Cody’s Showdy takes a look at Biden’s first year in office

I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s felt like time has been moving strangely over the last couple years. Part of my problem is that I was just getting used to life in Scotland when the pandemic hit. We had a year in some form of lockdown, and then another international move, getting used to another new country, and trying to make this blog work as a source of income (because my visa doesn’t allow me to do normal work – help out on Patreon if you can!), and then I realize that it’s been a whole year since Biden took office back in the States.

I voted for Biden, mostly because I felt that a conservative neoliberal whose primary defining features are “not Trump” and “not Bernie” would be better than the naked fascism of a second Trump term. I stand by that, but I have to admit that as low as my expectations were, Biden has disappointed me. I thought that his ego would have him actually fight for the agenda he ran on, or at least see how much he could do directly through the executive branch, but apparently even that was too much to hope for. At this point, it seems like he’s committed to handing Congress to the GOP in 2022, so that he can do nothing for the rest of his time in office, and blame them for it, and blame the left for somehow causing the Democrats to lose their elections.

As usual, Some More News has done a pretty good summary of the situation:

I’m starting to feel like the only real change we can expect from Biden’s victory is for his administration’s seemingly deliberate incompetence to convince more people that the Democratic Party is not actually on our side, and it’s not interested in the progressive policies on which it runs. The electoral process – as it currently exists in the U.S. – is something that has clearly demonstrated its inability to actually serve the people, or meet the need of our time. By all means vote, but if that’s the end of what we do, the we will never see the world we say we want. We have to build collective power so we can take control away from those who would drive us to extinction.

Moody Monday: The emotional cost of climate change.

It’s often difficult for me to gauge what “the general public” is thinking about stuff like climate change. That said, I do get the feeling that a lot of people have begun to accept that we’ve failed the first “test” of climate change. It’s too late to avoid large, abrupt changes to how we live, and everyone in power seems dedicated to convincing us all that good changes are possible. We don’t live in a society that encourages real hope or real empowerment for the population. It’s a lot to cope with, and given that humanity has never faced a crisis like the climate chaos we’re causing, I guarantee that nobody will have all the answers. These are uncharted waters, and the best we can do is look out for each other, learn from each other. Psychology isn’t necessarily their area of expertise, but climate scientists do have a great deal of experience in confronting the scale of this crisis, and finding ways to keep on keeping on.

When research and development starts to feel like a delaying tactic

I am endlessly frustrated by the fact that there are so many things that we could be doing about climate change, and we just…

Don’t.

Even without the obvious large-scale stuff like replacing fossil fuels with renewable and nuclear power, we could be rebuilding or relocating cities to deal with sea level rise, and building greenhouses, and making sure everyone who wants one can have a solar water heater, and the list goes on.

But I think the one that annoys me the most is carbon capture and sequestration. It’s not that I think it’s a bad idea to pull CO2 out of the air and sequester it; quite the opposite. It’s that of all the challenges created by this climate crisis, this is perhaps the easiest one to tackle, and something we could start doing at a massive scale today if we wanted to. Instead of doing that (and eliminating fossil fuel use), we seem to be investing money in ever-more elaborate ways to capture carbon using “cutting-edge” technology.

“Our new method still harnesses the power of liquid metals but the design has been modified for smoother integration into standard industrial processes,” Daeneke said.

“As well as being simpler to scale up, the new tech is radically more efficient and can break down CO2 to carbon in an instant.

“We hope this could be a significant new tool in the push towards decarbonisation, to help industries and governments deliver on their climate commitments and bring us radically closer to net zero.”

A provisional patent application has been filed for the technology and researchers have recently signed a $AUD2.6 million agreement with Australian environmental technology company ABR, who are commercialising technologies to decarbonise the cement and steel manufacturing industries.

Co-lead researcher Dr Ken Chiang said the team was keen to hear from other companies to understand the challenges in difficult-to-decarbonise industries and identify other potential applications of the technology.

“To accelerate the sustainable industrial revolution and the zero carbon economy, we need smart technical solutions and effective research-industry collaborations,” Chiang said.

The steel and cement industries are each responsible for about 7% of total global CO2 emissions (International Energy Agency), with both sectors expected to continue growing over coming decades as demand is fuelled by population growth and urbanisation.

Technologies for carbon capture and storage (CCS) have largely focused on compressing the gas into a liquid and injecting it underground, but this comes with significant engineering challenges and environmental concerns. CCS has also drawn criticism for being too expensive and energy-intensive for widespread use.

Daeneke, an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow, said the new approach offered a sustainable alternative, with the aim of both preventing CO2 emissions and delivering value-added reutilisation of carbon.

“Turning CO2 into a solid avoids potential issues of leakage and locks it away securely and indefinitely,” he said.

“And because our process does not use very high temperatures, it would be feasible to power the reaction with renewable energy.”

The Australian Government has highlighted CCS as a priority technology for investment in its net zero plan, announcing a $1 billion fund for the development of new low emissions technologies.

How the tech works

The RMIT team, with lead author and PhD researcher Karma Zuraiqi, employed thermal chemistry methods widely used by industry in their development of the new CCS tech.

The “bubble column” method starts with liquid metal being heated to about 100-120C.

Carbon dioxide is injected into the liquid metal, with the gas bubbles rising up just like bubbles in a champagne glass.

As the bubbles move through the liquid metal, the gas molecule splits up to form flakes of solid carbon, with the reaction taking just a split second.

That is genuinely neat. I think it’s amazing that we can do that, and I have no doubt that there are going to be good uses for that technology in the future.

But, as I said earlier, we have everything we need to start large-scale carbon sequestration right away, without using any fancy new technology. As was mentioned in the interview I embedded in yesterday’s agriculture post, we could take existing farmland that’s not currently in use, plant cover crops, bale them up, and store them where they can’t rot. We could pull vast amounts of carbon out of the air by doing that, and it would almost certainly require fewer resources than elaborate processes like these liquid metal bubblers. This obsession a lot of people seem to have with finding some technological “quick fix” seems like a desperate ploy to avoid having to change, and to justify continued inaction.

The problem is not technical, it’s political.


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.

From home gardens to communal greenhouses: changing agriculture for a changing climate

Before getting to the main point, I just wanted to vent for a moment. When I was looking through articles on food prices, two caught my attention for the same reason – they talked about the predicted price increases, but in discussing causes, they limited themselves to “supply chain problems” and corporate greed. The first article was, unsurprisingly, Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire; I would have been shocked if they mentioned climate change. The second I find a tad more worrisome, and it’s abc15 in Arizona, a “local” news source. The media’s love for ignoring climate change is a well-known phenomenon, but I find it discouraging that even in the most obvious circumstance, with “bad weather” being a known factor in the ongoing rise in prices, it’s not even mentioned. This kind of “reporting”, whether through malice or incompetence, serves to downplay the severity of the crisis we’re in, and to slow any efforts to respond to it.

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I want to dig into the issue of food prices and agriculture a bit, as well as what we can be doing to both prepare our food supply for a hotter, more chaotic climate, and to decrease agricultural emissions.

These days, food shortages are a matter of policy. We produce enough food to feed everyone, but that’s not actually the goal of a lot of global food production. Things that humans could be eating, like grains, are used to feed livestock, so that wealthy countries have access to unlimited beef, pork, and chicken. Food that was produced for humans is left to rot because giving it to the hungry either wouldn’t generate profit, or would actually cost money. We create artificial scarcity for profit, and rather than rationing food to make sure everyone gets fed, we ration it to make sure those with money can buy as much as they want – by increasing prices. This is further complicated by the nature of our “just-in-time” production and distribution system, which is designed to maximize profits by removing the costs of buying more than a business needs, and of storing the excess. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted this problem, as there was a sudden spike in demand for certain goods, in a system that has no slack. Further, the same profit motive has always resulted in mistreatment of those people – like truck drivers – which means that they are also stretched to their limits. For all the pandemic and the Suez Canal incident put the supply chain in the spotlight, the relentless greed of the aristocracy was already starting to cause problems well before that.

As with so much else, there is a great deal that needs to change if we want a better future; with climate change already affecting global agriculture, and still on track to collapse the world’s fisheries by 2050, the time to make those changes is now. When I wrote about this before, I focused on factory-style production of high-protein algal and bacterial foods. I still think they’re something we should invest in right away (along with things like lab-grown meat), both because of the potential to provide a great deal of food, and because it’s a relatively new technology. There are going to be challenges in scaling it up, and would be better to run into unforeseen problems before large portions of the population are dependent on this stuff for survival. That said, I’m generally of the opinion that we would be wise to invest in a diverse array of food sources, both to distribute food production closer to where it’s consumed, and to reduce the chance of something disrupting the whole world’s supply. That’s why I like the community greenhouse solution that Aron Kowalski describes in the discussion below. The whole thing is worth your time, but I’m specifically talking about the bit starting around 29 minutes in:

 

Having collectively owned greenhouse farms for both food and recreation sounds like a brilliant idea to me. Even if you’re in an area without cold winters, climate-controlled green spaces like that can be a wonderful break from the world. It also makes me think of the Vietnamese arrangement that lets people who’re willing to do the work have space in a collectively owned rice field, to grow their own rice:

Even better, I’m willing to bet it would be possible to build indoor rice paddies pretty much anywhere in the world, even when the climate won’t allow them outdoors. The amount of food you can get that way never ceases to amaze me. I think it’s also worth noting that even with existing indoor farm models, there are models that combine vegetable farming with fish farming:

A sprawling new building that will soon be constructed in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania—at 250,000 square feet, roughly the size of two entire city blocks in Manhattan—will be the largest vertical farm in the world when it’s completed in 2023. Inside, though, you won’t find just vegetables: Tanks full of fish will sit near vertical stacks of trays filled with certified organic microgreens.

In the vertical farming industry, which is raising billions from investors, many startups grow greens like spinach or bok choy inside carefully-managed indoor spaces, and then selling the fresh produce to local consumers. But Brooklyn-based company Upward Farms is unusual in its use of fish, a version of a centuries-old practice called aquaponics. While others use synthetic fertilizer in their growing systems, the company uses fish waste that it filters out of tanks to provide nutrients to its plants. Both the fish and greens are then sold for food.

There’s a near-infinite array of ways to use communal greenhouse space, especially if the greenhouses are viewed as an integral part of the communities that work them. It can range from the methods currently being explored by for-profit enterprises, to dedicated food production zones like the aforementioned rice paddies, to space for people to experiment with new crops or techniques.  Additions or changes could be made with community approval, to better serve the wants or needs of that particular community, and to accommodate those interested in making food production their primary occupation. What’s important is that it’s done by and for the people, and that we change how things work to both allow and encourage people to take a little time to grow food.

As Kowalski said in the video at the top, it would be a good idea, on an individual level, to plant a garden if you have the ability, but remember that this is very much like the broader climate crisis – we need systemic change, and a revolutionary shift in societal priorities. We can have a society that clings to its greed as it withers away, or we can have one with indoor food forests with fish ponds, walking paths, and food carts, all next door to mostly-automated vertical farms that produce a majority of the food for the nearby population. I don’t think this would necessarily be “economical” as it’s reckoned today, but it would yield far richer rewards than any future the status quo can offer. Since we have to reshape society anyway, why not aim high?


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 brief agricultural report

I’m putting together a larger post on this, and I wanted to take a little time with it, so here’s a sort of preview. It’s a report from a regular caller to The Majority Report on his perspective as a farmer about the state of things:

Basically, there are a number of factors converging to create what looks to be an ongoing food shortage that will cause more empty shelves in some places, and higher prices in others. It’s important to remember that a lot of problems like this are things that could be solved, but not if access to food is controlled by the markets, with rationing based on wealth rather than need.

As with so many other problems today, we have the resources and understanding to solve this. What we lack is an economic and political system that values life.

Examining the makeup of a healthy ecosystem: Predators can help with climate resilience

I think ecosystems are really neat. The cumulative effects of multiple organisms just going about their lives and interacting with each other results in these complex, multi-dimensional webs of relationships that can have fascinating and unexpected results. Some of my enthusiasm is very much about aesthetic and entertainment. Diversity is the spice of life, and it just makes me happy knowing some of the weird shit that’s out there for no other reason than nothing stopped it from existing. The other big reason the topic fascinates me is that – as I repeat fairly often – we’re part of the global ecosystem, and play at least some role in every regional and local ecosystem. Our activities have touched every portion of the surface of this planet, and the results, while often horrific, have been fascinating.

It’s often hard to see exactly what role a given organism plays, but every once in a while, we’re able to do large-scale experiments, like re-introducing wolves to Yellowstone.

In 1995, Yellowstone brought the wolves back to the park. After 70 years without wolves, the reintroduction caused unanticipated change in Yellowstone’s ecosystem and even its physical geography. The process of change starting from the top of the food chain and flowing through to the bottom is called trophic cascades.  According to Yellowstone National Park, here are a few ways the wolves have reshaped the park:

Deer: It’s true that wolves kill deer, diminishing their population, but wolves also change the deer’s behavior. When threatened by wolves, deer don’t graze as much and move around more, aerating the soil.

Grass and Trees: As a result of the deer’s changed eating habits, the grassy valleys regenerated. Trees in the park grew to as much as five times their previous height in only six years!

Birds and Bears: These new and bigger trees provide a place for songbirds to live and grew berries for bears to eat. The healthier bear population then killed more elk, contributing to the cycle the wolves started.

Beavers and other animals: Trees and vegetation also allowed beaver populations to flourish. Their dam building habits provided habitats for muskrats, amphibians, ducks, fish, reptiles, and otters.

Mammals: Wolves also kill coyotes, thereby increasing the populations of rabbits and mice. This creates a larger food source for hawks, weasels, foxes, and badgers.

Scavengers: Ravens and bald eagles fed off of larger mammal’s kills.

Most surprisingly, the land: Soil erosion had caused much more variation in the path of the river. But with elk on the run and more vegetation growing next to rivers, the river banks stabilized. Now, the wolves have changed Yellowstone’s physical geography.

Unfortunately, I have a confession to make. In learning about ecosystems, I’ve mostly focused on ones where I don’t need special equipment to breath. I certainly learn about aquatic species, and about aspects of the aquatic “landscape”, both in oceans and in fresh water, but I don’t think I’ve really studied them as systems in their own right. Even when I was doing water quality and invertebrate analysis for a river near my high school, I wasn’t really thinking about it as a system, so much as a way to gauge pollution levels. Even so, it’s obvious that climate change is messing with our watery brethren just as much as life on land, and a research team from Trinity College Dublin and Hokkaido University have made an interesting discovery about how the presence of predators can influence the way heat waves affect life in streams:

The scientists assembled communities of freshwater organisms in experimental streams at the Tomakomai Experimental Forest in Northern Japan. The stream communities were exposed to realistic heatwaves, and some included a dominant predator (a sculpin fish), while others did not.

They found that heatwaves destabilised algal (plant) communities in the streams such that the differences normally found among them disappeared and they resembled each other much more closely—equating to a loss of biodiversity—but this only happened when the predator was absent from the community.

Algal communities are important in streams because they form the energy base for all other organisms, so loss of algal biodiversity can propagate to impact the entire ecosystem.

Additionally, the scientists discovered that important heatwave effects—such as shifts in total algal biomass—only emerged after the heatwave had passed, underlining that even catastrophic impacts may not be immediately obvious.

I keep saying that we need to start actively managing our ecosystems, to control how we affect them, as simply not affecting them seems to be both beyond our ability, and a denial of our nature as one organism among many. If we’re going to become the kind of stewards I’d like us to be, we will also need as great an understanding of our ecosystems as we can attain.

“Western” society has operated under the belief that the natural world exists for our convenience, and so it can be reshaped to suit our short-term interests. That led to extermination and genocide, and ultimately the total destabilization of our planet’s climate. That said, ecosystems are very resilient – we’ve been doing vast amounts of damage for generations, but while the scars from that area easy to see, life still, uh, finds a way.

Taking steps to stop adding to the harm is more than just a gesture of goodwill to the rest of the planet’s residents – simply making sure they’re able to go about their lives, in turn, makes it possible for us to do the same. In a lot of ways, it’s as simple as making sure you don’t eat everything in the forest, so that you know there will be more to eat next year.

If we take care of creatures like these grumpy-looking sculpin, they will help take care of us, without even trying.


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.

Heroic Leader Braves the Gates of Hell to Defend the Environment (not really)

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan, is doing us all a favor and closing the gates to hell!

Well, not really.

For those who are unfamiliar, the “Gates of Hell” (also known as the Darvazagas crater) is a huge sinkhole in Turkmenistan that is thought to be the result of Soviet oil exploration, which collapsed a natural gas cavity, creating a sinkhole. The gases coming out of it were lit on fire to keep them from spreading at ground level and poisoning people.

In a lot of ways, that was probably a good call. While the smoke from the crater isn’t great for either local life or for the climate, it’s almost certainly better for both than the unburnt gas would have been. That said, they expected the fire to last for a couple weeks, not half a century, and the fumes from the fire have been causing problems. So, when I first heard that there are new plans to extinguish the fire and seal it off, I had one brief, happy moment where I forgot what world I live in, and thought that it was because of the harm being done to the environment (a category in which I include humanity). There are actually a number of underground fires (many of them in coal seams) that are emitting CO2 and other dangerous chemicals, and are obviously are dangerous to any structures or infrastructure above them. To be sure, Berdimuhamedow does seem to be trying to gain whatever “green” points he can, but…

Berdimuhamedow said that the burning crater “negatively affects both the environment and the health of the people living nearby” and that Turkmenistan is “losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits.”

Turkmenistan possesses the world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas in its underground, intending to significantly increase its export of gas to many countries such as Pakistan, China, India, Iran, Russia and also Western Europe by 2030.

Yeah…

Turkmenistan isn’t exactly the worst offender when it comes to the climate or other environmental issues, but this is very much part of an ongoing trend – world leaders pay lip service to the climate crisis, while continuing to expand fossil fuel extraction.  The story very much brings to mind the oh-so subtle satire of Doom Eternal, with capitalists reacting to the discovery of Hell by looking for ways to directly profit off of it.

Unfortunately, this goes beyond increasing the already monumental task of ending fossil fuel use, because while the industry has developed ingenious high-tech methods for accessing and extracting fossil fuel deposits, the wealth that has come from that has been used to shield them from ever having to figure out how to clean up after themselves. One part of this is the criminal laziness was probably best highlighted by the pathetic industry response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, and the demonstration that there had been no advances in oil cleanup in the decades since the Exxon-Valdez disaster, and BP’s oil spill response plan for the Gulf of Mexico included species like walruses and sea otters. The other part tends to be less dramatic, but could end up being as destructive as the more attention-grabbing spills and leaks – abandoned extraction sites:

How many of them are there, and where are they located?

A recent investigation by Reuters estimates that the United States could have more than 3.2 million orphaned and abandoned wells. Some states have a few hundred; others have a few thousand. And some have a staggering number of them: Pennsylvania reportedly has more than 330,000 of these wells within its borders.

“Orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells are located everywhere,” says NRDC senior advocate Joshua Axelrod. “They can be in the middle of a forest, in backyards, in farm fields, even under sidewalks and houses.” Basically, they are anywhere that oil and gas development has taken place—at sites of large-scale operation spread out over many acres as well as single-well outfits on tiny parcels of land.

Why are they so dangerous?

Simple: Because they leak. Among the chemicals that can seep out and contaminate air, soil, or groundwater are hydrogen sulfide, benzene, and arsenic. Even the smallest leaks can adversely affect the local environment if they go unaddressed or undetected for many years.

Most alarmingly, though, these wells emit a lot of methane, an odorless gas that can seep into nearby buildings (a home, school, or office, for example) and pose major health hazards. When concentrated in enclosed spaces—such as a basement or a bedroom, for instance—methane will take the place of oxygen in the lungs and can cause weakness, nausea, vomiting, and convulsions. Long-term methane poisoning can even be fatal. And methane, of course, doesn’t just make people sick: It’s also highly explosive. In 2017, two men were killed while installing a hot water heater in the basement of a home in Firestone, Colorado, that had been built adjacent to an oil and gas field. When the neighboring petroleum corporation restarted a well that had been dormant for a year, a damaged flowline filled the basement with gas, which ignited into a fireball that destroyed the house in an instant.

I suppose it’s a good thing that we’re aware of this problem, and know where all of these abandoned wells are. It’s also helpful that many of them are on dry land, which reduces the resources required to actually seal them off. There’s another problem that, while probably less severe, is also less well-mapped, and is pretty much all under water – sunken ships.

The image is an infographic titled

I’ve long believed that the climate will continue warming for generations to come. If we’re going to survive, we’re going to have to find a way to exist as a part of global ecosystem that is, at least to some degree, actively managed. It’s not that I think nature needs us to “fix” it, but rather than we desperately need a healthy and diverse ecosystem for us to survive and thrive. That means that we can’t just stop doing the bad things – we also have to clean up after ourselves and our predecessors. This is work that is vital to our future, and it’s work that will take at least as long to do as it took to make the mess.

I also don’t think it will be profitable. The closest we could get to dealing with this problem in a capitalist society would be to provide government incentives. There will be some forms of cleanup that could be directly profitable, like “mining” raw materials from various kinds of trash, but that won’t be the case for everything that needs cleaning up, and the history of that economic model makes clear that the people forced to engage in that dangerous work will be treated horrifically.

We have a very long way to go before we can consider ourselves responsible residents of the planet. The cleanup will take generations. It will take far longer if it’s still limited by obsession with profit and disdain for human life, but no matter how we go about it, it will be the work of multiple lifetimes. In my lifetime, I’ll be content if I see us change to the point where those doing this necessary work are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve – it’ll be a good sign that we’re on the right track.


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.

What kind of world could we build?

One of the reasons why I write science fiction, is that it’s a way for me to think about what the world could look like, and how it could be different from what I’ve always known. It can be hard to imagine how such a society might work, but fortunately a lot of people over the years have put a lot of thought into societal structures and forms of governance that lack the incentives for injustice and inequality that currently exist. I don’t think I or any other person is capable of giving the “right” answer, but as a collective, we can build on each other’s ideas and strengths, and create things that are better than any one of us could achieve.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what society is all about? Anyway, here’s Thought Slime on that very topic:

Youth climate activists in Wales have the right response to an attempt at placation.

On top of the pandemic, 2021 continued the escalation of climate chaos, and our leaders continue to fail us at a breathtaking scale.

It’s been clear to me for a while that political institutions in a lot of the world have gotten very good at ignoring the kinds of activism we’re most used to seeing in liberal democracies. I think that dismissal is particularly bad, and particularly galling when it’s directed at children. Kids who’re socially or politically active tend to both be lauded for it, and rewarded with speeches about how we should listen to the clear-sighted wisdom of the youth, and ignored beyond that.

It feels like it’s all about teaching people to be satisfied with the feeling of doing the right thing, rather than demanding the change that’s actually needed. That’s why I’m pretty happy to see this story out of Wales:

Young members of an environmental group have turned down an award from a council, accusing it of not doing enough to tackle climate change.

Pontypridd’s Young Friends of the Earth has been campaigning for changes to address the climate emergency.

It said Rhondda Cynon Taf council has not done enough since the devastating floods in 2020 after Storm Dennis.

Group member Alice, 13, said: “It would be hypocritical for us to take the award.”

“We feel Rhondda Cynon Taf council – and the world – isn’t taking action against climate change,” she added.

“The major changes we could do as a county would be big decisions and not small day-to-day ones.

“Because if you sit in a house which is on fire you wouldn’t just sit there as the flames surrounded you and start making a plan how you’re going to deal with the fire.

“You’re going to act immediately and get water and you’re going to put the fire out. You wouldn’t sit there doing nothing. The world isn’t in the best shape and they’re not doing enough about it.”

Alice added that there was “action immediately” when the pandemic hit, and the same needed to be done for the climate change emergency.

“We need that with climate change because if we don’t get it sorted out we might not be here.”

When Storm Dennis caused widespread flooding across south Wales in February 2020, Pontypridd was one of the worst affected towns.

Homes and businesses were hit, with the middle of the town centre flooded after the River Taff burst its banks.

“When we saw the town flood last year we knew climate change was getting worse and despite what people were saying about it getting better because it’s not,” said Alice.

“I felt terrified when I saw water running down the main street because if water can reach that high because of a storm, imagine what it will be like in 10 years.”

Dan, 12, another member of Young Friends of the Earth, said: “I would have expected Rhondda Cynon Taf council to declare a climate emergency after the Welsh government did.

“They are one of the few councils in Wales not to declare it and after Storm Dennis I’d have thought it would have been the first thing they would have done.

I very much agree with the sentiment that we need actions, not awards. I’m not actually certain of this, but I feel like there is a lot more that even local governments could be doing, not just in terms of prioritizing the move away from fossil fuels and preparing for extreme weather events, but also in terms of pushing regional and national governments to do more, and helping both their constituents and fellow governmental bodies participate in the pressure campaigns. Ideally, we want the kind of action that can build momentum for greater action in the future.

I’m also encouraged to see the level of strategic thinking involved here:

The group, which has a core of about eight members, was also savvy enough to know that it might get more publicity for its cause if it turned down the award.

They viewed a YouTube clip of the moment in the film Brassed Off when band leader Danny turns down a prize to draw attention to the plight of ravaged mining communities and explains: “Us winning this trophy won’t mean bugger all to most people. But us refusing it … then it becomes news.”

Dan Wright, 12, said: “If we had accepted the award, we might have got in the local paper. More people now will know what we’ve done. Perhaps they’ll join us on a march or do their own research on the climate. When I first heard about the award I felt excited but then thought they were trying to greenwash themselves.”

I don’t think I started thinking about that kind of strategy until I was in my 20s, and it’s encouraging to see it in today’s kids. On the one hand, it continues to be infuriating that children need to spend their time on this, but on the other hand, I think that if we’re ever going to have a truly just and democratic society, we will need to spend less time working to generate profit, and more time involved in our own governance in a far more direct manner than we see in representative democracies. I believe that simply electing representatives and trusting them to do well by us has more or less proven itself to be a failure. It concentrates power in the hands of people who are then able to use that power to further empower themselves, rather like we see in capitalism. As far as I can tell, the only solution is a populace that participates in the running of society at least as actively we we currently participate in wage labor and consumerism.

We should not look to children for hope. That’s an unfair burden to place on them, and an abdication of our responsibility. It’s just another form of selling out their future for our own comfort. What we should be doing, in addition to taking real action on climate change, is educating ourselves and our children about what it means to govern ourselves, and to build and live in a society that values life.


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.

Abolition requires more than just swapping out people. It requires reshaping the world.

If you’re at all aware of the history of U.S. foreign policy over the last century, any time a left-wing movement achieves some kind of success, you’re faced with the joy of a step in the right direction, mixed with the feeling that it’s only a matter of time before there’s another corporate-backed effort to put a far-right regime in power. It’s annoying, because that reaction feels sort of fatalistic – like no matter how much we do, there’s always a handful of obscenely wealthy extremists who prefer mass murder to anything that even looks like a threat to their power.

That’s the case right now, with the recent victory of Gabriel Boric in Chile’s presidential election. It’s impossible for me to see this welcome move to the left without remembering the events that made it such a big deal. With a nation as powerful, and as committed to capitalism as the U.S., it’s hard not to worry that we’re never going to actually have a shot at a better future without the U.S. itself undergoing revolutionary change. That change itself is constantly being fought by the U.S. government, more or less as part of standard operating procedure. A couple recent examples are the assassination of Michael Reinoehl by U.S. Marshalls (possibly on the orders of then-President Trump), and the imprisonment of Florida anti-fascist Daniel Baker in association with the events of January 6th. What’s interesting about that case is that Baker’s 44 month sentence is for merely suggesting that people on the left should do what Kyle Rittenhouse did in Kenosha, and organize an armed opposition to the fascist mob that was planning to attack the capitol and possibly murder lawmakers.

“Dan’s case speaks volumes about how the state represses the left much differently than it treats the far right,” Brad Thomson, civil rights attorney at the People’s Law Office, who did not represent Baker, told me. “Here, Dan was sentenced to three and a half years for online posts opposing another January 6 incident. But for actual participants from January 6, we’re seeing charges and sentences far below that.” Thomson added that “every case is unique, but the overall message people will get from this is that online speech calling for militant antifascist action will send you to prison for much longer than actually taking militant action with fascists.”

Any effort at ending capitalism on this planet will have to account for U.S. intelligence agencies, even if the U.S. armed forces never get involved. This has led to a lot of people calling – rightly in my opinion, for the abolition of the CIA. The problem is that as with policing, merely replacing the people currently involved in the organization won’t actually solve the problem. Beau of the Fifth Column does a good job of breaking down why:

We’re surrounded by a sort of global mental infrastructure, built over countless generations and maintained far better than any material infrastructure, by those whose power and privilege come from that very infrastructure. Trains and power lines help everybody, but those at the top can get power and transit for themselves, even if the rest of us are stuck without. The infrastructure of hierarchy and competition, on the other hand, only serves those at the top, and they will spend unimaginable sums to maintain and improve that infrastructure, by setting laws, and by spreading propaganda to the masses.

That’s why I no longer buy the idea that gradual or incremental reforms will save us. As things stand, we have to fight almost as hard for little changes as we do for big ones, and the little changes are both inadequate, and easily reversed. As with police abolition, success requires that we remove the justification for groups like the CIA, and for their actions.

There was a saying going around a while back, in some of the climate activist groups I was part of – if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together with others. Unfortunately, we need to go far and fast. We need a planet-wide overhaul of our political and economic infrastructure, and of the thought patterns and assumptions that support and perpetuate that infrastructure. Doing all of that at the speed I want to do it isn’t safe. I don’t see how it could be. The closer we get to real change, the more those at the top are going to rely on their oldest and most reliable tool: violence.

They will imprison people for the mere act of advocating armed opposition to militant fascism. They will summarily execute people who actually carry out such opposition. Many of the people who walk the halls of power today were themselves involved in ordering, aiding, or hiding numerous atrocities around the world, and it’s hard to see why they would stop now – it’s worked well for them so far.

The problem is that we’ve run out of safe options. Allowing things to continue as they are today means courting extinction, and at minimum guarantees hundreds of millions of needless deaths. As always, my preferred path forward relies on increasing our resilience and our capacity to take coordinated action, separate from any government systems or political parties. I think that gives us the best shot we’ll ever have at large-scale change with as little violence as possible. I also think it gives us our best shot at withstanding efforts to crush that change long enough to see it through. The biggest ray of hope I can see is that it’s getting harder for the government to hide what it’s doing around the world, and it feels like the U.S. empire is beginning to lose its grip a bit. It’s encouraging to see things like Boric’s win in Chile, and the return to power of the MAS party in Bolivia. Our job, in places like the U.S. and western Europe, is to do our part to keep an eye on what our governments are doing around the world, and to organize so that we can create ever-increasing political costs for the politicians and oligarchs behind this sort of foreign interference.


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.