The presupposition of scarcity and competition should not dictate how we end fossil fuel use

I’ve noticed a frustrating tendency among some climate activists to cling to a mode of thought that works to uphold the justifications for capitalism, and the bleak view of life perpetuated by capitalist and fascist propagandists. It’s the notion of endless competition as a driving force in society. It’s Spencer’s pseudo-scientific notion of “survival of the fittest”, supported by the lie that resources will always be less than what would meet the basic needs of humanity. The notion of false scarcity was probably made most famous by the diamond industry, which boosted the price of its product by strictly controlling the supply, and limiting the rate at which new diamonds entered the market. Similar shady practices also drive up housing prices, and a related line of justification is used not to increase the price of food – though that has happened a bit – but rather to justify the hunger of those who are prevented from eating food that would otherwise go to waste. Diamonds are actually pretty common, there are more empty homes than homeless people, and there is more food than we need to feed everyone. We are not, in reality, stuck in endless competition with each other. We live in a world and in a time when nobody needs to worry about their basic necessities.

We’re just forced to, in order to force us to use our bodies and our time for the enrichment of someone else.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and if we’re going to find a way out of this mess, we will have to train ourselves not to see the world that way, and I think that includes our sources of power. Maybe this is also partly because we’ve found that certain sources – fossil fuels – cannot be used safely, so we see a need to get a “better” energy source, and that can lead to viewing things like solar, wind, nuclear, hydro, and so on as being in competition with each other. As Le Guin said, we live in capitalism, and its power seems inescapable. For an example, take this recent study from the University of Sussex:

If countries want to lower emissions as substantially, rapidly and cost-effectively as possible, they should prioritize support for renewables, rather than nuclear power.

That’s the finding of new analysis of 123 countries over 25 years by the University of Sussex Business School and the ISM International School of Management which reveals that nuclear energy programmes around the world tend not to deliver sufficient carbon emission reductions and so should not be considered an effective low carbon energy source.

Researchers found that unlike renewables, countries around the world with larger scale national nuclear attachments do not tend to show significantly lower carbon emissions — and in poorer countries nuclear programmes actually tend to associate with relatively higher emissions.

Published today in Nature Energy, the study reveals that nuclear and renewable energy programmes do not tend to co-exist well together in national low-carbon energy systems but instead crowd each other out and limit effectiveness.

Benjmin K Sovacool, Professor of Energy Policy in the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex Business School, said: “The evidence clearly points to nuclear being the least effective of the two broad carbon emissions abatement strategies, and coupled with its tendency not to co-exist well with its renewable alternative, this raises serious doubts about the wisdom of prioritising investment in nuclear over renewable energy. Countries planning large-scale investments in new nuclear power are risking suppression of greater climate benefits from alternative renewable energy investments.”

This is where I start to worry about the analysis of these researchers, and the conclusions they draw. From what I can tell, they’re basing their conclusions on the notion that we’ll be swapping out power sources, but leaving much of the rest of how things work as is. We have the resources, as a species, to do a large-scale rollout of renewable power sources, and also to build new nuclear power plants. The obstacle isn’t one of resources for investment, it’s one of political and social obstacles. Likewise, for countries that currently have well-established nuclear power, it’s not like that’s the only factor affecting CO2 emissions, and many of the power plants in question are decades old, which means they’re worse on pretty much every metric than newer reactor and plant designs.

I have my reservations about nuclear power, but they largely stem back to the same root as my problem with this sort of analysis. It’s likely that without changing the power and incentive structures of our society, no power source will be either sufficient or safe. There are too many problems, even if we only focus on the environment, that are caused by pursuit of profit over all else, and that cannot be solved because doing so isn’t  “profitable”. I think it’s highly unlikely that we will be able to avoid total collapse under the political and economic conditions these authors assume will continue to be the norm.

The researchers, using World Bank and International Energy Agency data covering 1990-2014, found that nuclear and renewables tend to exhibit lock-ins and path dependencies that crowd each other out, identifying a number of ways in which a combined nuclear and renewable energy mix is incompatible.

These include the configuration of electricity transmission and distribution systems where a grid structure optimized for larger scale centralized power production such as conventional nuclear, will make it more challenging, time-consuming and costly to introduce small-scale distributed renewable power.

Similarly, finance markets, regulatory institutions and employment practices structured around large-scale, base-load, long-lead time construction projects for centralized thermal generating plant are not well designed to also facilitate a multiplicity of much smaller short-term distributed initiatives.

Andy Stirling, Professor of Science and Technology Policy at the University of Sussex Business School, said: “This paper exposes the irrationality of arguing for nuclear investment based on a ‘do everything’ argument. Our findings show not only that nuclear investments around the world tend on balance to be less effective than renewable investments at carbon emissions mitigation, but that tensions between these two strategies can further erode the effectiveness of averting climate disruption.”

The study found that in countries with a high GDP per capita, nuclear electricity production does associate with a small drop in CO2 emissions. But in comparative terms, this drop is smaller than that associated with investments in renewable energy.

And in countries with a low GDP per capita, nuclear electricity production clearly associates with CO2 emissions that tend to be higher.

Patrick Schmid, from the ISM International School of Management München, said: “While it is important to acknowledge the correlative nature of our data analysis, it is astonishing how clear and consistent the results are across different time frames and country sets. In certain large country samples the relationship between renewable electricity and CO2-emissions is up to seven times stronger than the corresponding relationship for nuclear.”

Ironically, my objection to this analysis is similar to an objection I’ve raised to more avid nuclear advocates – we can’t base our plans for the future on how things have been historically, because we are in a historically unprecedented time. If we continue to assign value and importance within the constraints of a capitalist rule set, we’re never going to see an end to overproduction. If a grid designed for distributed power generation can’t handle the output of a nuclear plant, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to put the technology to use. If your reactor is adequately protected from sea level rise (high elevation or placement on a floating structure), a nuclear plant could be an excellent way to power large-scale desalination, hydrolysis, or both. It could also be used to power industrial activity – factories, waste processing, shipping, or even indoor farming.

As I’ve mentioned before, the best path to both sustainable population size and sustainable energy usage is to equalize at a decent standard of living, and to stop centering things around consumption and growth:

However, not only do the findings show that the energy required to provide a decent living could likely be met entirely by clean sources, but it also offers a firm rebuttal to reactive claims that reducing global consumption to sustainable levels requires an end to modern comforts and a ‘return to the dark ages’.

The authors’ tongue in cheek response to the critique that sweeping energy reform would require us all to become ‘cave dwellers’ was: “Yes, perhaps, but these are rather luxurious caves with highly-efficient facilities for cooking, storing food and washing clothes; comfortable temperatures maintained throughout the year, computer networks — among other things — not to mention the larger caves providing universal healthcare and education to all 5-19 year olds.”

That said, providing growing conditions that can feed humanity, ensuring access to water, maintaining pleasant indoor temperature and air quality, and manufacturing durable goods in a sustainable manner are all likely to consume a lot of power. I generally favor distributed power generation through “renewable” energy sources, for the flexibility and resilience that provides, but it would be very foolish, in my opinion, to just dismiss nuclear power, or to stop working on ways to improve on it.

There’s also another factor to consider. Ideally, we’re going to do more than just deal with our impact on the climate and reduce the production of new waste. We also need to deal with the waste we’ve already produced, both in terms of disposed products, and in terms of things like mine waste, industrial byproducts, and new kinds of toxic waste like the concentrated brine from desalination plants.

We need to make an industry out of cleaning up and rendering harmless a vast array of substances, including radioactive waste that has nothing whatsoever to do with nuclear power.

Unfortunately, the speed at which the planet is heating means that the amount of energy we’re going to have to consume to both survive and end fossil fuel use is going to be massive. Even as we take steps to increase energy efficiency and reduce consumption, we’re going to have other growing demands for energy. I think it’s entirely likely that in some situations, a nuclear reactor is going to be the best option. The focus should be on what conditions must be met. I think most modern reactor designs are very, very safe, if they’re operated by people whose primary incentive is their safe and reliable operation, without consideration for things like profit. Any community within the exclusion zone of a reactor should have a role in oversight of that reactor, as well as a responsibility to educate themselves in defense against misinformation.

If we manage to actually gain the power to start reshaping society, one of our first problems is going to be cleaning up after the last century or so. It only seems responsible to keep nuclear power as an option, for when we do need a massive concentration of energy in one location.

I also think that we’d do well, insofar as we have the power to influence any of this, to encourage as non-fossil energy production is possible, and rather than focusing on storing excess for later, use the excess as it’s generated, and arrange things so that at the grid’s lowest ebb, we have enough for the minimum requirements of day to day life.

As I mentioned at the outset, a lot of the world’s power comes from control over access to vital resources – food, water, shelter, healthcare, and in the modern era, electricity. One of the reasons that mutual aid networks can serve as a foundation for organized, working class power, is that they make it harder to use the subtler forms of coercion that government and capital typically use to keep people in line. If you can ensure supply lines of food, water, and so on, then people actually have firm ground on which to make a stand. A strike is far more sustainable when those involved know that their families will still have their needs met, even if they lose their wages.

We can use abundance as a weapon against economic coercion.

Now, as we’ve seen recently, they’re willing to be overt, if that’s what it takes to keep people working, but strike-breaking, or openly manipulating things like access to unemployment insurance in order to force people to work for poverty wages, tend to help turn people against the ruling class.

As this century continues, I think it would be wise to adopt a similar strategy for energy production. We need to combine increased efficiency with increased zero-carbon power generation to create a state of abundance, where excess can be used for essential work, and it’s much harder for a government or corporation to wield power over people by controlling their electricity access.

We should continue to invest in distributed power generation, especially at the community level, where possible, but I honestly think we’d be foolish cease all investment in nuclear power.


Unfortunately, life still costs money, and this blog is my only means of income right now. If you get some value from my writing, consider signing up to help support my work at patreon.com/oceanoxia. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month, and doing so gets you access to some additional content. Check it out, and share my work with any who you think would appreciate it. Thanks!

Writer’s block, free time, and atheism: Tinkering with the human machine

I can’t speak to the experiences of others, but for me, the notion of “writer’s block” as a lack of ideas has always felt a bit wrong. I’m never sort on ideas, it’s just that I often have a great deal of trouble trying to convert those ideas into a good piece of writing. It’s less that the wellspring of my creativity is blocked, and more that the ideas flowing down the stream it creates in my mind sometimes jumble together like sticks and leaves, and turn themselves into a temporary dam. Some stuff gets through, or finds a way around, but a clear state of “flow” is unavailable. Most of the time, the primary culprit is one big piece of work that I’m struggling with.

In the current instance, it’s a post about how we perceive energy as a tool or resource, how we perceive the courses of action available to us, and how I think we’ve been approaching the conversation wrong. Specifically, we’ve mostly been approaching it from the perspective of capitalist notions of competition and scarcity. I’m trying to pull together a couple disparate concepts into a single article that’s coherent, and hopefully persuasive. It’s often a fun challenge to do this sort of thing, and it’s the kind of writing that makes me feel like I’m “earning” the backing of my patrons.

It’s frustrating because the longer a piece like this takes me, the more space it occupies in my mind, and the more the pressure to get it done with builds, along with the worry that I’ll do a worse job just to get it out of my way. Sometimes all I can do is set the work aside, and find a way to move on without finishing it.

Mental dams like this have long been a problem for me. Tegan thinks I have “inattentive type” ADHD, and though I haven’t gotten around to getting checked out for it, what little research I have done makes me think she’s right. In struggling with the symptoms over the years, I once came across an online community that treats procrastination as an addiction, and developed a version of the “12 step program” for it. At that point in my life – around a decade ago – I think I was some form of Quaker/Taoist, and still approaching problems like this from a spiritual perspective. While I was desperate to find any sort of time management strategy that would fix everything, I also still very much had the notion that I could more or less pray my mental problems away.

It wasn’t until I started to truly understand myself as a complex, self-aware machine that I started to make progress. I am my body. My “self” is an emergent property of the various systems that make up my body. Primarily, it’s my nervous system, but that’s also affected by all my other systems. In a lot of very real ways, a human is a self-aware biological “robot” that’s capable of taking in information from the world around it, translating it into patterns of cells in our brains, and storing it in that imperfect form to compare to future information. We are also capable of choosing inputs for certain results, like establishing a particular cell pattern through repeated exposure to a particular bit of information, to the point where it becomes more or less permanent, needing only occasional reinforcement – memory.

Dealing with things like writer’s block is, in whatever way it’s under my control, a matter of using the tools I have available to me to run maintenance, and learn to better operate the meat machine that is me, so I can use it for the things I want to do. Dismantling mental blockage like this, and restoring a state of flow is, in some ways, as important a part of the writing craft as is a large vocabulary, or an understanding of grammar. It’s a form of recalibration done by going through a difficult piece of writing one word at a time, if necessary, and watching for every spot where my brain gets derailed, so I can see the problem and find a way to get through it more easily.

It’s a skill that can be easy to do without most of the time, and mental dams like that often sort themselves out, eventually, or become obstacles we’re used to avoiding. The problem is that it’s time lost that I don’t want to lose. For whatever reason, I seem to have a harder time with things like forming habits than a lot of people I knew growing up, and so that’s something I need to work around. Approaching it in this manner makes it easier for me to break problems down into their component parts, to a degree, and work out how to get things done despite those obstacles. The problem is that this kind of work is difficult to do. Brains are remarkable organs, but they can’t just fix problems with themselves. Sometimes all that’s needed is the help of someone like a therapist who’s trained in ways to get brains to operate in one way or another. Often that’s not enough. In my case, I’m on anxiety meds, and I’m lucky enough to be in a situation where my duty to the household, beyond things like housekeeping, is being as good of a writer as I can be.

It may be that this is a problem I can figure out how to manage without medication that would require an official diagnosis, but the only way I have a shot at that is because I happen to be in a situation where I have the time and energy to work on things like this, and because by doing so, and writing these articles, I’m also paying our grocery bill.

Any success I have in this endeavor – and I have been having some success – is due not just to my own efforts, but to a combination of factors. I needed the time to dedicate to this, I needed the mental security of knowing my basic needs would be met, at least for a short while, and I needed the mental framework of philosophical naturalism – understanding myself as the physical being that I am – to be able to make a material analysis of my situation.

All the fantasies of self-improvement that are so popular in our society ultimately come down to nothing if your circumstances prevent you from actually treating it like a valuable use of time. I guess all of this is to say that I’ve been having some trouble with my writing of late, but I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I have the resources to actually deal with it, at least to some degree. So there’ll be a post about energy sources and uses up tomorrow!


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A useful video from the Gravel Institute on the future of work envisioned by Silicon Valley

I’ll have some more substantial stuff up shortly, but in the meantime, I though you ought to watch and share this video. It’s a useful breakdown of one of the tactics being used to get around labor regulations, in the absence of a powerful labor movement to oppose them. A lot of this feels similar to the tactics used by Walmart and Amazon to gain monopolistic power.

 

Responses to light pollution: The infernal glow of an eco-friendly society

If you’ve ever moved far outside of the latitude to which you’re accustomed, you know how disorienting it can be to have day length change. My move to the British Isles had me confronting both the extremely long nights of a northern winter, and the surreal experience of realizing at 9pm that it was still about an hour before “night” started. I can only imagine how disorienting artificial light can be to creatures without the capacity to understand what’s going on.

The image shows a Manx Shearwater crouching on the ground. It's a bird with a long beak, hooked at the end, and tubular nostrils characteristic of its order. The back head, and beak are a dark slate gray, with a white throat and belly.

Photo by Martin Reith

When Tegan and I were working on our doomed application to live on the Isle of Rum, we were looking at even longer nights over the winter, and a community that had zero light pollution. As one of the world’s major breeding sites for the Manx Shearwater, every home has blackout curtains, so that the juveniles won’t get confused by artificial light, and head towards the village rather than down to the sea. There are also no street lights, or any other lights at night. One of the things I was looking forward to, had we been allowed to live there, was the night sky, when the weather allowed it to be visible. If you’ve never been far enough away from artificial light sources to see what the sky looks like without all that interference, I very much hope you’re able to experience that some day.

There are a lot of reasons why it would be good for our ecosystems to cut down on light pollution, but I think it’s also important to acknowledge that the bright lights of cities aren’t there just because of convenience, neglect, or aesthetic reasons. Places with high concentrations of people tend to have more crime, and crime is more likely to happen under cover of darkness. When I was in college, I attended a seminar on sexual assault in which we were asked to say whether we felt safe walking across campus at night, and how that feeling changed if one of the street lamps was out. The results were pretty consistent – most female-presenting people were not remotely comfortable crossing campus in the dark. That’s not an irrational fear, and it’s not something that we should discount in thinking about how to re-imagine our use of light.

It’s also important to note that not all places are going to have the same requirements, and those requirements are likely to change depending on the season. It may be that the ban on artificial light isn’t necessary outside of the month or two during which juvenile Shearwaters are heading to sea, for example. There may also be places where the potential for ecological disturbance is low enough that there’s no need for change beyond energy conservation.

Image shows a suburban street, wet from recent rain, and illuminated by red street lamps. There's some white and yellow light coming from the houses, but the dominant color, aside from the dark blue of the night sky, is the red from the street lamps

And in some cases, it may be that the only change needed is in the color of outdoor lighting. Enter the town of Zuidhoek-Nieuwkoop, Netherlands, that has installed red street lights, to be more hospitable to bats.

It turns out that while most insectivorous bat species don’t care a whole lot about artificial lights, there are some that care a great deal, and that face serious problems from the fact that not only do they need to go out of their way to avoid most lights, their prey tends to have the opposite reaction. That means that for these species, there’s actually less food they can access, even with stable insect populations, as the insects congregate around the lights the bats have to avoid. Red lights solve both of these problems:

Artificial light at night can have a disruptive effect on bats, but not if the light is red. Switching to red light may therefore limit or prevent habitat loss for rare, light-shy bat species. The latest issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B publishes results from five years of pioneering research led by the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW).
It’s the first time researchers have succeeded in measuring the effects of light with different spectra on the activity of slow-flying, light-shy bats in their foraging habitat. “We’ve found these bats to be equally active in red light and darkness,” says principal researcher Kamiel Spoelstra. “White and green light, on the other hand, substantially reduce the bats’ level of activity.”

The effect of red light on more common bat species such as the pipistrelle is reduced as well. Unlike a strong increase in activity of this species in white and green light, the activity in red light is comparable to darkness. This is caused by the strong attraction of insects to white and green (and not red) light. Pipistrelles opportunistically feed on these accumulated insects.

Real-life conditions

“The lack of effect of red light on both the rarer, light-shy species and the more common non-light-shy bats,” concludes Spoelstra, “opens up possibilities for limiting the disruption caused by external, artificial lighting in natural areas, in situations where having light is considered desirable.”

I don’t know if there’s any research into how the color of street lights affects safety for humans, but this is a great example of how we can put our understanding of animal behavior and physiology to use, and provide a service for humans – illuminated streets at night – that won’t interfere with the local wildlife, because the animals that might care about artificial light can’t detect those wavelengths. As always, it’s unlikely there’s ever going to be a “perfect” solution – perfection is more of an aspirational concept than an achievable goal – but there are many changes available that will help a lot, without causing us any real harm. It might be strange live somewhere that glows red at night, or to see the white wind turbines we’re used to replaced by purple ones, but we live in a world that’s increasingly alien to the on e on which we involved. I, for one, rejoice at the notion of building a new society that embraces that strangeness.


If you find the contents of this blog useful or entertaining, or if you think that it’s moving in that direction, please consider becoming a patron at patreon.com/oceanoxia, and/or encouraging others to do so. I’d to keep writing, and keep building this into a useful resource for those who want a better world, and to do that, I need money to survive. I’m still pulling in far, far less than minimum wage, and it’d be awesome if I could close that gap.

Kick them when they’re down: The fight we’re in isn’t fair, and we shouldn’t pretend it is.

This is a useful interview on how to deal with tech monopolies, but I think it doesn’t go far enough. The approaches that Doctrow lays out are, I think, an excellent starting place. If we want humanity to survive the next century or two, and to simultaneously build a more just and happy society, we need to be working on a whole lot of changes all at once. That means the kinds of power-building work I’ve talked about before, but it also means using the the political system we have now to make that other work easier, to whatever degree we can. That means both direct organizing, and working through our representative democracy. We have to do it all.

Under the current system, the default approach to change is a sort of timid incrementalism that always seems to treat history as a settled matter, starting yesterday. That means that when a dramatic change is made, there’s generally a great deal of opposition and complaining, but then as soon as anyone suggests changing things back, it’s treated as just as big a problem as the initial change. Change is viewed as both generally bad, and as value-neutral. The problem isn’t the kind of change, it’s the scale of that change.  Taking steps to undo the damage done by “Reaganomics”, or even by the Trump administration, is met with similar or even increased level of hand-wringing, as the initial damage. It’s different people making a stink, but they make about the same level of stink, and more importantly, the media treats it as all being the same.

It’s all just a game played by opposing teams, and it’s “fair” to give both sides equal footing.

Of course, this ignores the fact that, when one side fetishizes procedure and incrementalism, while the other side is committed to getting their way no matter the cost, you get predictable results. Things either move in the direction preferred by the more committed side, or they don’t move at all.

Changes in social norms – like the gradually increasing acceptance of homosexuality – can happen under this framework, but not any real changes in how power is distributed or used.

We tend to treat it as an unassailable truth that the way we operate now is the best way to operate, and so truly systemic change is anathema. That’s why, for all the changes seen in the United States over the last century, power has continued to rest primarily in the hands of the capitalist class, which has used its power to whittle away those changes in things like labor law and social safety nets that gave more power to the working classes.

People whose primary goal is the accumulation of wealth and power will always use the wealth and power they currently have to get more. The more they have, the more they are able to reshape society to funnel more to themselves, and to prevent others from preventing that. This is a path that leads inevitably to monopoly and to oligarchy. Even if someone like Bezos or Gates were to decide that they should burn through all of their personal net worth to solve one problem or another, the end result of that is that they would lose the personal power that society gives to capitalists, and someone else would increase in power by comparison. At best, the changes made by one multibillionaire would be temporary, and rolled back by those multibillionaires who chose instead to continue hoarding power.

Ultimately, the only way out of this trap is to make it impossible for individuals to hold that level of power. Until we do that, there will always be people like the Kochs, like Bezos, like Musk, or like Gates, pulling strings around the globe for their personal benefit, and asserting control over resources that we desperately need for things like dealing with pandemics, or with global climate change.

We need to use the tools we have – taxation and regulation – to decrease the power of the ruling class, much as FDR was doing when he talked about taking power away from “economic royalists”, but we cannot simply stop there. We can’t win in a metaphorical bout of fisticuffs and then walk away having “taught them a lesson”, while still leaving them with outsized wealth and power. History has shown that they will, in general, respond by stabbing us in the back. Their goal is dominance, not winning in a fair fight.

Take away all of their power, and don’t give it to anyone else. Use it for degrowth, for new energy infrastructure, and for adaptation to coming climate change. Use it to make sure that nobody can use poverty or deprivation to force others to work FOR them.

We have to knock down the ruling class and kick them while they’re down. We have to remove that class from existence. That does not mean that we have to kill anyone, necessarily. Ideally, the “horrible fate” I want for today’s billionaires includes guaranteed healthcare, food, shelter, freedom of speech, expression, and movement, and so on. The one thing I want to take away from them is their ability to govern the lives of other people, and I don’t want that ability to go to anyone else in their stead.

We are in a fight for our lives, and for the lives of those with less power than each of us might personally be able to wield. We are fighting against people who have attained their power by exploiting every loophole and weakness they can find, and cheating every person they can. We are not in a fair fight, and we should not pretend otherwise.


If you find the contents of this blog useful or entertaining, or if you think that it’s moving in that direction, please consider becoming a patron at patreon.com/oceanoxia, and/or encouraging others to do so. I’d to keep writing, and keep building this into a useful resource for those who want a better world, and to do that, I need money to survive. I’m still pulling in far, far less than minimum wage, and it’d be awesome if I could close that gap.

“What do you expect me to do, fix it? I’m only 10.”

There is no excuse to look away from this. This video contains no wounds, no blood, no corpses, and no screaming. It does, however, contain children faced with the impossible task of coping with the relentless, crushing violence of a genocidal campaign by an ethno-nationalist government that wants to erase them from existence. There is no “both sides” here. There can’t be with a power imbalance this colossal.

 

Update: Work-work balance, science fiction and non-fiction

As most of my readers are no doubt aware, in addition to the primary content of this blog, I also write fiction – mostly sci-fi and a little fantasy. Lately I’ve been increasing the amount of time spent working on my science fiction, and that has led to a bit of a drop in posting here. This post is a bit of an explanation, a bit of an apology, and a bit of talking about what the future looks like for me.

In the short term, I don’t expect any major changes to Oceanoxia. I intend to keep posting, and to increase both the frequency and quality of my non-fiction work here. This is partly because it’s my primary means of income, meagre though that is right now, and partly because I feel like it’s the way I can best help to bring about the changes I want to see in the world.

That said, there are limits to the concepts I feel I can effectively explore through nonfiction work and advocacy, and part of my goal has always been to help people see various possibilities for our future. In that regard, my science fiction has begun to fall into three general categories. The first, that some of you have hopefully seen, takes place in the United States somewhere around a couple thousand years in the future. Sea levels are still very high, but just starting to fall slowly, and New York City is a sort of solarpunk archipelago and rainforest. So far everything about that scenario takes place in Manhattan, which has a layout pretty similar to its current arrangement, but with canals where the streets would be, and big lagoon where Central Park currently stands. I’m still figuring out what sort of society it is, but it’s not too far from a version of anarcho-communism or something like it. Cooperatives and councils handle most of the collective projects that are currently managed by government and corporations. Housing and food are guaranteed, and people divide their time between work that helps society run, and activities that fulfil them, at least where the two purposes don’t overlap. Whether or not an activity is allowed depends largely on whether it harms other people in some way, and while there’s collective oversight of things like construction, if someone is “caught” doing something like construction outside of said oversight, there has to be demonstrable harm or danger to people in order to justify intervention.

Because my explorations haven’t gone much outside of New York, I’m honestly not sure what the rest of North America looks like, except that it’s no longer the heart of any sort of empire, and hasn’t been for some centuries. Problems created by greed, hatred, and so on still exist, but they’re not supported at a systemic level in the way we see today, and so have less power to destroy lives. Not a perfect world, but a better one.

The second category is in the far more distant future – tens of thousands of years. Have I mentioned I’m an optimist? I tried not to be for a while, but it got tiresome. At this point in time, humanity is interstellar, and has been for a very long time. The stories I’ve worked on thus far also take place in a better society, but this one is an interplanetary association of sorts, with the various planets governing themselves along similar lines to what I described in the “flooded New York” setting. Some use governments, some don’t, but access to food, shelter, and healthcare are all guaranteed, and insofar as there’s a currency, it’s the hydrogen that’s used in fusion engines to both power technology, and to manufacture and “print out” most materials needed for society. It’s sort of like replicator technology in Star Trek, but rather than just “materializing” finished products, the matter forges synthesize raw materials of varying complexity from molecules formed in a series of fusion reactors, each fueling the next. This setting is also one in which I explore fascism, as a number of planets – including Earth – are under the sway of a fascist society that’s in a sort of “Cold War” with the society I just described. I view fascism as a set of ideologies and political tactics that I think are likely to plague humanity for a long time to come, and likely to re-emerge from time to time, as ignorance, complacency, or fear lead people to those practices. Some of what I’m working on deals with resistance against such a fascist regime, and some does not. The anti-fascist societies are – again – not perfect. There are families and corporations with interplanetary power and influence, and that leads to predictable problems. I’ve been putting less time into this end of things in the last couple years, but I’ve recently resumed work on a novel taking place in this setting, now that I feel like my skill as a writer is closer to being able to tackle the subject matter.

The third category is one I think of as “the gauntlet“. It’s a set of stories taking place within the next century or two, depicting humanity’s struggle to survive a warming climate and the collapse of the current global capitalist order. Reflecting my own expectations for the near future, this is definitely my least optimistic project, and contains a lot of stuff that I fervently hope will be viewed as laughably pessimistic in a couple hundred years, if not my own lifetime (again, I’m optimistic enough to hope that my work will be considered at all on any useful scale. I think there’s a degree of egotism required to continue in this line of work). Some of this stuff is more optimistic, as it deals with the first glimmers of the world explored in the first category above.

Some of this fiction I’ll share here directly. Some is exclusively for my patrons. Some I’ll send away in the hopes that some publication will pay me a little. In any case, there’s going to be more of it around in general. If you want more of my time to go to this blog, and more of my fiction to be available to either you, or to the general public, the best way to achieve those goals right now is to support me via patreon, and encourage others to do the same. The closer I am to being able to actually cover living expenses, the more I’ll be free to just directly share my work with whoever wants to read it, which is my preference. The second best way is to share any of my work that you find to be valuable, by whatever criteria you judge such things.

Life’s chaotic for most of us right now, so however you relate to my work, take care of yourself, and those around you.

Just as the U.S. government helped create Al-Qaeda, the Israeli government helped Hamas

The United States has a long, horrific history of funding, training, and arming extremist groups – particularly right-wing ones – in the hopes that those groups will destabilize the regions in which they are active. This has led to countless atrocities all around the world, many of which have been used as excuses for our state of endless war.

As one of America’s closest allies, and the biggest recipient of American military aid, it probably shouldn’t be surprising to learn that the Israeli government followed this strategy when it came to Hamas.

Remember this, when Hamas is used to justify murder and brutality committed against Palestinians, as part of the Israeli government’s effort to maintain apartheid conditions, and pursue a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem.

Israel has all the power in this situation. The Israeli government is capable of de-escalating things, and moving the region towards peace, but they have consistently chosen not to, maintaining and escalating the cycle of bloodshed.

Mitigating the harm of climate change, using changes in the climate

One thing that is fast becoming a central theme of my work is the notion that, in addition to decentralizing political power, and creating a more democratic economy than capitalism can provide, we also need view ourselves as a part of the “natural world”. That means moving away from the historical trend of using technology to separate ourselves from the rest of the biosphere, and instead more fully integrating human civilization with the ecosystems that surround us.

This includes a lot of the standard stuff from the solarpunk genre: urban agriculture and urban wildlife, waste management that minimizes or eliminates pollution, and an end to wasteful things like planned obsolescence. It also goes beyond that, to molding ourselves to better suit our ecosystems, and to reduce the amount of labor and energy required to survive in a sometimes hostile landscape.

As the climate warms, the trend in much of the world seems to be towards stable or increasing annual rainfall, but with all of that rain coming in a smaller number of more intense storms. The practical effect of that is a worsening cycle of drought, flooding, and erosion, as the majority of the year is too dry for most plant life, and the sudden, intense rainfall floods the landscape causing landslides, and washing away both plant life and topsoil.

This, in turn, is likely to worsen the next year’s drought, while doing little to provide actual relief, as the water all rushes out to sea, or evaporates quickly following the downpour. The result is a cycle that’s likely to affect a huge portion of currently inhabited land, starting with the areas already suffering from this, like California:

As climate change intensifies the severity and frequency of these extreme events, amplifying refill rates could help the state reach a more balanced groundwater budget. One practice, called water banking or managed aquifer recharge, involves augmenting surface infrastructure, such as reservoirs or pipelines, with underground infrastructure, such as aquifers and wells, to increase the transfer of floodwater for storage in groundwater basins.

A newer strategy for managing surface water, compared to more traditional methods like reservoirs and dams, water banking poses multiple benefits including flood risk reduction and improved ecosystem services. While groundwater basins offer a vast network for water safekeeping, pinpointing areas prime for replenishment, gauging infrastructure needed and the amount of water available remains key, especially in a warming and uncertain climate.

“Integrating managed aquifer recharge with floodwaters into already complex water management infrastructure offers many benefits, but requires careful consideration of uncertainties and constraints. Our growing understanding of climate change makes this an opportune time to examine the potential for these benefits,” said senior author David Freyberg, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford.

The researchers designed a framework to estimate future floodwater availability across the state. Developing a hybrid computer model using hydrologic and climate simulations and statistical tools, the team calculated water available for recharge under different climate change scenarios through 2090. They also identified areas where infrastructure investments should be prioritized to tap floodwater potential and increase recharge.

As things currently stand, flood waters tend to be dangerous. They sweep up badly stored chemicals, human and animal waste, and sediments carrying pollution from past eras, resulting in a mix of poisons and bacteria that can do a lot of harm. Building infrastructure to catch that water, clean it, and direct it into aquifers would be a huge investment, but one that I think would be well worth it, and have benefits lasting far into the future.

Similar to things like food forests and managed prairies, water conservation and banking practices can help us build up not only our own resilience, but also the resilience of surrounding ecosystems.

Image shows the flooded terraces of a Balinese rice farm, creating a sort of managed ecosystem of grasses, trees, and ponds climbing up mountainsides

“For most crops, irrigation simply provides water for the plant’s roots. But in a Balinese rice terrace, water is used to construct a complex, pulsed artificial ecosystem. Water temples manipulate the states of the system, at ascending levels in regional hierarchies.”

The industrial revolution, colonialism, and capitalism all worked to devastate the biosphere of this planet in ways we’re still working to fully understand. We must turn from being consumers of the world, to being stewards of it. In the past, rhetoric like this might have been used to push the idea that we should just “leave nature alone”, but I want to be clear that that’s not what I’m suggesting.

The ecological collapse we’ve created means that we have a responsibility to use our technology and understanding to help our ecosystems survive, for our own benefit. That’s likely to mean increased intervention in what remains of wild spaces, at least in some ways. I think it’s obvious we should work to end the conditions that drive practices like deforestation and over-fishing; but it may also mean things like using banked or desalinated water to irrigate drought-stricken “wilderness”, if we can find ways to do so.

This is a complex issue, and must be approached as such. The measures taken to help one region could prove devastating in another, and it’s almost certain that such efforts will only work if undertaken in a cooperative manner across the arbitrary borders that divide the world into “nations”. As I’ve said before, a better world is possible, but I believe it will require the creation and maintenance of global solidarity. We cannot continue to indulge exploitation and bigotry, if we want to survive.


If you find the contents of this blog useful or entertaining, or if you think that it’s moving in that direction, please consider becoming a patron at patreon.com/oceanoxia, and/or encouraging others to do so. I’d to keep writing, and keep building this into a useful resource for those who want a better world, and to do that, I need money to survive. I’m still pulling in far, far less than minimum wage, and it’d be awesome if I could close that gap.