Oh the tides, they are a-changin’: There’s a new report on sea level rise

As many of you are no doubt aware, a report has just come out about the rate of sea level rise. The news is not good.

A new report provides an alarming forecast for the US: Sea level will rise as much in the next 30 years as it did in the past 100 — increasing the frequency of high-tide flooding, pushing storm surge to the extreme and inundating vulnerable coastal infrastructure with saltwater.

The interagency report, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows how scientists are increasingly confident that US coasts will see another 10 to 12 inches of sea level rise by 2050.

As the article says, the implications of this are enormous. Beyond the eventual inundation of low-lying coastal areas, sea level starts affecting us through the intrusion of salt into rivers and groundwater, and through higher storm surges. It’s also worth noting that in areas like Florida, the groundwater seepage can also represent a decrease in stability, which could lead to grim outcomes for housing and other infrastructure. I’ve delayed this post, simply because the whole thing is draining. I’ve been actively trying to get people to treat climate change like a crisis for about a decade. A lot more people have been doing it for a lot longer and/or a lot harder, and yet here we are. Right where we didn’t want to be. In some ways, I don’t have a lot to say about this. We knew this was coming. We knew what had to be done to stop or slow it. What we didn’t have was a global society capable of accepting reality and changing as needed.

Now that adaptability is going to be necessary for survival, because prevention didn’t happen, and we’re not going to be able to reverse course in any of our lifetimes, without technological and social change beyond anything we have reason to expect. So as I always say, organize. Practice pro-social prepping. If you’re in a low-lying coastal area, consider moving if you can afford to. And, as always, remember that as destructive as this rapid sea level rise will be, it’s just one aspect of what’s happening to our climate. It’s going to be a lot to deal with. For many folks it already is a lot to deal with. That means we also need to be proactive about our own mental health, and the mental health of those around us. Leaving aside the fact that higher temperatures literally mean hotter tempers, we have every reason to believe that things are going to keep getting worse, at least in some ways.

It should shock nobody that I appreciate Beau’s take on this:

To take a break from the doom and gloom, I wanted to address one thing mentioned in the video – sea level rise is not even around the globe. There are a variety of reasons for this. The first thing to remember is that the planet itself is not an even “globe”. It’s an “oblate spheroid”, which means it’s closer to a sphere that was slightly squished from its top and bottom. The next thing to remember is that gravity isn’t a one-way affair, even on a planet. The vast majority of the gravitational force is “down” towards the center of the Earth, but things like mountains also exert a gravitational pull. It’s very weak compared to a planet, but the inconceivably huge pile of water molecules we call “ocean” settles itself out, roughly, according to the various forces exerted upon it. That means that the ocean actually gets further from the center of the planet, and closer to space, as it gets closer to places like continents. The unevenness is spread out over such great distances that we don’t notice it as we interact with the water, but it’s there. Further, oceanic currents cause water to “pile up” against continents. Changes in sea level can also be caused by land sinking, as is happening in various places around the world.

I’ve shared it before, but this video from Minute Physics is a great primer on the subject of sea level:

Maybe I’m overly pessimistic, but I don’t get the feeling that any country is actually prepared for sea level rise, though some are closer than others. As I said earlier, I think we’re in for extremely stressful times ahead, and it’s going to feel like new hits keep coming from every direction. That’s going to be amplified by a media environment that profits far more from sensationalism than from honest reporting.

I also want to end on a less gloomy note. As it stands, things are likely to keep getting worse, but that’s not some unavoidable destiny. There are a myriad of things we can do to make life better for everyone (except maybe our current ruling class), even as the heat and waters rise. Take care of yourselves, take care of each other, and continue to fight as you’re able. I really do believe that it’s possible to turn this horror story into something more uplifting.


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

Power demand from air conditioning could soon exceed total power supply in the United States

I had hoped to have my next bit of science fiction out today, but it’s just not there yet, so here’s something else instead.

One of the most long-standing cases for acting on climate change is the simple fact that the sooner we act, the cheaper and easier it will be. The reality is that avoiding any cost is simply not an option. Extreme weather events, rising sea levels, damage to crops and infrastructure – climate change costs money, no matter how you look at it. By delaying action as long as we have, we’ve entered the age of endless recovery. Any action we take to deal with climate change will now be impeded by ongoing efforts to rebuild from damage already done.

Unfortunately, the cost increase goes beyond that. A big reason for why it’s in our best interest to take action is that there are limits to the temperatures humans can withstand. On our current trajectory, it’s likely that for at least some days out of the year, many parts of the world will be too hot for humans to survive very long without some external means of cooling. These days, that often means air conditioning, which is already a pretty energy-intensive process. As temperatures continue to rise, AC units will have to work harder to achieve the same cooling, and more people are going to need to rely on it to get by. In short, it’s very possible that the power demands of air conditioning will soon exceed the amount of power being generated in the United States:

Climate change will drive an increase in summer air conditioning use in the United States that is likely to cause prolonged blackouts during peak summer heat if states do not expand capacity or improve efficiency, according to a new study of household-level demand.

The study projected summertime usage as global temperature rises 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) or 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, finding demand in the United States overall could rise 8% at the lower and 13% at the higher threshold. The new study was published in Earth’s Future, AGU’s journal for interdisciplinary research on the past, present and future of our planet and its inhabitants.

Human emissions have put the global climate on a trajectory to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming by the early 2030s, the IPCC reported in its 2021 assessment. Without significant mitigation, global temperatures will likely exceed the 2.0-degree Celsius threshold by the end of the century.

Previous research has examined the impacts of higher future temperatures on annual electricity consumption or daily peak load for specific cities or states. The new study is the first to project residential air conditioning demand on a household basis at a wide scale. It incorporates observed and predicted air temperature and heat, humidity and discomfort indices with air conditioning use by statistically representative households across the contiguous United States, collected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in 2005-2019.

The new study projected changing usage from climate influence only, and did not consider possible population increases, changes in affluence, behavior or other factors known to affect air conditioning demand.

“We tried to isolate just the impact of climate change,” said Renee Obringer, an environmental engineer at Penn State University and lead author of the new study. “If nothing changes, if we, as a society, refuse to adapt, if we don’t match the efficiency demands, what would that mean?”

Technological improvements in the efficiency of home air conditioning appliances could supply the additional cooling needed to achieve current comfort levels after 2.0 degrees global temperature rise without increased demand for electricity, the new study found. Increased efficiency of 1% to 8% would be required, depending on existing state standards and the expected demand increase, with Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma on the high end.

“It’s a pretty clear warning to all of us that we can’t keep doing what we are doing or our energy system will break down in the next few decades, simply because of the summertime air conditioning,” said Susanne Benz, a geographer and climate scientist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, who was not involved in the new study.

Exceeding capacity

The heaviest air conditioning use with the greatest risk for overloading the power grid comes during heat waves, which also present the highest risk to health. Electricity generation tends to be below peak during heat waves as well, further reducing capacity, Obringer said.

Without enough capacity to meet demand, energy utilities may have to stage rolling blackouts during heat waves to avoid grid failure, like California’s energy providers did in August 2020 during an extended period of record heat sometimes topping 117 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We’ve seen this in California already — state power suppliers had to institute blackouts because they couldn’t provide the needed electricity,” Obringer said. The state attributed 599 deaths to the heat, but the true toll may have been closer to 3,900.

The consequences of cascading electrical grid failures are likely to impact already vulnerable populations, including low income, non-white and older residents, first, Obringer noted.

“When they say there’s going to be two weeks where you don’t have cooling on average — in reality, some people will have cooling. Disadvantaged people will have less cooling,” Benz said.

How long are we going to wait to take this seriously? How many people will have to suffer and die in the heat? We know what we need to do. We need to update the power grid. We need to invest in home energy efficiency, and in passive cooling wherever we can use it. We also need to have sources of power – like wind and solar – that don’t need to be shut down during heat waves, when the need for cooling can be a matter of life or death. As I’ve said before, science is a way for us to see what’s coming, but a warning is no good if it’s not heeded.

We are running out of time.


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

One day more!

Another day, another post for me; this never-ending grim typography.

These words I publish every day, in hopes that someday it will pay

One day more…

 

Uh – so, that eugenics piece isn’t done. Weirdly, I find that difficult topics are sometimes difficult to write about, and it’s 3:30am, so I’m going to call it quits and pick it up again tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s a climate scientist looking at climate change through the lens of a toilet bowl:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A brief agricultural report

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

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

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

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

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

Well, not really.

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

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

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

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

Yeah…

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

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

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

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

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

Why are they so dangerous?

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

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

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

The image is an infographic titled

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

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

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


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

What kind of world could we build?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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


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