A hotter planet means more extreme weather. Extreme weather means more expensive food.

Maybe lack of surprise is going to be a theme this week…

Agriculture, throughout human history, has been heavily dependent on predictable weather conditions. We have crops for every climate in which we live, but, they’re always tailored to the natural conditions, or to alterations like irrigation that rely on natural conditions. That means that we’ve known for a long time that, as climate change is now well underway and has planet-sized momentum, that our food supply will be affected. Just as increasing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere means that the planet will trap more heat until the new “insulation” is saturated, there’s no scenario in which that warming doesn’t change agriculture.

This past year has been a rough one for agriculture, and because our ability to access food is tied to markets and capitalism’s endless need for profit, that means that food prices are rising.

Global food prices in November rose 1.2% compared to October, and were at their highest level since June 2011 (unadjusted for inflation), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in its monthly report on December 2. After adjusting for inflation, 2021 food prices averaged for the 11 months of 2021 are the highest in 46 years.

The high prices come despite expectations that total global production of grains in 2021 will set an all-time record: 0.7% higher than the previous record set in 2020. But because of higher demand (in part, from an increased amount of wheat and corn used to feed animals), the 2021 harvest is not expected to meet consumption requirements in 2021/2022, resulting in a modest drawdown in global grain stocks by the end of 2022, to their lowest levels since 2015/2016.

The November increase in global food prices was largely the result of a surge in prices of grains and dairy products, with wheat prices a dominant driver. In an interview at fortune.com, Carlos Mera, head of agri commodities market research at Rabobank, blamed much of the increase in wheat prices on drought and high temperatures hitting major wheat producers including the U.S., Canada, and Russia.

Drought and heat in the U.S. caused a 40% decline in the spring wheat crop in 2021, and a 10% decline in the total wheat crop (spring wheat makes up about 25% of total U.S. wheat production). Economic damages to agriculture in the U.S. are expected to exceed $5 billion in 2021, according to Aon (see Tweet below). The highest losses are expected in the Northern Plains, where the spring wheat crop was hit hard by drought and heat. Fortunately, the 2021 U.S. corn crop was estimated to be the second largest on record, 7% larger than in 2020. The 2021 soybean crop was also estimated to be second largest on record, up 5% from 2020.

[…]

According to Reuters, global fertilizer prices have increased 80% this year, reaching their highest levels since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. Primary causes of the current high prices include extreme weather events (particularly the February cold wave in Texas and Hurricane Ida in August), which disrupted U.S. fertilizer production, and the high cost in Europe of natural gas, a key component in producing fertilizer). Fertilizer shortages threaten to reduce grain harvests in 2022, according to CF Industries, a major fertilizer producer.

Carlos Mera of Rabobank pointed out that Russia, a major wheat producer, hiked its export tax on wheat this year to incentivize keeping supplies at home. “That is quite scary,” said Mera. “Events like the French Revolution and the Arab Spring have been blamed on high food prices.” High wheat prices in 2011 (in the wake of export restrictions triggered by the 2010 drought in Russia) helped lead to massive civil unrest and the toppling of multiple governments (the “Arab Spring”).

As I will keep saying, we need to make radical changes to how we produce food, if we want to avoid mass starvation in my lifetime. More than that, as the article mentions, food shortages will cause political unrest and war, which in turn is bad for the environment, bad for agriculture, and in case this needs to be said, bad for humans. I’m also very worried that the nationalistic, and in some cases piratical behavior by wealthy and powerful nations will mean that the pattern of enforced poverty will continue, unless those of us living in those nations stand up to our own governments, in solidarity with those whose lives will be destroyed to keep us fed and happy.

I’m writing this as Storm Barra, which Wikipedia tells me is a “hurricane-force bomb extratropical cyclone”, rages outside. There has been some rain, but most of what I’ve noticed has been the wind. My area is already pretty windy, but this storm is really highlighting the degree to which cold temperatures haven’t been a problem here. Damp, and the mold it brings, is a constant concern, so there hasn’t been a lot of pressure to do things like make sure windows and their frames are fully sealed (it’s free ventilation!), and the flat has vents to the outside in every room. This means that while our home provides real shelter, it’s also very drafty, and doesn’t hold heat very well.

I’m wearing a wool sweater, a wool capote, and a fleece-lined wool hat over my clothes, because I don’t want to waste the gas or the money to keep the flat at a more comfortable temperature. It always strikes me as strange when I’m thinking about the horrors caused by global warming, while dressing like I’m outdoors to keep warm; it’s also the nature of climate change. The cold and darkness of winter can make it easy to feel like this crisis is still far enough away that we have time, but the numbers consistently point in the same direction – we’ve been out of time for a while now, and we should probably start acting like it.


Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

To the great surprise of nobody, economists under-value human life.

I think this post’s headline could be applied to a large number of groups, but in this case economists are grossly under-valuing the lives of young people in particular.

So, you know, only the future of the species:

Many economic assessments of the climate crisis “grossly undervalue the lives of young people and future generations”, Prof Nicholas Stern warned on Tuesday, before the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Economists have failed to take account of the “immense risks and potential loss of life” that could occur as a result of the climate crisis, he said, as well as badly underestimating the speed at which the costs of clean technologies, such as solar and wind energy, have fallen.

Stern said the economics profession had also misunderstood the basics of “discounting”, the way in which economic models value future assets and lives compared with their value today. “It means economists have grossly undervalued the lives of young people and future generations who are most at threat from the devastating impacts of climate change,” he said. “Discounting has been applied in such a way that it is effectively discrimination by date of birth.”

This is increasingly obvious to anyone who’s paying attention to the world, and as has been pointed out many, many times, in addition to being short-sighted, dangerous, and cruel, the mainstream economic perspective is also much more about protecting those who are currently wealthy, than it is about creating a vibrant economy, even by capitalist standards. The amount of work that needs to be done to stop our contribution to global warming and adapt to what we can’t stop is astronomical. Even within the “endless growth” model that’s currently driving us towards extinction, there are more “opportunities” for work than ever before. Renewable energy, nuclear energy, prepping cities for sea level rise and extreme weather, creating a climate-proof food production system, and so on. This could have spurred a new golden age, if capitalism worked as advertised, but instead we’ve had stagnation and increasing misery as the planet becomes increasingly hostile to human life.

Stern’s remarks are based on a paper to be published in the Economic Journal of the Royal Economic Society and made to mark the 15th anniversary of the landmark Stern review on the economics of the climate crisis in 2006. It concluded that the costs of inaction on climate were far greater than the costs of action and that the climate crisis was the biggest market failure in history.

Since the publication of the report, carbon emissions have risen by 20% and Stern was scathing about much of the economic analysis that has informed policymakers. “Cavalier treatment of risk, and the missing of the very rapid technical progress, means the models have been profoundly misleading,” he said. The theory of discounting had not been related to its ethical foundations, he added, or allowed for the risk that global heating will make future generations poorer.

Political action has been slow since 2006, Stern said, because of the persistence of the “damaging” idea that climate action cuts economic growth and also because of the global financial crisis, which diverted attention and cut middle-class incomes, making politics more “fractious”.

Even if climate action was somehow “bad for the economy”, so are things like sea level rise and global crop failure.

Oh, and people dying. Lots of people dying is bad for any economy.

Here’s the thing, though – “young people”, including children, can see how little their nations value their lives. They can see the increasingly bleak future being forced upon them, and they’re watching their own chances of reaching old age decrease as world “leaders” continue to dither and delay, all to protect the wealth and power of the rich and powerful. Millennials are now middle-aged (or reaching it), and it’s been a running sort-of joke for years now that our retirement plan is to die before we reach that age. I have a vague feeling that the anxiety behind that might be worse for Gen Z.

Under these circumstances I have to wonder how much longer kids will feel there’s any point to half the things demanded of them as we’re all forced to pretend that everything’s normal. Why bother with school, if it feels like you’re just waiting until the annual wildfires move a bit faster than expected? Why bother worrying about a future that seems increasingly unlikely to exist? For that matter, why pay taxes to a nation that would rather murder foreigners than save the lives of its own citizens?

On the one hand, it’s getting easier and easier to see the need for revolutionary change, and I’m seeing a lot of interest in things like direct action and alternatives to capitalism. On the other hand, this is a crushing emotional burden that is both unfair and unnecessary.

This is just a thought, but maybe we shouldn’t continue making decisions based on the advice of people who got us in this position?

Friday Film Review: Vamps (2012)

Tegan and I were looking up Wally Shawn yesterday evening, and we discovered he’d been in a 2012 film we’d never heard of called Vamps. Out of curiosity we watched the preview and, well…

So as you may have seen, the movie is written and directed by Amy Heckerling of  Fast Times at Ridgemont High fame, and it is exactly the kind of movie the trailer would lead you to expect. It’s sort of the Galaxy Quest of vampire films, and not just because Sigourney Weaver brings her best for it. It’s got a very ’90s feel, and fully embraces the fact that it is a trashy vampire comedy with an absurdly star-studded cast. In addition to Weaver and Shawn, we’ve got Alicia Silverstone, Kristen Ritter (nice to know why Jessica Jones is so strong), Richard Lewis (Prince John to you), and a myriad of others who came together for what we feel was a labor of love for Heckerling.

I’m unaccustomed to writing film reviews, but the terms “high camp” and “solid B movie” both come to mind. The plot keeps you guessing, the characters are over the top and absurdist, and yet it packs a powerful emotional punch. They might have left out a vampire trope or two, but not many, and Wallace Shawn makes a surprisingly believable Van Helsing, and a convincing overprotective father.

It’s genuine, goofy, and of course a bit gory. Most violence happens off-screen, and what we do see is pretty cartoonish and surprisingly not bloody. I will, however, give one content warning. There is a notorious clip from the 1929 French surrealist film Un Chien Andalou, which remains one of the most convincing and disturbing practical effects in film history. If you want to avoid it, look away for a minute or so when you see a black and white film clip involving a straight razor.

We’re adding this to our list of movies to force our friends to watch.


Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

A glimpse of the distant future if we utterly fail

I’ve become so accustomed to the fact that climate change increases both droughts and floods, that when I saw research on the precipitation patterns during “hothouse earth” eras, I immediately assumed that it was about an extreme version of that pattern. It turns out I was both forgetting what “hothouse” really means, and underestimating how strange weather patterns can get at high planetary temperatures. While I think it’s possible we could reach these temperatures again, it wouldn’t be any time soon, even in the worst-case scenarios scientists look into. At the moment, I think it’s looking like we’ll see warming of around 5-6°F (I’m using Fahrenheit because this research report does) by 2100, whereas this research was looking into conditions far beyond that.

 Today, we are experiencing the dramatic impacts that even a small increase in global temperatures can have on a planet’s climate. Now, imagine an Earth 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than today. Earth likely experienced these temperatures at various times in the distant past and will experience them again hundreds of millions of years from now as the sun continues to brighten.

Little is known about how the atmosphere and climate behaved during these so-called hothouse periods. In a new study, researchers from Harvard University found that during these epochs of extreme heat, Earth may have experienced cycles of dryness followed by massive rain storms hundreds of miles wide that could dump more than a foot of rain in a matter of hours.

“If you were to look at a large patch of the deep tropics today, it’s always raining somewhere,” said Jacob Seeley, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental Science and Engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at Harvard and first author of the paper. “But we found that in extremely warm climates, there could be multiple days with no rain anywhere over a huge part of the ocean. Then, suddenly, a massive rainstorm would erupt over almost the entire domain, dumping a tremendous amount of rain. Then it would be quiet for a couple of days and repeat.”

“This episodic cycle of deluges is a new and completely unexpected atmospheric state” said Robin Wordsworth, the Gordon McKay Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering at SEAS and senior author of the study.

There’s always the caution that these results are from a climate model, but the reality is that these models were good enough to predict the cooling effect of the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption, and as you are no doubt aware, computers and our ability to use them have both improved somewhat in the last 30 years. Climate models these days can do a pretty good job of mimicking realty. So back to the original article – they wanted to see how the atmosphere and water cycle would respond to a 64x increase in atmospheric CO2, leading to sea surface temperatures of 130°F

At those temperatures, surprising things start happening in the atmosphere. When the air near the surface becomes extremely warm, absorption of sunlight by atmospheric water vapor heats the air above the surface and forms what’s known as an “inhibition layer,” a barrier that prevents convective clouds from rising into the upper atmosphere and forming rain clouds.

Instead, all that evaporation gets stuck in the near-surface atmosphere.

At the same time, clouds form in the upper atmosphere, above the inhibition layer, as heat is lost to space. The rain produced in those upper-level clouds evaporates before reaching the surface, returning all that water to the system.

“It’s like charging a massive battery,” said Seeley. “You have a ton of cooling high in the atmosphere and a ton of evaporation and heating near the surface, separated by this barrier. If something can break through that barrier and allow the surface heat and humidity to break into the cool upper atmosphere, it’s going to cause an enormous rainstorm.”

That’s exactly what happens. After several days, the evaporative cooling from the upper atmosphere’s rainstorms erodes the barrier, triggering an hours-long deluge. In one simulation, the researchers observed more rainfall in a six-hour period than some tropical cyclones drop in the U.S. across several days.

After the storm, the clouds dissipate, and precipitation stops for several days as the atmospheric battery recharges and the cycle continues.

The researchers are clear that the temperature increase they looked at far exceeds anything scientists are now predicting, but it’s fascinating to think about what life would be like – assuming humans could survive anywhere on such a planet – a cloudburst cycle like that. If we do enough in our lifetimes, we should be able to prevent those temperatures from occurring within the next billion years or so (yes, I’m ridiculously optimistic about humanity’s capacity to survive), but it’s sobering to think how radically different this familiar planet can become.


Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

Well, wouldja look at that? The Omicron variant was in Europe before it was detected in Africa.

Remember how I said that most African countries are better at detecting and dealing with epidemics than places like Europe and the U.S.? Omicron had already been in Europe for a number of days before Botswana raised the alarm. The Dutch just missed it.

Dutch health authorities announced on Tuesday that they found the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus in cases dating back as long as 11 days, indicating that it was already spreading in western Europe before the first cases were identified in southern Africa. The RIVM health institute said it found Omicron in samples dating from November 19 and 23.

So did the Belgians and the Germans.

And yet, despite the undisputed fact that this variant has been detected on every continent, the travel bans targeting African countries remain in place, and continue to harm the economies of those countries. The bans need to be lifted, and so-called “Western Civilization” needs to get its head out of its own ass and take a global perspective on this global problem. I feel like I shouldn’t need to say this, but it’s possible – just possible – that lives are at stake, so maybe they should listen to the WHO and change their policies.

The World Health Organization on Sunday echoed calls by South Africa’s president for countries to eschew travel bans targeting southern Africans amid the spread of the heavily mutated Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

“Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of Covid-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” the WHO said in a statement calling for borders to remain open. “If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based, according to the International Health Regulations, which is a legally binding instrument of international law recognized by over 190 nations.”

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, added that “the speed and transparency of the South African and Botswana governments in informing the world of the new variant is to be commended. WHO stands with African countries which had the courage to boldly share lifesaving public health information, helping protect the world against the spread of Covid-19.”

In recent days, dozens of nations including the United States have prohibited travelers from numerous nations in southern Africa due to concerns about the Omicron variant, which was first identified in Botswana earlier this month. On Friday, the WHO classified the new strain as a “variant of concern.”

On Sunday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa urged nations that have imposed bans on African travelers to rescind what he called the “scientifically unjustified” restrictions.

“The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic,” Ramaphosa said. “These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our southern African sister countries.”

 

Omicron, Evolution, and Africa: the predictable result of ignorance and white supremacy

A new variant has arisen, and with it a new wave of anti-vax nonsense, and a new reminder that colonialism (or whatever you want to call its modern incarnation) is a danger to all of us. Because of the international response to the discovery of the Omicron variant, I wanted to dig into several topics that I see converging here.

First, the relatively simple stuff: vaccine misinformation. There’s one line in particular that I think is going to end up sticking around if we’re not careful, and to me it stems from a partial understanding of how evolution works. In particular, it’s an “understanding” I’ve seen in a few different video games and TV shows, probably driven by Herbert Spencer’s twisting of natural selection to mean “survival of the fittest” in a colloquial sense. The idea goes like this – if you want to grow and evolve, you have to put yourself in increasingly difficult situations so that you’ll be forced to become stronger in order to survive. To borrow a hypothetical from Abigail Thorn’s excellent video on Darwin and Marx, if you wanted to create a species of wooly mice, you just take a population of ordinary house mice, and drop them off in the middle of Baffin Island, then wait a few generations. Come back, and you’ve got a new species of mice evolved to deal with extreme cold, right?

Wrong. You’ve probably got a bunch of dead, frozen mice. More likely, you’ve got none of that, because those mice were probably eaten in the first generation or two. To evolve a new trait, you need more than just the pressure to change, you also need to have a population capable of surviving that pressure for enough generations to actually take advantage of any cold-adaptive mutations that might arise. Without that stable population pool to throw new generations against the harsh conditions, even if a mouse were to win the genetic lottery and get a mutation that gave them thicker fur, if there’s not a population of mice to breed with, that one mouse variant will still die out, because it was alone, and a singular organism cannot a new species make.

So. COVID variants. As I said before, there are some people who believe that new variants- and in particular the dreaded vaccine-resistant variant -come about because by introducing vaccines, we are creating a challenge for the virus to overcome, and so we’re “training” it to be vaccine resistant. What this misses, of course, is that in order for the virus to be able to get around vaccines, it needs to have a large un-vaccinated population to keep generating new variants to try. While none of the vaccines seem to give total immunity, they do dramatically reduce both symptom severity (which mean fewer deaths and fewer Long Haul COVID patients), and transmissibility. That last bit is what we care about when it comes to evolution. A virus like COVID has a time limit for each person it infects. Once it gets a foothold in our bodies, it will replicate and spread as much as it can before our immune system fights it off, or before we die.

Let’s imagine we have a single unvaccinated person. That person catches COVID. Regardless of the severity of the disease, that person will expose everyone near them to the virus they’re hosting. If everyone near them is also unvaccinated, most of them will also get sick, with their own time limits, infect other people in turn, and so on. As the virus replicates in each new person, it is also changing, at least a little. The more people have the disease, the more likely it is that one of those people will play host to a new variant. If, on the other hand, the people surrounding our first patient are all vaccinated, whatever variant the infected person has will die when that infection ends. If there’s a breakthrough case, then we have another patient, who is also surrounded by people with a high resistance, and once again, the virus faces a massive barrier to its survival beyond that patient.

To COVID, a population that’s 95% vaccinated is like Baffin Island to our ill-fated population of southern mice. It’s hypothetically possible for those mice to survive, and if they do, it’s possible that they will evolve new traits, but even if they do manage to have two or three generations, the change will be very slow, and it might only take one bad winter to wipe them out and end the experiment.

If you take a less vaccinated population, it’s more like starting your new mouse population in one of the human communities on the island, where they’re more likely to find food and shelter to help them survive. That population is then regularly dispersing new mice into the areas surrounding their “home base”, increasing the odds that one will have the thick fur needed to thrive, and will pass that along to future generations, moving us toward our goal of wooly mice.

Or brought back out of the hypothetical, the unvaccinated become “variant factories”:

Unvaccinated people do more than merely risk their own health. They’re also a risk to everyone if they become infected with coronavirus, infectious disease specialists say.

That’s because the only source of new coronavirus variants is the body of an infected person.

“Unvaccinated people are potential variant factories,” Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told CNN Friday.

“The more unvaccinated people there are, the more opportunities for the virus to multiply,” Schaffner said. “When it does, it mutates, and it could throw off a variant mutation that is even more serious down the road.”

All viruses mutate, and while the coronavirus is not particularly mutation-prone, it does change and evolve.

Most of the changes mean nothing to the virus, and some can weaken it. But sometimes, a virus develops a random mutation that gives it an advantage — better transmissibility, for instance, or more efficient replication, or an ability to infect a great diversity of hosts.

Viruses with an advantage will outcompete other viruses, and will eventually make up the majority of virus particles infecting someone. If that infected person passes the virus to someone else, they’ll be passing along the mutant version.

If a mutant version is successful enough, it becomes a variant.

But it has to replicate to do that. An unvaccinated person provides that opportunity.

“As mutations come up in viruses, the ones that persist are the ones that make it easier for the virus to spread in the population,” Andrew Pekosz, a microbiologist and immunologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told CNN.

“Every time the viruses changes, that gives the virus a different platform to add more mutations. Now we have viruses that spread more efficiently.”
Viruses that don’t spread cannot mutate.

This is not new information. We’ve known all this for a long time, which is why there has been concern from the beginning of this pandemic about the danger presented by vaccine hoarding. For all the U.S. likes to pretend that Trump was a massive outlier in his nationalism, the reality is that all administrations in living memory have taken a largely “America First”-style approach to foreign policy, which has in turn created poverty, violence, and political instability in poor countries around the world. To varying degrees, this is true of all colonial powers – the essential dynamic of extracting wealth from foreign countries never went away, it just changed form. As colonies gained their “independence”, they found themselves deliberately under-developed, and stripped of wealth and natural resources. Most of them, in an attempt to rebuild from centuries of oppression and plundering, agreed to take on loans either from their former colonizers, or from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

These loans generally come with conditions restricting the kinds of development on which that money can be spent. Countries with natural resources were told that because the infrastructure to make goods out of those resources already existed in other countries, it would be a “waste” to build them in the former colonies, so instead those colonies had to ship out their raw or partially processed materials, and then buy back the products made from them.

Some countries have asserted their sovereignty, and insisted that they should be able to profit from building those products themselves, rather than buying back their own natural resources at a markup, have been punished. The 1953 coup in Iran was over oil. The recent coup in Bolivia followed the decision to use Bolivian lithium deposits to make products like batteries, and sell those to the world, rather than simply selling the lithium to foreign corporations.

The continent of Africa was almost certainly the hardest-hit by the brutality of colonialism. The Atlantic slave trade depopulated many areas along Africa’s western coast, and colonies set up by European powers saw generations of slavery, brutal violence, and genocide, as well as deliberate under-development and under-education. The loans offered by colonial powers have not just been used to force Africans to buy foreign products made from their natural resources, they’ve even forced countries like Ghana to choose between loans, and taking care of their own food production:

Africans today live in extreme poverty and hunger while most western corporations continue to flourish based on the control of resources and markets they do not own. Therefore, if Africa wants to count its enemies, there can only be three supposed ones; The World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization. To further explain the structure and mechanics behind this mass destructive strategy of those three organizations, let us take Ghana as a case study.

Ghana is one of the countries with abundant natural resources. The resources are so much that the whole country could have been catered for without any external help since the country size is fairly small.

Some years back, rice farming towns in the northern part of Ghana were thriving. This was because these communities enjoyed subsidies (such as free subsidies fertilizers) from the Ghana government so as to produce rice on the large scale for the whole nation. Ghana back then witnessed abundant rice production where the people only enjoyed their locally produced rice.

However, the IMF and the World Bank came in and as part of their policies, the institutions would not grant the government of Ghana any more loans unless the subsidies being given to the rice farmers were cut off.

The strategy was to force Ghana into rice importation from the partners of the IMF and the World Bank including the USA. The effect we see is that Ghana now imports almost all the rice eaten in the country at huge prices while the rice farming communities in the country starve to death!

Because of this imposed poverty, and the extreme economic toll of epidemics, most African countries have prioritized their healthcare infrastructure, and many have developed a capacity to detect, assess, and respond to new diseases that far exceeds anything in wealthier nations. That is why it should not be a surprise that Botswana first detected the Omicron COVID variant. It is also why the international stereotype of Africa as poor and “backwards” (which generally ignores the historical factors that led to present conditions) is so harmful. Most people in the United States, and in Europe probably don’t know how far ahead of us many African nations are when it comes to dealing with infectious diseases, in every way that doesn’t require the resources they have been denied. Absent a knowledge of the history and material conditions creating Africa’s poverty, a lot of white people – even well-meaning ones – tend to default to the white supremacist narratives about race that pervade “Western” societies. Those narratives lead people to blame Africans for conditions that have been externally imposed upon the continent, and so to justify responding to disease outbreaks by basically locking up the whole continent, and focusing less on saving African lives, and more on letting the outbreak run its course without leaving Africa.

Which brings us back to the Omicron variant, and the international response to Botswana doing exactly what they were supposed to as responsible members of the world community, who are at the cutting edge of virus detection. Travel bans for Africa, despite the variant being detected in multiple other countries around the world.

I think it’s worth repeating: We don’t know where the Omicron variant came from. It had probably been circulating for at least a couple weeks before it was detected, and it has been spotted in multiple countries. It would be one thing for the US and nations like it to cut off all international travel, as Israel did, but the US (which has maintained its lead as the country with the most confirmed cases, even compared to bigger countries like India and China) chose to cut off travel to seven African nations, but not the UK, the Netherlands, or other countries that had detected the variant.

Further, it’s worth considering the impact of a travel ban. Because of the things I talked about earlier, a lot of African economies rely heavily on tourism from former colonial powers. Cutting off travel means cutting off a large amount of income to countries that are already struggling. Doing that to African nations and not European nations highlights the systemic devaluation of African lives that seems to be the default among colonial powers. This also shows up in the phenomenon of vaccine hoarding, which was a problem that we saw coming long before the vaccines were available. It’s a problem that did not need to exist. Removing intellectual property restrictions would allow African countries to manufacture their own vaccines, dramatically improving their ability to fight the pandemic, saving countless people, and reducing the chances of variants developing there in the future.

But as we’ve seen, profit comes before human life in global capitalism, and that goes double for black lives. It’s pretty clear that in the unlikely event that COVID is brought under control in the rest of the world, Africa will just be sealed off and ignored right up until a new variant leaves the continent, at which point they’ll be blamed for it. Pandemics are, by definition, global problems. They require global solutions. These nationalistic policies and self-serving half-measures are extending the pandemic far beyond what was unavoidable.

As with any other discussion of racism, there’s the problem of people assuming that unless they’re given a signed statement of racist motivation, there’s some “good reason” for a policy that is racist in impact. The reality is that deliberate malice – while it exists – is not required for the creation of bigoted, harmful policies. All that’s needed is a lack of concern for the harm those policies will do to the group in question. You could argue that vaccine hoarding or travel bans are due to an abundance of concern for the wellbeing of the countries doing that, but only if you also assume that the people responsible don’t know the damage their policies will do, and aren’t aware of the inconsistency in which countries are affected. We know that is not the case.

The leadership of wealthy nations and of pharmaceutical corporations all have access to more information than any other leaders at any point in history. They know better, they just don’t want to do better, because in this capitalist hellworld, profit matters more than anything; and white supremacy, as a central part of capitalism from its inception, is built into the global economic infrastructure.

As I keep saying, we need global solidarity if we’re going to survive climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a horrifying “trial run” of how the crises of a warming world will play out under the current power structure. Poor and working people are expendable, and Africa’s only value is in the wealth and entertainment it can generate for the ruling classes of the wealthy nations that manufactured and maintain the poverty of African people.

We are entering a period of unprecedented chaos and upheaval. Our planet is headed for temperatures beyond human experience, and at the same time, pollution and unsustainable resource use are leading us to multiple health, resource, and ecological crises. If we are to adapt to this new world we’re creating, we’re going to need to work together. Returning to the hypothetical of the wooly mouse, we’ve all been put into an alien climate, and we need to take care of our existing population as a species to ensure that we’ll have the time and numbers to survive and thrive.

Fight white supremacy. Fight bigotry. Organize and train to build collective power. Look for opportunities to practice solidarity with both the people around you, and with people on the other side of the world.


Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

Dwindling water supplies highlight the need for systemic change.

Our modern society was born in a period of relative climatic stability. Regional climate change did destroy various civilizations, but most of the planet remained stable enough for the various human populations to thrive.

A crucial product of that stability has been access to fresh water. That’s why our biggest cities grew by lakes and rivers, and in more recent years, why we’ve been able to expand in dry regions by tapping into vast deposits of underground water. We’ve known for some time that our consumption has far outstripped the ability of aquifers to replenish themselves, but it seems that we’ve reached a point at which some will never recover:

Under a best-case scenario where drought years are followed by consecutive wet years with above-average precipitation, the researchers found there is a high probability it would take six to eight years to fully recover overdrafted water, which occurs when more groundwater is pumped out than is supplied through all sources like precipitation, irrigation and runoff.

However, this best-case scenario where California has six to eight consecutive wet years is not likely because of the state’s increasingly hot and dry climate. Under a more likely, drier climate, there is less than a 20% chance of full overdraft recovery over a 20-year period following a drought.

The Central Valley produces about a quarter of the nation’s food and is home to around 6.5 million people. Using too much groundwater during and after droughts could soon push this natural resource beyond the point of recovery unless pumping restrictions are implemented. The study finds recovery times can be halved with modest caps on groundwater pumping in drought and post-drought years.

“This is really threatening,” said Sarfaraz Alam, a hydrologist at Stanford and lead study author. “There are many wells that people draw water from for drinking water. Since [groundwater is] always going down, at some point these wells will go dry and the people won’t have water.”

In ages past, the human populations in California would respond to this by collapsing. Many would die, many would migrate away from whatever had caused the wells to dry up, and some would stay. Those who stayed survived because they were able to adapt their community practices to the new conditions.

There are places that currently have plenty of water, but as the temperature rises, so does water consumption, and there’s no place on the planet that’s “safe” from the warming climate. Migrating will absolutely be part of how we cope with climate change (which is why it’s so important to end our nationalistic obsession with borders) but at the same time we will all be forced to confront the other two options: adapt or die.

The need for us to radically change how we use and dispose of water is almost as important as the need to stop our greenhouse gas emissions. That’s one reason I like the idea of moving food production indoors, where water can be more easily recycled, and temperatures can be controlled. It’s also why I think that the kinds of power generation we use should vary depending on regional and local conditions.

We’ve spent centuries behaving as though we were separate from nature, and many of us are consequently unused to adapting ourselves to the material conditions of our local ecosystem. It’s a thing we need to re-learn, and because I also think we absolutely need to retain the use of technology and science, it’s a thing we need to re-invent. I believe it’s possible to have a high-tech human society that can exist as a conscious part of the global ecosystem, and as stewards of it. I also believe that doing so will require us to let go of expectations about our lives that are rooted in a world that no longer exists because of the societies that gave us those expectations.


Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

A couple thoughts on Thanksgiving, and a video on the holiday’s history from Some More News

There’s a lot to be said about Thanksgiving, what it represents, and what it has been used to obscure. I don’t think I personally have a lot to add on the subject, so for this year, here’s an entertaining breakdown of the holiday’s bleak history, as well as the ways in which colonial abuse and erasure of Indigenous Americans continues today.

As I’ve said before, dealing with climate change and injustice will both require global solidarity, and a central part of that is uplifting and empowering those currently at the bottom of our society’s hierarchy, both within the United States, and around the world. This is not just because it is the just and moral thing to do, and not just because solidarity is a good strategy for building peace and prosperity, but also because despite everything, the Indigenous communities of the Americas and of the world are at the front lines of defending vital ecosystems from destruction, and opposing the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels.

The least we can do is support their fight.

Looking back at history, geography, and climate: Why did colonialism happen in the way that it did?

Thanksgiving is a lot of things to a lot of people. I’ll be talking to my family back in the U.S., which will be nice, but I’ll also be reflecting a bit on the legacy of colonialism. I’ll have a post up tomorrow about Thanksgiving (and a video about it that I think is worth watching), but ahead of that I wanted to share a couple videos from the Youtuber Lonerbox. White supremacy is present in any discussion of colonialism, but it’s sometimes a bit hard to pin down what that term means. This isn’t the whole of it, but modern white supremacy has a couple versions of “might makes right” running through it. The first is the notion that the fact that European nations were able to achieve such violent dominance over so much of the world, is proof that those people deserved their power. The second is a bit more subtle, and it’s the idea that white people are more capable than other races. In a lot of ways, this is just a roundabout way of saying the same thing, but it moves a step back from justifying the violent conquest, to saying “look at all the wonderful things about the world that white people built”, and the flip side of “look at how terrible things are in countries run by non-white people”.

It’s not always spelled out that explicitly, but in both cases, it’s the claim that white people are destined to rule the world, and that “fact” is made manifest by the events of history. And so the question arises – why did things play out in the way they did?

Why, for example, didn’t Africa colonize Europe?

This video leaves some questions unanswered, and it contains a couple factual errors and misconceptions, so Lonerbox ended up putting together a follow-up that I think makes a good companion piece.

When we think about the way the world is today, and how we got here, I think it’s important to realize how much of human history has been shaped by the accidents of geography and climate.