Research suggests we’re on track for 3 degrees

Have I mentioned that I think we’re being too slow in our response to climate change? I feel like it’s come up. We’re not moving fast enough. We need to end fossil fuel use far, far faster than the current rate, and that is not going to happen if we care more about corporate profits than human survival. Now, I suppose I should say that this is based on the modeling of a research group, and it isn’t currently the “consensus” that we’re headed for three degrees of warming. I’m willing to bet that most climate scientists would agree that we are, or that three degrees is optimistic, but I couldn’t cite you a source on that. What I can cite is this report saying that it’s likely that that’s the trajectory we’re on:

“More and more countries are promising that they will phase out coal from their energy systems, which is positive. But unfortunately, their commitments are not strong enough. If we are to have a realistic chance of meeting the 2-degree target, the phasing out of coal needs to happen faster, and countries that rely on other fossil fuels need to increase their transition rate”, says Aleh Cherp, professor at the International Environmental Institute at Lund University.

The phasing out of coal is a necessity to keep the world’s temperature increase below 2 degrees, compared to pre-industrial levels. In a study by Mistra Electrification, a group of researchers has analyzed 72 countries’ pledged commitments to phase out their coal use by 2022-2050.

In the best case scenarios, the researchers show that it is possible that the temperature increase will stay below 2 degrees. But that assumes, among other things, that both China and India begin phasing out their coal use within five years. Furthermore, their phase-out needs to be as rapid as it has been in the UK and faster than Germany has promised.

The research group has also developed scenarios that they consider to be the most realistic. These scenarios indicate that Earth is moving towards a global warming of 2.5-3 degrees.

“The countries’ commitments are not sufficient, not even among the most ambitious countries. In addition, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine risks jeopardizing several of the countries’ commitments”, says Jessica Jewell, Associate professor at Physical Resource Theory, Chalmers University of Technology.

And Biden’s not really helping, either.

To say I’m disappointed would be to imply that I expected better. I suppose I did expect better, a couple decades ago, but world “leaders” have taught me the naivete of that optimism. This isn’t a problem that we can solve by trying to “nudge” the market in a particular direction, because a great many of the most powerful people in the world are already spending vast sums of money to “nudge” things back on track. I’ll be writing a post soon about how the billionaires think all this is going to play out, but the basic reality is that we can’t afford to wait for them to realize they’re wrong, assuming they’re even capable of such a realization. As a matter of survival, we need to take control of society away from them, and put it on a different path.

Video: Rebecca Watson takes on Easter myths and misinformation

Most of my memories from Easter are pretty secular. It’s not because we weren’t a religious household, but more because Quakers don’t much much stock in “holy days”, and my family mostly saw it as an excuse to celebrate and see relatives. We did egg hunts, we got huge baskets of candy from my grandmother – all the usual stuff. I think that’s part of why the claims of a pagan origin for the holiday never really interested me all that much. I believed them, but it didn’t really change how I saw things. This also means that discovering that all the Ishtar/Ostara stuff seems to be bunk also doesn’t really ruffle my feathers. It certainly seemed plausible, but it’s just as plausible that another chain of events led to the odd mishmash that is the modern USian conception of Easter. In fact, it’s apparently more plausible:

I’ll admit that I fully bought into the Ostara story and I was honestly shocked to learn that this story has only one single source, and it’s NOT from anyone who worshiped her, and maybe not even someone who lived in a time when anyone worshiped her. We know of Ostara only because of an 8th century English Christian monk named Bede, who wrote that the local pagans used to hold festivals in Ostara’s honor each Spring, but that with the Christianization of the area, the practice died out before his time. That’s it! A THOUSAND YEARS LATER, Jacob Grimm (of the famous Brothers) took that description and ran with it, asserting with no evidence that Ostara’s festivals directly connect with Easter and are the reason why we do so much weird shit to celebrate Jesus dying, like how we all love to eat “pastry of heathenish form.” That’s a direct quote from Grimm’s Deutsche Mythologie, and FYI it is now a permanent part of my family’s Easter traditions.

“This binding on of the ‘Easter seax’, or sword-knife, leads us to infer that a sword of peculiar antique shape was retained; as the Easter scones, ôsterstuopha (RA. 298) and moonshaped ôstermâne (Brem. wtb.) indicate pastry of heathenish form.”

Note that in the late 19th century, 150 inscriptions were found in Germany that related to three goddesses that seem to have been known as the Matronae Austriahenae , which linguists say could be related to Ostara, but there’s no proof of it.

With that in mind, maybe this goddess DID exist as a thing that some pagans worshiped, and maybe Bede was right that they held festivals in the spring in her honor, but we have no evidence that any of that is at all connected to present day Easter traditions, especially considering that even Bede said it died out before even his time. It seems that the idea of Easter being based on ancient pagan rites started in the early 19th century with Grimm. If you’d like to know more, Stephen Winick at the Library of Congress went down the, er, rabbit hole on the history of this misconception.

So, why DO we eat eggs laid by bunnies to celebrate a demigod being tortured and killed every spring?  Well, it’s probably because all the things we associate with Easter are associated with spring in general, and with rebirth, which is the entire theme of the Christian holiday: eggs have been a symbol of rebirth for at least two thousand years, rabbits emerge into people’s gardens in the spring, lambs are born in the spring, and as for where the bunny laying the egg came from, nobody really knows! But English folklorist Richard Sermon came up with a guess that I quite like, which is that “a hare’s scratch or form and a lapwing’s nest look very similar, and both occur on grassland and are first seen in the spring.” Maybe it all started with one hilarious parent pulling a prank on their kids.

That’s actually pretty neat! It’s also a good reminder to be skeptical about stories that “feel right” to us, as well as those we’re already inclined to disbelieve. Anyway, happy Easter to those who celebrate, and I hope everyone has a good day.

North Dakota Republicans take food from children while adding to their own plates

It is an evident truth that, whatever may be the rate of increase in the means of subsistence, the increase of population must be limited by it, at least after the food has once been divided into the smallest shares that will support life. All the children born beyond what would be required to keep up the population to this level must necessarily perish, unless room be made for them by the deaths of grown persons. It has appeared indeed clearly in the course of this work, that in all old states the marriages and births depend principally upon the deaths, and that there is no encouragement to early unions so powerful as a great mortality. To act consistently there- fore we should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavouring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality ; and if we dread the too frequent visitation of the horrid form of famine, we should sedulously encourage the other forms of destruction which we compel nature to use. Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations.^ But above all we should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases ; and those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders. If by these and similar means the annual mortality were increased from 1 in 36 or 40, to one in 18 or 20, we might probably every one of us marry at the age of puberty, and yet few be absolutely starved

When Thomas Malthus wrote that, he was convinced that population growth would inevitably outstrip our ability to produce food. He was wrong, of course, but more than that his solution was eugenics based on the assumption that poor people were the problem, and the solution was to deliberately make their lives worse so they’d die faster. Once upon a time, I might have written that, since we’re more than capable of feeding everyone on the planet, we have  outgrown this misguided and murderous idea. Unfortunately, I think it’s as popular as ever, particularly among those to whom Malthus’ recommendation would not apply. They also seem to love the perspective that poor people are sub-human, and more like livestock to be controlled, than actual people. I don’t know whether capitalists actually believe it, but they all adhere to the dogma that because “anyone can make it” under capitalism, that means that the poor chose their lot in life by not working hard enough. Poverty, under this ideology, is itself proof of unworthiness, and the only way to make people better is to punish them for being bad. They tend to avoid saying as much, but it’s pretty clear when you look at their “solutions” to societal problems.

The newest version of this old idea is probably longtermism/effective altruism, which basically holds that because rich people are “doing” all the important stuff like trying to colonize space, they need to be able to do whatever they want now, because it will make life better for the trillions of humans that will live out in space some time in the future. Poverty, child slavery, workplace death or injury, disease, global warming – none of it matters “in the grand scheme of things”, because Elon’s gonna make us interplanetary. This same self-importance seems to be prevalent throughout the ranks of the rich, including politicians.

This post isn’t about all of that, but I wanted to try to provide some context for the fact that North Dakota Republicans just shot down a free school lunch program – for feeding hungry children – and then gave themselves an increase in their own free lunch program:

Just over a week ago, North Dakota lawmakers voted to prevent giving free school lunches to low-income students. Then, on Thursday, they voted to increase the amount of money they get to spend on their own lunch.

On March 27, the Senate narrowly rejected a bill, which had passed the House, guaranteeing free school lunches to K-12 students in families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.


On Thursday, the Senate voted 26–21 to pass a bill to raise per diem meal reimbursements for state employees traveling within the state, from $35 to $45.

Republican Assistant Majority Leader Jerry Klein told local outlet InForum that state employees should be getting a higher sum because inflation costs have made meals more expensive. Klein voted against giving students, whose parents are also being squeezed by inflation, free school lunch.

“I thought today’s vote was very self-serving,” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Kathy Hogan told InForum. “How can we vote for ourselves when we can’t vote for children?”

The effort to give low-income students free school lunches for the next two years would have cost just some $6 million, a relatively small price to pay to ensure children don’t go hungry. While the Senate failed to pass the bill, the House is not giving up quite yet, reattaching the provision to a broader school funding bill.

I think that every person running for political office should be made to spell out what they believe society is for. Why are we doing all this? If literally feeding children is not the problem of the government, then what is? For some, it seems like it’s literally just there to serve the whims and interests of the rich, and to keep everyone else in line as the rich destroy everything. These politicians, and all others who oppose free school lunches, are actively choosing to harm the development of children in ways that will likely affect their entire lives. They’re also choosing to weaken the immune systems of poor children, and to make it much, much harder for them to succeed in school. The resources absolutely exist, but whatever these “leaders” view as their responsibilities, feeding starving children isn’t on the list.

I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising. After all, US politicians in both parties work to inflict and maintain malnutrition in poor children all over the world on a daily basis. and have done for decades. Honestly, they’ve been working to ensure people go hungry in the U.S. as well, from the enforcement of racial poverty during and since segregation, to the continuation of environmental inequality, to the continual assault on any government program that seeks to improve life for the working class.

Writing about this feels a bit like writing about the train derailment in East Palestine. This isn’t a new problem, it’s just that sometimes reporting on it catches national attention for a little while. This stuff is going to keep happening. It will not stop until the people organize enough to make it stop. There are absolutely politicians who are doing what they can to make the world better, and that work is worth acknowledging. The school lunch program has been attached to another education bill, and maybe the press about this glaring hypocrisy will shame some people into changing their votes, but the resources of the wealthy are on the side of those who want children to go hungry, and unless we take away the power of the wealthy, they will never stop trying to consume everything and everyone to for their own enrichment. Is it eugenics? It’s hard to say what’s going on inside a person’s head, but the actions we can see sure read like those of someone who shares Malthus’ disdain for the filthy poors.

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Biden Betrays Trans Students, Offers Discrimination Guide

Right at the beginning of his presidency, Joe Biden signed an executive order protecting trans people from discrimination, including trans children involved in competitive sports. This was before the current moral panic had reached the current genocidal fever, but trans people had absolutely been under growing attack. It was a welcome sign of support from someone whose record didn’t exactly mark him as a reliable ally in the fight for civil rights. Unfortunately, Biden has apparently decided that supporting a minority that’s the active target of a genocidal hate campaign is no longer in his political interest:

The Biden Department of Education has issued new Title IX regulations permitting restrictions on transgender athletes, leaving many in the transgender community feeling betrayed. The new regulations detail numerous ways schools can ban trans athletes while remaining compliant with Title IX, alarmingly echoing right-wing talking points about scholarships and risk of injury. These regulations specify methods schools may employ to determine a student’s sex, including invasive physical examinations. Although the administration will likely try to spin it as a nuanced approach, it will likely only add fuel to the fire of schools trying to ban transgender people from sports.

Just a brief point on the issue of scholarships. It has long been noted that when it comes to trans people, and trans women in particular, it seems that “fair” is often code for “trans women musn’t win”. The obsessive belief that men are always superior in athletics, and that trans women are really men, means that to a transphobe no victory by a trans athlete can be fair. Pretty much any time you hear a story about a cis woman athlete who was “robbed” of her place on a podium, it’ll turn out that she herself had beaten the trans woman in question, or that several other cis women placed ahead of both of them. Trans women can compete, but only if they don’t win.

I think this goes for the scholarship issue as well – the starting assumption is that trans women are inherently undeserving of athletic scholarships. Some some people will pretend to be allies, but only in a very paternalistic way that assumes the trans experience will always be pitiable, When trans people don’t fit that image, that allegiance fades away. They will also side with an exploitative education system over trans rights. Biden’s record on student loan debt is not good, and I think it’s very telling that rather than pushing to create a system in which scholarships so important, he’ll lock certain people out of eligibility. There is no good reason why people should be made to compete for the ability to get an affordable education, just as there’s no reason to discriminate against trans athletes.

The new regulations emerged just hours after a substantial victory for transgender individuals in sports. Today, the Supreme Court delivered its first ruling on the recent wave of anti-trans legislation. West Virginia has tried to ban trans students from participating in sports, with a case currently being heard involving a young transgender girl in the state. Although a federal court has halted West Virginia’s trans athlete ban, the Supreme Court listened to an appeal to temporarily reinstate the ban. In a significant 7-2 decision, Justices Barrett, Kavanaugh, and Gorsuch sided with the liberal justices, rejecting the appeal and marking a big moment for transgender rights.

However, the celebration for trans individuals was short-lived. Mere hours after the Supreme Court ruling, Biden’s new Title IX regulations surfaced, appearing to include significant concessions to those opposing transgender participation in sports. While the regulations may also displease conservatives by not permitting outright bans on trans athletes, they leave issues like “concerns over scholarships” and “risk of injury” unaddressed and still allow for broad bans for various sports and grade levels. The regulations outline situations in which schools could likely ban trans individuals from sports, making the new Title IX proposal document resemble a guide on how to discriminate rather than a comprehensive protection for transgender people.


Significantly, the rule does not categorically ban schools and states from enacting sports bans. In fact, the new rule allows for sports bans if they are “substantially related to the achievement of an important educational objective” and “minimize harms” to trans students who are denied or banned from sports. While it does not allow for blanket bans, it still allows bans for particular sports, grade levels, and more.

This concession would be significant enough, but the rest of the document is even worse. When discussing the scope of the rule, for instance, the document states that things such as gender markers on birth certificates, invasive “medical examinations,” and medical testing or treatments would all fall under the new rule. It does not ban the use of these tools, and in fact even seems to tacitly endorse them “as long as they minimize harm.”

From what I can tell, Joe Biden has always been pretty conservative. From his opposition to busing as part of desegregation, to his work making student loan debt inescapable, to his dedication to creating and maintaining mass incarceration, he’s more or less the epitome of “well, the Republicans are even worse, so I guess I gotta vote for him”. He was, and is, a better option than Trump, but I continue to believe that he’s not capable of leading the U.S. away from fascism. There are a lot of ways in which one can oppose fascism, but appeasement, historically, has not helped. Give fascists an inch, and they’ll claim that it always belonged to them, and the mere fact that you used to have control is proof that you want to take everything from them, because you’re evil, and controlled by the Jews. Appeasing Nazis, very famously, didn’t work to do anything except help the Nazis.

I’m framing it this way, because I’m giving Joe Biden the benefit of the doubt here. I’m assuming that his decision to betray trans people, while they are actively trying to defend themselves against a genocide, was made out of political calculation rather than personal bigotry. The best-case scenario is that he thinks that this will demonstrate that he’s willing to “be the reasonable one” and meet the Republicans halfway. If that’s what’s going on, then Biden is once again demonstrating that he has learned nothing from the last three decades of GOP politics.

“Meet me in the middle,” says the unjust man.

I don’t think this will work, because the fascists have no interest in anything less than the eradication of trans people from public life. What seems more likely, to me, is that the fascists will use this as proof that “the left” secretly knows they’re right about trans people. This will embolden them, because fascists cannot be appeased. They read appeasement as weakness, and they view weakness as an invitation to attack.

As Erin says elsewhere in the article quoted above, these new regulations ignore the lies that are often told about trans athletes. I think one of the reasons why this is such a popular line of attack is that most people don’t really understand how sports came to be segregated by gender, or how transition affects athletic ability. If you like videos, Mia Mulder and Jessie Gender both tackled the subject. Cosmos Magazine also dug into the issue just over a year ago:

While research in this field is still in its infancy, it’s clearer than some think. Not only do trans women not have advantages over cis women in sport in most cases, but cis women playing sports are overwhelmingly not worried about trans women competing alongside them.

First, let’s start with the science. When a trans woman decides to transition, usually one of the first medical steps they’ll undertake is to go on hormones. These are testosterone blockers (also known as anti-androgen medications) and estrogen, both of which are common medications that can also be prescribed to cis women to treat various ailments.

These hormones have a number of effects on a trans woman’s body – they add and change the way fat is distributed, they lower the levels of red blood cells, and significantly decrease strength, muscle and lean body mass.

“In sports cheating via ‘blood doping’, red blood cells are raised,” wrote Ada Cheung, an endocrinologist from the University of Melbourne, in a Sydney Morning Herald opinion article. “The opposite occurs in trans women: oxygen-carrying red blood cells drop to female levels. Trans women gain fat mass and lose bone density.

“Further research is coming. My research group at the University of Melbourne, in collaboration with the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University, have started the GAME research study examining how feminising hormones impact fitness, endurance, physique and gene changes in muscle over time in comparison groups.”

Although hormones will change many facets of a trans woman’s body if they transition as an adult, it won’t change someone’s height; and one study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, suggested that despite strength and muscle decreasing, they may still have a small advantage over the average cis women.

This is where the controversy comes from. Is it “fair” for someone who went through male puberty to be able to play at the elite level with women? Despite the recent coverage, this is not a particularly new issue. In elite sports, many sporting bodies already have codes in place that allow trans women to play if their testosterone level is below 5–10 nanomoles per litre for a number of months.

But in almost all sports, height or a slight strength advantage are not what gives you the leg-up over competitors. The AFL has called the ideas that trans women will “dominate” on the field, or cause a safety concern to their cis teammates, as “myths”.

“Sporting ability is more than just hormones,” they write in their Gender Diversity Policy. “Like other players, gender diverse players are all individuals and may have a range of physical abilities, fitness, skill levels and different strengths and weaknesses in the multi-skilled game of Australian football.

“For example, a cisgender or transgender woman may be taller and/or stronger than other women competitors but may also be slower and/or less agile.”

The results at the Olympics and other major sporting events back this up. For the very few trans women who have competed in sport at the elite level, there’s been no domination over cis women. Trans women may occasionally win, but they have never broken a world record, or won an Olympic event. If anything, trans women seem very much on an even playing field with their cis counterparts.

It’s also worth pointing out that the cohort of trans girls who transitioned before going through male puberty is only going to increase as more transgender people are able to transition earlier. For example, in 2017 in Australia, a law was overturned in the courts that had required all under 18 trans youth to go to court to be able to access puberty blockers or hormones from their doctor. Although there’s still a long way to go, increased access to gender affirming care for kids means that the issue itself is very likely to get smaller over time.

But, of course, the transphobes are doing everything they can to prevent that last paragraph from being true. They’re fighting to make it impossible for anyone to transition, and they’re starting with children. They don’t want fairness, and they don’t care about the wellbeing of trans people; they just want them to stop existing. They also, as I said, neither know nor care why women’s sports are separated from men’s sports:

This idea that trans women are naturally better at sport than cis women comes back to the impression that men have an innate advantage over women in every sport, which is not true either. Although we’ve mentioned that men are on average taller and stronger than women, at very long distances in ultra-running, research has shown that women start to outcompete men. This seems to be because women are metabolically better suited for endurance. Then there’s sports like figure skating, which became segregated in 1905 after British woman Madge Syers entered what had previously been an all-male World Championships and won silver.

Cis men do have an advantage in some areas, but not in others. I’m sure there are people who believe that men have a “biological advantage” when it comes to marksmanship, for example, but I would hope that none of my regular readers think that. One big reason many competitions are segregated like this, other than protecting men’s egos, is that due to the way history has played out, there are fewer women who go into professional athletics. Having a smaller pool from which to draw talent means that you will have fewer people capable of performing at the very peak. There are other reasons, which are covered by the videos I linked above, but the reality is that the whole situation is a lot more complicated than just “man stronk, woman weak”.

And when it comes to student sports, as the Cosmos article mentions, the point is rarely just to see who’s best. This may come as a shock to some members of the sport-poisoned society of the United States, but when it comes to children, sports don’t exist to train kids for professional leagues. Most of the time, it’s far more about practicing teamwork, getting exercise, building self-confidence, and things like that. If losing a sporting event, as a student, means that you can’t afford to live, or to keep getting your education, something in society has gone very, very wrong.

I don’t know whether this move by the Biden Administration will have whatever political benefits he’s hoping for. As some of the people I follow on Twitter have mentioned, trans people are both a tiny minority, and generally not very popular in USian politics. It’s possible that this will swing some voters in Biden’s favor, and this kind of casual discrimination is better than the wholesale extermination that the GOP is pursuing. Even so, it won’t slake the conservative thirst for blood. You can argue until the cows come home about how this is some sort of cunning ploy, but at the end of the day, it’s still a betrayal. This will directly harm student athletes of all ages, and it will encourage the bigots to redouble their efforts to hurt all trans people. This feels like the trans community is being used as a political pawn by someone who truly does not care of that pawn ends up being sacrificed.

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!

Seems like Clarence Thomas is on the take

There have been a lot of concerns, over the past few years, about Clarence Thomas and his fitness for the exalted office he holds. Most of that has revolved around the fact that his wife, Ginni Thomas, has been active in far-right politics. I feel like corruption from conservatives in government should be expected. Everything about their philosophy says that they ought to be able to take whatever they can get, and so I’m not especially surprised to hear that Clarence Thomas has been getting lavish gifts from a billionaire in the form of jet rides, vacations and more, without disclosing them as he is required to do.

In late June 2019, right after the U.S. Supreme Court released its final opinion of the term, Justice Clarence Thomas boarded a large private jet headed to Indonesia. He and his wife were going on vacation: nine days of island-hopping in a volcanic archipelago on a superyacht staffed by a coterie of attendants and a private chef.

If Thomas had chartered the plane and the 162-foot yacht himself, the total cost of the trip could have exceeded $500,000. Fortunately for him, that wasn’t necessary: He was on vacation with real estate magnate and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, who owned the jet — and the yacht, too.

For more than two decades, Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from the Dallas businessman without disclosing them, documents and interviews show. A public servant who has a salary of $285,000, he has vacationed on Crow’s superyacht around the globe. He flies on Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet. He has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow’s sprawling ranch in East Texas. And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.

The extent and frequency of Crow’s apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court.

These trips appeared nowhere on Thomas’ financial disclosures. His failure to report the flights appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts, two ethics law experts said. He also should have disclosed his trips on the yacht, these experts said.

This is what happens when you create unaccountable power. What are you gonna do, call the cops on a member of the Supreme Court? Sure, he ought to be impeached, but I’m not going to hold my breath. I’m not saying Democrats are much better, but conservatives have long, long had their game plan for when they get caught breaking rules or laws – claim that it’s all a political ploy by enemies who don’t know when to stop, threaten violence from right-wing extremists, and promise political retribution that’s now justified because “they” struck first. I continue to have little hope that any powerful person in the United States will ever be held to account, unless their victims are other members of the ruling class.

Still, I suppose it’ll be interesting to watch this unfold, and it’d be lovely to be proven wrong, as always. You may find this video on the topic from Beau of the Fifth Column to be interesting. I was intrigued by his claim that the hardest part for Thomas to justify won’t be the hundreds of thousands of dollars in vacations and the like, but the use of his benefactor’s private jet.


It’s Not Just Us: Viral outbreaks in Pacific corals worsened by climate change

For those who are unfamiliar, corals are marine invertebrates that typically live in colonies, and typically have a symbiotic relationship with algae. The “main” organism is a polyp – a jellyfish-like creature that builds the calcium carbonate structures that we recognize as “coral”. For the species that have symbiotic algae incorporated into the polyp’s body, the algae are the source of the coral’s bright colors, and when temperatures get too high, the polyp expels the algae, causing “bleaching”. If the temperature lowers and the polyps get new algae, they can recover. If they can’t do that, then they eventually die. This, plus the corrosion from ocean acidification, are the most widely known effects of global warming on coral.

The algae are important, because they both consume waste generated by the polyp, and they produce nutrients for it via photosynthesis. Unfortunately, it seems that expulsion due to a stressed polyp isn’t the only threat. There’s now reason to believe that marine heat waves can come with viral epidemics for the algae specifically:

Lead author Lauren Howe-Kerr said coral and marine disease researchers are paying closer attention to coral viruses in the wake of studies in October 2021 and February 2022 that found evidence suggesting viral infections of symbiotic dinoflagellates might be responsible for stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD). One of the deadliest coral diseases ever recorded, SCTLD has been decimating reefs in Florida and the Caribbean since it was first identified in 2014.

“While this study is not focused on SCLTD, it builds our understanding of coral viruses, and particularly RNA viruses that infect coral endosymbionts,” said Howe-Kerr, a Rice postdoctoral researcher who co-authored the study with more than a dozen colleagues from Rice, Northeastern University, the University of Oregon, the University of the Virgin Islands, Rutgers University, Oregon State University, George Mason University, New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and the Mote Marine Laboratory’s Coral Reef Research and Restoration Center in Summerland Key, Florida.

“Our work provides the first empirical evidence that exposure to high temperatures on the reef triggers dinoRNAV infections within coral colonies, and we showed those infections are intensified in unhealthy coral colonies,” Howe-Kerr said.

The study was carried out at the Moorea Coral Reef Long-term Ecological Research station on the Pacific Ocean island of Moorea in French Polynesia. Moorea, which is about 20 miles from Tahiti, is ringed by coral reefs. Samples from 54 coral colonies around the island were collected twice a year between August 2018 and October 2020. The warmest water temperatures during that span were in March 2019. Reefs across the island suffered heat-related stress during this period, including widespread bleaching.

The study sites were located in a variety of reef zones that were subject to different kinds of environmental stress. For example, ocean-facing forereefs are deeper, with cooler and more consistent water temperatures, while near-shore fringing reefs in lagoons are subjected to the highest temperatures and greatest temperature variability.

This makes perfect sense to me. It’s well known that most organisms, when placed under various kinds of stress, are more vulnerable to disease. This is true of humans, and as far as I know, it’s true of all of our distant relatives covering this planet. It’s part of why the ongoing climate crisis is so scary – the changing conditions are putting everything under some level of increased stress. That doesn’t, by itself, guarantee doom, but it increases the odds of something going wrong when there aren’t resources to handle it. For every little bit the temperature rises, we all get just a little less wiggle room. For humans, the biggest disease risk that’s discussed is exposure to new zoonotic diseases like COVID-19, the myriad of ways in which life is getting worse for most of us for societal reasons are already putting us in some danger, and the rise in heatwaves and other such disasters is only going to make that worse.

I like talking about global solidarity, but in many ways that needs to extend well beyond our own species. We need to consume other organisms to survive, but in order for that to happen, we need those organisms to, you know, exist. If you need a direct benefit, coral reefs support fish that many people depend on for food, but healthy ecosystemns do far more for us than just the direct filling of our bellies. When I talk about finding ways to integrate with ecosystems, rather than existing in opposition to them, it’s not just because I have a utopian vision of literally green cities, it’s because I don’t think we’ve got much chance at a real future without doing that. The upside is that, while there’s a long way to go, most of the steps we need to take will make life better in the short term, too. I doubt there’s much we can do to help coral, in the short term, but life is persistent, and if we can change our ways in time, I have little doubt that nature will recover.

Seafloor mining threatens to open dark new phase of habitat destruction

While global warming is, without question, the greatest threat facing humanity, it’s far from the only threat, and ending CO2 emissions will only help so much if we continue perpetrating wanton habitat destruction in our pursuit of resources. I think it’s more likely than not that we could find more of a balance, in which the destruction caused in resource extraction is more limited, but it would require a very different kind of economy. The process of maintaining the health of the ecosystem around a mine would need to be at least as important as the materials being extracted, like healing the wounds created by surgery. The same is true of waste produced from manufacturing, even as we reduce the volume by eliminating profit-driven overproduction. We have to deal with climate change, but we also have to deal with habitat destruction and chemical pollution, for our own sake.

This is also not a conversation we can afford to put off until climate change is “dealt with”. I think it’s reasonable to assume, by now, that by the time we’re off fossil fuels, the climate’s natural momentum will drive continued warming for centuries, or even millennia to come. In practical terms, we may never be done “dealing with” climate change. No, we need to be dealing with all of these problems, all at once. I support extraction of rare earth minerals and other stuff needed for electronics, but not at any price. Slavery needs to end, all over the globe, and reparations must be made to those who have been enslaved, in addition to what is already owed for the crimes of history. The waste of these precious resources through planned obsolescence, the lethally neglectful handling of electronic wasteall of it needs to end. It really, really sucks that this is where we’re at, but the reality is that we really do have to do everything all at once. There’s no more time to just put this stuff off, and unfortunately the current momentum of society has us hurtling towards destruction.

Our oceanic ecosystems were in trouble long before the climate’s warming was detectable. Overfishing, the destruction of the sea floor through trawling, and a million different kinds of pollution have oceanic ecosystems on the ropes just like many ecosystems on land; and just like terrestrial ecosystems, oceanic ecosystems are at risk from resource extraction even if we stop all oil and gas drilling:

An investigation by conservationists has found evidence that deep-seabed mining of rare minerals could cause “extensive and irreversible” damage to the planet.

The report, to be published on Monday by the international wildlife charity Fauna & Flora, adds to the growing controversy that surrounds proposals to sweep the ocean floor of rare minerals that include cobalt, manganese and nickel. Mining companies want to exploit these deposits – which are crucial to the alternative energy sector – because land supplies are running low, they say.

However, oceanographers, biologists and other researchers have warned that these plans would cause widespread pollution, destroy global fish stocks and obliterate marine ecosystems.

“The ocean plays a critical role in the basic functioning of our planet, and protecting its delicate ecosystem is not just critical for marine biodiversity but for all life on Earth,” said Sophie Benbow, the organisation’s marine director.

There are two images. Image A shows a healthy seafloor community on a

There are two images. Image A shows a healthy seafloor community on a “seamount”, with a variety of corals and other organisms. Image B shows the results of trawling on a seamount – a barren, flat landscape with no visible life but what looks like a passing sea cucumber sort of thing, which has a pink body, and whitish, nearly transparent appendages. The photo was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons with permission from CSIRO Marine Research.

Trawling for fish already causes extensive damage. When nets drag along the sea floor, they obliterate whole ecosystems, leaving barren desert behind. With total darkness, low temperatures, and high pressure, these ecosystems develop slowly. Recovery, if it ever happens, is far off. Trawling for minerals would be much worse, because they’d be deliberately digging deeper into the sea floor, and bringing up not only pollutants related to the metals being extracted, but also any toxic waste that has collected in the sediment over the years. It may be that there is some way to make seafloor resource extraction viable, but this is not it.

Seafloor ecosystems are about as “out of sight” as it is possible to get, but I think that preserving them is just as important as preserving places like the Atlanta Forest. We have to stop doing this. The people in power are apparently impervious to reason, but we have to stop doing this.

That’s why I think we need organizing. That’s why I want people to have the capacity for a real general strike in the United States, because our leaders either do not care about the damage they are doing, or ideology and wealth have made then incapable of understanding it.

I do get to do a bit of a bad news/good news/bad news “Oreo” with this article, though. One of the concerns they mention is that disturbing the sea floor also risks disturbing methane deposits, triggering the dreaded “clathrate gun”, releasing vast amounts of methane into the atmosphere, and causing global warming to leap forward. While I think that this is a concern worth having, and something that merits more caution and more research, there’s also reason to believe that, given the depth of most such deposits, the methane would dissolve into the water before it reached the surface. That would not be without consequences, but it would spare us a sudden, devastating increase in temperature.

The bad news is that we will probably never really know the sheer scale of biodiversity loss that has already happened through trawling, and that capitalists, unsurprisingly, see no problem with plowing ahead:

Recent research has also emphasised that our knowledge and understanding of biodiversity is woefully incomplete. “Each time an expedition is launched to collect species, we find that between 70% and 90% of them are new to science,” said Benbow. “It is not just new species, but whole genera of plants and creatures about which we had previously known nothing.”

This view is supported by David Attenborough, who has called for a moratorium on all deep-sea mining plans. “Mining means destruction, and in this case it means the destruction of an ecosystem about which we know pathetically little,” he said.

Delicate, long-living denizens of the deep – polychaete worms, sea cucumbers, corals and squid – would be obliterated by dredging, researchers have warned. Nor would there be any chance of a quick recovery. At depths of several kilometres, food and energy are limited, and life proceeds at an extraordinarily slow rate. “Once lost, biodiversity will be impossible to restore,” says the report.

The battle over our planet’s deep-sea resources focuses primarily on the trillions of nodules of manganese, nickel and cobalt that litter the ocean floor. These metals are critical to the manufacture of electric cars, wind turbines and other devices that will be needed to replace carbon-emitting lorries, power plants and factories.

As a result, mining companies are now jostling to dredge them up in vast quantities using robot rovers – attached by pipelines to surface ships – that would trundle over the ocean floor, sucking up nodules and pumping them to their mother craft.

But operations like these would devastate our already stressed oceans, destroy their delicate ecosystems and send plumes of sediments, laced with toxic metals, spiralling upwards to poison marine food-chains, say marine biologists.

For their part, mining companies have defended their plans by pointing out that drilling for mineral reserves on land is even more damaging to the planet’s stressed ecosystems. If we focus all our efforts to dig up cobalt, nickel and manganese there, we will degrade the environment ever further. Better turn to the ocean depths instead, it is argued.

The claim is dismissed by Weller. “These companies are presenting deep-sea mining as a new frontier but they really mean it to be an additional frontier – for none of these companies is suggesting that if we started mining the deep seabed then they would stop mining on land. We would just be adding to our woes.”

Precisely this. They are presenting a false choice, and ignoring the fact that, as I said above, we have to stop doing this. Mining on land has to change – we can’t just leave the waste in tailing ponds until the dams give out and they pour poisonous sludge onto communities downhill. It will require sacrifices, of course, beginning with billionaires. I’m not suggesting we cut out their hearts in some dark ceremony – ẏ̶̖̬̤̯̱̕e̷̳̟̔̉t̷̪̻͌̿̂͗͆ͅ – but that we ruthlessly sever their fortunes, condemning them to the horror of living like normal people.

This kind of resource extraction is, as Attenborough said, inherently dangerous and destructive. That doesn’t mean we can never do it, but it does mean that when we do, it ought to be driven by need, not greed, and not the kind of economic need driven by one’s place in a an exploitative global capitalist system:

Ocean experts are concerned about the prospects of deep-sea mining operations beginning in the near future, following the decision of the Pacific Island state of Nauru to accelerate exploitation of the sea bed. In June 2021, it notified the International Seabed Authority (ISA) – responsible for regulating mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction – of its intention to sponsor an exploitation application for nodule mining in the Pacific.

In doing so, Nauru triggered a ‘two-year rule’ – a legal provision which creates a countdown for the ISA to adopt its first set of exploitation regulations for deep-seabed mining and could result in the green light for deep-seabed mining this year. Discussions among the 167 member states of the ISA are now under way.

“This is a critical year,” said Weller. “The newly agreed UN High Sea treaty signifies a clear global recognition of the importance of ocean conservation but collaborative efforts are still needed to keep the brakes on deep-sea mining.”

I’m not saying greed is playing no role in this, but it makes sense that, especially with the looming threat of sea level rise, island nations would be looking for whatever edge they can get. Their economic situation was forced on them by the same imperial powers that have forced climate change on all of us, and it only makes sense to try to save themselves with whatever means they have at their disposal. After all, it’s not like the habitat destruction will stop if Naru decides not to mine its sea floor. No, island nations are facing the same artificially maintained Tragedy of the Commons, in which the primacy of private ownership creates an incentive to take as much as you can, because if it’s not you, it’ll be someone else.

And that, my friends, is why the workers of the world must unite, and bring about global solidarity, for the survival of humanity.

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!

A glimmer of hope for a critically endangered wildcat

Scottish wildcats are a nearly-extinct species of cat that looks similar to, and can interbreed with, house cats. Specifically, they look like thick-furred tabbies. They also seem to inspire some rather dramatic language, being called “highland tigers”, or, in the case of this video, the last king of Scotland:

To be fair, I did name my cat His Holiness Saint Ray the Cat, so I guess I’m not one to talk. By now I’m sure you’re aware that if you have a pet cat, you should probably keep it indoors. It does mean you’ll probably have to put more effort into entertaining it, but it really would be for the best, for the ecosystem around you. With climate change, pollution, and feral cats, I think it’s probably for the best if we do what we can to take a little pressure off.

One thing that’s important to keep in mind about housecats is that they do not operate like a normal member of an ecosystem. Humans actively maintain their presence, while protecting them from diseases, and giving them safe shelter from predators and from the elements. Feral cats are more vulnerable, of course, but they don’t exist in isolation from fully domestic cats. There’s interbreeding, if pet owners don’t spay or neuter their pets, there are pets that get lost or abandoned, and become feral. Human activity, absent a real effort to the contrary, tends to support and maintain feral cat populations, in addition to maintaining a population of unnaturally healthy pet cats that also kill local wildlife.

Sunlight seems to make this Scottish Wildcat's tabby fur glow golden. Its hazel eyes pop thanks to black-rimmed lids that look like it has eyeliner. its lips and chin are white, and there's white fur on its throat. The rest of its body, out of focus in the background, looks like gray and black stripes. Further back, you can see vegetation, very out of focus. The photo was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Airwolfhound

Sunlight seems to make this Scottish Wildcat’s tabby fur glow golden. Its hazel eyes pop thanks to black-rimmed lids that look like it has eyeliner. its lips and chin are white, and there’s white fur on its throat. The rest of its body, out of focus in the background, looks like gray and black stripes. Further back, you can see vegetation, very out of focus. The photo was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Airwolfhound.

These concerns are generally raised because of the harm done by feral and pet cats to bird and rodent populations, but when you add in a creature like the Scottish wildcat, interbreeding becomes a huge problem. There are simply more house cats than wildcats, and because they can interbreed, the house cat population will absorb the handful of remaining feral cats in much the same way that Homo sapiens absorbed the dwindling Neanderthal population, if left unchecked. Biologists will be able to point to DNA markers of distant wildcat ancestry in the feral cat population, but wildcats, as a species, will no longer exist.

When it comes to the question of whether there are any “pure” wildcats left, I think that the answer lies not just in genetic analysis, but also in behavior, and the role they play in the ecosystem. As the video below mentions, feral housecats behave very differently from wildcats. Where wildcats are solitary outside of breeding season, and maintain a low level of density, feral housecats form colonies, generally supported by a mix of wild prey and well-meaning but misguided humans who feed them. That social behavior harbors diseases, which can then be passed on to the wildcat population.

The feral cats are a problem for the wildcats, but if feral cats were to fully replace the wildcats, it would be worse for the ecosystem. In addition to maintaining low population density, wildcats do often go for larger prey than housecats, sometimes even taking fauns, which is probably which they’ve historically made farmers nervous. Referring again to the video below, having a mid-sized predator around changes the behavior of prey species, which in turn changes the impact that they have on the rest of the ecosystem. It seems odd to call a little creature like this an “apex predator”, but in the highlands as they exist, the title seems to fit.

There are three angles on conservation focused on predators like wolves or wildcats. One is the social aspect – they’re charismatic. These cats are extremely cute, and so it’s easy to get people to care about them. The second is that if you have a healthy, stable population of medium or large carnivores, that means that the entire ecosystem that’s feeding them is also healthy. It means that the various prey species are also getting enough to eat, and aren’t themselves being eaten to extinction. The third is the one I mentioned in the paragraph above, and I think it’s one that people are less likely to think of, so I’m glad it was brought up.

I find it encouraging that in this documentary that was put on Youtube 6 years ago, the expert estimated that the Scottish Wildcat had maybe 5-6 years left. That means that their efforts to preserve the species have actually been successful, so far, and while they’re not in the clear yet, they seem to have a real shot. That’s good news, both for the cats, and for our ability to deliberately reduce the harm that we’re doing to local ecosystems. The expert most cited in that video, Paul Donahue, has a point, in worrying that with only three or four dozen wildcats actually in the wild, capturing them for a breeding program would hurt more than it helps. I honestly don’t know whether that’s the case, but it seems as though the projected release of 20 cats per year would quickly make up for that loss. It’s also not clear to me whether they captured any new cats for the program, whether all the cats used were already being held in zoos. It seems to be the latter.

I was initially going to talk about the practice of “headstarting” turtles – raising them in captivity till they’re past the point at which hatchlings experience the highest mortality, to give them a better shot at surviving to adulthood than they would otherwise have. This program is similar to that, but a better comparison might be what happened with the black footed ferret in the midwestern United States. The short version is that they went from numbering in the tens of thousands to having just 18 individuals left in the entire world. There was a captive breeding program, an associated habitat conservation effort, and now there are several hundred of them in the wild.

The ferrets faced a different set of threats from the Scottish wildcat, and weasels are obviously not cats, but I think that the comparison is worth making. When it comes to conservation, I’m generally an “all of the above” sort of guy. I think we should do as much as we can both to help ecosystems recover from the harm we’ve been doing to them, while also reshaping our society to be more steady-state, and more a part of those ecosystems. As I said, I understand Donahue’s concern about taking cats from the wild for captive breeding, but that effort does seem to be progressing. The association Saving Wildcats has gotten approval to begin releasing captive-bred wildcats into Cairngorms National Park in northeast Scotland, starting in June. This is sort of a trial period, during which they’ll be releasing small numbers, tracking them with GPS collars, and seeing how they do:

The first in a series of trial releases at undisclosed locations in the National Park is planned for June. The Saving Wildcats project said it would be the first conservation translocation of wildcats in Britain. Eventually, as many as 20 wildcats could be released annually.

Scotland’s nature agency, NatureScot, approved the licence for this summer’s release. It assessed Saving Wildcats’ application in line with the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations. The process considers a range of issues including animal welfare, site suitability and potential impacts on neighbouring and community interests.

Saving Wildcats, which involves a number of organisations, has been breeding the animals at Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig, near Aviemore. The wildcats are to be released in a 600 sq km area involved in a landscape conservation project called Cairngorms Connect.

It is a partnership of neighbouring land managers – Wildland Limited, Forestry and Land Scotland, RSPB Scotland and NatureScot – working towards a 200-year vision to enhance habitat, species and ecological processes.

NatureScot’s head of biodiversity, Dr Katherine Leys, said Saving Wildcats offered a lifeline for the species. “This journey is not without difficulty, and we know that there are more hurdles to overcome before we reach the point where we are ready to release the Wildcats into carefully selected areas of the Cairngorms National Park.

“Once there, the Wildcats will face further challenges, so it’s crucial the project continues to work with local communities, farmers, land-owners and cat owners to ensure wildcats are given the best chance to survive and thrive.”

Saving Wildcats project lead and Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s head of conservation, Dr Helen Senn, added: “When the time comes, we will be able to move Wildcats under licence from pre-release enclosures at Highland Wildlife Park to carefully selected areas in the Cairngorms Connect landscape which provide a suitable mix of habitats and potential prey for the species.

“After release, the Wildcats will be monitored using GPS collars as they face the many challenges of life in the wild. The fight to restore Scotland’s Wildcat populations is just beginning and we are grateful to everyone providing expertise and support along the way.”

Apparently the National Farmers Union of Scotland is also on board, which is good, because farmers concerned about livestock were part of why wildcats have come so close to extinction.

As they say, there’s a ways to go yet before they’re at the hoped-for 20 cats rewilded per year. Even so, this is a big step in the right direction. I mentioned the division among activists on this issue, between focusing on providing the right conditions for the wildcat population to recover on its own, and doing the captive breeding that led me to write this post. Part of the reason I like “all of the above” approaches, where they are possible, is that the work that has been done to control feral cat populations, and to get landowners on board with preserving habitat, and helping keep track of the wild population – all of that work will absolutely increase the likelihood that the captive breeding program will succeed.

I don’t know the extent to which those efforts have been active around Cairngorms, but I believe work like that has been ongoing across Great Britain. The future is still very uncertain for the “highland tiger”, but from where I’m sitting, there’s more than a glimmer of hope.

The image shows three wildcats on a patch of grass. It looks to be a mother and two teenage kittens. Their fur is a light brown-gray with vertical black stripes, forming black bands on the tail, and a black tailtip. The mother cat is walking toward the left of the image, looking at something off-camera, and one of the teenagers is walking pressed against her side, with its tail straight up in the air. The other kitten is sitting, back in a neat curve, looking at whatever the other two are approaching. The sitting kitten looks like he's about to get up and follow the others. The photo was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Peter Trimming.

The image shows three wildcats on a patch of grass. It looks to be a mother and two teenage kittens. Their fur is a light brown-gray with vertical black stripes, forming black bands on the tail, and a black tailtip. The mother cat is walking toward the left of the image, looking at something off-camera, and one of the teenagers is walking pressed against her side, with its tail straight up in the air. The other kitten is sitting, back in a neat curve, looking at whatever the other two are approaching. The sitting kitten looks like he’s about to get up and follow the others. The photo was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Peter Trimming.

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: Don’t Join the Military

Having some health issues today, so I’m taking it easy. Tomorrow you get a post about Scottish wildcats, and there will be pictures and videos, all cute. In the meantime, here’s a video about why you should not join the military. The TL:DW is that the military is a tool of oppression for a ruling class that is driving us all to extinction.

New study reinforces concern over the collapse of oceanic currents

There are a lot of big worries when it comes to global warming, but one of the big ones is that it will change the big ocean currents. These currents are important for the role they play in “stirring” the oceans, and delivering oxygen to waters too deep and dark for photosynthesis. The other big role they play is in redistributing heat around the planet. Ireland, for example, is further north than anywhere I’ve lived in the U.S., but its climate is much more stable. It never gets as cold in the winter, and it never gets as hot in the summer, and that’s all thank to the “ocean conveyor belt” current known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, which brings heat north and east from the Gulf of Mexico, and gives western Europe a relatively warm and stable climate. If the current shuts down, Europe suddenly gets a whole lot colder, and some other part of the world gets a whole lot warmer, and the general result is global chaos:

Such an event would have catastrophic consequences around the world, severely disrupting the rains that billions of people depend on for food in India, South America and West Africa; increasing storms and lowering temperatures in Europe; and pushing up the sea level off eastern North America. It would also further endanger the Amazon rainforest and Antarctic ice sheets.

The complexity of the AMOC system and uncertainty over levels of future global heating make it impossible to forecast the date of any collapse for now. It could be within a decade or two, or several centuries away. But the colossal impact it would have means it must never be allowed to happen, the scientists said.

“The signs of destabilisation being visible already is something that I wouldn’t have expected and that I find scary,” said Niklas Boers, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who did the research. “It’s something you just can’t [allow to] happen.”

Unfortunately, what we can or cannot “allow” has little bearing on what we do, or rather what is done by the ruling class. As Boers says later in that article, the odds of this catastrophe increase with every bit of CO2 we add to the atmosphere (and that’s not to mention all the other greenhouse gases we produce). The current has been slowing down, and while there’s not conclusive proof that that’s due to climate change, that certainly seems to be the most likely culprit. These currents are primarily driven by big changes in temperature and salinity at the poles, and shockingly, if you add a whole bunch of fresh water from melted ice into the mix, that’s gonna change conditions.

New research published in Nature reports on an effort to model what’s going on down there, and how increasing meltwater will affect things, and you’ll be shocked to hear that the results aren’t great for us:

Antarctic circulation could slow by more than 40 per cent over the next three decades, with significant implications for oceans and the climate.

Direct measurements taken from the deep ocean have established that warming is already underway.

The deep ocean circulation that forms around Antarctica could be headed for collapse, say scientists.

Such a decline would stagnate the bottom of the oceans and affect climate and marine ecosystems for centuries to come.

The results are detailed in a new study coordinated by Scientia Professor Matthew England, Deputy Director of the ARC Centre for Excellence in Antarctic Science (ACEAS) at UNSW Sydney. The work, published today in Nature, includes lead author Dr Qian Li – formerly from UNSW and now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – as well as co-authors from the Australian National University (ANU) and CSIRO.

Cold water that sinks near Antarctica drives the deepest flow of the overturning circulation – a network of currents that spans the world’s oceans. The overturning carries heat, carbon, oxygen and nutrients around the globe. This influences climate, sea level and the productivity of marine ecosystems.

“Our modelling shows that if global carbon emissions continue at the current rate, then the Antarctic overturning will slow by more than 40 per cent in the next 30 years – and on a trajectory that looks headed towards collapse,” says Prof England.

Modelling the deep ocean

About 250 trillion tonnes of cold, salty, oxygen-rich water sinks near Antarctica each year. This water then spreads northwards and carries oxygen into the deep Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

“If the oceans had lungs, this would be one of them,” Prof England says.

The international team of scientists modelled the amount of Antarctic deep water produced under the IPCC ‘high emissions scenario’, until 2050.

The model captures detail of ocean processes that previous models haven’t been able to, including how predictions for meltwater from ice might influence the circulation.

This deep ocean current has remained in a relatively stable state for thousands of years, but with increasing greenhouse gas emissions, Antarctic overturning is predicted to slow down significantly over the next few decades.

Impacts of reduced Antarctic overturning

With a collapse of this deep ocean current, the oceans below 4000 metres would stagnate.

“This would trap nutrients in the deep ocean, reducing the nutrients available to support marine life near the ocean surface,” says Prof England.

Co-author Dr Steve Rintoul of CSIRO and the Australian Antarctic Program Partnership says the model simulations show a slowing of the overturning, which then leads to rapid warming of the deep ocean.

“Direct measurements confirm that warming of the deep ocean is indeed already underway,” says Dr Rintoul.

I wrote about some of those direct measurements back in 2020, and I think this is a good reminder that all of these models are built using real-world data, and repeatedly tested against new data as it becomes available. This is also a good point at which to remind everyone that we will start feeling the effects of a continued slowdown long before, and long after the current can be described as “stopped”. As with so many other aspects of climate change, this isn’t likely to be enough to and civilization by itself, but it will certainly make life harder. Changes to temperature and precipitation will continue to interfere with conventional food production, and it’s hard to say when we’ll be able to see how this is affecting fisheries. The truly catastrophic stuff, like the lower layers of the ocean turning anoxic, are unlikely to happen in our lifetimes, simply due to the sheer size of the oceans – it takes time for things to affect such a large mass.

That said, we have been “affecting” said mass for well over a century, and the scale of that effect has been growing that whole time. It may be that the “less catastrophic” stuff will be more than enough to end our species, so while I feel like we’re on the wrong path, I’ll agree again with Dr Boers above – we cannot allow this to continue.

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!