Video: Positive Leftist News from November, 2022

Recently, I’ve been made aware that some people avoid watching the videos I post, because the content tends to be depressing, infuriating, or both. I know that the format just isn’t “for” some people, and that’s fine, but for those who do like videos, but are tired of bad news, well, at least we have PLN. There’s a particular frustration that comes with being a leftist in a world dominated by neoliberal capitalism. All of the major news outlets are owned by for-profit corporations, and they have a very definite pro-capitalist bias, while pretending to be “just reporting the news”. This pattern reaches peaks of enraging absurdity when it comes to moments like MSNBC’s panicked attacks on Bernie Sanders, a moderate social democrat whose values and policies seem to be in line with what most of even a right-wing nation like the United States wants.

Positive Leftist News features a wide variety of commentators from different backgrounds and different leftist schools of thought. It focuses on victories in the effort to empower the working people of the world, end oppression, and remove the artificial and/or unnecessary barriers that are maintained by the current capitalist order. This is news from all over the planet about real fights for systemic change, and I hope that it uplifts and inspires you.

Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, you’ll burn in the fire, if you don’t get fried.

Many years ago, in this blog’s toddler years, I wrote a little about the advantages of being motivated not just by fear of the future we want to avoid, but also by hope for the future that we want to build. While that fear is valid, if it’s our sole motivator, we’ll be too busy looking over our shoulder to pay attention to where we’re going. Most of the time, when I’ve talked about this, the focus has been on the kind of society we want to build, and how being proactive could head off disaster. At that point, I wasn’t thinking much about politics, economics, and power, but I I think the overall idea holds true there as well. What I hadn’t really considered was how literal the metaphor of running away could end up being.

I suppose it’s obvious, in hindsight, and it’s not like the subject of climate refugees hasn’t been discussed. I had assumed that if people were leaving an area because of climate change, if they had a choice in where to go, they’d factor climate change into their decision. After all, if you’re moving away from hurricanes and killer heat waves, you might not want to move to somewhere that’s having a problem with drought, heat waves, and an ever-worsening fire season, right? Right?

Oh dear.

Americans are leaving many of the U.S. counties hit hardest by hurricanes and heatwaves — and moving towards dangerous wildfires and warmer temperatures, finds one of the largest studies of U.S. migration and natural disasters.

The ten-year national study reveals troubling public health patterns, with Americans flocking to regions with the greatest risk of wildfires and significant summer heat. These environmental hazards are already causing significant damage to people and property each year — and projected to worsen with climate change.

“These findings are concerning, because people are moving into harm’s way—into regions with wildfires and rising temperatures, which are expected to become more extreme due to climate change,” said the University of Vermont (UVM) study lead author Mahalia Clark, noting that the study was inspired by the increasing number of headlines of record-breaking natural disasters.

Published by the journal Frontiers in Human Dynamics, the study—titled “Flocking to Fire”—is the largest investigation yet of how natural disasters, climate change and other factors impacted U.S. migration over the last decade (2010-2020). “Our goal was to understand how extreme weather is influencing migration as it becomes more severe with climate change,” Clark said.

‘Red-hot’ real estate

The top U.S. migration destinations over the last decade were cities and suburbs in the Pacific Northwest, parts of the Southwest (in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah), Texas, Florida, and a large swath of the Southeast (from Nashville to Atlanta to Washington, D.C.)—locations that face significant wildfire risks and relatively warm annual temperatures. In contrast, people tended to move away from places in the Midwest, the Great Plains, and along the Mississippi River, including many counties hit hardest by hurricanes or frequent heatwaves, the researchers say.

“These findings suggest that, for many Americans, the risks and dangers of living in hurricane zones may be starting to outweigh the benefits of life in those areas,” said UVM co-author Gillian Galford, who led the recent Vermont Climate Assessment. “That same tipping point has yet to happen for wildfires and rising summer heat, which have emerged as national issues more recently.”

One implication of the study—given how development can exacerbate risks in fire-prone areas—is that city planners may need to consider discouraging new development where fires are most likely or difficult to fight, researchers say. At a minimum, policymakers must consider fire prevention in areas of high risk with large growth in human populations, and work to increase public awareness and preparedness.

I want to say that I’m not blaming these people, as such. There are a lot of factors that go into deciding where to move, and very often the “choice” is no choice at all. You have a job in California? You move to California. We live where we can, not always where we’d like to.

am blaming the federal government, and the largely corrupt crowd that comprises it. This is the result of inaction. This is what neoliberal, laissez-faire policies, gets us. Why are there no programs to help people resettle somewhere with more water? Why haven’t we already been moving people out of the Colorado River Valley? Because it would threaten fossil fuel profits, of course, but also because most politicians in both major parties view government action as essentially evil. Some Democrats view it as a necessary evil, and a handful are mostly focused on the good it can do, but as a party, they mostly seem to serve the same agenda as the GOP.

We will be seeing more climate refugees as the temperature continues to rise. Literally the only way to prevent that would be to find a way to get them to move to a safer place before disaster drives them. Instead, we have a borderline useless federal government, and a disorienting fog of misinformation about the issue. People are left to figure things out while navigating a ruthless housing market that’s increasingly controlled by big corporations, with a government whose advisors are advocating an increase in unemployment. This kind of crisis is exactly what society is supposed to be for, but our world is run by people who want to convince everyone that society shouldn’t provide us with any real benefits.

Beyond the aversion to hurricanes and heatwaves, the study identified several other clear preferences—a mix of environmental, social, and economic factors—that also contributed to U.S. migration decisions over the last decade.

The team’s analysis revealed a set of common qualities shared among the top migration destinations: warmer winters, proximity to water, moderate tree cover, moderate population density, better human development index (HDI) scores—plus wildfire risks. In contrast, for the counties people left, common traits included low employment, higher income inequality, and more summer humidity, heatwaves, and hurricanes.

Researchers note that Florida remained a top migration destination, despite a history of hurricanes—and increasing wildfire. While nationally, people were less attracted to counties hit by hurricanes, many people—particularly retirees—still moved to Florida, attracted by the warm climate, beaches, and other qualities shared by top migration destinations. Although hurricanes likely factor into people’s choices, the study suggests that, overall, the benefits of Florida’s desirable amenities still outweigh the perceived risks of life there, researchers say.

“The decision to move is a complicated and personal decision that involves weighing dozens of factors,” said Clark. “Weighing all these factors, we see a general aversion to hurricane risk, but ultimately—as we see in Florida—it’s one factor in a person’s list of pros and cons, which can be outweighed by other preferences.”

For the study, researchers combined census data with data on natural disasters, weather, temperature, land cover, and demographic and socioeconomic factors. While the study includes data from the first year of the COVID pandemic, the researchers plan to delve deeper into the impacts of remote work, house prices, and the cost of living.

For most of my life, climate change has been talked about as some kind of future issue. It has also been talked about as something that will hit poorer countries first, and hardest. While there’s some truth to that latter point, I hope it’s obvious to all of you by now that it’s happening now, and it’s hitting everywhere. It will get worse, of course, but we have entered the Age of Endless Recovery, and part of that is the endless, weary movement of people trying to find that one place where maybe they can live in peace.

This doesn’t have to be our future.

We could, if we can build the collective power to do so, stop prioritizing endless war and the indulgence of bottomless greed. We could build quality public housing in places that are likely to have plenty of water going forward. We could pay people to do ecosystem support and management work, or to clean up pollution, or to work on indoor food production, or any number of a hundred other things that society needs people to do.

We could, in short, respond to this crisis by proactively building a better world, with the changing climate in mind. We have the resources and knowledge to do this, and we’ve had them for a long time. What we lack is political and economic power among those who actually want the world to get better, because the people who currently hold that power? They would rather see the world burn around their bunkers than allow for systemic change.

If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into it. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!

France takes a small step in the right direction

This isn’t world-changing, but it’s a first (to me, at least), and an encouraging thing to see. France has banned short-distance air travel along routes for which there exists a train ride of two and a half hours or less. This is, in case it needs to be said, a very narrow ban, clearly designed to cause as little disruption in daily life as possible. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if the people most upset about this are exactly the people who should be upset – rich dingdongs with private jets.

France has been given the green light to ban short haul domestic flights.

The European Commission has approved the move which will abolish flights between cities that are linked by a train journey of less than 2.5 hours.

The decision was announced on Friday. The changes are part of the country’s 2021 Climate Law and were first proposed by France’s Citizens’ Convention on Climate – a citizens’ assembly tasked with finding ways to reduce the country’s carbon emissions.

France is also cracking down on the use of private jets for short journeys in a bid to make transport greener and fairer for the population.

Transport minister Clément Beaune said the country could no longer tolerate the super rich using private planes while the public are making cutbacks to deal with the energy crisis and climate change.

The super rich are not accustomed to having to follow rules, so we shall see whether they are held to this, or whether they manage to buy their way out of it. This is a trial run that will be re-assessed after three years, but I hope it’s just the start of a broader shift from air to rail travel, at least within Europe. I don’t have extremely high hopes for the U.S., but wouldn’t it be nice to have high-speed rail tying all of the Americas together? One baby-step at a time, I suppose.

Initially, the ban will only affect three routes between Paris Orly and Nantes, Lyon, and Bordeaux where there are genuine rail alternatives.

If rail services improve, it could see more routes added including those between Paris Charles de Gaulle and Lyon and Rennes as well as journeys between Lyon and Marseille. They currently don’t meet the criteria for the ban because trains to airports in Paris and Lyon don’t allow passengers to arrive early in the morning or late in the evening.

Others – such as routes from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Bordeaux and Nantes – weren’t included because the journey time is more than the 2.5 hour limit.

Connecting flights will also have to follow these new rules.

It’s a glimpse of a better world, if we can build it.

‘Cause to be victorious, you must find glory in the little things.

SLoSSing out climate conservation policy

There’s an old debate in the field of conservation, about what strategy is best when setting aside land for conservation. Should our efforts go into getting large contiguous areas, or would it be better to have a collection of smaller reserves distributed over a wider area: Single Large, or Several Small (SLoSS).

There are good arguments for both. A single, large area can allow for habitats that cannot occur in a smaller space. The edge of a forest, for example, lets light and wind penetrate into the understory from the side, spurring the growth of less shade-tolerant plants, different animals, and even affecting things like soil moisture. Deep forest habitats are much darker, tend to have less undergrowth, and can harbor very different kinds of life. This distinction is reliable enough, that undergraduate ecology students often do “research” on these dynamics as part of their training. It’s not generally a way to learn something new, so much as a way to practice the skills, knowing the results you should be getting. I know less about it, but I’m sure similar things exist in aquatic ecosystems, accounting for stuff like depth, fishing and other human activities, proximity to pollution sources like farms and factories, and so on.

The “Several Small” perspective is also generally about a diversity of habitats, but accounts for the way the changing landscape allows for different conditions over much wider areas. A mountaintop will have different life from a river, which will be different from a forest, or a plain, or a lake, or the boundary between those habitats. While one large place can encompass a good amount diversity in that regard, spreading your reserves out can cover more ground, so to speak. Having scattered nature reserves can also serve to create vital safe “pit stops” for migrating birds.

Both of perspectives are a form of triage, in the face of the relentless, escalating environmental destruction being driven by capitalism. The “ideal middle ground” could be described as a number of large reserves, connected by corridors, but that’s rather difficult to arrange in a world where capitalists get what they want by default most of the time.

I think this research supports my preferred approach of ending capitalism, and integrating our development into our surrounding ecosystems as much as possible (I mean, they don’t actually talk about capitalism, but in my opinion a growth-obsessed system like that can never allow for the kinds of change we need). Not only may the heat tolerance of sub-populations vary, but a population starting in a cooler area has more “room” for warming before temperatures start to get dangerous. This means that if you want a species to be able to survive global warming, the best thing you can do is make sure that the populations are not fragmented, and have space to move and change.

By conducting a metanalysis of 90 previously published studies, from which Cheng and his co-authors mined data on 61 species, the team was able to construct a set of “upper thermal limits”—specific temperatures above which each species could not survive. However, by zooming in further and looking at 305 distinct populations drawn from that pool of 61 species, they found that different populations of the same marine species often had widely different thermal limits. This suggests that some populations have evolved different abilities to tolerate high temperatures. The key then, is to keep different populations of the same species connected so that the populations that have adapted to the higher temperatures can pass this advantage on to the populations with the lower thermal limits.

In other words, imagine a wide-ranging marine species, such as the diminutive Atlantic killifish, which occurs from the warm Florida coast of the United States north to the frigid waters of Newfoundland, Canada. The northern killifish populations may be better able to withstand warming waters if some of their southern kin are able to naturally shift their range to the north.

“Scale matters,” says Matthew Sasaki, a marine biologist and evolutionary ecologist who completed this research as part of his postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Connecticut and is the paper’s lead author. “The patterns you see across species aren’t the same you see within species, and the big-picture story doesn’t necessarily match what is happening on the local level.”

In case you need the refresher, working to preserve biodiversity can help us deal with climate change. That’s why I like the idea of, to the greatest degree possible, bringing nature into our cities and other developed spaces, both by setting aside land around us for wildlife, any by making “our” territory safer. Less dependence on cars for transit (and more rail and foot traffic) would also make it a lot safer for animals to move through our landscape as they go from place to place.

When it comes down to it, they key seems to be having a clear understanding of the local conditions, and the needs of local ecosystems. What works for one place, one species, or one community of interacting species, may not work for another:

In yet another twist, the team, which was funded by the National Science Foundation and was composed of biologists specializing in terrestrial as well as marine ecosystems, discovered that this intra-species variability was primarily a feature of animals living in the ocean and intertidal areas. Populations of widespread species that live on land or in freshwater exhibit far more homogeneity in their thermal limits, and thus could be more sensitive to rising temperatures. However, on land, plants and animals can take advantage of microclimates to cool down and avoid extreme temperatures, by moving into shady spots, for example.

Taken together, the research suggests that a one-size-fits-all-species approach to conservation and management won’t work. Instead, write the authors, we need to understand how populations have adapted to their local conditions if we want to predict their vulnerability to changing conditions. A more effective approach would include ensuring that marine species can find wide swaths of undamaged habitat throughout their entire range, so that different populations of the same species can mix and pass on the adaptations that help them survive warmer waters. And on land, we need to maintain large patches of cool ecosystems—such as old-growth forests—that terrestrial species can use as refuges.

“The glimmer of hope here,” says Cheng, “is that with conservation policies tailored to individual populations, we can buy them time to adapt to the warming world.”

As with antifascist action, and human climate adaptation, local understanding, local communities, and local solutions are going to be key. The big advantage we have over more locally-focused societies of the past, is that we can retain the ability to communicate and trade globally. We really can make this world more peaceful, just, and more beautiful, all as a part of saving ourselves from the disastrous conditions we’ve created.

If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into it. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!

Soggy Sunday: There can be no climate action without fresh water.

There are a lot of reasons why I keep stressing the need for ecosystem management as the core of our climate action. We have, throughout our history, been utterly dependent on the natural world, even as we have been destroying it in the name of endless “growth”. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the medicines that keep us alive, the materials we use to shelter ourselves from the elements – all of it ties back to so-called “nature”, because we are a part of it.

That means that as we work to end greenhouse gas emissions, and adapt to the changes we’ve already caused, we must also change how we do business in other areas. Ending our direct contribution to warming will mean little if we increase other forms of pollution as we do it. It’s not as simple as swapping out what kind of fuel powers our society, and if we pretend that the climate is our only existential environmental threat, then we will continue driving ourselves toward extinction through other means.

A holistic approach is going to mean a lot of things, but when it comes down to it, none of that is possible without continual access to fresh water. That may seem obvious, but it’s cause for real concern, as this report made for COP27 discusses:

The report titled: “The essential drop to reach Net-Zero: Unpacking Freshwater’s Role in Climate Change Mitigation,” released November 9 2022 at COP27 in harm El-Sheikh, is the first-ever summary of current research on the role of water in climate mitigation. A key message is the need to better understand global water shortages and scarcity in order to plan climate targets that do not backfire in future. If not planned carefully, negative impacts of climate action on freshwater resources might threaten water security and even increase future adaptation and mitigation burdens.

“Most of the measures needed to reach net-zero carbon targets can have a big impact on already dwindling freshwater resources around the world,” said Dr Lan Wang Erlandsson from Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University. “With better planning, such risks can be reduced or avoided.”

The report describes why, where, and how freshwater should be integrated into climate change mitigation plans to avoid unexpected consequences and costly policy mistakes. Even efforts usually associated with positive climate action – such as forest restoration or bioenergy – can have negative impacts if water supplies are not considered.

Done right, however, water-related and nature-based solutions can instead address both the climate crisis and other challenges, said Dr Malin Lundberg Ingemarsson from Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).

“We have identified water risks, but also win-win solutions that are currently not used to their full potential. One example is restoration of forests and wetlands which bring social, ecological, and climate benefits all at once. Another example is that better wastewater treatment can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from untreated wastewater, while improving surface water and groundwater quality, and even provide renewable energy through biogas.”

That was when I decided I actually wanted to write about this a bit. “Nature-based solutions” are exactly what we need. As dangerous as heat waves and storms may be, one of the biggest dangers to our species is the breakdown of ecosystem services, of which most people seem to be largely unaware. I couldn’t say the exact numbers, but for all we must spend trillions on ending fossil fuel use, I think we should also spend trillions on ecosystem restoration and support. Even if we weren’t depleting both ground and surface water, and even if we weren’t poisoning what remains with reckless abandon, the melting of mountain glaciers around the world means that before long, billions could lose their primary water source. We need to be actively working to build up ecosystems, because they aren’t just affected by the weather, they affect the weather. Deforestation means less rainfall. That’s going to vary from ecosystem to ecosystem, but it’s not hard to understand.

Plants don’t just absorb rainwater, they also transfer it from the ground to the air. Trees in particular act as giant vaporizers, humidifying the air around their crowns. That, in turn, helps create rain downwind, or even sometimes right over the same forest. That movement of water, as I’ve discussed before, also moves heat around, which can help mitigate extreme heat, which affects everyone’s need for water. My insistence on viewing ourselves as a part of nature isn’t some spiritual feeling of connection, it’s a simple fact, supported by overwhelming evidence.

The report highlights five key messages on the interlinkage between water and mitigation:

• Climate mitigation measures depend on freshwater resources. Climate mitigation planning and action need to account for current and future freshwater availability.
•  Freshwater impacts – both positive and negative – need to be evaluated and included in climate mitigation planning and action.
•  Water and sanitation management can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. More efficient drinking water and sanitation services save precious freshwater resources and reduce emissions.
•  Nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change can deliver multiple benefits for people and the environment. Measures safeguarding freshwater resources, protecting biodiversity, and ensuring resilient livelihoods are crucial.
•  Joint water and climate governance need to be coordinated and strengthened. Mainstreaming freshwater in all climate mitigation planning and action requires polycentric and inclusive governance.

“Climate change mitigation efforts will not succeed if failing to consider water needs,” said Marianne Kjellén, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “Water must be part of powerful solutions for enhancing ecosystem resilience, preserving biodiversity and regenerative food and energy production systems. In short, water security needs to be factored in to climate action,” she adds.

There’s a part of me that simply cannot believe that that last thought needs to be spelled out. How could anybody possibly think that we could respond to the threat of climate change without factoring in water? Hasn’t everyone been talking about “the coming water wars” for years? But, of course, action on that end of things has been woefully inadequate, just as it has been in every other area. Not only that, but the system we’re trying to change uses war not just to control people, but also to generate profit. Those of us still connected to our humanity hear “water wars” and think of the horrors of war, and perhaps the horrors of water scarcity. The rich and powerful, particularly in the United States, think of all the money they’ll make by converting raw resources into dead bodies, ravaged landscapes, and fat paychecks. There’s also a rather large portion of the population that is ideologically committed to the belief that a magical being put this entire cosmos here for “us” (which means the rich and powerful) to do with as we see fit. So yeah – it needs to be spelled out. For a lot of people, I’m afraid we’ll have to change the world around them, and hope their minds change afterwards, but in the meantime, it’s good to figure out what we should be doing about the water problem.

While I hope to go through the report more thoroughly, and write about its contents, I’ve had such intentions in the past. I’m approaching a year of daily posting (not counting the time I took off for Raksha’s death), which is a strange new experience for me, so hopefully I’ll actually be able to follow through this time. Still, maintaining work on my current novel is a more important right now, so in the meantime, here’s a link to the report, all nicely laid out by section. If you want me make this project (or any other) more of a priority, I’ll take that into consideration once you sign up at and send me a message about it.

It is a simple fact that on this planet, water is life. It’s also a fact that when we have tried to, we’ve been able to clean up polluted bodies of water, restore ecosystems, and bring species back from the brink of extinction. We do have the resources and understanding to make the world better, all we lack is a political an economic system that values doing so.

If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into it. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!

Video: Didn’t like the “Just Stop Oil” Soup Protest? Doesn’t Matter.

A few weeks back I wrote a blog post about what I called “Liberal Protest Activism”, in response to both the infamous souping of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and to the general response to said souping. What I didn’t mention was that that post was, in part, inspired by a Twitter disagreement with Michael Mann. Basically, someone had called the protest inappropriate, and I responded by pointing out that more conventional protest had not resulted in adequate action. Mann quote-tweeted me, and basically said I was lying, and that saying “nothing has been done” is being used to justify extremism. I pointed out that I hadn’t said “nothing”, and he blocked me.

Honestly, it hurt a little. I’ve looked up to Mann for a long time, and I still do. The work he’s done on climate science and advocacy is valuable, and he gets entirely too much hate. On the other hand, as I’ve said in the past, being an expert in climate science does not make you an expert in sociology, politics, or policy. Having him not only disagree with me, but point to me as someone being extremist and wrong was a shock, so I spent time thinking about it, which generated the blog post mentioned above. I also deleted that tweet, because I didn’t want to keep getting notifications from people responding to Mann calling me a liar. As far as I can tell, trying to “defend my honor” would end up benefiting no one worth considering. I wrote that blog post partly as a way to deal with my bad mood. I ended up writing this post, because Rebecca Watson has a new video out about the same subject, so now I feel a little braver in talking about it.

There’s a lot there that I agree with (as always, the transcript is at the link above), but I wanted to pause on one point that Watson made:

They were angry simply because young people were doing something for a cause they cared about, and the angry people know deep in their hearts that they do not have even a fraction of that courage and that conviction, and they know that the cause is a good one that SHOULD inspire us all to that kind of courage and conviction. But instead we’re at home eating Cheez-its and doom scrolling Twitter, and channeling our guilt by getting angry at someone who is actually out there doing something. My hypothesis is that NO protest these people could have done would ever have been widely considered to be “meaningful,” and “good” and “effective,” and despite that, there’s a good chance that this protest will historically be seen to be all of those things.

Oof. That hits a little close to home. Regardless of how you feel about their tactics, there’s no question that what they are doing takes courage, especially given the consistently hostile response they have gotten. They’ve put far more on the line for this cause than I have, and they’ve generated a great deal of conversation with the art protests – more conversation than came from their more direct act of spraying paint on the Bank of England to protest its investment in fossil fuels. I think I should have given them a bit more credit. I also very much agree with the guess that no protest the did would have gotten wide support

The reality is that protests generally aren’t popular, and the people who make headlines for protests share that unpopularity. From Watson’s video:

And that hypothesis is based on decades of research: as I said two years ago during the Black Lives Matter protests, “in 1961, 57% of Americans said that sit-ins hurt the cause of those fighting against segregation. By 1963 that number had risen to 60%. By 1964, after Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, it was 74%. Three quarters of Americans thought Martin Luther King’s “extreme” tactics were hurting the Civil Rights fight. He was one of the most hated men in America. And yet, the Civil Rights movement succeeded.” And even though “79% of people said the (LA) riots were not justified…nearly 30 years later, scientists can see that those riots helped “build support for policy by mobilizing supporters.” They found that both white and African American voters “were mobilized to register (to vote), that new registrants tended to affiliate as Democrats, and that voters shifted their policy support toward public schools, net of a general shift in support for education spending. This mobilization appears to have persisted: those mobilized by the riot remained regular participators over a decade later and remained more Democratic than the general population, even after accounting for demographics.””

She then goes on to talk about Mann’s response to the protest, and the result of his decision not to avoid getting embroiled in pointless internet arguments over tone. I knew he had an article tut-tutting about it, but I didn’t know he made himself a dishonest push poll to “back up” his opinion, and continued arguing about it. I expected better from him, but it’s a good reminder that people are just people are just people. What matters is that we keep working as best we can.

As of this recording, Mann is kind of losing it on Twitter and really insisting that this survey proves something about the relative effectiveness of the soup protest. It’s understandable, because I think he does good work in his own field (which is climatology, not public relations or sociology) and so he’s probably not accustomed to being corrected by people who actually know what they’re talking about. I hope he is able to take a step back and realize that this is just bad science with a dash of “bad understanding of history” thrown in. A well-designed survey could certainly find that people largely were turned off by this protest, but the people who study movements and social change understand that protests – nonviolent, disruptive, or outright violent – might work or not work, regardless of whether or not you like it.

Dealing with climate change does not mean an end to air travel.

I’m honestly a big fan of airplanes. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a fair amount over the last couple decades, and that wouldn’t have been possible without the ability to fly. In my ideal world, I think there would be a lot less air traffic, but I don’t think we should get rid of it entirely. Obviously, the rich and their flying habits must go, and a better world would be a somewhat slower world, in which people can actually take the time to travel by boat, by zeppelin, or by train. When it comes to that, we should also have much more high-speed rail for transportation across continents. Even so, there are times when the speed and versatility of airplanes and helicopters will be indispensable.

That said, the way we do air travel needs to change, just like everything else. It’s possible that if all other fossil fuel use stopped, maintaining current airplane usage would be fine, but that seems very unlikely, and given the greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution coming from fossil fuel extraction, we need that to end. Fortunately, a lot of people have been working hard on finding alternative ways to make things like jet fuel, and they’ve been having real success! The question, with this sort of thing, is how well it can scale up. It may be that we can create this stuff under certain conditions, but will that be worth the energy and resources invested? I’ve generally been assuming so. When my friend was working on this a while back, the company he was with was using sugar beets as their starting point, but there’s a lot of vegetable matter that could be turned into fuel, which means a lot of the “work” is being doing as the plant grows. While my assumptions and anecdotes may hold credibility to some of you, for the others, here’s some research claiming that we can have an aviation industry that runs on plant-based fuel:

New research published today in the journal Nature Sustainability shows a pathway toward full decarbonization of U.S. aviation fuel use by substituting conventional jet fuel with sustainably produced biofuels.

The study, led by a team of Arizona State University researchers, found that planting the grass miscanthus on 23.2 million hectares of existing marginal agricultural lands — land that often lies fallow or is poor in soil quality — across the United States would provide enough biomass feedstock to meet the liquid fuel demands of the U.S. aviation sector fully from biofuels, an amount expected to reach 30 billion gallons per year by 2040.

“We demonstrate that it is within reach for the United States to decarbonize the fuel used by commercial aviation, without having to wait for electrification of aircraft propulsion,” said Nazli Uludere Aragon, co-corresponding author on the study and a recent ASU geography PhD graduate.

“If we are serious about getting to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, we need to deal with emissions from air travel, which are expected to grow under a business-as-usual scenario. Finding alternative, more sustainable liquid fuel sources for aviation is key to this.”

That caveat always looms over discussions of climate change, doesn’t it?

If we are serious about getting to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions…”

It doesn’t generally feel like the “we” that has the power is serious about much of anything beyond keeping or increasing their power. Still, this research is promising, and I appreciate the bredth of the work they did.

In the study, the researchers used an integrated framework of land assessments, hydro-climate modeling, ecosystem modeling and economic modeling to assess where and under what conditions across the United States energy crops used for biojet fuels could be grown sustainably using criteria that evaluate both environmental and economic performance.

The criteria were extensive. The team first identified and assessed where optimal marginal agriculture lands already existed in the U.S. They then assessed whether one could grow the right energy crops on the land without using additional water.

The team then analyzed whether growing energy-crop feedstocks on these lands would have detrimental effects on the surrounding climate or soil moisture and predicted the potential productivity of yields of two different grasses — miscanthus and switchgrass — as suitable biomass-energy feedstocks. Finally, the team quantified the amount and the cost of biojet fuel that would be produced and distributed nationwide at scale.

“The current way we produce sustainable jet fuel is very land-inefficient and not on a large scale,” said Nathan Parker, an author on the study and an assistant professor in the School of Sustainability. “There are very limited ways that aviation could become low carbon emitting with a correspondingly low climate impact, and this is one way we’ve shown that is feasible and can get the aviation industry to be carbon neutral through agriculture.”

The scientists emphasized that this integrated systems perspective was critical to the study. In the past, research around the potential of biofuels has largely consisted of isolated assessments that have not been well integrated, for example, overlooking key data on how altering the crop cover influences the surrounding climate.

“When you plant crops over strategically designed areas, the planting of these crops has an impact on the climate,” said Matei Georgescu, co-corresponding author of the study and associate professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and director of the Urban Climate Research Center at ASU. “If there is a change in the underlying landscape, for example an increase or decrease in the amount of vegetation, there may be implications for local- to regional-scale climate, including more or less precipitation, or warmer or cooler temperatures.”

To account for these land-atmosphere interactions, the research team took outputs from their hydroclimate model to inform their ecosystem model. The team then evaluated the economic feasibility for farmers to grow these grasses.

Real-world solutions

For any uptake of an alternative-energy pathway, solutions need to make economic sense.

I get that they’re working within the world as it exists, and that makes perfect sense, but boy – “solutions need to make economic sense” is a phrase that makes me see red. So much about how our world is run right now makes zero economic sense, but exists anyway because it’s great for keeping money and power in the hands of the rich and powerful. Ian Danskin framed conservatism and capitalism as developed to protect the aristocracy from democracy, and if you look at the world through that lens, a lot of strange stuff starts to make more sense. Still, if something does “make economic sense” within the current paradigm, it seems likely that it would be at least as functional in the “ideal” scenario I discussed above.

The researchers, in their analysis, benchmarked the financial returns of the existing uses for the lands they identified — some already are used for growing corn, soy or various other crops, and others are being used as pasture — against those from cultivating either miscanthus or switchgrass as biomass feedstock.

Growing miscanthus or switchgrass needed to be more profitable to replace the existing use of the land in each area.

“These lands we identified are owned and operated by real people for different agricultural uses,” said Uludere Aragon, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Environmental Defense Fund. “The cost-effective biofuel potential from biomass feedstocks is influenced largely by the opportunity cost of alternative land uses.”

In the end, researchers found miscanthus to be the more promising feedstock and that biojet fuels derived from miscanthus can meet the 30 billion gallons/year target at an average cost of $4.10/gallon.

While this is higher than the average price for conventional jet fuel — typically about $2 per gallon — the team concluded it is reasonable when considering biojet’s potential to cut emissions. Notably, in 2022 jet fuel prices have varied from $2 to $5 per gallon (not to be confused with retail gasoline) due to changes in supply and demand, showing that prices above $4 per gallon are well within the range of possibility.

A template for the future

The researchers say that in finding further solutions to Earth’s climate crisis, it is important that the scientific community bridges disciplines and moves past incremental reductions in emissions. Rather, the researchers emphasize the importance of realistic solutions that scale.

“This was an interdisciplinary team with expertise from ecosystems sciences, climate modeling and atmospheric sciences and economics,” said Georgescu, who acknowledged this research was a culmination of eight years of modeling work and collaboration. “To truly address sustainability concerns, you need the expert skills of a spectrum of domains.

“As academics, we should remember economics drives people’s decisions on the ground. It is vitally important to find the circumstances when these decisions are also aligned with desirable environmental outcomes.”

The endless subsidies and wars propping up the fossil fuel industry, and the military-industrial complex, demonstrate that we have the ability to determine what is and is not “economical”, for all our leaders babble about “market forces”. Even so, there’s something cathartic about being able to point out that a huge number the changes we need are entirely feasible even within the system that’s resisting that change. At this point, I’m starting to wonder if I should just get a tattoo of this, but – the obstacles are social and political, not technical. There are absolutely technical challenges, and we’ll discover new problems as we work on new ways of doing things. All of that is to be expected, but none of it is why have failed to adequately address climate change.

We can do this. We can end fossil fuel use, and there’s no reason to think that doing so will result in anything other than a better standard of living for most of humanity. We just need to get around the money-hoarding doofuses that are currently in charge.

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It’s not just the flooding: Hurricanes as heat pumps

While I don’t know a whole lot about the demographics of my readership, I’m going to assume that most of you have at least a passing familiarity with the water cycle. Maybe it’s just me, but when I learned about it as a kid, I learned about it as a description of the movement of water around the surface of the planet. The water cycle is about water. Straightforward, yes?

Then, a few years ago, I was writing a climate science lesson, and I had a minor revelation. The water cycle also describes the movement of energy in our atmosphere. When water evaporates, it effectively absorbs the heat required to keep it in a gaseous state. That cools off the place where the evaporation happens, which is why our own ability to regulate our temperatures relies heavily on evaporation. So now you have that water vapor, kept in that state by a combination of temperature and pressure. It rises up, and after a certain point reaches a low enough pressure and temperature to condense, which turns it into water droplets (clouds, rain, mist, etc), and warms up the air around them. That heat was just transported, as water vapor, from one part of the world to another. Of course, that same bit of water might absorb and release heat like that many times over before it falls back to the ground. If you watch clouds for long enough, on a mostly clear day, you can see some of them forming, or even some that fade in and out of existence as they move through pressure gradients shifting from gas to droplets, and back to gas again.

As I said, this may all be obvious to you, but for some reason it never really clicked in my head until I was actually studying the movement of heat energy in our atmosphere. From that perspective, when enough water fell on Pakistan to submerge one third of the entire country, a huge amount of heat was released into the air above. It’s been interesting to think about, but I couldn’t begin to tell you what predictive value that has for our day to day lives. It could mean that we should expect heat to follow flooding, but if the air warmed is pretty high up to begin with, would that follow? Further, all that water starts evaporating again, sucking up more heat. Fortunately, the world need not wait for people like me to puzzle this stuff out. A team out of Arizona has  found that when a tropical cyclone hits a city, it causes a spike in temperature in the days that follow. 

Three days after Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico in mid-September, the National Weather Service issued an extreme heat advisory, warning that the heat index – which incorporates humidity to calculate perceived temperature – could reach up to 109 degrees.

Above-average temperatures almost always follow tropical cyclones – which by definition include tropical storms and hurricanes – and may soar to nearly 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than average, according to a new University of Arizona-led study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. The study’s authors stressed that their results are likely conservative estimates of just how high temperatures can climb following a cyclone.

Tropical cyclones often cause damage from strong winds, storm surges, intense rain and flooding, but extreme heat is an additional hazard, the researchers found. Above-average temperatures can occur days later and even in nearby areas that were not directly impacted by the storm.

“Multiple extreme events happening within a very short window of time can complicate disaster recovery,” said lead study author Zackry Guido, an assistant research professor in the university’s School of Natural Resources and Environment and the Arizona Institutes for Resilience: Solutions for Environment and Societies, or AIRES. “To medical providers, heat is a concern. Our results suggest that tropical cyclone preparedness should also include public information about heat risk.”

The research team analyzed 53 tropical cyclones in the eastern Caribbean between 1991 and 2020 and 205 interactions between the cyclones and 14 Caribbean cities. They found that the cities’ heat index values were always warmer than average after the storm.

“Everyone’s focus is on the destructive power of tropical storms and hurricanes – the storm surge, winds, flooding – and that’s obviously quite substantial, but our focus is on the combined hazard of storm and subsequent heat,” Guido said. “Hurricanes are massive heat pumps, redistributing heat for a large spatial distance around the center of the storm, and they leave massive destruction in their wake that can knock out the energy grid. That combination is often dangerous because it slows recovery and poses risks to human health.”

While the paper doesn’t explore how climate change may be impacting the phenomenon, the authors expect that high heat index values following tropical cyclones will increase in the future.

“It’s very easy to understand the climate change impacts of this,” Guido said. “Our future will likely have hurricanes dropping more intense rain and have more people in harm’s way. Then, if you drape on top of that a hotter environment, you will therefore expect a greater overall impact.”

That makes a lot of sense to me. The proportion of tropical cyclones that become hurricanes or typhoons is increasing in part because weaker ones are being cut off by increased wind shear, and in part because the oceans are warming so rapidly. The strength of the storm generally ties directly to sea surface temperatures, which means that the amount of heat that that storm pumps into an area is also going to go up.

In terms of impacts, a big storm like that means that in addition to the heat dumped, there’s also an increase in humidity (the other factor in the heat index). That means a higher chance of hitting “wet bulb” conditions, in which people can die fast without artificial cooling. Losing power – as so often happens – becomes that much more dangerous. At the same time, floods can contaminate the water supply, which could leave those trying to survive with a choice between lethal dehydration or drinking water that will probably make them sick.

I get why the water cycle wasn’t taught to me as a way that heat moves around in the atmosphere, but it seems that that’s a perspective we’ll need to keep in mind going forward.

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Scientists give a grim warning on climate change and insect populations

I talk a lot about the need for a climate response that’s centered around ecosystem resilience. Our best defense against the existential crises that face us is to not only stop the destruction of ecosystems, but also to actively work to build them up. The problem is, the longer we take to accomplish the first half of that plan, the harder it will be to carry out the second half. We have a much, much better chance of success if we’re helping struggling, but extant ecosystems survive, than if we’re trying to build up new ones from what’s left after total collapse.

The problem is, we seem to be getting pretty close to the “total collapse” stage. Even without climate change, ecosystems around the world are suffering from chemical pollution, and for a while now pesticides have been the prime suspect in the ongoing decline in insects (PZ did a good post on that recently). We’ve always known that climate change would be rough for many insect species, but it now we’ve got a pretty stark warning. 70 entimologists have cosigned a letter warning that climate change threatens to push us into the “total collapse” scenario, through its effects on insects alone:

In a new scientific review, a team of 70 scientists from 19 countries warned that if no steps are taken to shield insects from the consequences of climate change, it will “drastically reduce our ability to build a sustainable future based on healthy, functional ecosystems.”

Citing research from around the world, the team painted a bleak picture of the short- and long-term effects of climate change on insects, many of which have been in a state of decline for decades. Global warming and extreme weather events are already threatening some insects with extinction—and it will only get worse if current trends continue, scientists say. Some insects will be forced to move to cooler climes to survive, while others will face impacts to their fertility, life cycle and interactions with other species.

Such drastic disruptions to ecosystems could ultimately come back to bite people, explained Anahí Espíndola, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Maryland and one of the paper’s co-authors.

“We need to realize, as humans, that we are one species out of millions of species, and there’s no reason for us to assume that we’re never going to go extinct,” Espíndola said. “These changes to insects can affect our species in pretty drastic ways.”

Bees are probably the most well-known example of this right now, as they’re famous as pollinators, but there are many other insects that not only pollinate plants, but do a variety of things that, as part of a health ecosystem, make our own lives possible. As the paper explains, the process of responding to climate change as a population – range shifts, body changes, and behavior changes – is one that by necessity puts a strain on those populations, and makes them more vulnerable. Unfortunately, the other well-known problem with climate change and bugs is that some species seem to be fine with the change, and because we cannot catch a break, those seem to be the ones that cause us problems:

On the other hand, climate change may make some insects more pervasive—to the detriment of human health and agriculture. Global warming is expected to expand the geographical range of some disease vectors (such as mosquitoes) and crop-eating pests.

“Many pests are actually pretty generalist, so that means they are able to feed on many different types of plants,” Espíndola said. “And those are the insects that—based on the data—seem to be the least negatively affected by climate change.”

The concern about crop-eating pests is a small part of why I lean so hard on the idea of moving food production indoors. We’ll have enough trouble dealing with war, drought, heat, floods, and so on, without adding in more locust swarms. An added benefit of that would be less exposure to mosquitoes, ticks and the like for farm workers, and less exposure to, and use of pesticides.

When I have bad news to share – which seems like most days – I try to redirect focus to ways people can do something about the systemic problems dragging us towards extinction, and thankfully the authors of this warning do have a pretty clear action plan:

Though these effects are already being felt by insects, it is not too late to take action. The paper outlined steps that policymakers and the public can take to protect insects and their habitats. Scientists recommended “transformative action” in six areas: phasing out fossil fuels, curbing air pollutants, restoring and permanently protecting ecosystems, promoting mostly plant-based diets, moving towards a circular economy and stabilizing the global human population.

The paper’s lead author, Jeffrey Harvey of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, said in a statement that urgent action is needed to protect insects and the ecosystems they support.

“Insects are tough little critters, and we should be relieved that there is still room to correct our mistakes,” Harvey said. “We really need to enact policies to stabilize the global climate. In the meantime, at both government and individual levels, we can all pitch in and make urban and rural landscapes more insect-friendly.”

The paper suggested ways that individuals can help, including managing public, private or urban gardens and other green spaces in a more ecologically-friendly way—for instance, incorporating native plants into the mix and avoiding pesticides and significant changes in land usage when possible.

Espíndola also stressed the value of encouraging neighbors, friends and family to take similar steps, explaining that it’s an easy yet effective way to amplify one’s impact.

“It is true that these small actions are very powerful,” Espíndola said. “They are even more powerful when they are not isolated.”

As with the rest of our environmental problems, while it’s good to know how we can work to fix them, that knowledge will not help us without building the power for political change. Do what you can – I’m actually going to set up that pollinator garden this spring – but part of helping save the insects (and ourselves) is building collective power, so that we can create revolutionary systemic change.

If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into it. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!