Caturday: A Study in Incompetence

Gentle readers, I must caution you to have a care for misleading images! In this image, we see a lush garden, with ferns, flowers, and an ivy-covered wall. Atop the wall, there is a small, black and white cat, looking intently downwards. The object of his gaze, on the ground, is a larger, fatter tabby cat, who appears to be looking up at his fellow feline.

Two cunning hunters have spotted each other, and are frozen, watching. This, I regret to say, is utter fiction. The little black and white cat did, in fact, see my chonky dude, but MY cat is… decidedly less competent.

In this picture, the tabby has his head pointed straight up at the sky, very awkwardly, while he sniffs, trying to locate the other cat, a few feet away.

And now the truth becomes clear. The tabby, His Holiness, Saint Ray the Cat, was not actually looking at the cat on the wall. He could SMELL another cat nearby, but he never actually SAW it. Instead, he sniffed the air like a weirdo for a good three or four minutes, before giving up, and wandering off to investigate a bush. In his defense, the wall is actually pretty wide, so from the perspective of His Holiness, only a little of the other cat’s head may have been visible. Even so, I’m glad he’s only outside under supervision, because I don’t think he’d survive very long in the wild. A cunning hunter, he is not.

We need to clean the water. All of it. Here’s how that’s not an impossible task.

“The Climate Crisis” is an umbrella term that covers every way in which global warming, driven by the way industrialized societies have been dumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, is making life worse and more dangerous. The higher global temperature is dangerous all by itself, but it’s exacerbating a whole host of other problems all over the planet. Of those, the “Water Crisis” is one of the most widely-discussed. This makes sense, right? Take away our water, and humans die pretty quickly. If we run out of it, that’s pretty much the end of the line.

Of course, were not running out of water. Not really. We’re running out of clean water – water that’s safe for humans to drink. Historically, that has meant water that’s not filled with microorganisms, which can give us nasty ailments like dysentery, leading to fun stuff like death by diarrhea. We’ve developed all sorts of ways to safely hydrate ourselves, but generally, water from underground has been the safest. There are vast reservoirs of the stuff, called aquifers, that just sit in porous ground, so that all we have to do is dig a deep enough hole in the right place, and it’ll fill up with clean water. We can also boil it, which will kill any disease-causing microorganisms, make filters that form a physical barrier against those pathogens, or use small amounts of chemicals like chlorine or iodine to poison them.

The problem is, we don’t just use clean water for drinking, cooking, and washing. We also use it to irrigate our crops, and to manufacture various goods. Modern society, as a rule uses a truly staggering amount of water, using thousands of liters to make a single car, for one example. Our default has been to act as though our sources of clean water were infinite, even though we’ve known for a long time that they’re not. The result is that the world’s groundwater is running out, and there doesn’t really seem to be much of a plan to replace them. Hell, thanks to capitalism, we instead have corporations staking their claim to various water sources so they can charge people for access, and relying on capitalist governments to use violence to enforce their ownership.

Like most of the crises of the modern day, the water crisis is of our own making, both through how we use and waste clean water, and through how we allow it to be controlled for profit. It’s tempting to say that solving the problem is as easy. All we have to do is end wasteful over-use, end water privatization, and treat it as a public good, and we’re well on our way, right? Well, I obviously think we should do those things, but it’s not enough. It seems more likely that with all the manufacturing needed to end fossil fuel use, and the water needed to keep crops alive on a hotter planet, the water crisis will continue to exist for decades to come. That means that to solve it, we also need to be actively cleaning water, both for our own use, and to avoid contamination of the aquifers that will begin replenishing themselves, if we ever stop draining them.

Unfortunately, the microbial contamination that I mentioned above isn’t the only problem. When you use water to manufacture a car, it’s contaminated by a whole host of chemicals, some of which can seep into aquifers along with the water. Worse, chemical corporations like Dupont have a habit of directly dumping their waste products into rivers. Multiply that by the millions of factories around the world, and add in things like the pharmaceuticals we flush down the toilet, and it’s clear that if we want future generations to have water that won’t mess with their bodies in unpredictable ways, we need to clean things up. The most reliable way to do that is to clean all the water.

Which sounds like a bit of a tall order. Even if we ignore the oceans, and just focus on the fresh water, there’s no way cleaning it all is practical, right? The amount of power needed to run water filtration plants capable of removing all those chemicals would be huge, especially if we’re using them not just for the water that we use, but for water sources in general.

Well, yes, probably.

But that’s only if we’re focused on using machinery and energy to clean it. There are other ways. Better ways.

I’ve talked about this before, and I’ll probably talk about it again, but we could make this world a much better place to live if we stopped working against nature, and started working with it. As non-indigenous cultures spread out across the world, reshaping much of it for our convenience, wetlands have mostly been viewed as problems to be solved. It makes a degree of sense. The water and soft soil make them bad places to build, they tend not to smell particularly good, and they’re great for breeding all sorts of biting flies, some of which carry diseases. Rather than working around them, we’ve defaulted towards draining them and filling them in, to the point where politicians who want to convince people that they’re honest, upstanding leaders will often talk about “draining the swamp”, as a metaphor for getting rid of corruption.

Well, it turns out that we need swamps, and marshes, and bogs. Completely aside from the important roles they play in maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem health, and in protecting coasts from storm surges, wetlands are also good for cleaning chemicals out of water. This is something I’ve talked about before, and I’m sure I’ll talk about it again in the future. Water in wetlands doesn’t just sit there, it’s taken in and put out again by plants, which can break down some chemicals, and absorb others. The stuff that’s absorbed becomes part of the plant, and when that plant dies, it becomes part of the soil. In the case of things like heavy metals, it’s still there, in the sediment, but what’s important for us is that it’s no longer floating around. When the water leaves the wetland, it’s cleaner than it was before. That process doesn’t remove those microbes that can make us sick, but those are so easy to deal with that in an emergency, all you need is the means to boil water, and the willingness to drink hot water when you’re desperate. It’s not pleasant, and it can taste funny, but honestly the microbes are the least concerning part of water contamination – we’re good at getting rid of those!

So we need more wetlands, and we need to view them as a part of our water system, same as the pumps, pipes, and purification systems that we build. We need to learn how to let go of the pretense that we are somehow apart from nature, and start incorporating it into our society. For that, we can look to societies of the past, and see how wetlands have been integrated into the water systems of, for example, the ancient Mayan civilization:

The Maya built and maintained reservoirs that were in use for more than 1,000 years, wrote University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign anthropology professor Lisa Lucero in a perspective in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. These reservoirs provided potable water for thousands to tens of thousands of people in cities during the annual, five-month dry season and in periods of prolonged drought.

“Most major southern lowland Maya cities emerged in areas that lacked surface water but had great agricultural soils,” Lucero said. “They compensated by constructing reservoir systems that started small and grew in size and complexity.”

Over time, the Maya built canals, dams, sluices and berms to direct, store and transport water. They used quartz sand for water filtration, sometimes importing it from great distances to massive cities like Tikal in what is now northern Guatemala. A sediment core from one of Tikal’s reservoirs also found that zeolite sand had been used in its construction. Previous studies have shown that this volcanic sand can filter impurities and disease-causing microbes from water. The zeolite also would have been imported from sources about 18 miles (30 kilometers) away.

“Tikal’s reservoirs could hold more than 900,000 cubic meters of water,” Lucero wrote. Estimates suggest that up to 80,000 people lived in the city and its environs in the Late Classic period, roughly 600 to 800 C.E. The reservoirs kept people and crops hydrated during the dry season, Lucero said.

Maya royalty got much of their status from their ability to provide water to the populace.

“Clean water and political power were inextricably linked – as demonstrated by the fact that the largest reservoirs were built near palaces and temples,” Lucero wrote. The kings also performed ceremonies to gain the favor of ancestors and the rain god, Chahk.

A key challenge was to keep standing water in reservoirs from becoming stagnant and undrinkable, and for that the Maya likely relied on aquatic plants, many of which still populate Central American wetlands today, Lucero said. These include cattails, sedges, reeds and others. Some of these plants have been identified in sediment cores from Maya reservoirs.

These plants filtered the water, reducing murkiness and absorbing nitrogen and phosphorous, Lucero said.

This wasn’t just an accident either. They dredged their reservoirs regularly to maintain their function, and used the sediment to fertilize their fields. When it comes to stuff like heavy metals and other industrial contamination, that’s one area where we should probably find a different solution. As I said above, some of these pollutants just hang out in the sediment, and can become dangerous again if they’re stirred up. That means that dredging is a more complicated process, and we have to find different ways to dispose of the muck, but the overall setup is one that would serve us well, I think.

The most iconic aquatic plant associated with the ancient Maya is the water lily, Nymphaea ampla, which thrives only in clean water, Lucero said. Its pollen has been found in sediment cores from several Maya reservoirs. Water lilies symbolized “Classic Maya kingship,” Lucero wrote.

“The kings even donned headdresses adorned with the flowers and are depicted with water lilies in Maya art,” Lucero said.

“Water lilies do not tolerate acidic conditions or too much calcium such as limestone or high concentrations of certain minerals like iron and manganese,” she wrote.

To keep water lilies alive, water managers would have had to line the reservoirs with clay, Lucero said. A layer of sediment would be needed for plants’ roots. In turn, the water lilies and trees and shrubs planted near the reservoirs shaded the water, cooling it and inhibiting the growth of algae.

“The Maya generally did not build residences near reservoir edges, so contamination seeping through the karstic terrain would not have been an issue,” Lucero wrote.

The evidence gathered from several southern lowland cities indicates that, as constructed wetlands, Maya reservoirs supplied potable water to people for more than 1,000 years, failing only when the severest droughts took hold in the region between 800 and 900 C.E., Lucero said. She notes that current climate trends will require many of the same approaches the Maya employed, including the use of aquatic plants to improve and maintain water quality naturally.

“Constructed wetlands provide many advantages over conventional wastewater treatment systems,” she wrote. “They provide an economical, low technology, less expensive and high energy-saving treatment technology.”

In addition to providing clean water, constructed wetlands also support aquatic animals and can be a source of nutrients to replenish agricultural soils, she wrote.

“The next step moving forward is to combine our respective expertise and implement the lessons embodied in ancient Maya reservoirs in conjunction with what is currently known about constructed wetlands,” she wrote.

I think it’s fair to say that the droughts that are coming will be worse than those of a thousand years ago, simply because the temperature is higher, and is still rising. Even so, the more we support the ecosystems around us, the more resilient they will be, and the better off we will be. Further, as I’ve posted in the past, wetlands are great for pulling CO2 out of the air, and whether we dredge them, or leave them be as part of an ever-changing landscape, their mere existence will serve us in many ways.

It’s easy to feel as though the pollution of the world happened easily, and cleaning it up will be far more difficult. There’s definitely truth in that, given how widely pollution has spread, but I think it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t exactly easy to mess the world up as much as we have. It’s taken a huge amount of labor, extracting fuels, processing resources, manufacturing goods, and waging bloody wars to keep the capitalist mode of production running. It still takes all of that to maintain it, and while cleaning up won’t generate energy the way burning coal does, there’s ample evidence that it can create other benefits for society, that we’ll be glad to have. I posted a while back about how researchers have developed a way to break down PFAS – “forever chemicals” – in a lab, using chemicals like lye, DMSO, and sodium hydroxide, but guess what?

We can also remove them from the water using plants.

Conducted in partnership with Australia’s national science agency CSIRO and the University of Western Australia, the research found that PFAS chemicals (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) can be removed from contaminated water via Australian native rushes – Phragmites australis, Baumea articulata, and Juncus kraussii.

Phragmites australis, otherwise known as the common reed, removed legacy PFAS contaminants by 42-53 per cent from contaminated surface water (level: 10 µg/L).

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to PFAS may lead to a range of health issues including a decline in fertility, developmental delays in children, increased risk of some cancers, a reduced immune system, higher cholesterol, and risk of obesity.

UniSA and CSIRO researcher Dr John Awad says that this research could alleviate many of these environmental and health risks by providing a clean, green, and cost-effective method to remove PFAS from the environment.

“PFASs are often referred to as ‘forever chemicals’ because they don’t break down, instead accumulating in the environment and in our bodies where they can cause adverse health effects,” Dr Awad says.

“In Australia, PFAS concerns often relate to the use of firefighting foam – especially legacy firefighting foam – which accumulates in the surface water of our waterways.

“Our research tested the effectiveness of Australian rushes to remove PFAS chemicals from stormwater, finding that Phragmites australis was the most effective at absorbing chemicals through its roots and shoots.”

The study used constructed floating wetlands as a mechanism for plants to grow hydroponically. Dr Awad says floating wetlands present a novel and flexible way for natural remediation systems.

“Constructed floating wetlands can be readily installed into existing urban environments, such as holding reservoirs and retention basins, making them highly manoeuvrable and adaptable to local waterways,” Dr Awad says.

“Plus, as this innovative water treatment system does not require pumping or the ongoing addition of chemicals, it is a cost-effective remediation system for PFAS removal.

“Add native plants to the mix and we have delivered a truly clean, green and environmentally-friendly method for removing toxic PFAS chemicals from contaminated water.”

You’ll note the same language in this article from Australia, as we saw in the earlier one about how the Maya managed their reservoirs – not just as places to hold water, but also as places to clean it, and to keep it clean. Do it right, and you can even help deal with the microbe and mosquito problems, without relying on machinery and chemicals.

I want to close by saying that while constructed wetlands are important, and something we should do more of, natural wetlands are also important. Firstly, we need them for biodiversity and ecosystem health, because humanity needs those for our long-term survival and wellbeing. Secondly, and more to the point of this article, even wetlands that are far away from major waterways and human population centers have an impact on water quality:

Geographically isolated wetlands play an outsized role in providing clean water and other environmental benefits even though they may lack the regulatory protections of other wetlands, according to an article by Indiana University researchers and colleagues.

Given those benefits, the authors argue, decision-makers should assume that isolated wetlands are critical for protecting aquatic systems, and the burden of proof should be on those who argue on a case-by-case basis that individual wetlands need not be protected.

In addition to protecting all wetlands by default, this is one way in which, as I’ve said before, we need to work with beavers. When it comes to the creation and maintenance of wetlands, beavers (and their instinctive hatred of the sound of trickling water) are ecosystem engineers without parallel, and their natural range is the entire northern hemisphere. Further, in addition to everything already mentioned about wetlands, beaver dams themselves also help clean water, by accumulating sediment, which traps pollutants in the soil. It’s not far off from how I was describing the way plants trap heavy metals. We should not introduce them to ecosystems that have never had them before, but in North America and Eurasia, we should be bolstering beaverkind however we can.

There’s a phrase that I dislike, but that seems to be very popular – work smarter, not harder. When it comes to repairing the damage that’s been done to the world over the last couple centuries, there are many ways in which we simply will have to work harder, or work just as hard on different things. That said, a big part of why I believe repairing that damage is possible, is that there are a myriad of ways in which we can “work smarter”, and achieve great results with comparatively little effort, by working with ecosystems. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve only been talking about fresh water here. The oceans are also polluted. Salt marshes help with that, as does seaweed, but the other part of it is that a lot of pollution in the oceans comes from what we do on land and in freshwater systems. Addressing that end of things will help the oceans clean themselves. Just as efforts to clean our water sources won’t be enough if we don’t stop adding new pollution to them, efforts to clean the oceans won’t be enough if we don’t deal with the water flowing into them. It’s all connected, so despite the size of the oceans, making real progress on land is essential.

The obstacles to a better world are enormous, but we can overcome them, if we can learn how to do things differently.

Hey, sorry about the long delay between posts. I meant to have this up mid-week, but got distracted by other things. I’m planning to post weekly, at minimum, but if you want me to dedicate more time to this stuff, giving me money on Patreon is a great way to do that. I’m trying to finish Tadpole and the Inner Tower this year, but I keep running into delays, largely rooted in my own lack of skill as a fiction writer, hence my desire to spend more time on that end of things.

A health/blog update, and some thoughts on Israel and Palestine

I had a heart-related health scare today, and spent most of the day in the hospital getting checked out. Some results are pending, but it currently seems that I’m OK. That said, the illusion of imminent mortality was a bit tiring, and also very slightly perspective-shifting. I want to work more on fiction and on some other things in my life, so for the rest of this year, at least, my posts are probably going to be less. I had intended to write a somewhat in-depth post about Israel and Palestine, and I may still do that, but for now I’ll just say this:

Even if we were to assume – which I believe we should not – that “both sides” have an equal right to live on that land, the power dynamic, which has existed for longer than I’ve been alive, makes it clear what’s going on. De-escalation cannot happen without a commitment to it by the more powerful party, and there is zero question that Israel is more powerful. They’ve lowered the life expectancy in Gaza to the point where fully half the population are children, who have only ever known occupation and oppression.

Hamas, as an organization, also do evil things, and their attacks on civilians are inexcusable. That said, Hamas is also Israel’s chosen enemy, and was aided in their rise to power, just as more reasonable governing authorities were undermined. The only way for peace to happen, is for Israel to choose to end the cycle of revenge. The Palestinians cannot end it, just as the people of every other occupied territory cannot.

If Israel wants peace, they must end the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank, and the attacks on mosques and worshippers, and the deliberate killing and maiming of protesters and journalists. They must demonstrate goodwill by providing the resources that they’ve kept from Palestinians for longer than I’ve been alive. They must stop destroying olive groves and wells.

If Israel wants peace.

As it stands, they very clearly do not.

It is heartbreaking to see this brutality and death, and it is horrifying to see people around the world cheering on Israel’s dehumanization of Palestinians, and their escalating campaign of genocide. I desperately want it to end, but that has no bearing on what will happen. The death toll is going to keep climbing, for weeks if not months, and at every step of the way, we will be told that all the Palestinian deaths are justified, including the children, because of Hamas. They will claim that the children are “human shields”, and apparently we’ve come to a point where a lot of the world believes that when someone uses a human shield, you’re supposed to kill the victim, blame the person behind them, and move on.

I want to end on this: However much disinformation you think you have seen about current events, you’ve almost certainly seen more. I have seen old videos of Palestinian children held in cages by the IDF, described as Israeli children being held in cages by Hamas. I have seen videos of munitions in the sky over Ukraine being described as IDF use of white phosphorous on Gaza. The lies are everywhere, and while I believe that the vast majority of them will continue coming from one side, I’ve learned by now that there are people within every movement who are perfectly willing to make shit up in support of their cause. Use caution, and insofar as you are able, use patience. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when so many people have been exposed to so much dishonest propaganda, and I fear it’s only going to get worse.

Be kind, be skeptical, and stand in solidarity with the oppressed.

Rebuilding Damaged Brains with 3D Printing

Brain damage is a scary thing, and there are a lot of ways that it can happen. The brain’s plasticity means that sometimes people can recover lost functionality, but wouldn’t it be nice if we had the ability to actually rebuild damaged brain tissue? Well, thanks to 3D printing and stem cells, that ability may not be far away! I’ve seen articles for a while now about using stem cells to grow replacement organs, but I honestly didn’t expect to see brains on the list.

In this new study, the University of Oxford researchers fabricated a two-layered brain tissue by 3D printing human neural stem cells. When implanted into mouse brain slices, the cells showed convincing structural and functional integration with the host tissue.

The cortical structure was made from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs), which have the potential to produce the cell types found in most human tissues. A key advantage of using hiPSCs for tissue repair is that they can be easily derived from cells harvested from patients themselves, and therefore would not trigger an immune response.

The hiPSCs were differentiated into neural progenitor cells for two different layers of the cerebral cortex, by using specific combinations of growth factors and chemicals. The cells were then suspended in solution to generate two ‘bioinks’, which were then printed to produce a two-layered structure. In culture, the printed tissues maintained their layered cellular architecture for weeks, as indicated by the expression of layer-specific biomarkers.

When the printed tissues were implanted into mouse brain slices, they showed strong integration, as demonstrated by the projection of neural processes and the migration of neurons across the implant-host boundary. The implanted cells also showed signalling activity, which correlated with that of the host cells. This indicates that the human and mouse cells were communicating with each other, demonstrating functional as well as structural integration.

The researchers now intend to further refine the droplet printing technique to create complex multi-layered cerebral cortex tissues that more realistically mimic the human brain’s architecture. Besides their potential for repairing brain injuries, these engineered tissues might be used in drug evaluation, studies of brain development, and to improve our understanding of the basis of cognition.

I think it’ll be interesting to see what comes of this, and what a living brain can or can’t do with new tissue. Beyond that, having brain tissue on which to experiment, without having to use a living person, could end up being a huge deal for understanding our brains, and how to fix or adjust them. You can find more, including images and diagrams, at the link above.

And now I’m going to go try to drain all the goo out of my sinuses.

Video: Leeja Miller on the GOP’s Extremist 2025 Project

Every four years, Americans who value human life, and see the ills caused by capitalism, are pushed to vote for the Democratic Party, not necessarily because they like the Democrats, but because the GOP is so evil and destructive, that it makes a great deal of sense to go with the lesser evil. It makes sense, but because political participation in the United States rarely goes beyond voting, it means that the Democrats have spent decades apparently trying to be as much like the Republicans as possible, while still retaining a tiny pile of moral high ground. As I’ve mentioned a couple times now, 2024 looks to be different, in that the Dems have actually been doing some things that are actively good for the people, and for democracy.

Unfortunately, the GOP has been doing bad things. I’ve considered the GOP to be a fascist party for a while now, and while there’s currently some infighting, I think that assessment still holds. While both parties have historically been fine supporting fascists in other countries, the Republicans are actively working to enact fascism in the United States, and I am not exaggerating. Project 2025 is basically the conservative answer to The American Prospect’s Day One Agenda, except that their goal is to dramatically expand presidential power, outlaw pornographic material and criminalize anyone involved in it (and remember, they classify all things sex ed or LGBTQIA as pornographic), and to dramatically scale up fossil fuel extraction and use. This vision of the future was crafted around Trump and his time in office, but the plan is to put it in front of the next GOP president.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that democracy is on the ballot, and unfortunately, that will continue to be the case for as long as our current system exists. That’s why political action needs to go beyond voting, if we want real change. Regardless of how you end up voting, I think it’s good to know what’s at stake, so here’s Leeja Miller breaking down the GOP’s plan for America:


NFTs Were a Wasteful, Destructive Scam

Do you remember NFTs?

Do you remember how they were consistently, credibly called out as an obvious con?

Do you remember the stories about how much energy was going into powering the computers running that con?

Pepperidge farm remembers, and so do I.

An article went around not long ago, about the fact that NFTs are mostly completely worthless now (as though they weren’t worthless from day one), and it got me thinking.

I like the idea of a society in which people can try things just to see if it’ll work, and I think we should be focusing more on increasing carbon-free energy production than on restricting people’s ability to use energy. I also think that that only goes so far. I want more nuclear power, for example, but I’m not on board with people building reactors in their back yards, and I’m not on board with turning an increase in nuclear power plants into a speculative bubble.

And I’m not on board with allowing vast amounts of resources to go into powering something like NFTs, simply because there’s a lot of money involved. The technology involved is interesting, and I’m sure it has great uses, but in my inexpert opinion, the value of crypto-stuff in general has been greatly overblown, and NFTs seemed a thousand times worse. A lot of people with a lot of money pushed really hard to make that bubble happen, and I’m sure they made a lot of money from it. I’m sure a small number of lucky working people also made fortunes, but as is usual in capitalism, I think that was a small minority.

I don’t know how many people lost money from NFTs specifically, or how many were convinced to invest cash they couldn’t afford to lose, but given the state crypto overall, I’m willing to bet it was a lot.

At the start of 2022, the Super  Bowl featured celebrities like Tom Brady, Larry David and Matt Damon in  commercials for crypto companies. Logos for crypto companies like FTX  could be seen plastered on multiple sports arenas and a new wave of  crypto influencers emerged, garnering hundreds of thousands of  followers. Cryptocurrency was everywhere.

It was supposed to be an alternative to traditional finance.

Instead  of exchanging money through a third party, like a bank, cryptocurrency  allows users to transfer digital currency directly. However, unlike  traditional forms of currency such as the U.S. dollar, the government  does not insure deposits and federal agencies have taken limited steps  to regulate the crypto industry.

But  the major crash of the crypto market last year has brought headaches,  fear and anger among the millions of people around the world who  invested their savings and are left wondering whether they’ll ever see  their money again.

Curt Dell, a father of three from California, told ABC News’ Rebecca  Jarvis that he’s lost over $200,000 in Bitcoin after the digital crypto  lending company Celsius went bankrupt last year.

“It robbed [my family] of so much potential,” said Dell, a California resident who works in sales. “It’s such a bad situation.”

Sam Bankman-Fried is currently on trial for his alleged crimes, but I have a sneaking suspicion that as with Madoff before him, his punishment will distract from the vast majority of those whose actions created the bubble.

There are those who argue that bubbles, including the crypto bubble, are actually good things, because they generally follow new technology, which is later adopted. I think there may be a good point in there somewhere, but the people who make such arguments tend to ignore or dismiss the people harmed by those bubbles, and that’s just the surface.

I’ll admit that I find it a little hard to feel too much sympathy for someone who had $200,000 to invest in such an obvious con. If Dell had that money lying around, I think he and his family will be OK for its loss. A lot of other people, who invested far less than that, will probably suffer more for it, but made the investment because they felt it was their one shot to escape poverty in a rigged system.

Maybe, in a world with a solid social safety net, and no climate crisis, it would make sense to allow bubbles like this to just happen, both as a way to test the bounds of a technology or concept, and as a way to root out scammers, and limit their ability to scam people. Unfortunately, we live in a world where losing money to a scam can be devastating, and the bubble in question actively added to the climate crisis.

According to artist Memo Akten, minting an Ethereum-based NFT alone requires 142 kWh of energy. This is the equivalent of about 100,000 Visa transactions,  said Dexter Baño Jr., an advocate for environmental protection and  technological advancements. To further illustrate how huge that figure  is, he noted that in 2019, American households only used an average of 30 kWh of energy per day.

“This means that you can power a house in the United States for 4.7 days with the energy being used to mint an NFT,” he said.

Now, if you’re in the mood for some math:

“Based on data from the Energy Information Administration, there are 0.85 pounds of CO2 (carbon dioxide) released into the air per kWh of electrical energy used. Multiplying this by the amount of energy spent on each mint transaction on Ethereum, that snowballs to 120.7 pounds of CO2 for every NFT creation. This is 6.16 times the CO2 output of burning one gallon of gasoline,” Baño said.

It’s  important to note that this only covers the creation of one NFT. The  process of buying and selling each NFT involves more transactions that  need to be verified—mined—and therefore even more energy that goes into  all that extra computer activity.

“Since  NFTs are getting mainstream, more people are transacting on Ethereum.  As long as proof-of-work still exists in that chain, the environmental  impact is still high,” said Angeline Viray, who trades and invests in  cryptocurrencies and NFTs.

This isn’t good. To me, it feels like the way this bubble played out demonstrates pretty clearly that we are nowhere close to taking global warming seriously, as a society.

We have to use fossil fuels to replace fossil fuels, and using energy for bullshit like this is, in my view, unacceptable. It’s also absolutely going to keep happening, in all sorts of ways, for as long as we are governed by the current system.

I don’t really have a policy prescription here, other than to say that we ought to be making climate action the central focus of our economy, to the same degree that we currently center greed. There’s something broken when waste and fraud at that scale is simply… the way things work.