Global “Leaders” Still Living in Fantasy World Where Natural Gas is Green

A while back, renowned climate scientist Michael Mann blocked me on twitter for saying that while Biden’s climate bill was certainly better than nothing, it wasn’t close to “enough”. I don’t particularly blame him for having an itchy trigger finger, given the cesspool that is Twitter, and the long history of utter bullshit being slug his way, but I still think he was in the wrong. The realty – and I think Mann probably agrees with this – is that we are not moving fast enough, whether we’re talking about the US, or about the world at large. I’ve recently started to see more mainstream outlets come to the same conclusion as I did a couple weeks ago, when I said that we’re in for a nasty couple of years, as El Niño approaches, on top of already-record-breaking sea surface temperatures. I suppose it might be fun to pretend that they got the idea from me, but the reality is that it’s the most obvious conclusion possible, for anyone who’s been watching the issue.

We’re going to pass 1.5°C at some point soon, probably within the next 4 or 5 years. We will probably get a break, a little while after that – the global average temperature will probably dip back below that threshold, for at least a couple years. I say “probably”, because we are in uncharted waters here, and we may be approaching a point at which the Earth can no longer provide as much of a buffer between us, and the consequences of our actions. Even if the temperature does dip again in a few years, the coming global “heat wave” will only add to the momentum of the warming, and I’m expecting the speed of the warming to increase.

And so, activists are quite rightly calling out world “leaders” at the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan:

The statement comes after G7 climate, energy, and environment ministers were criticized for their communiqué from a meeting in Sapporo last month as well as protests around the world this week pressuring the summit’s attendees to ditch fossil fuels and “deliver a clear and just renewable energy agenda for a peaceful world.”

To meet the 1.5°C goal of the Paris climate agreement, the new statement commits to “accelerate the phaseout of unabated fossil fuels so as to achieve net-zero in energy systems by 2050 at the latest” along with “the elimination of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 or sooner.”

The statement also highlights that last year, G7 nations—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States—pledged to end “new direct public support for the international unabated fossil fuel energy sector, except in limited circumstances,” though as recent analysis shows, some are breaking that promise.

The communiqué then endorses liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a solution to “the global impact of Russia’s war on energy supplies, gas prices and inflation, and people’s lives,” referencing the invasion of Ukraine:

In this context, we stress the important role that increased deliveries of LNG can play, and acknowledge that investment in the sector can be appropriate in response to the current crisis and to address potential gas market shortfalls provoked by the crisis. In the exceptional circumstance of accelerating the phaseout of our dependency on Russian energy, publicly supported investment in the gas sector can be appropriate as a temporary response, subject to clearly defined national circumstances, if implemented in a manner consistent with our climate objectives without creating lock-in effects, for example by ensuring that projects are integrated into national strategies for the development of low-carbon and renewable hydrogen.

“The G7 energy outcome correctly diagnoses a short-term need for energy security, then promotes a dangerous and inappropriate lock-in of fossil gas that would do nothing to address this need,” responded Collin Rees, United States program manager at Oil Change International (OCI). “Energy security can only be achieved by rapidly and equitably phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy, not locking in deadly fossil fuels and lining the pockets of oil and gas executives.”

After accusing the summit’s attendees of “using the war as an excuse,” deflecting blame for current conditions, and neglecting Global South countries disproportionately suffering from the climate crisis, Max Lawson, head of inequality policy at Oxfam, declared that “the G7 must stop using fossil fuels immediately—the planet is on fire.”

There will never not be an excuse to delay on this. You get that, right?

There’s never going to be a time at which fossil fuel corporations say, “Ok, now we’re ready,” and begin using their vast wealth and power to end fossil fuel use. These are not people who got to where they are by being creative or well-meaning, and they are entirely used to the notion of killing lots of people for money. From where they sit, there’s no upside, for them, to saving humanity from extinction. Does that sound like I’m exaggerating? I hope not, but it’s often hard to tell where I stand on these issues, relative to the general population.

Yesterday, I went to an anarchist book fair, and heard an activist from Northern Ireland talk about the effort to stop a new gold mining operation. It threatens local ecosystems, of course, but it also threatens communities for a good distance around. Twice-weekly blasting generates both noise and chemical pollution, and the stone brought up that’s not gold is crushed into a dust, which will be stored in an open air “dry stack” facility. Basically, they make a huge pile of rock dust, and work to keep it damp enough, on the surface, that it doesn’t blow away, but dry enough that it doesn’t leech pollutants into the watershed. This dust is loaded with all sorts of interesting stuff, including sulfur, which combines with water to create sulfuric acid, which then releases heavy metals, which pollute the surrounding landscape. I don’t know how much you know about the climate in Ireland, but I can say with some certainty that it rains a lot. Furthermore, there’s a very good chance that a dry stack like this will collapse, causing more death and pollution.

I bring all that up, because none of it is new. We know about the dangers of dry stack storage of mine waste, because people have died from it in the past. There’s no question that lives will be destroyed if the gold mine goes ahead, because this happens pretty much every time, and they keep doing it anyway. The same holds true for the countless lives destroyed by fossil fuel extraction, and by factory waste, and the list goes on and on and on.

They are entirely used to the notion of killing lots of people for money.

So what do we do? Well, regular readers won’t be shocked by my answer. For now, at least, you should look for ways to organize the communities in which you move. That means workplace unions, it means tenants unions, it means community cleanup efforts, and mutual aid networks. This isn’t “climate action” all by itself, but rather a prerequisite to any large-scale change that benefits the many. There’s never going to be a point at which the capitalist class will do the right thing. They will, pretty reliably, do the absolute minimum they think they can get away with, and that means that it is up to us to save ourselves. That requires us to get organized. It requires us to look out for each other. It requires us to be able to act in concert, whether that be for mass protests, for a general strike, or for defending our communities against those who would use violence to force us to continue accepting their rule.

That organization will also be a powerful tool when it comes to surviving the climate chaos that our rulers have decided to inflict upon us. It helps people work together to clean up after disasters, to get people evacuated, and to check in on people who might need help. It’s how we can put our skills and resources to the best possible use, to shore up each others weaknesses in a crisis. It’s not easy work, by any stretch. It’s not even guaranteed to be safe work, as an organized working class is a threat to those in power. It is, however, necessary work, because without it, we’re leaving the future of humanity in the same hands that are currently driving us to extinction.

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Happy International Bee Day! Have a documentary about wild European bees!

Work on the novel continues, so in honor of International Bee Day, I wanted to share this documentary about Europe’s wild bees. When people talk about the bees dying, it’s specifically the wild bees that are really suffering, so I think it’s worth learning a little about them. I have some wildflowers growing in planters (finding a place for them turned out to be unreasonably difficult), so I’ll share some pictures of those as they begin to flower. It’s hard to say how much my efforts will help, if at all, but I’m far from alone in making the effort, and it’s nice to do at least something concrete, even if it’s not much.


They’re just like me! Hammerhead Sharks Hold Breath for Deep Dives

So, I don’t know a whole lot about fish. I can identify a few, and I know about cool stuff like that warm-blooded fish, or the fact that fish aren’t real, but I don’t know, for example, how their gills actually function. I did not know, for example, that it’s apparently possible for sharks to hold their breath?

This was a complete surprise!” said Mark Royer, lead author and researcher with the Shark Research Group at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) in the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. “It was unexpected for sharks to hold their breath to hunt like a diving marine mammal. It is an extraordinary behavior from an incredible animal.”

Shark gills are natural radiators that would rapidly cool the blood, muscles and organs if scalloped hammerhead sharks did not close their gill slits during deep dives into cold water. These sharks are warm water animals but feed at depths where seawater temperatures are similar to those found in Kodiak Alaska (around 5°C/40°F), yet they need to keep their bodies warm in order to hunt effectively.

“Although it is obvious that air-breathing marine mammals hold their breath while diving, we did not expect to see sharks exhibiting similar behavior,” said Royer. “This previously unobserved behavior reveals that scalloped hammerhead sharks have feeding strategies that are broadly similar to those of some marine mammals, like pilot whales. Both have evolved to exploit deep dwelling prey and do so by holding their breath to access these physically challenging environments for short periods.”

Marine mammals hold their breath because they can’t breath water. The sharks have no problem breathing, but the “air” is so cold down there that they’re better off holding their breath. I’d always had the vague impression that fish breathing was even more reflexive than human breathing, since gills don’t “hold” water, but I suppose it makes sense that with so much musculature going on, they’d have control over their gills. I’m now wondering if the hammerheads living around the Sharkcano do the same thing to keep from overheating or burning their gills sometimes.

Beyond the fun of learning something new about hammerhead sharks, I also appreciate this article for giving us a window into how scientists are able to figure this sort of thing out:

The research team discovered this unexpected phenomenon by equipping deep-diving scalloped hammerhead sharks with devices that simultaneously measured their muscle temperature, depth, body orientation and activity levels. They saw that their muscles stayed warm throughout their dive into deep cold water but suddenly cooled as the sharks approached the surface toward the end of each dive. Computer modeling suggested that hammerhead sharks must be preventing heat loss from their gills to keep their bodies warm during these deep-dives into cold water.

Additionally, video of a scalloped hammerhead shark swimming along the seabed at a depth of 1,044 meters (more than 3,400 feet) showed its gill slits tightly closed, whereas similar images from surface waters show these sharks swimming with their gill slits wide open. A sudden cooling in muscle temperature as scalloped hammerhead sharks approach the surface at the end of each dive suggests that they opened their gill slits to resume breathing while still in relatively cool water.

“Holding their breath keeps scalloped hammerhead sharks warm but also shuts off their oxygen supply,” said Royer. “So, although these sharks hold their breath for an average of 17 minutes, they only spend an average of four minutes at the bottom of their dives at extreme depths before quickly returning to warmer, well-oxygenated surface waters where breathing resumes.”

Thermal regulation by cold-blooded animals has always fascinated me. When I was a volunteer at the New England Aquarium, I saw sea turtles that had ended up in too-cold water, and gotten internal frostbite, which is one horror I’m glad I don’t have to worry about. I’ve always though that being unable to internally regulate temperature was limiting, and in some ways it definitely is. Simply having food allows us to comfortably function in a pretty wide temperature range, and by adding clothes (or thicker fur/feathers if you’re not human), you can expand that range pretty cheaply. It seems, however, that I’ve been underestimating our room-temperature brethren. I would imagine this sort of thing is easier with a larger body, but I’m now curious what other tricks there might be for accessing places that “ought” to be too hot or too cold.


The image shows a school of scalloped hammerhead sharks, photographed from below. The sharks seem to be mostly silhouetted, but you can see the sunlight, filtered blue by the water, reflecting off their sides. Photo uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Ryan Espanto

The image shows a school of scalloped hammerhead sharks, photographed from below. The sharks seem to be mostly silhouetted, but you can see the sunlight, filtered blue by the water, reflecting off their sides. Photo uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Ryan Espanto

Video: The Weimar Fallacy

With the rise of fascism in the United States, a lot of people have been comparing the current era to the Weimar Republic, in the years prior to Nazi rule. I think it’s a reasonable comparison to make, and I’ve made it myself. I think there are things we can learn from studying that history, but it’s also worth remembering that 21st century US is not, in fact Weimar Germany. The Three Arrows video I posted last August goes into both similarities and differences, and it’s definitely worth a watch, but I like the Lonerbox video below, as an explicit discussion of the differences.

I’m used to thinking of the United States as a young country, and in some ways it is, but it’s worth remembering that as states claiming to be democracies go, it’s quite old. The band Rammstein put out a song called Deutschland a little while back which made the point (among other things) that for all Germany can trace its history back for centuries, it seems like it’s always a very young country. Germany as we know it today is younger than I am, and it was preceded by the era of a divided East and West Germany, which was preceded by the Nazis, which was preceded by Weimar, which was preceded by the empire, each being not just a different regime, but in many ways a different country. To quote Deutschland, Germany is “so young, and yet so old.”

This video digs into what went on during the short years of the Republic, and how, in many ways, it’s nothing at all like what’s happening in the US today.

Potential Pollinator Hints at New Frontiers in Froggery!

If I asked a random person to name a pollinator, most people would probably default to “bees”. This is perfectly reasonable. Bees play a huge role in human life, and the decline in wild bees has rightfully caused a great deal of alarm. Today, however, we’re going to step back from the horrors of the world, and instead look at remarkable news from the wonderful world of pollination. Die-hard fans of plant sex will already be aware that pollinators come in all shapes and sizes. There are plenty of insects other than bees that pollinate, and a number of birds and mammals, but I have to admit that until today, I had never heard of a frog acting as a pollinator!

The image shows golden-brown frog with a pinkish-white belly and throat, clinging to a flower and chowing down on it. From Scientific American: The Xenohyla truncata tree frog was observed eating various plant parts and having pollen stuck to its back, pointing to a possible role in pollination. Credit: Henrique Nogueira

The image shows golden-brown frog with a pinkish-white belly and throat, clinging to a flower and chowing down on it. From Scientific American: The Xenohyla truncata tree frog was observed eating various plant parts and having pollen stuck to its back, pointing to a possible role in pollination. Credit: Henrique Nogueira

On rainy nights on the verdant coastal plains outside Rio de Janeiro, groups of tree frogs sometimes gather around the pearly white flowers of the milk fruit tree. But while most tree frogs are on the prowl for night-flying insects, one species is after the sugary nectar in the flowers. The tiny, orange Xenohyla truncata’s sweet tooth might make it the world’s first known pollinating amphibian. And the discovery adds to growing evidence that we need to broaden our understanding of which animals act as pollinators beyond the well-known birds and insects.During a visit to a spot near the Brazilian town of Armação dos Búzios in December 2020, researchers witnessed a group of the frogs—commonly known as Izecksohn’s Brazilian tree frog—feeding on milk fruit. The stomach contents of museum specimens had previously shown that the species is one of the few amphibians in the world to eat fruit, says team member Carlos Henrique de-Oliveira-Nogueira, a biologist at the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil. The researchers saw one of the frogs wiggle into a flower in search of nectar, then emerge with pollen clinging to the secretions on its moist back. This led them to suggest that the amphibians might play a role in carrying pollen from bloom to bloom, aiding the tree’s reproduction. The team’s findings recently appeared in Food Webs. “Some species are photographed in flowers, but nobody’s ever seen a species interacting with a flower,” de-Oliveira-Nogueira says.

So far, they haven’t proved that the frogs do pollinate, but they have shown that the potential is there. To me, it seems more likely than not that these frogs must pollinate the plants at least sometimes, whether or not they play a major role in the milk flower’s continuation as a species. Apparently testing that is the next step, as the researchers plan to enclose flowers in cages to exclude frogs. If the caged flowers don’t get pollinated, then either they depend on the frogs, or there’s something else that’s frog-sized or bigger, that the researchers haven’t considered. I’m holding out for a snake, because that would probably be the weirdest option.

There are also questions about the frog’s back secretions. Do they interact with the pollen, beyond providing a sticky surface? As the researchers say, they could actually be damaging the pollen, in which case, maybe the caged flowers will do better? Or maybe they damage the pollen, but the plant still depends on the frogs, despite that. I expect we’ll probably hear more about this in the future. Not only is this a potentially exciting discovery, it also gives a great excuse to post pictures of frogs in flowers.

The image shows a golden-brown frog (fading to yellow, at the toes), face-first in a white flower. You can just see the edge of one of the frog's bulbous eyes behind the out-of-focus bit of flower in the foreground of the picture. From Scientific American: X. truncata within a Cordia taguahyensis flower.

The image shows a golden-brown frog (fading to yellow, at the toes), face-first in a white flower. You can just see the edge of one of the frog’s bulbous eyes behind the out-of-focus bit of flower in the foreground of the picture. From Scientific American: X. truncata within a Cordia taguahyensis flower.

Video: Two minutes

I’ve already shared my opinion about the murder of Jordan Neely, and I haven’t really learned anything since that has changed it in any meaningful way. I’m glad that the killer is being charged with manslaughter. While I think what Penny did should be considered murder, I think it would be hard to convince a jury that he made the deliberate choice to just murder Neely.  Manslaughter, on the other hand, should be relatively easy to prove.

But if when you think about what happened, and what counts as “justice”, I think this is a useful perspective to keep in mind, and watching it will only take you about two minutes.

Hey everybody! They figured out why the temperature’s rising!

I hope you’re all sitting down as you read this. As some of you may have heard, the planet’s temperature has been rising recently, and according the very wise Bloodsucking Monster Lobby, we just can’t possibly know the cause. As you all know, I’ve just been so unsure what to say about all of this. Well, thankfully, the good folks at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute seem to have figured it out. It turns out that humans are the ones doing it! More specifically, it’s the stuff we’ve been burning for energy!

New research provides clear evidence of a human “fingerprint” on climate change and shows that specific signals from human activities have altered the temperature structure of Earth’s atmosphere.

Differences between tropospheric and lower stratospheric temperature trends have long been recognized as a fingerprint of human effects on climate. This fingerprint, however, neglected information from the mid to upper stratosphere, 25 to 50 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.

“Including this information improves the detectability of a human fingerprint by a factor of five. Enhanced detectability occurs because the mid to upper stratosphere has a large cooling signal from human-caused CO2 increases, small noise levels of natural internal variability, and differing signal and noise patterns,” according to the journal article, “Exceptional stratospheric contribution to human fingerprints on atmospheric temperature,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Noise in the troposphere can include day-to-day weather, interannual variability arising from El Niños and La Niñas, and longer-term natural fluctuations in climate. In the upper stratosphere, the noise of variability is smaller, and the human-caused climate change signal is larger, so the signal can be much more easily distinguished.

“Extending fingerprinting to the upper stratosphere with long temperature records and improved climate models means that it is now virtually impossible for natural causes to explain satellite-measured trends in the thermal structure of the Earth’s atmosphere,” the paper states.

“This is the clearest evidence there is of a human-caused climate change signal associated with CO2 increases,” according to lead author Benjamin Santer, an adjunct scientist in the Physical Oceanography Department at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) in Massachusetts.

“This research undercuts and rebuts claims that recent atmospheric and surface temperature changes are natural, whether due to the Sun or due to internal cycles in the climate system. A natural explanation is virtually impossible in terms of what we are looking at here: changes in the temperature structure of the atmosphere,” added Santer, who has worked on climate fingerprinting for more than 30 years. “This research puts to rest incorrect claims that we don’t need to treat climate change seriously because it is all natural.”

Jokes aside, this is important research.

I don’t know if this is the piece of climate science I wished more people knew, but it’s up there. See, if the warming was caused by an external source, like solar activity, or cosmic radiation, then the upper atmosphere would be warming as fast, or faster than the bits nearer the surface. If, on the other hand, the warming is due to greenhouse gases, then the extra heat is being trapped here. That means that less heat reaches the outer atmosphere. If the climate scientists have been right all these years, then the outer atmosphere should be cooling, and shrinking. We’ve had evidence that this is happening for a bit now, but the clearer the picture, the harder it is to refute, and this research plugs some holes in the existing data:

Although these earlier studies considered global-mean temperature changes in the middle and upper stratosphere, roughly 25 to 50 kilometers above Earth’s surface, they did not look at detailed patterns of climate change in this layer. This region can be better studied now because of improved simulations and satellite data. The new research is the first to search for human-caused climate change patterns – also called “fingerprints” – in the middle and upper stratosphere.

“The human fingerprints in temperature changes in the mid to upper stratosphere due to CO2 increases are truly exceptional because they are so large and so different from temperature changes there due to internal variability and natural external forcing. These unique fingerprints make it possible to detect the human impact on climate change due to CO2 in a short period of time (~10 – 15 years) with high confidence,” stated co-author Qiang Fu, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington.

“The world has been reeling under climate change, so being as confident as possible of the role of carbon dioxide is critical,” said co-author Susan Solomon, Martin Professor of Environmental Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The fact that observations show not only a warming troposphere but also a strongly cooling upper stratosphere is unique tell-tale evidence that nails the dominant role of carbon dioxide in climate change and greatly increases confidence.”

Santer said that although it is intellectually gratifying to be able to extend fingerprinting higher up into the atmosphere to test the prediction by Manabe and Wetherald, it is also deeply concerning.

“As someone who tries to understand the kind of world that future generations are going to inhabit, these results make me very worried. We are fundamentally changing the thermal structure of Earth’s atmosphere, and there is no joy in recognizing that,” Santer said.

“This study shows that the real world has changed in a way that simply cannot be explained by natural causes,” Santer added. “We now face important decisions, in the United States and globally, on what to do about climate change. I hope those decisions are based on our best scientific understanding of the reality and seriousness of human effects on climate.”

It’s honestly pretty remarkable the degree to which, by the time I started paying attention to this stuff, climate scientists really did know what was going on, and the “rebuttals” of the corporate-backed denial campaign have all turned out to be bullshit. Maybe I’m being too generous, but you’d think they’d get at least something right, right?  Apparently not.

I’m with Santer on not finding joy in this information, obviously. We already knew the house was on fire, and while it’s nice to have more details on the exact nature of that fire, they won’t matter much in the long run if we don’t take steps to put it out. It’s hard not to feel like every new piece of research that comes out, only really serves as another piece of evidence to be presented at a trial of our “leaders” that will never come. There was no reasonable doubt as to the cause of climate change, immediately prior to the publication of this research. There was no reasonable doubt, if we’re honest, when I was born almost 40 years ago.

That’s why this climate blog focuses so much on politics, and social justice, and organizing – because our biggest lesson of the last 50 years must be that simply having the facts on your side is not enough, even if we’re risking human extinction. Most of the world is already on our side, in wanting more action. When it comes to the powerful few who stand in our way (and their servants), persuasion is a waste of time. We can convince them after we win.

Video: The “Darwin’s Finch” of Mammals

So, last April, I posted a video about tenrecs. They’re neat little creatures that live in Madagascar, that I’ve like since I was a kid. I’m not certain, but I think I first read about them in the magazine Ranger Rick. When I say “like”, I think it’s worth noting that I mean in an aesthetic sense. If I “liked” them by learning about them, I probably wouldn’t have made this post.

I’ve always thought of tenrecs as insectivores – basically a form of shrew, but given their location, I suppose I should have known better. It turns out that they’re in the very, very small group of placental mammals that have a cloaca (apparently some actual shrews have one, which I also did not know). One way in which they’re very different from shrews, is that they have a slower metabolism, which means that while some shrews can starve to death within a 24 hour period, tenrecs, presumably including ancestral tenrecs, could survive the 400 kilometer sea journey from mainland Africa to Madagascar. I called them the “Darwin’s Finch” of mammals in the title, because since arriving on that island, they’ve branched out into a surprising diversity of body forms and ecological niches. The upside of neglecting to learn everything about organisms I like, is that I get to keep learning cool new facts about them, and take some of you along for the ride!

Gardaí Look Away as Fascists Commit Arson

When the pandemic hit, there was a sort of pause on the independence marches and rallies that Tegan and I had joined in Glasgow. Through a combination of habit, introversion, ADHD, and some version of irritable bowel syndrome, I haven’t gone out a whole lot since then, and while I’ve been getting out a bit more in recent months, I’ve not gotten back into activism. I also haven’t put in the time and effort to learn about Irish politics. I was aware that there were fascists around, but it didn’t feel like the same kind of problem it was back in the US. In my first couple months here, I scraped off all the stickers they had put up on signposts around town, but they have yet to be replaced. I had also noticed the hashtag “Ireland is full” trending on Twitter pretty regularly, but I had also seen one guy claiming credit for that, and outlining how he went about using bots and the like. Add in my effort to make a living through writing (I’d love to see more small donations at my Patreon), and it was easy to become a bit complacent.

Well, now I’m paying attention. and working to catch up.

Last night, a bunch of right-wing extremists held a hate rally against maybe a couple dozen asylum seekers who, lacking real housing, had set up an encampment near the relevant government office. After counterprotesters left, the Gardaí, Ireland’s national police force, apparently wandered off while the encampment was set on fire. The residents had been evacuated earlier, because of the danger, so as far as I can find out, nobody was hurt in the fire.

There are a number of refugees in Dublin from Ukraine and elsewhere, waiting on their asylum applications, and while some are in hotels, a sizable number are not, and have joined the city’s population of unhoused people. They’re being used as scapegoats by the far right, as usual, who blame them for crime, and a shortage of homes and jobs in Ireland. These are all real problems, of course, but with a number of vacant buildings around Dublin, including apartments, it’s not the immigrants causing the problem – it’s a system that values profit over human life.

That perspective isn’t encouraged by capitalists, of course, and it’s downright repugnant to people on the far right, so they lie, preach hate, and attack those with the least power to fight back. From the day before yesterday:

Asylum seekers living in a makeshift Dublin city campsite are ‘afraid for their lives’ after several violent attacks.

Video footage emerged on social media this week showing a violent scuffle at a shanty town housing International Protection applicants, which has appeared in the capital in recent weeks.

And last night the Garda Public Order Unit, along with dozens of gardaí, attended the scene of another protest at the site.

They stood between a group of anti-refugee demonstrators and counter-protesters who chanted ‘refugees are welcome here’.

The stand-off continued for around 90 minutes before gardaí escorted one group away.

Despite the strong garda presence at Sandwith Street last night, a spokesman for the force said: ‘We have no reports of any incidents from this location.’

The incident comes after people living in the makeshift camp, and volunteers at the Sandwith Street site, were on high alert yesterday afternoon following a confrontation between the residents and anti-asylum protesters on Thursday.

One of the residents was struck in the face and sustained bodily injuries after being hit with part of a metal fence.

The camp has been targeted numerous times in recent days, and more protests are expected later today.

At around lunchtime yesterday afternoon, a small number of men and women confronted the inhabitants yet again.

One homeless man from Bolivia said that he arrived at the camp earlier on Friday.

However, the 31-year-old man, named Jhonnes Dante Valverde, admitted being very nervous about being targeted by protesters.

‘I don’t understand why so many people want to attack us,’ he said. ‘All we’re trying to do is build a community for protection because we have nowhere else to go. We’re not bothering anyone and yet there are people who want to force us out.

‘Yes we’re afraid for our safety and even our lives, but my only priority now is to take everything day by day.

‘It’s very hard because I’ve sent nearly 70 CVs all around the city and haven’t got any answer,’ he said.

One volunteer who did not want to be named believes the asylum seekers’ safety is at ‘a huge risk’.

‘They’ve already injured one man here, but if they stormed the place, no one would have a chance.

The image shows Bolivian asylum-seeker Jesus Benitez-Gamez, standing near one end of the encampment. It's a dead-end alley, lined with abandoned buildings. On each side, makeshift shelters have been set up, along with furniture. At the far end, there's a blue tend standing by a fence. From Jesus Benitez Gamez, an asylum seeker also from Bolivia, said he's more concerned for his child's safety than his own. Pic: Michael Chester

The image shows Bolivian asylum-seeker Jesus Benitez-Gamez, standing near one end of the encampment. It’s a dead-end alley, lined with abandoned buildings. On each side, makeshift shelters have been set up, along with furniture. At the far end, there’s a blue tend standing by a fence. From Jesus Benitez Gamez, an asylum seeker also from Bolivia, said he’s more concerned for his child’s safety than his own. Pic: Michael Chester

As you can see, it’s a pretty tidy setup, and very clearly out of the way, and not causing any problems. As quoted above, they’re forming a community for the same reason as most homeless people – they’re subject to violence and harassment, and there is safety in numbers. Hell, it’s the same reason all of us form communities – because life is better working together, than trying to go it alone.

None of that matters to fascists, of course, so last night, they held another rally. There were anti-fascist activists there, using their bodies as a barricade between the fascist mob and the asylum seekers, but they were severely outnumbered, and not being allowed to leave. It appears, based on tweets from one of the mob’s leaders, that the Gardaí may have agreed with the mob that if they let the antifascists (and presumably any refugees with them) leave, they’d look the other way while the fascists “removed the tents”

The image is a tweet by one Gavin Pep (@PepGavin) that reads, "Credit to the gaurds they asked us if we got the people to let the anbtifa crowd go home they would let the lads down the lane to remove the tents true to there word they do a good job in an awkward situation caused by the government #MakeIrelandSafeAgain #irelandisfull. Underneath is a reply from "Joanne/@summerblu" saying, "In reality the guards are sick of the illegals aswell" Spelling mistakes included for accuracy.

The image is a tweet by one Gavin Pepper (@PepGavin) that reads, “Credit to the gaurds they asked us if we got the people to let the anbtifa crowd go home they would let the lads down the lane to remove the tents true to there word they do a good job in an awkward situation caused by the government #MakeIrelandSafeAgain #irelandisfull. Underneath is a reply from “Joanne/@summerblu” saying, “In reality the guards are sick of the illegals aswell” Spelling mistakes included for accuracy.

I think it’s worth mentioning, for those who don’t know, that Ireland’s population hasn’t yet recovered from the Great Famine, so we know for a fact that there is room for more people than currently live here. There may well be a housing shortage, beyond the artificial one caused by greedy landlords, but there is zero question that the housing situation is solvable. I don’t know enough about recent Irish politics and history to say what’s going on for certain, but this problem certainly feels familiar to what I’ve written about back in the US.

So, the refugees and the counterprotesters left, and the cops apparently left as well. As a result, these peoples homes and belongings were burned by a fascist mob, apparently with permission from law enforcement:

For those who can’t see it, the tweet contains a video showing the same dead-end alley as in the picture above, with the tents and furniture all in flames.

From what I can tell, the Gardaí were there or nearby, when the fire was started, and multiple people reported the arson attack, and were apparently ignored. What’s more, the fascists held another march today, celebrating the attack from last night:

As I said before, there is a real problem here, and the one thing Gavin got right is that the government is to blame for its continued existence, as well as the larger problem of homelessness. Poverty is a policy choice, and in capitalist countries, it’s almost always maintained for the benefit of those who exploit others for profit. The fascists have no solutions, and at least for the leaders, they want no solutions. If every immigrant left Ireland tomorrow, they’d find new scapegoats, like non-white Irish citizens, or Travelers.

The reason the far right is able to gain so much ground, is that liberal governments also don’t have a solution to these problems, because they’re too wedded to capitalism to actually solve the problem, and so it continues, and other problems like fascism feed on it and grow.

Until June, I’m still primarily focused on the novel, but I’m paying more attention to what’s going on around me, now, and I’ll be writing more about this.

The Birds are Shrinking!

When I was getting my biology degree, I was very much focused on ecology. Life on this planet is a complex, shimmering web of interaction and interdependency; pluck one strand, and the whole world vibrates. As organisms, we all affect both each other, and also the abiotic world around us. Some species, like humans, have bigger effects than others, but the reality is that you cannot study one organism without, at least in part, accounting for the others that live around it.

Later, when I was working as a curriculum developer, I wrote climate science lessons that viewed the issue through an ecological lens. See, while there was still mainstream “debate” over whether the planet was warming, wildlife around the globe was already actively responding to changes that a lot of people either didn’t notice, or were able to dismiss in their own minds. By focusing on ecosystems, we were able to show, over a decade ago, that the planet was warming, and that the effects of that warming were already measurable in the wildlife around us. I still think it was a good project, but the US public education system has little room to try new things, and is utterly clogged with testing. Add to that the difficulty in getting funds for this sort of work, and it’s hard not to feel like we were doomed from the start. That perspective on climate change, however, is still useful.

At the time, a lot of the research we were looking at related to changes in migration timing, ecological mismatch, and species range shifts. More recently, scientists have been tracking changes in body size and shape, driven by the warming of our planet. The latest example is a study showing that birds, at least in the Americas, are getting smaller, with longer wings:

The study combines data from two previously published papers that measured body-size and wing-length changes in a total of more than 86,000 bird specimens over four decades in North and South America. One study examined migrating birds killed after colliding with buildings in Chicago; the other looked at nonmigrating birds netted in the Amazon.

Though the two datasets are nonoverlapping in both species composition and geography, and the data were collected independently using different methods, the birds in both studies displayed similarly widespread declines in body size with concurrent increases in wing length.

Now, a new analysis of the combined data has revealed an even more striking pattern: In both studies, smaller bird species declined proportionately faster in body size and increased proportionately faster in wing length.

“The relationships between body size and rates of change are remarkably consistent across both datasets. However, the biological mechanism underlying the observed link between body size and rates of morphological change requires further investigation,” said U-M ornithologist Benjamin Winger, one of the study’s two senior authors, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and an assistant curator at the Museum of Zoology.

Both the Chicago and Amazonian studies attributed the reductions in species body size to increasing temperatures over the past 40 years, suggesting that body size may be an important determinant of species responses to climate change.

Birds hitting buildings is actually a serious problem, with around one billion killed every year in the US alone. It’s also helpful for science. I worked in a natural history museum in college, and part of my job was turning dead animals into study specimens. This was not taxidermy – that’s a whole art form in itself, and if I attempted it, my work would probably end up on Bad Taxidermy. No, what I did was skin them carefully (mostly birds), treat the skin, and stuff it with cotton wrapped around a wooden dowel, creating a sort of a preserved bird on a stick. These specimens are kept in drawers, so that they can be studied, and most of them came from people bringing in roadkill or window-killed birds. Natural history museums basically have libraries of dead plants and animals, along with data about them, that allow us to study the past, and compare it to what’s going on now. It’d be best if we could cut down on the death, but in the mean time, we might as well learn from it, right? I don’t miss the smells, though.

Getting back to the point of this post, the researchers also discussed the implications of the faster change in smaller birds:

It could be that smaller-bodied birds are adapting more quickly to evolutionary pressures. But the available data did not allow the U-M-led team to test whether the observed size shifts represent rapid evolutionary changes in response to natural selection.

“If natural selection plays a role in the patterns we observed, our results suggest that smaller bird species might be evolving faster because they experience stronger selection, are more responsive to selection, or both,” said co-senior author Brian Weeks, an evolutionary ecologist at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability.

“Either way, body size appears to be a primary mediator of birds’ responses to contemporary climate change.”

So, if larger-bodied birds are responding more slowly to global change, what’s the prognosis for the coming decades, as temperatures continue to climb?

“Our results suggest that large body size could further exacerbate extinction risk by limiting the potential to adapt to rapid, ongoing anthropogenic change,” said study lead author Marketa Zimova, a former U-M Institute for Global Change Biology postdoctoral researcher now at Appalachian State University.

“In contrast, the body-size effect on evolutionary rates might increase persistence of small taxa if their rapidly changing morphology reflects a faster adaptive response to changing conditions.”

It’s important to remember the broader context in which this is happening. Specifically, the fact that bird populations are declining dramatically. It’s kind of neat to see natural selection in action like this, but it’s important to remember that this isn’t birds “changing their body sizes”, it’s the death or decreased reproductive success of birds that, in this case, are too big, or have wings that are too short. What I said about squid and lizards last October applies here as well:

When the average limb length of a Caribbean anole population changes, that doesn’t mean that we’ve got the same number of lizards and they all just have different legs. It means all of the ones with different proportions died. If you lay tens of thousands of eggs at a time, like the squid, then your population can probably bounce back pretty quickly if a few of you adapt to changing conditions. For those of us who reproduce more slowly, a drop in population like that means that it will take that much less to kill off everyone that remains.

If bird populations were stable as this change took place, then I don’t think there would be much cause for concern, but they’re not. They are adapting to climate change, but combined with habitat destruction, pollution, and pesticides, that may not be enough for many species. The world is changing around us, and every species on the planet is responding to it, ourselves included. Whether we are able to survive will depend on how quickly we adjust, and how much we do to slow down the warming. At the moment, it’s not looking good.

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