New research shows climate action will save lives in the short term. Our leaders will not care.

A new study has found that decarbonizing the U.S. energy system would save tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars every year, and this will do nothing to make those in power move any faster.

A new study adds to the case for urgent decarbonization of the U.S. energy system, finding that slashing air pollution emissions from energy-related sources would bring near-term public health gains including preventing over 50,000 premature deaths and save $608 billion in associated benefits annually.

I’m going to make a brief aside here. At this point I have no faith that anyone with the power to make a difference on climate change will actually do so any time soon. Those empowered by our system have made it clear, through decades of inaction, that they have no interest in doing anything to prevent that system from destroying us all.

It’s also worth noting that the ideas of saving lives and money don’t actually hold any value to the people running our world. That number of premature deaths isn’t far off from the number killed by the US for-profit healthcare system, but because that system makes a few people very rich, it’s protected by both major parties. It doesn’t matter that a universal system would save money and lives, because that’s not the point. Likewise, the folks running the U.S. government are perfectly fine pouring trillions of dollars into endless war all over the planet. They do not care about lives lost or money wasted, as long as they get some personal benefit in the process.

That said, I like research like this. I think this kind of thing is useful in making the case that there are far fewer downsides to climate action than some would have us believe. It’s also useful for making the case that those who claim to care about life, money, or climate change are just lying for votes, for as long as they’re not doing everything they can for real climate action. When it’s clear that the truth is not enough to move the powerful to action, we need to consider how research like this can be used.

Published Monday in the journal GeoHealth, the analysis by Mailloux and fellow UW-Madison researchers focuses on emissions of fine particulate matter, referred to as PM2.5, and of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from the electric power, transportation, building, and industrial sectors.

Those sectors account for 90% of U.S. CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the paper notes. The bulk of the emissions from the sectors comes from fossil fuel use, though the study points to “a substantial portion” of particulate pollution stemming from wood and bark burning and “a small portion” resulting from non-combustion sources.

“Many of the same activities and processes that emit planet-warming GHGs also release health-harming air pollutant emissions; the current air quality-related health burden associated with fossil fuels is substantial,” the analysis states.

The study also notes that “the current pace of decarbonization in the U.S. is still incompatible with a world in which global warming is limited to 1.5°C or 2°C above pre-industrial levels,” and that “deep and rapid cuts in GHG emissions are needed in all energy-related sectors—including electric power, transportation, buildings, and industry—if states and the country as a whole are to achieve reductions consistent with avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.”

The researchers measured the potential benefits of the removal of the air pollution, ranging from all-cause mortality to non-fatal heart attacks and respiratory-related hospital admissions, using the Environmental Protection Agency’s CO-Benefits Risk Assessment tool.

They also looked at the impacts of both U.S.-wide and regional action on the reductions; they found that nationwide actions delivered the biggest benefits, though “all regions can prevent hundreds or thousands of deaths by eliminating energy-related emissions sources within the region, which shows the local benefits of local action to mitigate air quality issues.”

According to the analysis, the pollution reductions would save 53,200 premature deaths and provide $608 billion in annual benefits. The avoided deaths account for 98% of the monetary benefits. But apart from avoidance of human lives lost, the particulate matter reductions offer further benefits including up to 25,600 avoided non-fatal heart attacks, as well as preventing 5,000 asthma-related emergency room visits and avoiding 3.68 million days of work lost.

I know the tone of this post has been gloomy. It might be possible for me to not be consumed by frustration at the state of things, but if so, I’ve yet to figure out how. That said, it is good to know that the right choice will have benefits beyond “merely” keeping the planet hospitable to human life. As much as I’m afraid I’ll be saying this until I die of old age, it’s good that the only real obstacles to a better world are political. It means that we know we can do things differently, and make a better world in the process.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that the lives saved by taking these measures would be disproportionately poor and non-white. I’m in favor of real, targeted reparations, but the reality is that most actions we take to benefit all of humanity will benefit all humanity, if we actually do the work right. It should come as no surprise that those people most subjected to the ravages of pollution are also those with the least social and political power.

This study will do no more to move our so-called leaders than have the studies that came before it, but as with those prior studies, it makes it clear that we need to take matters into our own hands. Those who we’ve foolishly empowered to solve problems for us will not act until it is far too late. Sometimes that knowledge makes me despair, but then I remember that if we can figure out how to actually take the steps, a better world is within reach.

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A video on part of the ADHD experience

I think it’s pretty common, in any area of activism or advocacy, to get passionate about something before you fully understand it. We look back on things we did years ago, and while we understand our reasoning at the time, we also can see how we’d do that differently today. Writing that sentence out, I think it probably applies to most aspects of life. It’s part of what we are, and it always will be, no matter how much we cringe at some of our memories. I think that kind of reflection is also an important part of who and what we are, and we live in a world that doesn’t often allow us to have time for it.

There are some things in this video that don’t fit my life one to one (I think that’s part of why I haven’t seen more than one or two videos from this channel, but some of this hits hard.

That feeling she describes – like I never get to actually have time off, because I haven’t “earned” it. That’s part of what made my salaried work at TERC so difficult towards the end – it wasn’t that I was doing worse or less work than others necessarily, it’s that the way I did it meant that I never really got time off, and no matter how many different techniques I tried to keep my brain in line, they’d only work for a short time, because they became a sort of hobby in themselves, until they just stopped working.

I’m working on a new novel now, in addition to this blog and my other fiction projects, and it’s going well. I’ve been able to maintain daily posting and work on fiction projects, all without burning out. That didn’t just happen out of nowhere – it happened when I managed to convince myself that time spent writing really, truly counted as “work”. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make ends meet with this. I am incredibly lucky in that I have a couple years in which there are almost no external forces determining my schedule, and while it took me a while to get into it, I’m finally able to write. I finally have the time and the energy to do the work that I want  to do, at my own pace. If I’m honest, the thought of having to go back to the way things were is horrifying. For all the good things in my life, it often didn’t feel like living. It felt like I was waiting to get my shit together, and then my life would start.

It felt that way all through my 20s, and most of the way through my 30s, even when I had a good job, a decent income, and good benefits. I got a brief taste of this life back in Somerville, when I took a little time off after leaving TERC, but I also had the threat of the U.S. healthcare system hovering over me. A big part of why I care so much about building a world where people get free time to themselves by default, is that that seems like the only way that people will ever be able to pursue happiness.


Green spaces are good for your brain.

I like greenery. I like the idea of cities that are covered in plant life, for a whole host of reasons, many of which I’ve gone into before. It’s fair to say that I’m already pretty convinced that this is a good idea, but now another piece of evidence has come along:

Published in the journal JAMA Network Open, the study found that exposure to greenspace around one’s home and surrounding neighborhood could improve processing speed and attention, as well as boost overall cognitive function. The results also showed that lowered depression may help explain the association between greenspace and cognition, bolstering previous research that has linked exposure to parks, community gardens, and other greenery with improved mental health.

“Some of the primary ways that nature may improve health is by helping people recover from psychological stress and by encouraging people to be outside socializing with friends, both of which boost mental health,” says study lead author Marcia Pescador Jimenez, an assistant professor of epidemiology. “This study is among the few to provide evidence that greenspace may benefit cognitive function in older ages. Our findings suggest that greenspace should be investigated as a potential population-level approach to improve cognitive function.”

For the study, Pescador Jimenez and colleagues from SPH, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Rush Medical College estimated residential greenspace with a satellite image-based metric called the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). They measured psychomotor speed, attention, learning, and working memory among 13,594 women aged 61 on average and primarily White, from 2014 to 2016. The women were participants in the Nurses’ Health Study II, the second of three studies that are among the largest investigations into the risk factors for chronic diseases among US women.

Adjusting for age, race, and individual and neighborhood socioeconomic status, the researchers found that greenspace exposure was associated with psychomotor speed and attention, but not learning or working memory.

In addition to depression, the researchers also examined the potential roles of air pollution and physical activity in explaining the association between greenspace and cognitive function, and they were surprised to only find evidence of depression as a mediating factor.

“We theorize that depression might be an important mechanism through which green space may slow down cognitive decline, particularly among women, but our research is ongoing to better understand these mechanisms,” Pescador Jimenez says. “Based on these results, clinicians and public health authorities should consider green space exposure as a potential factor to reduce depression, and thus, boost cognition. Policymakers and urban planners should focus on adding more green space in everyday life to improve cognitive function.”

While the study shows evidence of this association, the greenspace metric that the researchers used to measure greenspace exposure does not differentiate between specific types of vegetation. In a new project funded by The National Institute on Aging, Pescador Jimenez will apply deep learning algorithms to Google Street View images to better understand which specific elements of greenery, such as trees or grass, could be the driving factors for health.

The researchers also hope that their study is replicated among other racial/ethnic populations and assesses associations with cognitive decline over longer periods of time.

“The distribution of green spaces in cities is not uniform,” says Pescador Jimenez. “Increasing everyday access to vegetation across vulnerable groups in urban cities is a crucial next step to achieve health equity.”

That last point is key. Not only is distribution of green spaces not uniform, but there’s also almost always a strong racial element in determining the healthiness of one’s surroundings. If you want more on that, Mano Singham did a good writeup to go with John Oliver’s video on environmental racism in the United States. Unfortunately the racial and economic microcosms we often see in my home country are often replicated at a global scale. This is part of why I focus so much on politics – if we can’t change how humanity is run, then even if we manage to survive climate change, we’re going to keep running ourselves into crisis after needless crisis. Among other things, I think that means improving the quality of life of those at the bottom, and uplifting the rest of us as they catch up, and resources allow. Improving where people live should be a big part of that.

Morbid Monday

Some days it’s all just too much, you know?

We’ve got so much information coming at us, and all of it seems to point to looming disaster. It feels like every year the odds get better that I’ll be one of the billions who might be killed by climate change and its effects in my lifetime. The labor action we’ve been seeing in the U.S. is encouraging, but at the same time, corporate/capitalist power seems to be greater than it’s ever been, and perfectly willing to destroy us all in the name of endless growth.

And yet we’re forced to keep pretending that everything’s normal, because that’s what the folks at the top want to believe. We have to keep paying rent, keep paying taxes to governments that refuse to do anything meaningful about the crisis, keep wasting our lives working for the profit of others.

And apparently we have to have war. It’s not enough that we’re destroying the foundations of our own existence, we also have to have bloodthirsty assholes always looking for the next war, apparently delighted that our system seems to depend on an endless market for weapons.

I’d say it’s never-ending, except that it seems to be driving us towards what looks to be a pretty conclusive – and unpleasant – finale. For all we have the material and intellectual resources we need to solve the technical aspects of this crisis, we don’t seem particularly close to resolving the political obstacles. We’re experiencing a convergence of crises, all of which seem to be the result of problems being put off for later. The inherent unsustainability of capitalism, economic and social injustice, the proliferation of horrific weapons, the relentless rise in pollution even in our own bodies, the destruction of ecosystems, the deliberate waste of resources, the warming climate – the list goes on, and on, and on.

But everything’s normal. Everyone has to keep paying someone richer than them for the right to live, to keep wealth and power flowing upwards to the top of this global pyramid scheme we’ve all been forced to join.

Sometimes it all just feels pointless. We’re all condemned, and we’re just going through the motions until the ax falls.

Of course, that feeling in itself is one of the lies we’re told – that all of this is just the forces of nature taking us where they will, rather than the result of deliberate policy, and of wars fought around the world to set us on this path. But the people who benefit the most from a population swamped in despair or apathy just have so much power, and so much willingness to use that power to prevent any change.

Humanity has seen massive political shifts in the past, and that’s cause for hope in itself, but the odds do not seem to be in our favor.

Obviously I’m not giving up, I just wanted to vent a little.

I also wanted to say that I’m not sure what the next couple weeks are going to look like for this blog. It looks like Raksha has reached the point where I have to schedule her death. She’s been a constant part of my life for almost 15 years, and I’m having some trouble coping. I hope you’ll all bear with me.

I think when we’re in the middle of bad times, it’s very easy to feel as though that’s how things will be for ever. Pessimism feels safer, and based on how we’ve been trained to see the world, it often feels more “rational” – If you always expect the worst, all your surprises will be pleasant wants, and all that.

But that’s an illusion that catches us. It’s like deciding to never have a pet, because you will inevitably mourn their passing. It’s like avoiding romance or friendship, because letting people into your life brings the possibility of pain.

It’s a path to never truly enjoying anything, lest the loss of that thing lead to pain. It’s not easy to accept that we’re going to hurt. It’s not easy to accept that we’re going to die, or that those we love will die, or will decide they will no longer be part of our lives.

But that risk is also what opens us up to those experiences that make it all worth it, from watching a puppy bounce through the tall grass, to watching an old dog gallop a couple paces for the joy of it, before returning to her normal slow shuffle.

There may come a time for each of us, when the pain is more than we can bear, but it’s worth remembering that that’s almost never today, and it’s usually not tomorrow either.

And there’s still a lot we can do to make life better for those around us.

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!

Weep for Cassandra if you must, but heed her warnings, for humanity’s sake

It’s April of 2022. We’ve had a couple years of disruption, primarily caused by the collision of late capitalism and SARS-CoV-2, which itself followed a couple years of unrest in the United States, and the growing realization that fascism was still a real threat. And in the background of all of this, we’ve had a steady march of disasters fueled by global warming, and scientific reports quantifying exactly how screwed we are.

Small wonder, then, that superstition seems to be on the rise. Every headline about black goo in a sarcophagus, or climate change revealing ancient artifacts was met with a lot of joking-not-joking about curses, or Pandora’s Box.

For myself, I have to wonder if some early climate scientist broke an indecent agreement with Apollo, so that all future climate scientists would be cursed to speak the truth about the growing threat of climate change, and to be disbelieved or dismissed by everyone with the power to do anything about it. Worse, an entire industry has formed around attacking and discrediting climate scientists. If you want to get a taste of that frustration, you can check out things like The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, by Michael E. Mann.

I once heard someone say that the more you learn about nuclear power, the less it scares you, but the more you learn about climate change, the more it scares you. Imagine, then, the life of someone whose full time job is monitoring this unfolding catastrophe, and reporting on it to what often seems like an indifferent world.

The reality, of course, is that most of humanity is not indifferent. Most of us care very much about what’s happening, we just don’t currently have the power to change anything. That’s something we should be working on, but in the meantime, at least part of our efforts do need to go towards convincing the ruling class to at least stop accelerating towards the proverbial cliff. Climate scientists have been making that case for decades now, and it has been a thankless task.

Among the many attacks levied against them, one that always irked me especially was the claim that climate scientists were “getting political” by describing the implications of their research, and by urging action. It is so obviously insincere, and yet it has hung around. I think part of its longevity is the fact that it does double duty. It casts doubt on the science, and it communicates to the audience that “being political” is an inherently bad thing. That’s dangerous, of course, because if we’re going to have any hope of a better world, we must get political , and at a scale the world has never seen before.

I am nowhere close to being alone in making the Cassandra comparison, and unfortunately it seems to be just as unpleasant as you’d think. Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist, published this letter in association with a protest carried out by him and his colleagues:

I’m a climate scientist and a desperate father. How can I plead any harder? What will it take? What can my colleagues and I do to stop this catastrophe unfolding now all around us with such excruciating clarity?

On Wednesday, I risked arrest by locking myself to an entrance to the JP Morgan Chase building in downtown Los Angeles with colleagues and supporters. Our action in LA is part of an international campaign organized by a loosely knit group of concerned scientists called Scientist Rebellion, involving more than 1,200 scientists in 26 countries and supported by local climate groups. Our day of action follows the IPCC Working Group 3 report released Monday, which details the harrowing gap between where society is heading and where we need to go. Our movement is growing fast.

We chose JP Morgan Chase because out of all the investment banks in the world, JP Morgan Chase funds the most new fossil fuel projects. As the new IPCC report explains, emissions from current and planned fossil energy infrastructure are already more than twice the amount that would push the planet over 1.5°C of global heating, a level of heating that will bring much more intense heat, fire, storms, flooding, and drought than the present 1.2°C.

Even limiting heating to below 2°C, a level of heating that in my opinion could threaten civilization as we know it, would require emissions to peak before 2025. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in the press conference on Monday: “Investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is moral and economic madness.” And yet, this is precisely what President Biden, most other world leaders, and major banks are doing. It’s no exaggeration to say that Chase and other banks are contributing to murder and neocide through their fossil fuel finance.

Earth breakdown is much worse than most people realize. The science indicates that as fossil fuels continue to heat our planet, everything we love is at risk. For me, one of the most horrific aspects of all this is the juxtaposition of present-day and near-future climate disasters with the “business as usual” occurring all around me. It’s so surreal that I often find myself reviewing the science to make sure it’s really happening, a sort of scientific nightmare arm-pinch. Yes, it’s really happening.
If everyone could see what I see coming, society would switch into climate emergency mode and end fossil fuels in just a few years.

I hate being the Cassandra. I’d rather just be with my family and do science. But I feel morally compelled to sound the alarm. By the time I switched from astrophysics into Earth science in 2012, I’d realized that facts alone were not persuading world leaders to take action. So I explored other ways to create social change, all the while becoming increasingly concerned. I joined Citizens’ Climate Lobby. I reduced my own emissions by 90% and wrote a book about how this turned out to be satisfying, fun, and connecting. I gave up flying, started a website to help encourage others, and organized colleagues to pressure the American Geophysical Union to reduce academic flying. I helped organize FridaysForFuture in the US. I co-founded a popular climate app and started the first ad agency for the Earth. I spoke at climate rallies, city council meetings, and local libraries and churches. I wrote article after article, open letter after open letter. I gave hundreds of interviews, always with authenticity, solid facts, and an openness to showing vulnerability. I’ve encouraged and supported countless climate activists and young people behind the scenes. And this was all on my personal time and at no small risk to my scientific career.

Nothing has worked. It’s now the eleventh hour and I feel terrified for my kids, and terrified for humanity. I feel deep grief over the loss of forests and corals and diminishing biodiversity. But I’ll keep fighting as hard as I can for this Earth, no matter how bad it gets, because it can always get worse. And it will continue to get worse until we end the fossil fuel industry and the exponential quest for ever more profit at the expense of everything else. There is no way to fool physics.

Martin Luther King Jr said, “He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” Out of necessity, and after exhaustive efforts, I’ve joined the ranks of those who selflessly risk their freedom and put their bodies on the line for the Earth, despite ridicule from the ignorant and punishment from a colonizing legal system designed to protect the planet-killing interests of the rich. It’s time we all join them. The feeling of solidarity is a wonderful balm.

As for the climate scientists? We’ve been trying to tell you this whole time.

This was one part of a multinational protest by over 1,000 climate scientists, aimed specifically at the big banks that are funding – and profiting from – our destruction. The notion that scientists ought to be non-political has always been a lie that could only ever benefit the powerful. In a world that seems to only value the sensational, we need acts of civil disobedience like this, and we need to build the capacity to wield collective power for the collective good. These scientists are in the right when they aim for the heart of our capitalist system, and while I really, really want to be wrong about this, I have little hope that our corporate overlords will suddenly decide to do the right thing.

One thing I think we should be doing, beyond organizing and protesting, is finding ways to bring up climate change with politicians and their representatives. Not just climate change, but the ways in which our system – working as it was designed – is making it profitable to turn this planet into a sweltering hellscape. Make it impossible for them to ignore, and when they respond with talking points, challenge those, and the ones that come after them. Individually, we’re limited in how much time and energy we can spend on this. Anyone with a sense of perspective realizes that the mightiest effort of one person is a drop in the bucket, compared to the size of the problem. If we can get enough of us moving in the same direction, those drops can become a relentless storm, and if we can’t force our rulers to at least go with the flow, then maybe we can wash them away.

Thanks to StevoR for requesting the topic.

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 this. 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!

What’s with all those big green and brown things that sway in the wind? Are they actually worth anything?

The way our society determines value is deeply flawed. It’s not that there’s no relationship between what things cost, and the resources expended to produce them, but a great many things are vastly over-valued, and many other things – including most life forms on the planet – are vastly under-valued. Those flaws are compounded by the fact that we seem to be increasingly encouraged to view every aspect of our lives through the lens of capitalism, in which things are generally deemed to have no value unless it’s proven someone will pay money for them. Unfortunately, that’s the world we’re still stuck in, so there’s probably some merit to calculating the economic value of life. When it comes to wildlife, the ways in which it benefits humanity are called “ecosystem services“, as part of what I view as a failed attempt to get capitalism to assign any value to a habitable environment. Quantifying their value to us may not do much to change policy or stop environmental destruction, but it does put things in terms to which we’re accustomed:

Trees sequester and store greenhouse gasses, filter air pollutants, provide wood, food, and other products, among other benefits. However, the service value of 400 individual tree species and tree lineages growing in forests and plantations in the contiguous U.S. was not previously known. To determine the ecosystem services value of U.S. trees, researchers mapped the value of trees and calculated the economic contributions to these services of every US tree species and lineage. They measured the net value of five tree-related ecosystem services by calculating the value of benefits provided, minus the direct costs incurred to produce these services. The five key ecosystem services included climate regulating services from carbon storage, filtration of particulate matter from the air that harms human health, and provisioning services from production of wood products, food crops, and Christmas trees.

The researchers found that the value of these five ecosystem services generated by trees totaled $114 billion annually. Carbon storage in tree biomass comprised 51% of the net annual value, while preventing human health damages via air quality regulation, contributed to 37% of the annual value. The remaining 12% of the net annual value came from provisioning services. Trees in the pine and oak families were the most valuable, generating $25.4 billion and $22.3 billion in annual net benefits, respectively. The study had several limitations that likely contributed to an undervaluing of ecosystem services since the researchers did not have access to data for many ecosystem services such as erosion control, flood regulation, and shade-related energy savings. They also did not evaluate disservices of trees. Future studies may provide more accurate estimates of the monetary value of these benefits.

According to the authors, “This study shows that the ‘hidden’ value of trees — the nonmarket value from carbon storage and air pollution filtration — far exceeds their commercial value. Sustaining the value of trees requires intentional management of forests and trees in the face of myriad and simultaneous global change threats. Our study provides information and an approach that can contribute to precision forestry practices and ecosystem management.”

Cavender-Bares adds, “The fact that tree lineages have evolved to inhabit different ecological niches across the continent is important for sustaining the ecosystem services that we depend on for our life support systems. These benefits from trees, however, are increasingly at risk. Our research team found that climate change threatens nearly 90 percent of tree species, while pests and pathogens put 40 percent of the combined weight of all U.S. trees at risk. We also found that the species and lineages of greatest ecosystem service value are the most at risk from pests and pathogens, climate change, and increasing fire exposure.”

One of the most irksome parts of this environmental collapse is that we know what’s happening, why it’s happening, and how to stop it. That’s not even a general “we know what’s happening”. We have thousands of scientists all over the world studying everything. That’s why we’re able to do things like putting a dollar value to trees, or wetlands. Day after day, week after week we hear the relentless accounting of everything that’s going on around us, and yet we still have to try to dress up reality with dollar signs and big numbers in a hopeless effort to get the tiny-minded ghouls who run the world to pay attention to what’s being lost.

It’s draining. But hey – at least we know roughly what trees are worth!

Action or despair? What’s the result of “climate deadline” rhetoric?

So I’m going to read the new IPCC report, and see if I have more in-depth commentary on it, but I wanted to say a couple words about the rhetoric surrounding the report, and a strategy I think basically anyone making six figures or more should consider.

While I get why it’s being pushed, the “now or never” rhetoric worries me for a couple reasons. The first is just that I’m worried it will push people to give up, since “now” clearly isn’t happening. The second is that I feel like it’s a continuation of the same obsession with the short term and with urgent crises that has gotten us to this point.

I have no evidence to back this up, but I think that if I was involved in climate messaging, I’d probably start making preparations for the world we seem to be creating, and simply talking about them in public on a regular basis. Store food against crop failures, and mention that it probably won’t be enough, if things keep warming. Start building water storage infrastructure, with rationing rules about how that emergency supply is to be used (very little for hygiene, for example). Put around plans to require new hotel construction (among other kinds of facilities) to double as emergency shelters with the capacity to keep indoor air at livable temperatures when it’s 45°C/113°F or higher, even if there’s a blackout. Put around draft regulations requiring new power plants to be able to operate safely under extreme heat wave conditions, because otherwise people will die.

If anyone with political or economic power happens to be reading this, and you actually care about climate change, the most powerful messaging you could probably do is to use the resources you have now to start making preparations for a much hotter world. You can be clear that you’re hoping this won’t be needed right away, but also paint a picture, with references to relevant research, of how our lives are going to change in the coming decades. Speeches will not work to convince people at this point – actions might have a shot.

And if people don’t like what your actions say about the future, then remind them that we know what we have to do to make that future better, we’re just not doing it.

I don’t know if this will be easier for politicians to do than directly tackling the fossil fuel industry right now, but I feel like it’s a powerful message to tell people that since corrupt monsters like Manchin (and many others) are preventing us from doing anything to slow or stop climate change, then it’s their duty to do what they can to help their constituents or communities survive.

Couple rhetoric with action wherever possible, and make it clear what path is being chosen for us with the status quo. I have a feeling that as things get worse, the political cost of opposing climate change adaptation measures will increase. It’s easy to abstract and confuse the causes of climate change, but when it comes to living with the effects, I think you’ll have a hard time convincing people that they don’t need to make any changes to survive.

It feels like we’re still stuck in the “capitalist realism” trap, where nobody seems to be able to conceive of any end to capitalism that isn’t also the end of the world. We know that technology and planning can help us survive more hostile conditions, but it really feels like the collective view is that if we can’t stop climate change from getting really bad, then we might as well just give up and die. It’s not just a bad strategy, it’s also frankly pathetic from a species with ambitions to live on other planets.

I don’t want to live in a world that’s a couple degrees hotter, but I don’t want to live under capitalism either, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to give up on my life and my species because a few rich assholes can’t be bothered to do the bare minimum for future generations. When we miss climate deadlines, that does mean certain changes are inevitable. It does not mean that if we don’t take action now, taking action a little later will be pointless – it’ll just be harder.

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Video: How climate change is affecting the habitability of the U.S.

There were a number of reasons why Tegan and I decided to leave the U.S. and seek our fortunes across the ocean. Better quality of life (like having a real healthcare system) was a big factor, but climate change was as well. We settled on Scotland as a place with good politics (if it can get free of England), good healthcare, and a climate that’s likely to remain reasonably comfortable – at least for me – for my lifetime. If nothing else, it’s almost certain that moving bought Raksha a couple more years of life, because I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have been able to survive a couple more Boston summers.

That said, we were – and are – lucky. Not everyone has the freedom or resources to make a move like this, and for all the benefits we’ve gotten, there are also downsides. While I think we should have open borders and freedom of movement around the world, we’re not there yet, so what can folks in the U.S. expect the climate to do in the coming decades? Here’s what PBS has to say:

Wherever you are in the US, the summers are going to get worse, so regardless of where you live, definitely make sure you have plans for surviving heat waves!

Climate science for all! A new science journal to keep an eye on

I’ve written before about the problem of paywalls in academia. I view them as a needless barrier to people’s ability to learn about pretty much all topics, or to do things like check the veracity of claims made by dishonest actors. It’s especially galling given how much research is publicly funded, and the inherently collaborative nature of science. Not to sound like an anarchist or anything, but when it comes to knowledge especially, I believe that all belongs to all. Science has always been a collaborative effort, even when some scientists treat their colleagues as competitors or enemies. Research is done based on the work of those who came before us, and any contributions we make will be just one stone in the foundation of what our descendants will create, if we can manage to give them that change.

All of this is to say, I’m pleased to tell you all about a new, open-access climate science journal.

Oxford Open Climate Change is a broad reaching interdisciplinary journal that aims to cover all aspects of climate change, including its impacts on nature and society, as well as solutions to the problem and their wider implications.

The journal will publish research from physical and biogeochemical aspects to social impact and response assessments; from economics and integrated assessments to health, politics, and governance; and from natural to technical solutions. The journal will play a key part in disseminating research findings across traditional fields, and removing siloes in readership seen in more traditional discipline specific journals.

Oxford Open Climate Change embraces openness principles which will further contribute to both the dissemination and the reuse of the published materials. The journal will include both invited contributions and regularly submitted contributions, as well as special issues that consider key problems from a wide range of disciplines. Article types will range across multi-disciplinary reviews, research articles, research letters, short communications, and editorials. Rigorous peer review is central to all content.

Hat tip to my dad for making me aware of this.

When I say the journal is new, I do mean new. It’s had a grand total of two issues so far. Their Rationale and Opening Remit makes a good case for the nature of the climate crisis, and while it doesn’t link that to the fact that the journal’s open access, I think it’s a point worth making. Leaving aside my earlier-mentioned beliefs about paywalls, it is outrageous that there is a financial barrier to accessing information about what may be the biggest crisis ever to face our species. We cannot adapt to climate change, or meaningfully slow its advance, if we keep treating everything in life as part of a competition.

Beyond that, I like what I’m seeing so far. The fact that it’s so new means I can actually read through everything they’ve got in a reasonable amount of time, and even give you an overview! The editorial section, in addition to their rationale and remit mentioned above, includes a clear call to go beyond the inadequate emissions targets currently set by most nationsand for wealthy nations to actually use their wealth to deal with this global emergency.

In particular, countries that have disproportionately created the environmental crisis must do more to support low and middle income countries to build cleaner, healthier, and more resilient societies. High income countries must meet and go beyond their outstanding commitment to provide $100 billion a year, making up for any shortfall in 2020 and increasing contributions to and beyond 2025. Funding must be equally split between mitigation and adaptation, including improving the resilience of health systems.

Financing should be through grants rather than loans, building local capabilities and truly empowering communities, and should come alongside forgiving large debts, which constrain the agency of so many low income countries. Additional funding must be marshalled to compensate for inevitable loss and damage caused by the consequences of the environmental crisis.

The fact that our “leaders” continue to obsess over profits and private property is a clear symptom of a mental rot spread throughout our ruling classes. Looking at history, I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising to see how little they value human life, but this blind charge towards extinction honestly makes me worry about the possibility of nuclear war in the near future. In the meantime, we continue to do what we can to take power away from these people, so we can save ourselves, and give them the treatment they apparently need.

The “Short Communication” discusses the geopolitical issues surrounding geoengineering technologies like reflecting a significant portion of sunlight away from the Earth. Obviously, that’s something that would affect the entire planet, and thus everyone on the planet, or at least every nation, should have a say in whether or how it’s done. Given our current inability to cooperate at a global scale, I think it’s worth thinking about how we might go about building coalitions like that.

The research articles make for a good introduction to the breadth of topics that Open Oxford Climate Change means to tackle. The first article has everything you might need to know about the diets of a particular Canadian polar bear population,  followed by a discussion of “sustainability” in fast fashion, and the use of a fashion show as a vehicle for climate communication. I doubt there’s much interest in me going through everything they’ve published so far, but it seems that they intend to publish research that covers every aspect of climate change, from the study of past climate shifts and analysis of current climate sensitivity, to politics and culture.

I count this journal as a little bit of good news, both in terms of access to research, and in terms of the ability for the general public to actually see the work that’s being done. It’s not much, but I’ll take it.

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Living near green spaces reduces your risk of stroke by 16%.

One of my hopes for the future involves a more urban humanity, but with cities that have plants growing wherever possible. Instead of towers covered in glass, we can have them covered in ivy, or with tiered gardens. Instead of streets, we can free underground mass transit (or elevated railways), designed for accessibility. Also maybe bicycle taxis and the like. The streets themselves can be repurposed for gardening or leisure, or even just some version of “forest”. I want cities that look like strange forested landscapes from a distance, until it gets dark, and you can see lights twinkling through the leaves. There are a lot of reasons for this, some of which I’ve talked about before, but a big one is its affect on the overall health of the population, primarily by mitigating some of the air pollution associated with traffic and industry. We should be clear; air pollution is also a problem in rural areas. That’s why simply adding more vegetation to our current cities – while that’s a decent start – isn’t enough. We also need to change how and why cities are designed, and what the options are for getting around. Regardless, even in cities as they exist today, more green space seems to mean less risk of having a stroke, even controlling for factors like air pollution, smoking, and so on:

The results indicate a direct relationship between increased levels of NO2 in the atmosphere and the risk of ischaemic stroke. For every increase of 10 micrograms (µg) per cubic metre, this risk increases by 4%. The same happens when PM2.5 levels increase by 5 µg/m3. In the case of soot particles, the risk increases by 5% for every 1 µg/m3 increase in the atmosphere. These figures are the same for the entire population, irrespective of other socio-economic factors, age or smoking habits.

“It should be borne in mind that, unlike other air pollutants, which have various sources, NO2 is mainly caused by road traffic. Therefore, if we really want to reduce the multiple risks that this pollutant poses to people’s health, we need to implement bold measures to reduce car use”, says Cathryn Tonne, a researcher at ISGlobal.

“The study demonstrates the importance of environmental determinants in stroke risk. Given that it is predicted that the incidence, mortality and disability attributed to the disease will increase in the coming years, it is important to understand all the risk factors involved”, explains Dr. Carla Avellaneda, a researcher in the Neurovascular Research Group at IMIM-Hospital del Mar and one of the main authors of the study. Previous studies by the same group had already provided evidence on the relationship between factors such as soot or noise levels and the risk of suffering a stroke and its severity. All these factors act as stroke triggers.

In contrast, having an abundance of green spaces within the same radius from the home directly reduces the risk of suffering a stroke. Specifically, up to 16%. In this sense, “People who are surrounded by greater levels of greenery at their place of residence are protected against the onset of stroke”, says Dr. Avellaneda. Exposure to green spaces is generally considered to have beneficial effects through a variety of mechanisms, such as stress reduction, increased physical activity and social contact, and even exposure to an enriched microbiome.

Societies tend to be guided based on the goals of those governing them. Currently, the goal is ever-increasing wealth and power for those at the top. That’s not how things have always been, and it’s not how things have to be in the future. We can have a society aimed at giving everyone the time and resources to really seek meaning and happiness for themselves, and research like this can go a long way to showing us what that society should look like, at least in general terms. We should want things like a more verdant kind of city for the same reason we should want universal healthcare – it makes people’s lives better, and gives them longer, healthier lives.

The image shows concept art for China's Liuzhou Forest City. It shows buildings that are tiered almost like step pyramids, or some forms of mountainside farming. Each tier has trees growing on it, with the walls of the building showing white amid the greenery. Closer to the foreground is a sleek-looking railway station, and in front of that is a multi-lane highway. The overall effect is similar to that of overgrown ruins.

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 this. 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!