerville. He's got a nice black and gold-brown stripey pattern on his back and sides, snow white fur on his belly, legs, and throat, and he has the personality of a stuffed animal. He's curled up, facing away from the camera, with his shoulder, neck, and head resting on my hand. You can see that he barely fits on the desk extension.

His Holiness is a chonky British shorthair from the streets of Somerville. He’s got a nice black and gold-brown stripey pattern on his back and sides, snow white fur on his belly, legs, and throat, and he has the personality of a stuffed animal. He’s curled up, facing away from the camera, with his shoulder, neck, and head resting on my hand. You can see that he barely fits on the desk extension.

He ended up staying there for about an hour, occasionally shifting, and sighing because I moved my hand too much.

As you can see (sorry for the photo quality, he had my good hand), this is not a Place for Cats, but he spent about an hour there, generally preventing me from doing any work. It was truly horrible.   In this photo, you can see how he has snow-white fur on his muzzle, peaking on his forehead.

As you can see (sorry for the photo quality, he had my good hand), this is not a Place for Cats, but he spent about an hour there, generally preventing me from doing any work. It was truly horrible. In this photo, you can see how he has snow-white fur on his muzzle, peaking on his forehead.

Eventually, though, the novelty wore off, and he made his way to the cubby next to my desk, which has become his default hangout spot when there’s not sun coming in through the living room windows.

His Holiness, Saint Ray the Cat, fast asleep on a green towel, with his snoot firmly planted in the cloth in front of him

His Holiness, Saint Ray the Cat, fast asleep on a green towel, with his snoot firmly planted in the cloth in front of him

For some reason, the forward-facing camera on my phone refuses to focus on anything, so I’m currently taking photos by setting a timer and doing my best to aim the camera at the right place. I’m getting better at it, and we’re actually starting to get warm weather here, so I’ll probably have more pictures up soon, both of His Holiness, and of my sad little shed-top garden. There’s a lot going on in the world right now, much of it bad. I find it helpful to take time to enjoy things like cats.

Homelessness Exists to Make the Rich Richer

The existence of large numbers of unhoused people may be the greatest example of capitalism taking a simple problem with a simple solution, and using propaganda and bureaucracy to convince everyone that it’s actually very complicated, and there are no real solutions. We’re told that it’s an addiction problem, or a mental health problem, as is the danger and suffering of being without shelter wasn’t a cause of mental illness and drug use. We’re told that people just need to get jobs, as though many of them don’t already have jobs, and many others can’t get any because the government deliberately maintains a minimum level of unemployment. To top it all off, getting help, getting paid, having a bank account – a lot of that is a lot easier if you have a safe, reliable mailing address, which most commonly comes from having a house or an apartment. There’s always some convoluted excuse for why, according to capitalists and their supporters, we can’t just provide housing.

The actual reason, as far as I can tell, is threefold. First, capitalism requires the existence of a class of people so poor and desperate that they will agree to extreme levels of exploitation, just to keep from dying. Second, that poverty and desperation make it much, much more dangerous to wield the collective power of unions and organized communities, because refusing to work, when you’re already poor, puts you at risk of losing your home, being unable to eat, and being unable to get medicine. They head off any kind of real democracy by keeping the working class under a constant state of siege. The third is just that the housing market, as it exists, provides a huge amount of wealth to those who are already well off, in exchange for no productive work.

And so, because our leaders want us to remain poor and desperate, they make excuses, and do everything they can to avoid allowing the simple, obvious solution to the problem of people who don’t have adequate shelter:

Provide housing for everyone who doesn’t have it.

Instead of abandoning the homeless, they housed them. And that led to an insight: people tend to function better when they’re not living on the street or under a bridge. Who would have guessed?

It turns out that, given a place to live, Finland’s homeless were better able to deal with addictions and other problems, not to mention handling job applications. So, more than a decade after the launch of the “Housing First” policy, 80 per cent of Finland’s homeless are doing well, still living in the housing they’d been provided with — but now paying the rent on their own.

This not only helps the homeless, it turns out to be cheaper.

That article is about how Canada deals with unhoused people, but it certainly applies to the US fairly well, and given that the example used is from Finland, I think it’s fair to say this applies to the capitalist world in general. It’s a simple fact that we have the resources to guarantee decent housing to everyone, and I’m pretty certain that letting people keep a bunch of the money they’ve had to fork over to landlords would help the economy immeasurably. Even if we didn’t fully decommodify housing, as I would prefer to do, the existence of decent, social housing that’s not rented out for a profit, would force rents down across the market.

The problem is that the people at the top generally don’t want things to get better, because that might make us harder to control. Instead, they continue to blame unhoused people for their situation, pay police to brutalize them, dehumanize them and encourage hate crimes up to and including extermination. We’re all told, year after year, that capitalism provides the best possible life to the most people possible, and that any problems are caused by “big government”. The reality is that the problems caused or supported by the government are almost universally caused in service to capitalists and their greed. It’s the same with taxes – the US government could absolutely just send you forms to check over and amend, rather than making you fill out information that they already have, and punishing you if you get it wrong.

But if they did that, then how would companies like TurboTax or H&R Block make a profit? No, the world must be deliberately made worse, solely because then people will pay for a little relief. To bring it back to unhoused people, they are forced into dangerous conditions, denied rights and dignity, and demonized for it, all so that the rest of us will take whatever work we can get, and pay whatever rent we have to. The cruelty is the point – it’s to make an example of a few members of the population, as a threat to the rest of us.

Thank you for reading! If you liked this post, please share it around. If you read this blog regularly, please consider joining my small but wonderful group of patrons. Because of my immigration status, I’m not allowed to get a normal job, so my writing is all I have for the foreseeable future, and I’d love for it to be a viable career long-term. As part of that goal, I’m currently working on a young adult fantasy series, so if supporting this blog isn’t enough inducement by itself, for just $5/month you can work with me to name a place or character in that series!

It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Humidity: The Dark Side of Urban Greenery

I talk a lot about why we should cover our cities with plants. They’re good for our health in a number of ways, and through transpiration, they tend to cool off their surroundings. Urban heat islands are a big problem that is getting bigger as the planet warms, and plants are regularly proposed as at least a partial solution. I continue to believe that we should have as much urban greenery as possible, but some recent research has touched on a concern I’ve had for a while now.

As I said the other day, we urgently need to be rebuilding our society to deal with a coming heat that can no longer be avoided. That means that we need to account, as best we’re able, for conditions unlike anything our species has ever encountered. I want us to actually be proactive about this. We should be moving cities away from low-lying coastal areas, or rebuilding them to withstand rising seas. We should be moving our agriculture indoors, to the greatest degree possible, to protect food production from the heat and instability of this brave new world.

And, since we know that the temperature will keep rising, we should be planning for extreme heat waves, even if we do manage to literally green our cities. That means accounting for the fact that the transpiration that works so well to lower the temperature also works to increase humidity. Even if all the plant life lowers a city’s temperature by ten degrees, that won’t make it safe outside if the humidity creates wet-bulb conditions, in which we lose our ability to cool ourselves by sweating. The one advantage that cities have in this regard is that they tend to be drier than their surroundings, and bringing in more plants could make the heat deadly at lower temperatures:

A new study, led by Yale School of the Environment scientists and published in Nature, investigated the combined effect of temperature and humidity on urban heat stress using observational data and an urban climate model calculation. Researchers found that the heat stress burden is dependent on local climate and a humidifying effect can erase the cooling benefits that would come from trees and vegetation.

“A widely held view is that urban residents suffer more heat burden than the general population owing to the urban heat island phenomenon. This view is incomplete because it omits another ubiquitous urban microclimate phenomenon called the urban dry island — that urban land tends to be less humid than the surrounding rural land,” says Xuhui Lee, Sara Shallenberger Brown Professor of Meteorology, who directed the study.  “In dry, temperate, and boreal climates, urban residents are actually less heat-stressed than rural residents. But in the humid Global South, the urban heat island is dominant over the urban dry island, resulting in two to six extra dangerous heat stress days per summer.”

Lee and YSE doctoral student Keer Zhang, lead author of the study, say they were motivated to investigate the issue for several reasons: a large percentage of the global population lives in urban areas; many people in informal urban settlements do not have access to air conditioning; and the problem is going to get worse as temperatures rise and more people move to cities. About 4.3 billion people, or 55% of the world’s population, live in urban settings, and the number is expected to rise to 80% by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum.

The researchers developed a theoretical framework on how urban land modifies both air temperature and air humidity and showed that these two effects have equal weight in heat stress as measured by the wet-bulb temperature, in contrary to other heat indexes, which weigh temperature more heavily than humidity. Wet-bulb temperature combines dry air temperature with humidity to measure humid heat. The results of the study, the authors note, raise important questions.

Green vegetation can lower air temperature via water evaporation, but it can also increase heat burden because of air humidity. The question then is to what extent this humidifying effect erases the cooling benefit arising from temperature reduction. We hope to answer this question in a follow-up study, where we are comparing observations of the wet-bulb temperature in urban greenspaces (with dense tree cover) and those in built-up neighborhoods,” Lee says.

I’ve made the same assumption they’re calling out. This doesn’t negate the various benefits I mentioned at the top, which is why I still like the “green cities” idea, but it underscores the importance of guaranteeing access to artificial cooling. I’ve said before that we’re pretty close to a world in which spending time outside will be lethal in a growing portion of the the population, for a growing portion of the time. We know how to deal with lethally cold temperatures – the fact that we generate heat just by living, means that we can insulate ourselves against the cold, at least for a time. That’s not an option when it comes to heat. I suppose we could try to give everyone a version the liquid cooling garments that astronauts wear, but to me, it seems more practical to start rebuilding cities so that, in addition to the goals of the 15 minute city concept, it’s possible for most of the population live their day to day lives without having to go outside at all. This would require a pretty radical rebuilding of most cities, but in the face of the coming heat, we need to do that anyway.

I will probably keep being nervous about the recent unexplained spike in sea surface temperatures going forward. Even the best-case scenario, going forward, is a terrifying reminder that the really bad times the scientists have been warning us about are a lot closer than most people realize. Having plants around is a good thing, but the rules are changing as the temperature rises, and we have to change with them if we want to survive.

Thank you for reading! If you liked this post, please share it around. If you read this blog regularly, please consider joining my small but wonderful group of patrons. Because of my immigration status, I’m not allowed to get a normal job, so my writing is all I have for the foreseeable future, and I’d love for it to be a viable career long-term. As part of that goal, I’m currently working on a young adult fantasy series, so if supporting this blog isn’t enough inducement by itself, for just $5/month you can work with me to name a place or character in that series!

Video: Phone Security and Surveillance

Most of the time, when I talk about the problems facing us, I also talk about the kinds of things that I think people can do. Most of that relates to the need for systemic change, and a global shift in power and economic policy. In other words, we need to work against the capitalists driving us to extinction, as well as the governments that serve them. That also means that, even if your activism is all legal and peaceful, the likelihood is high that your government will work against you, especially if you have success. That is why, in this age of mass surveillance, seasoned activists place a lot of emphasis on taking steps to secure the privacy to which we should have a right. There’s a lot to be aware of, when it comes to our phones, and I honestly find it difficult to keep track of everything. Fortunately, Renegade Cut has put out this video, which works as a good primer on the subject:

Record Ocean Heat Frightens Scientists, Threatens Grim New Era

For the last few decades, Earth’s oceans have been absorbing the vast majority of global warming – over 90%. This has resulted in declining oxygen levels, marine heatwaves, and a myriad of problems for marine life. Last March, I covered research from Monterey Bay Aquarium that confirmed that “extreme” heat is now the norm for a majority of the ocean’s surface. That would be alarming enough, even though the news is a year old, but now we’ve got more bad news to add to it:

Temperatures in the world’s oceans have broken fresh records, testing new highs for more than a month in an “unprecedented” run that has led to scientists stating the Earth has reached “uncharted territory” in the climate crisis.

The rapid acceleration of ocean temperatures in the last month is an anomaly that scientists have yet to explain. Data collated by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), known as the Optimum Interpolation Sea Surface Temperature (OISST) series, gathered by satellites and buoys, has shown temperatures higher than in any previous year, in a series stretching back to 1981, continuously over the past 42 days.

The world is thought to be on the brink of an El Niño weather event this year – a cyclical weather system in the Pacific, that has a warming impact globally. But the El Niño system is yet to develop, so this oscillation cannot explain the recent rapid heating, at a time of year when ocean temperatures are normally declining from their annual March and April peaks.

Prof Mike Meredith of the British Antarctic Survey said: “This has got scientists scratching their heads. The fact that it is warming as much as it has been is a real surprise, and very concerning. It could be a short-lived extreme high, or it could be the start of something much more serious.”

The image shows the annual variation of ocean surface temperatures for every year from the present, dating back to 1981. April 2023 is far and away the hottest global sea surface temperature from that time period.

The image shows the annual variation of ocean surface temperatures for every year from the present, dating back to 1981. April 2023 is far and away the hottest global sea surface temperature from that time period.

That “something much more serious” is will happen, sooner or later. As the oceans warm, their capacity to keep absorbing the excess heat diminishes, which means that from our perspective, things are going to suddenly start warming a lot faster. Hotter oceans also have less capacity to absorb gases from the atmosphere, which increases the rate at which greenhouse gas concentrations increase. On top of all of that, there’s the fact that a hotter ocean creates stronger storms, which will set us even further back in this age of endless recovery. If the oceans are reaching some sort of thermal tipping point, that could also disrupt the big ocean currents that are so important to moving heat around the planet, and to bringing oxygen to the depths. A big change to those currents could have pretty immediate and dramatic effects on a global scale. It’s not just this year, either. Over the last 15 years, the oceans have apparently warmed as much as the previous 45 years; a finding that has been described as so disturbing that scientists don’t like to talk about it:

Scientists from institutions including Mercator Ocean International in France, Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the United States, and Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research collaborated to discover that as the planet has accumulated as much heat in the past 15 years as it did in the previous 45 years, the majority of the excess heat has been absorbed by the oceans.

In March, researchers examining the ocean off the east coast of North America found that the water’s surface was 13.8°C, or 14.8°F, hotter than the average temperature between 1981 and 2011.

The study notes that a rapid drop in shipping-related pollution could be behind some of the most recent warming, since fuel regulations introduced in 2020 by the International Maritime Organization reduced the heat-reflecting aerosol particles in the atmosphere and caused the ocean to absorb more energy.

But that doesn’t account for the average global ocean surface temperature rising by 0.9°C from preindustrial levels, with 0.6°C taking place in the last four decades.

The study represents “one of those ‘sit up and read very carefully’ moments,” said former BBC science editor David Shukman.

Lead study author Karina Von Schuckmann of Mercator Ocean International told the BBC that “it’s not yet well established, why such a rapid change, and such a huge change is happening.”

“We have doubled the heat in the climate system the last 15 years, I don’t want to say this is climate change, or natural variability or a mixture of both, we don’t know yet,” she said. “But we do see this change.”

It’s true, we don’t know for sure what’s going on. Maybe Godzilla is to blame!

In all seriousness, I don’t blame Shuckmann for being careful in the claims she makes. If I’m annoyed, it’s because of the people who love to jump on qualifiers like that to say, “See? They don’t even know what’s happening!” The reality is that even if this turns out to be a blip, and we’re lucky enough to get cooler sea surface temperatures over the next few years, that won’t change the trajectory we’re on. The heat in the oceans won’t just go away, even if it’s not at the surface. What’s more, when you have an unusually hot year, that adds to the momentum of the whole crisis. Ice melts a bit faster, permafrost thaws and rots a bit more, we get a few more fires, and now there’s just that much more CO2 in the atmosphere, and that much less ice to reflect sunlight back into space, and ecosystems are just that much less resilient.

As long as greenhouse gas levels keep rising, this can only go one way.

A study published earlier this year also found that rising ocean temperatures combined with high levels of salinity lead to the “stratification” of the oceans, and in turn, a loss of oxygen in the water.

“Deoxygenation itself is a nightmare for not only marine life and ecosystems but also for humans and our terrestrial ecosystems,” researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in January. “Reducing oceanic diversity and displacing important species can wreak havoc on fishing-dependent communities and their economies, and this can have a ripple effect on the way most people are able to interact with their environment.”

The unusual warming trend over recent years has been detected as a strong El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is expected to form in the coming months—a naturally occurring phenomenon that warms oceans and will reverse the cooling impact of La Niña, which has been in effect for the past three years.

“If a new El Niño comes on top of it, we will probably have additional global warming of 0.2-0.25°C,” Dr. Josef Ludescher of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research told the BBC.

It looks like we should expect more extreme weather in the coming year or so, but if we have reached a point where the oceans are going to be less effective at absorbing heat and greenhouse gases, then things up on dry land are probably going to start progressing much more quickly. I often talk about how the action that has been taken so far to end fossil fuel use is criminally inadequate, but at this point that’s only half the picture. It’s been a decade or two since we passed the point at which dangerous warming could still be prevented. The inaction of our leadership, which seems to be a gerontocracy still stuck in the mid-20th century, has meant that it will keep warming for the rest of my life, and the rest of your life, dear reader, and the lives of your children, and of their children. Absent a series of technological and political miracles that seems very unlikely, this is our future now.

That means that simply ending fossil fuel use, while absolutely essential, is not enough. We must do better to prepare for a hotter planet. We must change how we produce food, to protect it from the conditions that we have created. We must reshape our infrastructure to deal with higher temperatures, stronger storms, and rising seas. We must take measures to to help those countries that have been deliberately kept poor for the benefit of rich nations withstand the hellish forces that have been unleashed upon this world.

Well, we must do all of that if we value human life. If we want to weather this storm, and keep making the world better.

It is past time that we considered that “we” don’t really want any of that, when it comes to the aristocracy of global capitalism. Despite Biden’s words, his actions show that he feels no urgency to deal with climate change. I’ll probably write more about this soon, but the people who run our world seem to be deliberately driving us to destruction, while setting themselves up to rule what remains. Maybe they think that reducing the population will reset the timer on how long they can cling to a system based on endless growth. Whether it’s delusion, malice, or both, they seem poised to use global warming to kill off most of humanity, while they live in luxury and insist that it’s all for the greater good.

I think the oceans could literally be boiling, and they’d still insist that they know best.

We are running out of time and options, both as a species, and as the working class that makes up most of that species. I don’t know how much longer we can afford to wait for those at the top to go against everything they believe, and act for the benefit of humanity. I think we’ve already wasted more time than we had on that false hope, and we’ve yet to fully grasp the price that we’re going to pay for that. We need revolutionary change, and we need it as soon as possible. It is my hope that a combination of worsening conditions, and a general strike, might get the powerful to change their tune. I don’t know how to get there from where we are. I’ll look into it, but I feel like we need more than my current attempt at an organizing guide. Mass unionization is probably the most direct route to the kind of organization we need. It’s a concept that’s familiar to people, and unions are more popular now than at any time I can remember. While I still like the notion of organizing centered around communities, the reality is that work is a bigger part of people’s lives than community right now, so it makes sense on multiple levels to start there.

In the meantime, one thing that individuals can do, outside of organizing and agitating, is prepare for hard times. If you can afford to, make a habit of keeping a store of non-perishable food, not just because climate change may disrupt supply chains and lead to shortages, but also because in the event of a general strike, you and those around you are likely to need the supplies. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but a strike is a siege, and so success will depend on how well supplied we are.

At the same time, if you can, feed people who are hungry. Help people who need help. Economic desperation is the main weapon wielded by the rich in the class war, and undermining that empowers people, and builds solidarity. Those of us who want humanity to have a future have to come together and fight for that future. What I laid out above is the only path I can see that might lead to revolutionary change without war. As mentioned above, this big jump in ocean temperatures may just be a blip. We might have a rough year, then go back to a “normal” that’s still unacceptable. But we might not. Things have gone so far that it’s a real possibility that we’ve passed a major tipping point sooner than expected. If we don’t organize, prepare, and change course very soon, things will get ugly.

Thank you for reading! If you liked this post, please share it around. If you read this blog regularly, please consider joining my small but wonderful group of patrons. Because of my immigration status, I’m not allowed to get a normal job, so my writing is all I have for the foreseeable future, and I’d love for it to be a viable career long-term. As part of that goal, I’m currently working on a young adult fantasy series, so if supporting this blog isn’t enough inducement by itself, for just $5/month you can work with me to name a place or character in that series!

River study shows how global warming is killing Indigenous Alaskans

When I hear about the thawing of the permafrost, my mind generally goes straight to the greenhouse gases being emitted, and how that’s making the climate crisis that much worse. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I tend to forget that it also has more immediate effects, down here on the ground. When we talk about changes to mountain snowpack, and melting glaciers, I think a lot of people get that that ties to water shortages either now, or in the not-so-distant future. Permafrost, in addition to holding a vast amount of dead plant matter, also holds a lot of water, and when that melts, it can join in with the snowpack and glacier water to change how the rivers downstream behave.

Streamflow is increasing in Alaskan rivers during both spring and fall seasons, primarily due to increasing air temperatures over the past 60 years, according to new CU Boulder-led research.

This increased volume of free-flowing water during the shoulder seasons is compounded by earlier snowmelt and thawing permafrost, also driven by increasing temperatures; all of which are affecting the formation and safety of Alaska river ice in winter, and the timing of when rivers “break up” in response to seasonal warming each spring.

The findings are the result of a collaboration between researchers at CU Boulder, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Park Service, who analyzed data from 1960 to 2019 for nine major river basins in Alaska. Their results, published in February in Environmental Research Letters, show how rivers can serve as a measurable quantity for understanding the cumulative impacts of climate change in Arctic regions.

“Measuring rivers is useful because it integrates all these other changes in temperature, precipitation, permafrost and snow cover. All the dynamics that feed the hydrologic cycle eventually get filtered into the amount of water in a river,” said Dylan Blaskey, lead author on the study and doctoral student in civil engineering.


The researchers analyzed six decades’ worth of monthly data from river gages in nine Alaskan rivers, comparing streamflow to air temperature, soil temperature, soil moisture and precipitation across the basins. They also accounted for large scale climate anomalies, such as El Niño and La Niña.

Streamflow in Alaskan rivers typically peaks in summer, and remains quite low in winter, with stark transitions between the two seasons. The study found that while the amount of water flowing through these rivers on a yearly basis is not changing, when it flows through them is shifting, with more water freely flowing from October through April—creating more gradual seasonal transitions.

Changes in air temperature have had the biggest impact on streamflow in these Alaskan rivers. The average days above freezing in April and October have increased by about a day every decade, according to Blaskey. These months are also when average monthly streamflow has increased the most: by 15% per decade in April and 7% per decade in October.

They also found that the correlation of increased streamflow with temperature is only getting stronger over time when data from the first 30 years (1960–1989) are compared to the most recent 30-year period (1990–2019).

Since the 1960s, winter air temperatures have increased by 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) on average across the global Arctic. The findings from Alaskan river gages help quantify the disproportionate impacts that climate change is having on the planet’s northernmost ecosystems.

“One of the opportunities and challenges of researching in Alaska is that signals of climate change have already begun to appear,” said Blaskey.

I’ve been primarily a city-dweller for over a decade now, and I’ve lived in places that don’t tend to have serious water problems yet. That means that while my work has generally kept me aware of what’s happening in the world around me, seemingly small fluctuations in river flow don’t really affect my life in any direct way. For the Indigenous people who have been living off the land in Alaska for millennia, there’s no choice but to deal with these changes:

Indigenous communities use rivers for vital transportation and sustenance, whether frozen in ice or as free-flowing water. Many rivers are part of traditional hunting and fishing routes, which can be traveled over when they are frozen. Rivers also serve as essential thoroughfares to connect communities and to bring in seasonal supplies, such as fuel and food, because road networks are limited in Alaska.

As the seasons shift, ice freezes later and breaks up earlier, undermining the stability and safety of river ice.

“The shrinking of the fall and spring seasons affects how long river ice persists and is safe to travel over. Indigenous communities have suffered an increasing number of fatalities over the last few decades,” said Musselman. “It seemed that everyone at the workshop had stories of someone who had fallen in the ice and lost their life.”

We’re well past the point where the metaphor of the canary in the coal mine is relevant – we’ve been losing actual miners for a while now. Fortunately, if we look to the history of mine safety, we know how to improve things- it’s by organizing and working together. Whether it’s activists or people just trying to go about their lives, we are losing people in this fight. The changes have barely begun, compared to what lies ahead, but the world has already been made measurably less safe in a myriad of small ways that can be difficult to quantify.

Take all of the evidence together, though, and it’s pretty clear that we’re in trouble. Those people who’ve been forced to the bottom, and to the margins of society are getting hit first, as we’ve always known they would, but there’s nowhere that’s not affected now, and it’s only going to keep getting hotter.

Video: Child Labor is Back In The USA

As Katydid commented when I posted John Oliver’s video on farm workers, child labor isn’t exactly new in the United States. That said, there seems to be a coordinated effort to roll back child labor protections across multiple states, at the same time as we’re seeing corporate child labor violations across multiple states. We were very, very far from perfect before, but now the US seems to be moving rapidly in the wrong direction on this, as the crew at Left Reckoning discuss:

President Boric proposes plan for Chilean lithium to benefit the Chilean people

Chile has been on an interesting and positive arc in recent years. Left-wing politician Gabriel Boric won the presidency there, representing the first big shift to the left since the fascist Pinochet took over in a US-backed coup in 1973. They’re currently working on a number of reforms, and are trying to negotiate a new constitution, to replace the one from the Pinochet era. One big change that was just announced was a plan to gradually nationalize Chile’s lithium industry. They intend to honor existing contracts, but to have more direct government involvement in new ones, with the intent of bringing more of the profits to the Chilean people, and eventually producing lithium-based products in Chile, rather than only selling raw lithium. From the Associated Press:

Boric, who spoke Thursday on a national media network, said the state will participate in the entire lithium production cycle in a “public-private collaboration” that the government will control.

“Any private company, whether foreign or local, that wants to exploit lithium in Chile must partner with the state,” he said.

Chile has the world’s third largest lithium reserves, at 9.6 million tons, behind Bolivia with 21 million and Argentina with 19.3 million, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. But Chile was the world’s second largest producer last year with an estimated 39,000 metric tons, after Australia, with 61,000 tons.

Boric wants to create a National Lithium Company to partner with private companies, but he conceded that likely will not happen quickly because it would require support from an absolute majority in both houses of Congress, which is fragmented among a variety of parties.

In the meantime, he said, the state National Copper Corporation will sign agreements with private parties for lithium extraction.

Currently, there are two companies that mine lithium in Chile: the U.S. company Albemarle and Chile’s Chemical and Mining Society (Soquimich), which has been controlled for three decades by Julio Ponce, whose father-in-law was the late dictator Augusto Pinochet. Boric said Ponce’s contracts will be respected.

Boric said that in addition to being involved in mining, the government will promote the development of lithium products with added value, with the goal of becoming the world’s leading lithium producer.

The minister of mining, Marcela Hernando, recently told Congress that the government cannot advance alone in the exploitation of lithium because “technology and knowledge are in private industry.”

A public-private partnership is needed, Hernando said, though he added that “the state is the owner of lithium,” which is an “uncompromisable” position of the government.

This seems like a pretty generous arrangement, to me. As the AP mentioned, the existing situation gives the profits from Chile’s lithium to a US company, and the son-in-law of a murderous, fascist dictator installed by the US. I’m underscoring that, because there’s a long history of colonial powers – especially the US – violently installing governments that will give them favorable deals on natural resources. If a nation manages to re-assert sovereignty and self-governance, they’re then faced with the existence of these exploitative deals that might as well be designed to keep that nation in poverty. If they say, rightly, that the existing contracts lack validity because of how they came to be, well, that’s an excuse for the US to come in with assassins, death squads, and coups.

To me, it appears that Boric is trying to thread that needle by carrying the burden of enriching a dictator’s relative and a corporation from North Carolina for many years to come. This plan lays out a slow path to a better arrangement that may avoid US interference, by indulging Ponce and Albemarle far more than they deserve. Even so, I think it’s pretty much certain that both will view this as a plan to steal from them, and will do everything they can to block this policy from going through, and to replace Boric with some flavor of neoliberal.

Chile’s congress still needs to approve this, and to me that says it’s far too soon to celebrate. Some of you may recall that I posted about the effort to draft a new constitution, last year. The first draft was shot down, and so they’re trying again this year, with a more conservative rewrite. Boric campaigned on ending the era of neoliberalism that was imposed by Pinochet and the United States, but unfortunately winning the presidency doesn’t mean he has the power to do that. It is good that one person can’t just force through whatever they want, but placing limits on an individual’s political power can only do so much if there are no limits on an individual’s economic power. I think the situation in Chile is nowhere near as dire as the United States, but it’s clear that the capitalist class still has power to wield, to undermine efforts to move Chile to the left, even discounting the threat of less legal interference.

I’m worried, obviously, but I absolutely think this is a good thing for Boric to be attempting, and I hope he keeps trying even if this attempt is blocked. Learning the history of this sort of thing can, quite naturally, lead one to be pessimistic about how a situation like this will play out. It’s good to be on the alert about this sort of thing, and reasonable to worry, but never forget that our whole project, on the left, is all about breaking from historical patterns. Victory is by no means guaranteed. The losses of the past and the horrors of the present make it very clear that we are fighting against the odds. In our current divided state, the aristocracy has far, far more power than the working class, and a lot of that time, that does mean that we will lose. We should keep fighting anyway, because the alternative is to accept misery and servitude for most of us, followed shortly by likely destruction for all of us.

“I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists.”
Chris Hedges

Video: True Facts about the hippopotamus

Hippos are terrifying. I feel like everyone expects elephants and rhinos to be big and intimidating, but hippos sometimes feel too big, to the point where, if you’re standing on a narrow bridge over a river, and a hippo surfaces under you, it can be genuinely disorienting, and you have to take your brain aside to explain why a whole-ass nuclear submarine just surfaced out of that brown puddle. They also make noises that are… big. They sound like a giant laughing.

I’ll admit, though, that while I’ve seen them in the wild, and even got a plaster cast of a footprint (It’s still at my parents’ place back in the US), I don’t actually know a whole lot about them. Fortunately, Ze Frank is here to educate us, and tell us more than we ever wanted to know about hippos and their poop. One of the facts I didn’t know before, was that they’re actually more closely related to dolphins and whales than to rhinos and elephants. Their common ancestor apparently decided that running around on river bottoms and grazing on land was a better deal than going full aquatic. As always, these videos are not for children or adults who don’t think like children.

The global economy has lost more money to invasive species than to earthquakes

Invasive species are, as I’ve said before, a point at which traditional environmentalism intersects with climate activism. They can, by overwhelming local species, effectively terraform an entire land mass, as European earthworms have almost completed doing to North America. I think most of the time, even for species that don’t spend their lives underground, people don’t tend to notice invasive species or the effects they have. It’s very like how climate change has been “invisible” to most people, for most of the last 30 years, and it’s only recently that a lot of people have noticed something’s off.

Well, just as we’ve been using money to measure the cost of natural disasters, we can apparently now measure the cost of species invasion, and it turns out that the two are pretty comparable:

In a new study, an international research team led by scientists from the Écologie, systématique et évolution (CNRS/Université Paris-Saclay/AgroParisTech) reveals an explicit order of magnitude: the global economic impact of these biological invasions is equivalent to that of natural catastrophes. From 1980 to 2019, financial losses due to invasive alien species amounted to $1208 billion (US), compared to nearly $1914 billion in losses caused by storms, $1139 billion attributed to earthquakes and $1120 billion due to floods.

Scientists have also found that the costs of biological invasions increased more rapidly than those of natural disasters over a given period. Invasive alien species have a long-lasting and cumulative effect: for example, the zebra mussel is capable of attaching itself to a wide variety of substrates, wreaking havoc on everything from ship hulls to nuclear power plant pipes. Its spread is particularly problematic in North America.

Honestly, that makes sense. I’ve seen the way invasive species can choke out all life except for themselves, and there’s no way something like that doesn’t ripple out through the ecosystem. What economic damage is done, for example, by honeysuckle wiping out a forest’s understory? I don’t know, but it can’t be zero.

I’ve long held that we, as a species, now affect this planet on the scale of a “force of nature”, but it’s a power that we currently cannot control. Time will tell, I suppose, whether we manage to change that before we destroy ourselves, but the one reason I’m a bit optimistic about that, is that our ability to figure out how we are changing the world is growing.

More than that, ecologists have been working on how to control invasive species for a long time, and it’s something where, if nations were to actually take the issue seriously, we could probably make pretty radical progress pretty quickly. As with everything else, invasive species control isn’t going to save the world by itself, but it’s a piece of the puzzle, and it’s something that normal people can actually get involved with. Clearing out a local invasive could easily be part of community cleanup efforts, for example, with the support of local universities and/or nature centers, and I’m willing to bet that there are people in such institutions who would love to get more community involvement in that stuff. Imagine how much we could get done if the government got involved to help with material costs, or even provide financial incentives? We’ve used bounties in the past to destroy and destabilize ecosystems – why not do the same for rehabilitating them?