Machine learning and complex information: How much of humanity has been affected by climate change?

A few years ago, I was working as a curriculum writer at a non-profit science education research company called TERC. The company has been around for a long time, but its central purpose, as I understand it, is to study how people teach and learn science of all sorts, with the goal of improving the process for both teachers and students. This means that while my job was to write lesson plans, readings, and so on, it was always as part of a larger research project. The difficulty with this sort of research is that if you’re trying to actually assess how well students understand the subject before and then after an attempt to teach it to them, you can’t just rely on an easily generated dataset like a multiple choice test. The best way to gauge a person’s understanding of a subject is to have them explain it, in their own words, to someone whose understanding is already good enough to assess the answer.

So how can you conduct data analysis on data that’s not in a simple numerical form?

You find a way to convert it.

For example, let’s take a basic question: What does the term “ecological mismatch” mean? Define it, and give an example.

For those who are unfamiliar, “ecological mismatch”, at least in the context of climate change, refers to a situation in which the seasonal patterns of different species that normally line up, cease to do so. For example, there are numerous bird species that breed in North America during the spring and summer, but fly south to South or Central America to avoid the cold winters. Why do they put in all the effort to make such a long trip? Why not just stay in the south? Because the explosion of insect and plant life in the northern spring provides an abundance of food far beyond the day to day in their more tropical “winter homes”.

The problem is that as the climate has warmed, spring has begun to come earlier to North America, and for those birds wintering around the equator, their evolved migratory instinct relies on Earth’s orbit around the sun, which is almost entirely unaffected by global warming. That means that their migration signal has stayed the same, but spring is coming earlier, so they arrive later in the season. The food supply that made this a successful behavior isn’t always there by the time they arrive. The timing is mismatched. This means the insects they’d normally eat have a population boom, as do the birds that don’t migrate as far. That in turn can affect plant populations, other insect populations, and so on.

So. We ask a class full of people to answer this question, and what we get is a mix of responses. Some are blank or completely wrong. Some get the definition mostly right, but the example wrong. Some get the example right and the definition wrong. Some get both right. Our goal, as researchers, is to convert this qualitative data into quantitative data, so that we can run it through equations, make graphs, and so on. One could simply go with “right” or “wrong”, but that’s going to give us an inaccurate picture. The students who are partly right do have some understanding of the subject. We could split it into three options – right, partially right, and wrong. That’s also not quite right, because it doesn’t tell us what they’re partly right about; so we split it into four – right, partly right (about the definition), partly right(about the example), and wrong. Now, with options 1, 2, 3, and 4, and a clear definition of each, we can go through everyone’s answer to the question, give it a number, and actually analyze the overall pattern of understanding.

And now we’re ready to teach the lesson.

Then, you give the same test after the lesson, break it down the same way, and compare the two to see how the overall level of understanding changed. Ideally, each student will be assigned a number so you can compare them to themselves, as well as looking at the group as a whole (the data should be anonymized as much as possible, both to protect people’s privacy in published data, and to prevent conscious or subconscious bias). There was also a long process of systematizing the instructions for evaluating these quizzes so that multiple qualified people would fairly reliably get the same results going through the same process. Remember: with research part of the goal is to ensure that strangers can reproduce what you did from your publication.

We generally didn’t do a quiz like this for a single lesson. The ideal was a full unit of about a week (longer if possible) to test what did or didn’t work, and the “after” quiz would be on the last day of the unit. Each quiz would have a mix of short- and long-answer questions, and once the framework for “coding” the tests was established, someone on the team would have to go through and code every test from every student, with checks on tough calls (you’d be amazed at how many ways there are to be almost right or partly wrong about a question like this), enter the numbers into a spreadsheet, and then we could start actually analyzing the data.

This is to answer a few relatively straightforward questions about how well students understand the subject matter we presented to them.

Now let’s get to the actual point of this article, and look at a different question – How much of the human population has been directly affected by climate change?

As before, we need to break the question down, so we know what answers we’re actually looking for. Obviously we need to define what it means to be affected by climate change. Going broadly, let’s say “forced to change behavior in some way (movement, spending, place of residence, etc.) by weather that would not have caused that change absent warming caused by humans”. That means we need to determine which weather phenomena count as “normal”, and which ones can be attributed to the rise in temperature. In many cases, that’s a matter not just of determining whether climate change influenced a given event, but how much of that event was due to higher global temperatures. Would the storm surge have breached the levees if sea levels were an inch lower? Would the storm have been as powerful if the planet was a degree cooler? Trying to figure this stuff out is very difficult and time-consuming, for those with the task of actually quantifying it.

And again, that’s just for one event, like a hurricane. We’re trying to see what patterns there are on a global scale, which means our best bet is to look at the answers that have already been given – the numerous publications on individual weather events, and how they affected people, and while all of these studies do have quantitative data, they’re often studying different things, using different methods, which means the numbers they get can also mean different things. Ideally, again, you would have a team of people who already know the subject matter very well, to analyze each publication and make sure the overall data analysis actually says what we think it does. If you’re being thorough, that means having a team examining over 100,000 studies of many different weather events, and generating a dataset that will give us results we can trust.

It’s a monumental amount of work – possibly more work than could reasonably be done by a group of experts.

So some folks trained computers to do it for them.

Increasing evidence suggests that climate change impacts are already observed around the world. Global environmental assessments face challenges to appraise the growing literature. Here we use the language model BERT to identify and classify studies on observed climate impacts, producing a comprehensive machine-learning-assisted evidence map. We estimate that 102,160 (64,958–164,274) publications document a broad range of observed impacts. By combining our spatially resolved database with grid-cell-level human-attributable changes in temperature and precipitation, we infer that attributable anthropogenic impacts may be occurring across 80% of the world’s land area, where 85% of the population reside. Our results reveal a substantial ‘attribution gap’ as robust levels of evidence for potentially attributable impacts are twice as prevalent in high-income than in low-income countries. While gaps remain on confidently attributabing climate impacts at the regional and sectoral level, this database illustrates the potential current impact of anthropogenic climate change across the globe.

The debut of the remarkable new word “attributabing” not withstanding, this approach to meta-analysis could end up being hugely useful in helping people in general keep up with the massive collective effort known as “science”. There are millions of scientific papers published every year, from people all over the planet. Our collective knowledge is such that it’s impossible for any person to read the current research on all but the tiniest fraction of it, and yet we need to have at least some general grasp of these issues if we want to have any control over our future as a species. Our capacity to understand what’s happening around us and respond accordingly is one of our greatest strengths as a species, but climate change is happening at a scale that’s a bit outside what we can easily wrap our minds around. That’s probably part of why we’ve gone so long without treating global warming as the crisis it is.

From a Washington Post article on the study:

In the United States, climate disasters have already caused at least 388 deaths and more than $100 billion in damage this year, according to analyses from The Washington Post and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Yet despite a pledge to halve emissions by the end of the decade, congressional Democrats are struggling to pass a pair of bills that would provide hundreds of billions of dollars for renewable energy, electric vehicles and programs that would help communities adapt to a changing climate.

The contrast between the scope of climate disasters and the scale of global ambition is top of mind for hundreds of protesters who have descended on Washington this week to demand an end to fossil fuel use.

“How can you say that we are in this climate emergency and be going around and saying we’re at this red point … and at the same time be giving away land for additional oil and gas infrastructure?” said Joye Braun, a community organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network and a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who rallied in Washington this week.

The activists, many of them from Indigenous communities that have been harmed by global warming, risked arrest as they remained on the sidewalk outside the White House after police ordered them to clear the area.

The new research in Nature adds to a growing body of evidence that climate change is already disrupting human life on a global scale. Scientists are increasingly able to attribute events like heat waves and hurricanes to human actions. In August, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change devoted an entire chapter to the extreme weather consequences of a warming world.

The study’s conclusion that 85 percent of humanity is experiencing climate impacts may sound high. But it’s “probably an underestimation,” said Friederike Otto, a senior lecturer at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, who was not involved in the study.

The study looked at average temperature and precipitation changes, rather than the most extreme impacts, for which Otto says there is even more evidence of climate change’s role.

“It is likely that nearly everyone in the world now experiences changes in extreme weather as a result of human greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

The human toll of these events has become impossible to ignore. This summer, hundreds of people in the Pacific Northwest died after unprecedented heat baked the usually temperate region. More than 1 million people in Madagascar are at risk of starvation as a historic drought morphs into a climate-induced famine. Catastrophic flooding caused New Yorkers to drown in their own homes, while flash flooding has inundated refugee camps in South Sudan.

In a letter released Monday, some 450 organizations representing 45 million health-care workers called attention to the way rising temperatures have increased the risk of many health issues, including breathing problems, mental illness and insect-borne diseases. One of the papers analyzed for the Nature study, for example, found that deaths from heart disease had risen in areas experiencing hotter conditions.

“The climate crisis is the single biggest health threat facing humanity,” the health organizations’ letter said.

As Braun points out in the quote above, the feeble “climate response” plans of most governments become a sick joke when put next to continued expansion of fossil fuel extraction, and the unwillingness of groups like the Democratic Party to do more than just say they care about the issue. It’s hard to tell if it’s malice or delusion, but in either case, it’s a problem, and it feels like they’re hoping people will just continue to underestimate the scale of what’s happening. Things like this new research could help us make a more compelling case for the change we need, by making it harder to wave the problem away. That said, the resources going into understanding what’s happening around the world aren’t much better distributed than wealth has been in this era of colonialism and neoliberalism:

Yet in many of the places that stand to suffer most from climate change, Callaghan and his colleagues found a deficit of research on what temperature and precipitation shifts could mean for people’s daily lives. The researchers identified fewer than 10,000 studies looking at climate change’s effect on Africa, and about half as many focused on South America. By contrast, roughly 30,000 published papers examined climate impacts in North America.

In poorer countries, the researchers say, roughly a quarter of people live in areas where there have been few impact studies, despite strong evidence that they are experiencing changes in temperature and precipitation patterns. In wealthier countries, that figure stands at only 3 percent.

“But it indicates that we’re not studying enough,” Callaghan said, “not that there isn’t anything happening.”

Otto attributes this discrepancy, known as an “attribution gap,” to a lack of capacity and funding for research in poor countries, as well as researchers’ tendency to reflect the priorities of wealthy nations.

In South Sudan, for example, efforts to understand flooding have been stymied by conflict and the difficulty of collecting weather data in the world’s youngest country.

Liz Stephens, an associate professor in climate risks and resilience at the University of Reading, wrote in an email that the Global Flood Awareness System from the Copernicus Emergency Management Service is “notoriously bad” at forecasting flooding in the White Nile and Blue Nile river basins. Without good data, scientists can’t easily say what places are likely to be deluged or warn when a disaster is about to hit. Officials may be caught off guard by weather events. Vulnerable people are less able to get out of harm’s way.

South Sudanese officials say half a million people — about 4 percent of the country’s population — have been displaced by the floods.

But the “attribution gap” makes machine-learning-based analyses like Callaghan’s all the more valuable, Otto said. These programs can help identify climate impacts even in places where there are not enough scientists studying them.

“It seems a very useful way … to understand better what climate change is costing us today in a global way that is more bottom-up,” Otto said.

A September study in Nature found that 60 percent of Earth’s oil and fossil methane gas and 90 percent of coal must remain in the ground for the world to have a chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) — a threshold that scientists say would spare humanity the most disastrous climate impacts.

Increasingly, groups are calling on President Biden to restrict fossil fuel production outright.

On Wednesday, a coalition of more than 380 groups filed a legal petition demanding that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stop issuing permits for new fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Two days later, hundreds of scientists submitted an open letter asking Biden to do the same.

“The reality of our situation is now so dire that only a rapid phase-out of fossil fuel extraction and combustion can fend off the worst consequences of the climate crisis,” they wrote.

In response to Monday’s protests, however, American Petroleum Institute spokeswoman Megan Bloomgren said curbing the country’s energy options would harm the economy and national security. “American energy is produced under some of the highest environmental standards in the world,” she said.

In other words, they have no intention of changing course.

The difficulty in studying climate change in regions currently suffering from things like war or the effects of climate change, is one part of why it’s so important to stop the imperialist policies of the United States in particular, and wealthy countries in general – the pattern for the last century and beyond has been for powerful nations to subject the less powerful ones to debt, invasions, coups, assassinations, death squads, and more, all in the name of securing the “interests” of a tiny ruling class. This is what drives the obscenely high emissions of the U.S. war machine, and the overthrow of regimes – like that of the Brazilian Workers Party, or the Bolivian Movement for Socialism – that are committed to both eliminating poverty and finding a way for us to live that doesn’t destroy the ecosystems on which we rely.

We can’t adapt to what’s happening if we don’t know what’s happening, and if we’re still focused on narrowminded ideas like profit and nationalism, we won’t have the resources to study the problem, let alone prepare for what’s coming.

If we want to avoid an unprecedented tide of death, we’re going to need truly revolutionary change in our political and economic systems. The alternative could well be extinction.


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So people are talking about conservative brains again…

This is a topic I find simultaneously fascinating and annoying. There is some evidence that conservatives and progressives- as defined in the U.S. – have differences in brain function that match differences in thought and behavior. Basically, conservatives seem to have a stronger threat response, and the related portions of the brain tend to be a bit bigger. According to the scientist in the video clip below, conservatives are also less likely to respond to strong emotional reactions with the kind of self-assessment that might help them spot misinformation designed to provoke those strong reactions. We don’t know if brain differences cause conservative thinking, or if the patterns of conservative thinking cause the brain differences.

I want to note that the language I’m using IS biased – I am quite certain that conservatives are wrong about the things on which we disagree, and I’m also reasonably certain that most of my readers are not conservative. I am writing from my own perspective on this, but one could just as easily switch this around and talk about “liberals” having a less developed amygdala or overdeveloped prefrontal cortex.

I think it’s good to know this stuff about ourselves as a species, and some of what Azarian says about how to deal with that is fine. I think he’s right about needing to put more effort into encouraging self-assessment and introspection as a way to build up the parts of the brain that might temper a threat response with what Terry Pratchett might call “second thoughts” – a meta-assessment of not just the thing that created the initial emotional reaction, but also of the reaction itself.

Where he loses me is when he starts talking about focusing on the things we agree about, rather than our differences, and using that as a starting point to have us all getting along, and uniting humanity under a materialistic understanding of reality. My objection is not because of the goal. I am firmly convinced that material analysis of our circumstances is vitally important, and the lack of that on the political/religious right is a serious problem.

But.

There’s an anecdote I saw a while back about a neuroscientist who was studying chicken brains, found that they don’t deal with smell the way we do, and concluded that chickens don’t have nostrils. This was rebutted by chicken farmers, who pointed out that a lifetime of working with chickens had left them quite certain that chickens do, in fact, have nostrils. The neuroscientist had focused entirely on the chickens’ brains, and hadn’t looked at the entire creature.

I couldn’t find where I initially read that account, and at this point I think it may well be false, or I’m mis-remembering it, but it gets at a reasonably common problem among those who have put in the effort to become experts in a particular specialization. It seems that becoming an expert – especially in a field known to be “difficult” – sometimes leads people to believe their expertise covers subjects in which they are not specialists.

In this case, I think that Azarian’s “plan” is hampered by an ignorance of sociology and politics.

To begin with, I think it’s strange that he talks as if getting everyone to agree on how the world works is a new idea. It’s also strange to me that he believes we can change how people think by applying a Bayesian system, as though the people whose minds he want to change are going to happily go through HIS process, unlike every previous attempt at something similar. He’s right about the problems caused by overstating certainty, but he seems to ignore the way right-wing propagandists have exploited the honest assessments of uncertainty that are the norm in scientific literature (evolution and climate science being possibly the most famous examples). He also seems to have no idea about the material factors in society that lead to misinformation campaigns designed specifically to confuse and obscure not just the truth, but also our processes for determining the truth. In a lot of ways, this feels like someone saying “We need to solve climate change by replacing fossil fuels with a mix of nuclear and renewable energy”, and then acting like the work is done.

It would be nice if everyone took a rational approach to analyzing every situation and claim, but that’s an end goal, not a plan for getting there. This makes Azarian just another voice in the chorus of people convinced that they could save the world if only everyone agreed with them.

But I think it’s actually a bit worse than that. Azarian says we should focus on our areas of agreement to avoid the emotional chain reactions that come with confrontation and disagreement. Again, this feels like a very surface-level analysis. Yes – we all get along better when we all suppress those parts of ourselves that cause conflict. And no – that has never been a viable path to changing people’s opinions or thought patterns. To begin with, if your primary approach to change relies on changing how hundreds of millions of people think, then the best-case scenario has your process of change taking several generations to really take effect. Humans don’t live in “the long term”. We can and should make plans for the long term, and work for the long term, but we’re stuck living in the present. Saying that the solution is to focus on areas of agreement also means that people who are being hurt by the way society works today should shut up about it for the sake of getting along.

This is as irrational an expectation as saying that people will always react calmly and thoughtfully when you tell them they’re wrong.

Take the example of Schrödinger’s Douchebag; that guy who will say something that sounds bigoted, and then decide whether they meant it based on the reaction of the group. If anyone pushes back, “it was just a joke!”, and if no one does, then everyone agrees it’s true. If you also push back on the idea that their bigotry is “just a joke”, then you’re the one causing conflict, because you can’t take a joke.

The fact is that there are people who like the world as it is, and they tend to be people who have a lot of power and material wealth. This is where you get twisted narratives like this one, demonstrated by Stephen King:

This is all wrong. The bill that Sinema and Manchin are obstructing is already a compromise – it’s already less than 70%, and the two “moderates” who are blocking everything are the ones refusing to accept anything less than 100% of what they want. For weeks now people have been blaming progressives for what’s going on. More recent tweets indicate that King may have gained a better understanding about what’s happening, but it’s not just an accident that he came to tweet that – it’s a deliberately false narrative of a kind that comes up every time U.S. progressives actually fight for something they want. Failing to concede to all right-wing demands is consistently framed as starting trouble and being unreasonable, and without real confrontation, what we get is movement to the right on economics and political power, over and over again.

This notion that we can just convert conservatives to rationality and material analysis by helping them reason through things is not a new one. What stands out in my mind is a sort of “Logic Bro” power fantasy found in the fanfiction Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. The basic premise is “what if Petunia had become a college professor and married another college professor, and they both raised Harry as a scientific child prodigy?”, and basically uses the shallowness of J.K. Rowling’s worldbuilding to allow Harry to perform feats of science-inspired magic and cleverness that astound and baffle all the greatest wizards, while he also uses the titular “methods of rationality” to reason Draco Malfoy out of his bigotry. Full disclosure, I enjoyed this story when I first read it. I also find it mostly unreadable now, but there’s something catchy about the idea that if we could just get the people we disagree with to just sit down and walk through everything with us, they’d see that of course they couldn’t be right.

I’m fond of saying that our brains are basically meat computers vulnerable to some level of reprogramming by anyone with access to our senses, including ourselves. Changing minds via one-on-one exploration of ideas is absolutely possible, if both parties are approaching the project in good faith. Changing minds on a larger scale through media is also possible.

But that’s not the same as changing how society works, or how power is exercised. It also doesn’t account for those – like fascists – who are less interested in what is or is not true than they are in the assertion of power over others. Unfortunately, all the reasonableness and non-violence in the world won’t help much if someone wants everyone who believes what you do dead, and they have the power to make it happen.

There is no silver bullet here. There’s no “weird trick” or “scientific technique” that will unite humanity under a common purpose. Worse, Azarian’s idea of focusing on a “common enemy”, even one as abstract as climate change or poverty, strikes me as downright irresponsible.

First, agreeing on climate change as a common enemy is unlikely to happen so long as the capitalists funding misinformation and obstruction retain the power to do so. They have no reason to change their minds, because the way things are is working just great, as far as they’re concerned. In the words of Rex Tillerson, their philosophy is “we’ll adapt to that”, so let’s keep drilling.

Second, and more importantly, agreeing on common problems and common enemies is a very dangerous approach. For example – fascists and socialists in the early 20th century agreed that capitalism wasn’t working, and that the people in charge were doing things wrong, and focused on the wrong goals.

Common enemy, common problem.

The solution was the difference that mattered. Socialists wanted to find a way to democratize the economy, and fascists wanted to return to a nonexistent golden age, and murder the bad people who were making the bad things happen. For all the Nazis actively pursued privatization and further empowerment of capitalists, their version of agreeing that capitalism had a problem can be found in the works of Gottfried Feder, whose work “Brechung der Zinsknechtschaft“, or “Breaking Interest Bondage” advocated against the “collection” of capital (particularly through charging interest), as different from “creation” of capital which was done by fine, upstanding German workers and businessmen.

This was just a repurposed version of the same kind of antisemitism found in “A Merchant of Venice”, and meshed very well with the broader Nazi movement to blame all the world’s woes on a global Jewish Conspiracy. It was also Feder’s justification for seizing the property of Jewish Germans.

If your focus is on finding agreement, and especially if you ignore issues of social justice and injustice, then what you have in Weimar Germany is a left that hates capitalism, and a right that hates capitalism – they agree on a problem! And in observing that, you are no closer to achieving any form of universal understanding. Having a “common enemy” is useless if one group wants to radically change how society works to reduce our contribution to the problem, and another group wants to murder people who’re different until the problem goes away.

Let’s break it down further – we know that climate change is going to cause food shortages. It’s already hurting agriculture, and that’s only going to get worse as the temperature rises. My solution would be to invest heavily in weather-proof food production on a global scale, without regard for profit. Things like edible algae and bacterial cultures (usually sold in powder/flour form) aren’t necessarily the most delicious food, but they are something that can act as a backstop on famine. Further, having such facilities in every part of the world means that even if several areas are hit by  problems that shut down both conventional agriculture and food factories – wildfires, storms, war, etc. – it’s far more likely that the rest of the world will have the resources to both feed themselves and to provide food to those in need.

What’s the fascist solution? We’ve already seen some of it. When refugees came north from Guatemala fleeing both violence and drought, they wanted not just a wall that would stop the refugees, they wanted that wall electrified, and they talked about the refugees as an invasion that should be met with military force. The fascist solution is to kill people so there will be more food to go around for those who remain. This is both wholly unacceptable, and entirely useless for solving the problem.

Uniting against a common enemy is all well and good when that enemy is a group of people who are attacking. Despite the rabid anti-communism in the U.S. government (remember – the “Allied Powers” invaded Russia in 1918 in an attempt to prevent the Bolsheviks from holding power), the Americans joined with the U.S.S.R. to defeat the Nazis. The problem is, that unity only lasts as long as the enemy, and it only works if it’s an actual enemy who can be defeated through force of arms. Insofar as that applies to climate change, who’s the enemy?

I’ve been clear that I think the enemy is the capitalists who are working to maintain the system that keeps them in power. My solution is to take their power away as soon as possible, so that they can’t spread misinformation and buy politicians to prevent action on climate change that might hurt their profits. My preference is to do that nonviolently, but I’m not particularly optimistic; history has shown that capitalists generally prefer murder to losing their wealth. The fascist solution is to give all that power to an authoritarian, so he (and it always does seem to be a “he”) can “do what must be done”, which invariably means “do violence to the right people”.

To be clear, I do not think that Bobby Azarian is a fascist. I think that his work on brain differences is good, and useful. His thoughts on how provoking genuine self-analysis can “strengthen” the relevant parts of the brain are also good and useful. What’s lacking is a deeper understanding of how human thought manifests as behavior within a society. Even that, by itself, is not that big of a problem – specialization is a good thing overall – but in developing his “solution” to the problem of conservative thought, I think he has shown the failure of his own system – he thinks his analysis is good enough to be presented as a solution, when in reality he’s missing data at the “input” end, and he doesn’t even seem to know those data exist to be analyzed.


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Climate grief and perceptions of time

If you haven’t watched Arrival, I recommend you do so before reading this. It’s unlike any other first contact movie I’m aware of, and it’s worth experiencing un-spoiled. I’ll add that it is not, in any sense, a horror or action movie.

We are now caught in the storm of climate change. We have entered an age of endless recovery, and because of that, we need to make major changes to how we run things as part of our efforts to recover from disasters. It’s common for the process of rebuilding to include measures taken to reduce the damage next time a disaster occurs – it’s why we see different architecture evolve in places that are more vulnerable to things like earthquakes, for example. But with the climate warming at an accelerating rate, we cannot afford to be reactive. The scientific method can act like a strobe light on a stormy sea, giving us glimpses of the ever-shifting future. It’s not enough for us to plot out every wave that will hit our ship, but it will show us where the big swells and troughs are, and help us steer into them in a way that will reduce our chances of capsizing.

-Grim Reaping: Climate change and agriculture

In the movie Arrival, the main character Louise learns a non-linear alien language. In doing so, her understanding of time changes, as does her ability to perceive time, as it relates to her own life. Rather than living her life as a sequence of events, and the memories of those events, she begins to live all moments in her life simultaneously, experiencing them as they connect to each other. As she held her husband for the first time, she could remember all the other times she would hold him in the future, as well as the eventual failure of their relationship.

In the first moments of the movie, we hear Louise as narrator, speaking to her daughter as we watch a montage of Hannah’s birth, life, and childhood death of a rare and incurable disease. As the plot progresses, we realize that all the flashbacks Louise is having of her daughter’s life are actually glimpses forward in time. Before she even started a romantic relationship with Hannah’s father, Louise already remembered the entirety of Hannah’s life, and the heartbreak of losing her, and of losing the husband who blamed her for not trying to change the future and spare them all the pain.

While it’s never explicitly stated, I think the movie implies that the future is actually set. It doesn’t seem likely that Louise had the option of not having Hannah, and losing her. It was grief she knew was coming. At the same time, she also had all the memories of Hannah’s life – not just the pain of loss, but the joy of raising and loving a child. All the happiness and sorrow of a human life, laid out in advance.

The scientific method can act like a strobe light on a stormy sea, giving us glimpses of the ever-shifting future. It’s not enough for us to plot out every wave that will hit our ship, but it will show us where the big swells and troughs are, and help us steer into them in a way that will reduce our chances of capsizing. Unlike Louise, we can’t access our own futures to inform our present actions. Instead we just have those glimpses – clear enough to know what’s coming on a large scale, and obscure enough that many can shore up their denial by focusing on what we don’t know, to avoid confronting what we do.

When we do look at what we know, it’s hard to see much beyond the death. Arrival starts with the tragedy of a mother losing her daughter. Bad times stand out to us. In society as it exists, much of what we do involves avoiding bad experiences, and seeking good ones. The highs and the lows stand out to us, but when we learn of potential suffering in our future, it captures our attention, and we try to avoid it. That’s true when we see a rattlesnake on the trail ahead, and it’s true when we see the horrors of climate change on the horizon.

And with something like climate change, confronting reality also means accepting that at this point, there’s almost no chance that we can avoid tragedy on a scale that’s difficult to process.

You’re driving through your home town, and then, for just a minute, you can see the familiar landscape stripped barren by drought and famine, or engulfed in flames like the images we’ve seen from the United States, and Canada, and Greece, and so many other places. Can you grieve for people who haven’t died? I suppose that’s nothing new. What else do you call it when you fear the death of someone you love? When your brain conjures the image of life without them?

But that’s just worrying. It’s our imaginations creating something that could happen – we know it happens to other people “all the time”, but there’s no particular reason to think that it will. We calm those fears with the reminder that it happens to other people, at least until it does happen to us. We all know death is coming for us, sooner or later. We generally go through life ignoring that, because we can’t change it. Worrying about it too much can consume us.

I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory.
When’s it gonna get me?
In my sleep, Seven feet ahead of me?
If I see it comin’ do I run or do I let it be?
Hamilton: My shot

Death is certain. We take steps to come to terms with that fact. We work to prepare ourselves and each other for every time we witness the end of a life – and all of us will witness that in one way or another.

Climate change is killing people now. It will kill a great many more within our lifetimes. It’s very possible that by the end of my life, the human population will be reduced by hundreds of millions due to heat, famine, and other climate-driven catastrophes. I can’t see their faces but I can see enough to know that they are dying and I can’t stop it. I can’t even see enough to know whether I will be among their number, though I’d like not to be.

I want to keep watch, and to see if that strobe will show me a glimpse of hope before I lose the ability to experience. Even if I don’t, well – I’ll live till then, and do what I can to provide that hope for someone else. Is that all we can do? Keep ourselves going by telling ourselves that there’s a good future out there, that we just can’t see yet?

Maybe.

Have you lost someone you love? Have you lost a pet you’ve had for years? Have you ended a relationship that used to give you joy? The pain can be unbearable. In the middle of it, it’s hard to notice anything else. But the pain at the end isn’t all there is to life, and it’s not all there is to death. Raksha, my dog, is going to die soon. It’s not that she has a set prognosis or anything, it’s that she’s 14 years old, has arthritis, and can’t see well. In general, 15 years is the upper limit for dogs like her. A couple years ago Tegan and I decided that the primary consideration was giving her as good a life as we can in the time she has left. Inflicting the pain of invasive treatments wouldn’t be worth the extra couple months it might buy, especially since we can’t explain what’s happening to her.

It’s going to suck when it happens. I try not to think about it.

Do I regret the 14 years I’ve spent living with her? No. Will I? Maybe sometimes, but I wouldn’t be who I am without having had her in my life. In the end, it’s not about the end, it’s about everything else.

The future looks bleak. If humanity makes it through to the other side of this nightmare we’ve crafted for ourselves, I doubt it will be in my lifetime. Even so, I’ll keep fighting to bring the world I want to create closer to me, and in the meantime, seek happiness around me as I go.


Due to my immigration status, this is my only form of income for the foreseeable future, and it’s currently not enough to make ends meet. If you like the work I do, please share it around, and please consider supporting me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. It costs as little as $1 per month (though more is appreciated), and gets you access to a little bit of extra content, and early access to some things like my climate-related short stories.

U.S. immigration policy is deliberately cruel under both major parties. This must change.

Disturbing photos and video from the U.S.-Mexico border show Haitian refugees being attacked by Border Patrol agents on horses with whips. At the same time, the Biden administration is deporting people back to Haiti, even as that country faces a massive natural disaster and political upheaval on top of the generations of brutal economic repression from colonial powers.

It’s particularly nice of that one agent to announce to the world that this is exactly what it looks like. White supremacy has always played a major role in U.S. immigration law, That has been true under Democratic rule, and under Republican rule. We should be standing in solidarity with these refugees, and welcoming them, not greeting them with whips and insults.

These atrocities will not stop until U.S. policy is based on what’s good for humanity, and not what’s good for a tiny ruling class. None of our “leaders” are willing to confront reality, and as climate change continues to displace people, these atrocities will get worse.

Our ruling class continues to make the choice depressingly clear: Socialism, or barbarism

Dear Small Business Owners: We need to talk about fascism

Most of the time when people talk about capitalists, we’re talking about the ones whose net worth tens of millions and up. Small business owners are generally categorized as “the little guy” that makes America function. I suppose there’s a degree of truth to that, but this pandemic and the response to it have highlighted a class conflict that will cause a lot of problems if we don’t figure out a way around it. It’s not a new problem, and I think a lot of it has to do with how incentives are structured, and “morality” is constructed under capitalism.

As we entered the pandemic, it was clear very early on that the best possible outcome for the most people relied on a real lockdown, enabled by massive government assistance to those who could not make ends meet without their wages. This, of course, was unacceptable to a capitalist class whose view of the world revolves entirely around profit and the capitalist religion’s deity, The Free Market. It was surreal to watch politicians and pundits tear their hear out over the “moral hazard” of paying people to stay home during the most deadly pandemic in a century. No real lockdown was achieved in the U.S. Instead, there was a strange “compromise” that meant people who were already well off got to isolate and protect themselves, and people who had no political power – workers – disproportionately non-white, and the elderly trapped in various end-of-life care facilities – were still being exposed, and they made up a sizable chunk of the 671,000 deaths we’ve counted so far.

The only clear benefit the working class got was the now-expired eviction moratorium. The inadequate stimulus checks, and the good – and now expired – unemployment assistance were nice, but for the most part they went directly into the pockets of the rich, as people spent that money on the myriad of large price tags the United States has placed on being alive.

But small business owners – particularly those who ran in-person services – didn’t see that income, because people were trying not to catch a deadly disease. Rather than simply pushing for more direct relief for their businesses, a lot of them pushed for an end to relief for the working class. They called for the government to basically starve the population into working for poverty wages, while exposing themselves to a deadly disease.

I talked before about how a lot of people aren’t willing to take the jobs they used to have, because the way they were fired at the first sign of trouble demonstrated that the one thing that had made their poverty wages worthwhile – the reliability – was a fiction. The short-term gain of firing workers who couldn’t work has led to longer-term problems, as workers aren’t willing to work themselves to death for wages that don’t even cover the cost of living, and a boss who will cut them loose to fend for themselves the second they think doing so is better for their own bank account.

What’s interesting about all this is that small business owners – the ones who actually own small businesses, not the hedge fund manager types who’re classified as “small businesses” because there aren’t many people working for them – are often playing at being capitalists more than they actually are capitalists. If they take a serious hit, and their business fails, they become (horror of horrors) workers. And that seems to terrify them.

This desire to be capitalists, as opposed to workers, has historically led small business owners, to side with the anti-union, anti-worker, pro-capitalist policies of fascism, while turning a blind eye to the racial and ethnic elements, and to the escalating atrocities and injustice. As with firing workers at the beginning of the pandemic, all of this makes perfect “business sense.” A lack of active, organized socialists means no danger of your business – and the hope of wealth – being taken away by the workers (which would put the owner in the nightmarish position of becoming a worker). A lack of trade unions means your workers can’t bargain collectively, so you can do things like paying each one as little as you think they’ll accept. A lack of ethnic minorities means there’s nobody around to make you think about what happened to them, so you can just go about your business in peace.

One of the primary projects in maintaining capitalism is the constant moral indoctrination. We are taught to separate our sense of morality along the class divide. It’s good to care about other humans, but that’s separate from “the economy,” and if the economy is hurt, well that clearly hurts everyone, right? And we’re taught that any effort to make our society a better system for human happiness will hurt the economy, which will then hurt the same people you’re trying to help. God has a pla -sorry, wrong theology- The Free Market will fix everything if we just put our faith in it, and serve it without question.

Part of the reason the propaganda on this subject is so relentless is that this is the primary place where the mythology of capitalism collides with reality. The free market really is a myth, and it always has been. Capitalists rely entirely on the government to enforce their claims to ownership, and to use the lethal dangers of poverty to force workers to accept wage slavery in exchange for survival. Try to maintain that fiction and its inherent contradictions indefinitely, and the lower classes, ethnic minorities, and members of the majority who can’t stomach the endless rivers of blood for profit start to fight back, and fight for change.

And that, historically, seems to be where a capitalist country turns to fascism.

I want to pause here to address something about the United States. I can’t say with confidence that the US is unique in this regard, but it certainly stands out, and not just because of that country’s status as the center of a global empire. It is an unquestioned fact that U.S. racial policy and practices directly inspired the leaders of Nazi Germany. It’s also a simple fact that the United States has had a fascist movement within it since before that political ideology had a name beyond white supremacy. As fascism rose in Europe for the first time (I wish I could say the only time), it also rose in the United States, and has never really gone away. It lost popularity after Pearl Harbor, but even some the soldiers who the U.S. lionizes as “The Greatest Generation” retained their sympathy for fascists, driven by their bigotry, as shown by this excerpt from Howard Zinn’s account of Freedom Day in Hattiesburg, Mississippi (the censored words are my doing):

As we entered the jailhouse a few minutes before 8:00 a.m., the police dogs were growling and barking in their kennels. We turned over the bond money.

A moment later, Oscar came down the corridor unescorted. A few moments before, the corridor had been full of policemen, but now there was not a soul around. Oscar was still wearing his badly worn corduroy pants, and his old boots, caked with mud. His blue workshirt was splattered with blood, and under it his T-shirt was very bloody. The right side of his face was swollen. His nose looked as if it were broken. Blood was caked over his eye.

He told us what had happened. They had put a prisoner into his cell who was in a state of great agitation, very upset about the demonstration at the courthouse. He had been a paratrooper in World War II and told Oscar he “would rather kill a n****r lover than a Nazi or a J*p.” He pushed a cigarette near Oscar’s face and said he would burn his eyes out. Oscar called for the jailer and asked to be removed from the cell. The ex-paratrooper asked if Oscar was “one of them n****r-lovers.” The jailer nodded. The next thing Oscar knew he was lying on the floor. He had been unconscious. Now he was being kicked. He was bleeding. The police came and took the ex-paratrooper out of the cell. Oscar made his phone call.

If the United States is the greatest in the world at anything, it seems to be at telling pretty lies about itself, and convincing most of its population to believe them.

I took time to touch on the history of fascism in America because that history acts as camouflage for the fascist movement of the present. In 2019, for example, we learned that one reason Twitter wasn’t treating right-wing extremists the way they treat groups like ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, was because the algorithm couldn’t tell the difference between U.S. right-wing extremists, and a number of GOP politicians. The simple reason for this is that there is no difference. The political backlash from openly naming the Republican Party for what it is was more than even Twitter, a huge and powerful corporation, was willing to risk. This level of open fascism in the GOP is new, in some ways, but a lot of it is very, very old.

I want to take a moment to review Laurence Britt’s 14 characteristics of fascism again. Remember that not all fascist movements will necessarily have every simple element on this list:

  1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
    Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
  2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
    Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
  3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
    The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
  4. Supremacy of the Military
    Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
  5. Rampant Sexism
    The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.
  6. Controlled Mass Media
    Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
  7. Obsession with National Security
    Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
  8. Religion and Government are Intertwined
    Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.
  9. Corporate Power is Protected
    The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
  10. Labor Power is Suppressed
    Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed .
  11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
    Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.
  12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
    Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
  13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
    Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
  14. Fraudulent Elections
    Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

I really hope it’s clear to you how this description maps onto the modern U.S. conservative movement and the GOP, especially in light of what we’ve seen in the last year. Many people have been making this case throughout Trump’s time as the leader of the GOP, but think a bit about this list, and about American history. The only two items that haven’t been very clearly a part of US society for most of the last century are control of the media and fraudulent elections. Even there, the Red Scare was an effort to deliberately crush leftism, both in media, and in politics. Any idea that was viewed as anti-capitalist was conflated as anti-American, and the FBI, the Secret Police of the United States, has spent government resources to crush left-wing politics in the United States so effectively that even the moderate social democratic (and still capitalist) policies of people like Bernie Sanders are treated as murderous extremism, with wealthy media figures like Chris Matthews melting down on national TV about the fear of being executed in Central Park.

In many ways, the basic infrastructure of fascism is the background radiation of the United States, and has been all along. It just sits there, waiting for someone to decide it’s worth the social risk to make use of it.

And so as the shift has been made, closer and closer to a fully and openly fascist society, it’s been hard for some people to see it, because it doesn’t look that different from what they’ve always known. And since I know I’m a good person, and I haven’t had a problem with it thus far, that must mean that it’s not fascism! If it was, then I – as a good person – would be horrified and taking to the streets. But it doesn’t seem that much different from everything else, and I’ve got this small business that’s struggling – it’s taking up all of my time and energy, and now I can’t find workers who will take what I’m willing to pay them!

So small business owners ask the government to help us out by threatening or simply removing the workers’ food and shelter, so working for them – at whatever wage the boss offers – is the only way to survive. The government also helps by undermining unions, so that employees don’t have the means to exert any kind of power over the jobs that eat up most of their lives. Of course that helps the “little guys” a bit – they get a desperate, fearful workforce to keep the bosses from BECOMING workers – but much more than that, it protects corporate power (number 9 on the list) by suppressing labor power (number 10 on the list).

But again, it does help the small business owners cling to their status as “capitalists,” and so they support the party that does the most of that, and try hard to find reasons to justify it, and to justify looking the other way for the escalating nationalism, the minority scapegoating, and so on.

This is one way that liberal people, who would press a “save that person” button if it was offered, can end up passively supporting a fascist movement. After that point, the worse things get, the higher the emotional toll of accepting reality gets, and the more pressure there is to keep looking away. And humans don’t like being told that we’re bad people, so some small business owners get defensive and angry. They begin to hate those who try to fight back against the regime, because those people are a constant reminder that those who aren’t fighting back might be bad people for it. They support the regime, and they are generally rewarded for it. In modern America this ranges from people going out of their way to buy products they don’t need, to the support of legislators, to crowdfunding campaigns to support people seen as “heroes for the cause.”

This seems to be the path we’re on right now, and as the climate continues to throw chaos at us, and the Democrats continue to focus on failed policies like austerity and “free market” solutions, I fear it will get worse. I hope I’m wrong, but with the way things are going, I think small business owners are going to have to make a choice about whether to side with life and justice, or with their short-term economic interests, and the horror of an openly fascist United States of America.

There’s a famous antifascist play called “On the Frontier” by W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, a play that I once had the pleasure of being in actually, in which a wealthy arms manufacturer called Valerian makes weapons for a fascist dictator.

At the climax of the play the fascist dictator is overthrown, by his own people who also kill Valerian himself. But just before that there’s a crucial scene in which Valerian’s friend comes to him and says, “It’s all over, the revolution has happened, you need to run away with me now and abandon all your wealth and power and flee to another country with me.” And Valerian says, “No.”

He chooses to stay, and moreover, he chooses to give his money and weapons not to the people trying to overthrow the fascist dictator but to the fascists. And it’s choice that distinguishes Valerian from the victims of the fascist government he supports.

I’m not suggesting we should start executing industrialists; I’m illustrating that if you’re a fascist, and antifascists come for you, you have a choice.

You can give it up. […] And the historical evidence supports this: when fascists in a particular city stop getting together and organising antifascists go back to their lives as well. In fact some antifascists engage with fascists and provide services to try and get them out of the movement so they get on move on with their lives.

But if you’re a person of colour, if you’re trans, or a person with a disability, or gay, or Jewish, or whatever and fascists come for you there is nothing you can do that will make them happy except stop existing.

Abigail Thorn, The Philosophy of Antifa


Strangely, the tens of thousands of dollars I’ve spent on rent over the years haven’t reduced my need to keep paying richer people than me for the right to live. Due to my immigration status, this is my only form of income for the foreseeable future, and it’s currently not enough to make ends meet. If you like the work I do, please share it around, and please consider supporting me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. It costs as little as $1 per month (though more is appreciated), and gets you access to a little bit of extra content, and early access to some things like my climate-related short stories.

Folks on the Gulf Coast of the U.S. are going to need help

Hurricane Ida will hit Louisiana later today, and it seems like it’s going to hit New Orleans. It’s a smaller storm than Katrina was, but it’s also a stronger storm. A fair amount of money has gone into making New Orleans more storm-proof since 2005, but I have to admit I’m worried it won’t be enough. I’ll probably write more about this in the coming days, but in the mean time, I guess I have a diffuse call to action.

First, if you’re in the area and still trying to evacuate, check your routes – if the traffic is too bad, you could get caught out in your car when the storm hits, and that’s more likely to be bad than not. If you’re not out already, take shelter.

For everyone else, start making plans and gathering resources. Pitch in to efforts to get help to those affected, but more than that, make plans to push the federal government hard. Both Republicans and Democrats have a history of favoring austerity even in disasters, and I don’t generally have high hopes for Democratic leadership. Maybe they’ll see this as an opportunity to prove they could have done better on Katrina than Bush did, but I worry. Find your members of Congress and push them to call for ending their vacation early to deal with the crisis. If they refuse, ask them why their vacation is more important than human lives. Do it on camera if you can.

When it comes to things like donating goods, please pay close attention to what’s actually needed. Disasters like this turn everything upside down, and conditions on the ground can render some goods more or less useless.

Also bear in mind that we’re still in the middle of the pandemic, and there are plenty of people who still aren’t vaccinated. Many may be anti-vaxxers, but many have been unable to get time or access to the shots. That’s another thing that may be best solved through political action.

As always, I hope this post will be proven to be needlessly pessimistic, but with the hot conditions leading to a stronger storm, and the ongoing pandemic, I fear that every hour without action by the federal government will kill more people. Do what you can with the power you have, and take care of yourselves and each other.

A response to the IPCC report

In a lot of ways I feel like nothing has changed. The IPCC report confirms what we’ve known for a very long time, and I gave up on the world I know still existing when I’m old about a decade ago. We still need to eliminate fossil fuel use. Because the warming has gone so far, there’s also zero question in my mind that we need nuclear power – especially for industry, as one of my esteemed commenters has pointed out – as well as solar and wind power. The fact that the warming will continue for centuries or even millennia, unless we start pulling vast amounts of CO2 out of the atmosphere at a currently unattainable rate means that our survival as a species now depends entirely on our technology. All other tools of survival are dependent on the climate conditions under which we’ve evolved, and those are gone. For all practical purposes, they are gone forever. We may be able to re-terraform the planet and return the climate to a temperature that’s more optimal for humanity, but that’s at least a lifetime away, and in order to get there, we have to survive.

We also need to stop driving our entire society based on what generates profit for rich assholes. There is no way that the scale of change we need will be more profitable in the short term than a continuation of the trajectory we are on. That means that our ruling class, who got and maintain their power by sacrificing the lives and happiness of others and who clearly believe they are the best people in the world to decide our fates, will happily drive us to extinction while believing to their dying breaths that nobody could possibly have done better. We are out of time. In my view we have been for many years. If we leave it to those in power, our response to climate change will be increasingly authoritarian societies, mass murder, needless destruction of land and resources through warfare, and ultimately an extinction that may have been preventable. I know this sounds alarmist to some, but I’d like to point out that I got the same response a decade ago when I said people should start thinking about storing food against emergencies, for the sake of their communities. These days it’s getting harder to find someone who would call that alarmist. Capitalism is driving us to extinction, and fascism is on the rise on a global scale.

I also want to repeat that I think extinction may be preventable. Based on where our society is at, right now, I do not think the odds are in our favor. I do, however, believe we can change those odds. I still believe both survival and a better, more just world is possible, but the longer we rely on our current rulers (some of whom have been involved in politics for longer than I’ve been alive, and yet haven’t come close to dealing with this problem), the worse our chances will get. I also believe that we don’t have a lot of room to screw up, which is why I’ve been advocating that we start the process of building a better society right now from the ground up, as part of building the power to create the political change we need. We need that resilience no matter what’s coming, and taking that approach seems to me to be the best way to save lives through both climate change and political change.

It’s a lot. It’s too much, really. There is no justice to what’s happening. Those responsible still wield unimaginable wealth and power, and the people suffering and dying the most are the poorest among us, not just in those nations kept in poverty by the rich nations, but also within the rich nations. Add in the pandemic, and there’s a burden of grief upon everyone who understands what’s going on. It’s hard to see any hope at all sometimes. We’re stuck in a fog bank, and not only can we not see a way out, we know there’s a very real possibility that the fog now envelops the entire world. Insofar as the temperature is going to keep rising, we may be stuck in that “fog” for the rest of our lives. Our best hope to get out is to build new spaces that are fog-proof, so that we can actually see each other and be whole again. In the meantime, we do what people always do when stuck in the fog. We call to each other, so we know we’re not alone. We feel our way forward, and guide those around us to better footing. We build fog horns to call those beyond reach of our voices, and warn them of rocks, or direct them to harbor.

I’m planning to post science fiction much more often here, and more regularly to my patrons, because I think a lot of people have trouble imagining how human society could exist on such a strange and hostile world. Storytelling – narrative of one form or another – is a method of communicating information and ideas that seems to be universal within our species. Hopefully I can find ways of doing it that can help at least some of you in that regard. I also decided, based on comments, to engage a little more directly with bad news and the darker end of things. Beyond that, I’ll keep trying to make content that will help people figure out their role in all this, and I’ll at least consider requests if there are particular things someone wants me to look into.

On that note, I think I’ll leave you with Rebecca Watson’s video about the IPCC report, because I like the tone:

 

The way the United States treats people with disabilities is deliberately cruel, and beyond unacceptable.

I’m working on a longer piece about disability, accessability, and some trends we should be working to change, but in the meantime, check out this interview, and pressure your legislators to support legislation that move to deal with at least some of this. You can text SIGN SSINOW to 50409 to push Schumer to include improvements to Supplemental Security Income, and move away from a deliberately cruel system that traps disabled folks in poverty and isolation. This is also something worth pressing your senators and representative on. There is no justification for this.

Mutual aid, 6th edition

Updated on the 1st of August, 2021

With the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, joblessness is increasing, and people are in need of help. This is particularly a problem in the US, but many others in other countries are also struggling, and it’s likely the number of people needing help will be increasing as the crisis continues. This isn’t going to be over any time soon, and the economic impacts are going to last even after vaccines have been widely distributed.

To that end, I’ve put together a list of different resources for people who are struggling to make ends meet. This is a mix of both ways to seek help, and ways to give help to those in need. I will update and re-post this at least once a week while the pandemic and associated economic fallout continue. This is currently mostly focused on the U.S., with some UK resources, but I want to expand it to cover anyone needing help anywhere if possible. There’s a lot here, and it’s currently not particularly organized, because I don’t currently have a system for doing so. I also haven’t included much about things like PPE crafting or distribution – this is mostly focused on aid relating to  food, housing, and other things that currently require money.

Because of the duration of the pandemic, and the lack of help from the US government, many of these may be running out of resources, so please help if you can! Supporting each other in times of need is how humanity has gotten this far, and for those who have more than they need, now’s the time to give back to the society that made that wealth possible. If you want to start a mutual aid network in your area, here’s a guide on how to do that.

I think it’s worth mentioning that if you’re doing OK, and you want to help, contributing to mutual aid efforts is one way to do that. Actually contributing your time and labor, in whatever capacity you’re able, is also likely to be valuable. Many of the initial projects to help people survive the combination of a pandemic and the cruelty of a capitalist system were short-term efforts to deal with what most expected to be a short-term problem. The pandemic continues, and in case you missed it, climate change isn’t going to give us any breathing room. Mutual aid can’t solve all our problems, but it can help people survive, and it can be a tool for networking and organizing. That’s something YOU will need going forward, dear reader, unless you want to be entirely at the mercy of the billionaires and their endless greed.

If anyone has corrections or resources I’ve missed, please include them in the comments and I’ll add them in to the next round. 

Twitter thread on resources for people facing eviction – share it around, and add to it if you have anything to add. 

  • From Bigdoorbrigade.com, who have done a great job pulling this stuff together. Look at this stuff, but check them out too, because they’ve got more on how to help, how to organize, and so on:

https://www.mutualaidhub.org/ – a map of mutual aid projects and requests around the United States. FYI, McAffee flagged this site as somehow worrisome. I’m not sure why.

https://mutualaiddisasterrelief.org/ – Mutual Aid Disaster Relief – solidarity, not charity. This is an opportunity to help, and by doing so you increase the odds that you’ll have help when the next climate disaster hits your region

It’s Going Down  is a digital community center for anarchist, anti-fascist, autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements. They have a list of mutual aid efforts focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic across the United States as well as some in Canada.

This is a US-based google doc with a huge amount of resources linked, from guides, to counter-propaganda, to existing aid efforts. Tactics and info are relevant across the board, most of the linked aid efforts are centered in the US.

Coronavirus resource list “This kit is a collectivized document that will be updated as more mutual aid projects and resources appear online. Recognizing that not everyone will have access to great internet to access some of these, I encourage you to apply these offline as well as online.”

COVID-19 Mutual Aid UK – Mutual aid resources in the United Kingdom

For those interested, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now did an interview with Dean Spade, who created Big Door Brigade.

The Human Network Initiative is a collaboration between Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. They have put together this collation of local and state resources

The Asian American Resource Workshop has created a wider ranging sheet of resources and mutual aid groups. It includes a lot of information on how to combat prejudice and xenophobia in this unprecedented situation

The folks behind the news site Boston.org have set up the Boston Helps network

A neighborhood group has been organized for Jamaica Plain and Roxbury, with similar groups in many Boston neighborhoods

Just outside of the city, communities like Cambridge have also seen mutual aid groups being set up

Wildcats want to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has supported us so far! With your solidarity, we have raised just enough to take care of the basic needs of all 80 graduate student workers who were recently fired for grade withholding. Thanks to you, we have been able to rest assured that our rent, food, and other needs will be covered. Your donations also fed thousands of strikers and our allies on our month-long picket line and covered medical and legal expenses of those who were violently arrested by University of California police. This fund continues to be the foundation for our ongoing fight for a cost of living adjustment (COLA).

MAP staff are already doing all we can to support local medical services who are serving Palestinian communities living under occupation and as refugees. We have already provided emergency hygiene supplies to 1,200 vulnerable Palestinians living in Gaza. We anticipate further need for an emergency medical response in the weeks and months ahead. Please help us be there for Palestinians during this crisis with a donation today.

Your donation can help pay for:

  • Hygiene Kits
  • Antiseptics
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Medicines and medical supplies

The chancellor’s announcement now helps millions of hospitality workers, but sadly still so many are not protected by this as they don’t have contracts, were paid off pay roll or dismissed by employers before the announcement. We decided to take action to help those that are still hurting. We have the technology, contacts & understanding to make a difference quickly.

We have created ‘The Hospitality Workers Emergency Fund’ to allow the kind hearted, altruistic & caring UK public to donate to an emergency fund to help the most vulnerable & in need in our sector during this time. Our mission was always to champion hourly paid tipped workers, we never imagined in this way…

  • This journalist furlough fund is trying to help journalists who’ve seen their pay stopped for one reason or another. You can donate here, or follow a link to request aid

Here are just a few other places to donate that I’ve seen floating around. There are likely more local efforts where you live.
Nationwide: UNITE HERE’s fund for impacted workers

I’ll keep updating this as I find new stuff, and as always, let me know if you come across things I’ve missed, and please consider donating to my patreon, as I’m barely making ends meet myself!