Just as the U.S. government helped create Al-Qaeda, the Israeli government helped Hamas

The United States has a long, horrific history of funding, training, and arming extremist groups – particularly right-wing ones – in the hopes that those groups will destabilize the regions in which they are active. This has led to countless atrocities all around the world, many of which have been used as excuses for our state of endless war.

As one of America’s closest allies, and the biggest recipient of American military aid, it probably shouldn’t be surprising to learn that the Israeli government followed this strategy when it came to Hamas.

Remember this, when Hamas is used to justify murder and brutality committed against Palestinians, as part of the Israeli government’s effort to maintain apartheid conditions, and pursue a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem.

Israel has all the power in this situation. The Israeli government is capable of de-escalating things, and moving the region towards peace, but they have consistently chosen not to, maintaining and escalating the cycle of bloodshed.

Mitigating the harm of climate change, using changes in the climate

One thing that is fast becoming a central theme of my work is the notion that, in addition to decentralizing political power, and creating a more democratic economy than capitalism can provide, we also need view ourselves as a part of the “natural world”. That means moving away from the historical trend of using technology to separate ourselves from the rest of the biosphere, and instead more fully integrating human civilization with the ecosystems that surround us.

This includes a lot of the standard stuff from the solarpunk genre: urban agriculture and urban wildlife, waste management that minimizes or eliminates pollution, and an end to wasteful things like planned obsolescence. It also goes beyond that, to molding ourselves to better suit our ecosystems, and to reduce the amount of labor and energy required to survive in a sometimes hostile landscape.

As the climate warms, the trend in much of the world seems to be towards stable or increasing annual rainfall, but with all of that rain coming in a smaller number of more intense storms. The practical effect of that is a worsening cycle of drought, flooding, and erosion, as the majority of the year is too dry for most plant life, and the sudden, intense rainfall floods the landscape causing landslides, and washing away both plant life and topsoil.

This, in turn, is likely to worsen the next year’s drought, while doing little to provide actual relief, as the water all rushes out to sea, or evaporates quickly following the downpour. The result is a cycle that’s likely to affect a huge portion of currently inhabited land, starting with the areas already suffering from this, like California:

As climate change intensifies the severity and frequency of these extreme events, amplifying refill rates could help the state reach a more balanced groundwater budget. One practice, called water banking or managed aquifer recharge, involves augmenting surface infrastructure, such as reservoirs or pipelines, with underground infrastructure, such as aquifers and wells, to increase the transfer of floodwater for storage in groundwater basins.

A newer strategy for managing surface water, compared to more traditional methods like reservoirs and dams, water banking poses multiple benefits including flood risk reduction and improved ecosystem services. While groundwater basins offer a vast network for water safekeeping, pinpointing areas prime for replenishment, gauging infrastructure needed and the amount of water available remains key, especially in a warming and uncertain climate.

“Integrating managed aquifer recharge with floodwaters into already complex water management infrastructure offers many benefits, but requires careful consideration of uncertainties and constraints. Our growing understanding of climate change makes this an opportune time to examine the potential for these benefits,” said senior author David Freyberg, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford.

The researchers designed a framework to estimate future floodwater availability across the state. Developing a hybrid computer model using hydrologic and climate simulations and statistical tools, the team calculated water available for recharge under different climate change scenarios through 2090. They also identified areas where infrastructure investments should be prioritized to tap floodwater potential and increase recharge.

As things currently stand, flood waters tend to be dangerous. They sweep up badly stored chemicals, human and animal waste, and sediments carrying pollution from past eras, resulting in a mix of poisons and bacteria that can do a lot of harm. Building infrastructure to catch that water, clean it, and direct it into aquifers would be a huge investment, but one that I think would be well worth it, and have benefits lasting far into the future.

Similar to things like food forests and managed prairies, water conservation and banking practices can help us build up not only our own resilience, but also the resilience of surrounding ecosystems.

Image shows the flooded terraces of a Balinese rice farm, creating a sort of managed ecosystem of grasses, trees, and ponds climbing up mountainsides

“For most crops, irrigation simply provides water for the plant’s roots. But in a Balinese rice terrace, water is used to construct a complex, pulsed artificial ecosystem. Water temples manipulate the states of the system, at ascending levels in regional hierarchies.”

The industrial revolution, colonialism, and capitalism all worked to devastate the biosphere of this planet in ways we’re still working to fully understand. We must turn from being consumers of the world, to being stewards of it. In the past, rhetoric like this might have been used to push the idea that we should just “leave nature alone”, but I want to be clear that that’s not what I’m suggesting.

The ecological collapse we’ve created means that we have a responsibility to use our technology and understanding to help our ecosystems survive, for our own benefit. That’s likely to mean increased intervention in what remains of wild spaces, at least in some ways. I think it’s obvious we should work to end the conditions that drive practices like deforestation and over-fishing; but it may also mean things like using banked or desalinated water to irrigate drought-stricken “wilderness”, if we can find ways to do so.

This is a complex issue, and must be approached as such. The measures taken to help one region could prove devastating in another, and it’s almost certain that such efforts will only work if undertaken in a cooperative manner across the arbitrary borders that divide the world into “nations”. As I’ve said before, a better world is possible, but I believe it will require the creation and maintenance of global solidarity. We cannot continue to indulge exploitation and bigotry, if we want to survive.

If you find the contents of this blog useful or entertaining, or if you think that it’s moving in that direction, please consider becoming a patron at patreon.com/oceanoxia, and/or encouraging others to do so. I’d to keep writing, and keep building this into a useful resource for those who want a better world, and to do that, I need money to survive. I’m still pulling in far, far less than minimum wage, and it’d be awesome if I could close that gap.

Humanity is acting as a force of nature, and we have little time to develop responsibility to match that power.

“Oh, there is a brain all right. It’s just that the brain is made out of meat!”

“So… what does the thinking?”

“You’re not understanding, are you? The brain does the thinking. The meat.”

“Thinking meat! You’re asking me to believe in thinking meat!”

“Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you getting the picture?”

Excerpt from “They’re made of of meat”, by Terry Bisson

The scale of the warming event humanity is causing right now seems to exist pretty close to the boundary of what we, as a society, are capable of processing with our meat computers. I don’t think it will always be out of our grasp, but it seems to me that when it comes to how we understand the cosmos, we really do have a collective consciousness. Just as interactions between the different kinds of matter in our brains seem to expand our cognitive capacity, so to do the interactions between individual humans, between groups of humans, and between generations of humans transcending our lifespans.

As a group, we are continually expanding the list of concepts we can conceive of, but I feel like we’re still stuck on the notion that we’re insignificant compared to the sheer size of the planet we live on. How could we be affecting something so mind-bogglingly huge that a significant portion of the species can’t bring themselves to believe it’s actually round? Because our power, as a species, has recently increased beyond what “common sense” might lead us to believe. I think we’re tricked by our sense of individual identity into feeling that our collective power is bounded by what we each do alone.

My favorite effort to describe the scale of what’s happening around us is the measurement of Earth’s rising temperature in units of atom bombs per second. It’s around four. Every second of every day, an amount of heat equivalent to four atomic explosions is trapped by the extra insulation we’ve been putting into the atmosphere.

Once, we were just one species among millions. We made changes to the world at a scale similar to things like beavers. Now, we have become a force of nature when it comes to the size of our impact on the surface of this planet.

In the new paper, published in the journal npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, the research team found that changes in the last 50 years to an important weather phenomenon in the North Atlantic — known as the North Atlantic Oscillation — can be traced back to human activities that impact the climate system.

“Scientists have long understood that human actions are warming the planet,” said the study’s lead author Jeremy Klavans, a UM Rosenstiel School alumnus. “However, this human-induced signal on weather patterns is much harder to identify.”

“In this study, we show that humans are influencing patterns of weather and climate over the Atlantic and that we may be able to use this information predict changes in weather and climate up to a decade in advance,” said Klavans.

By now, I think, the fact that we are affecting global weather patterns is familiar to most people. In many ways, that’s a fairly easy pill to swallow. It’s not hard to imagine how the endless extraction and burning of carbon could affect the air and water around us. We can see the changes we’ve made in our environments, and have vivid images like burning rivers and smog-choked cities to help us understand.

Unfortunately, it goes beyond that.

Not long after a devastating earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, I began to hear people discussing the possibility that there might be a climate link. At the time, this seemed absurd to me. It felt like the kind of hyperbolic doomsaying that environmentalists have always been accused of. After all, it’s one thing to affect air and water temperatures, but how could warming cause something like an earthquake? It couldn’t, of course.

Not by itself.

The problem is that earthquakes don’t come out of nowhere. They’re a release of tension that’s constantly building up as the hard material of Earth’s crust drifts on the molten magma of the mantle. They’re like a medieval crossbow; the crank allows for an archer to pull back on a bowstring that requires far more force than any human is capable of exerting unaided. Once that tension is built up, very little strength is required to release it.

A weather event can’t cause an earthquake, but if a large storm hits the right area, landslides and flooding can move enough material around that it could, in theory, release tension that was already building. We’ll likely never know if that’s what happened in Haiti, but the terrifying reality is that it certainly could be, and it’s something that could happen in the future. If that’s possible, I think it’s also fair to worry about the kinds of tension buildup that result in volcanic eruptions.

When I was first considering these ideas, I was also put in mind of the concept of “isostatic rebound“. In brief, when a glacier or ice cap melts away, vast amounts of weight is dispersed, to the point that Earth’s crust actually floats up on the magma below it, just as a boat rides higher in the water as you unload it. The amount of ice being lost in Greenland, for example, is not only causing that island to gain elevation, it’s also literally redistributing gravitational forces in the region, with global effects on the distribution of ocean water.

Considering all of these factors, and the fact that much smaller activities like those related to “fracking” can cause earthquakes more directly, I think it’s fair to say that our effects on the climate are not limited to air and water. We are also changing the forces that cause earthquakes and volcanoes. It’s hard to tell what those effects might be or when they might be felt, but it does make me worry about things like the Yellowstone supervolcano.

We’re not just changing the climate and biosphere of the planet, we’re acting on the scale of a force of nature when it comes to the crust – the solid matter on which all life we know of exists.

Unfortunately, it goes beyond that.

On March 14th, 2011, at around 05:46 UTC, days became shorter by 1.8 microseconds. This was caused by a massive earthquake off the coast of Japan that redistributed enough mass that our planet’s rotational axis shifted by 17 centimeters, and pulled enough mass toward the center of the earth that its rotation sped up just a little. As the article notes, this is something that happens to some degree with most big earthquakes. The fact that it could happen was news to me, but not to the collective consciousness of our species (or at least the parts of us that study such things). Going back to the earlier discussion of climate and earthquakes, it seems pretty clear at this point that the warming humanity is causing through greenhouse gas emissions can literally affect the balance of the entire planet as it spirals through space. It’s unlikely to be enough that we’d notice without checking, but that’s the situation we have created for ourselves.

Taking all of this into consideration, I hope it is not too much of a shock to my readers to learn that this has, in fact, already occurred:

Using data on glacier loss and estimations of ground water pumping, Liu and her colleagues calculated how the water stored on land changed. They found that the contributions of water loss from the polar regions is the main driver of polar drift, with contributions from water loss in nonpolar regions. Together, all this water loss explained the eastward change in polar drift.

“I think it brings an interesting piece of evidence to this question,” said Humphrey. “It tells you how strong this mass change is — it’s so big that it can change the axis of the Earth.”

Humphrey said the change to the Earth’s axis isn’t large enough that it would affect daily life. It could change the length of day we experience, but only by milliseconds.

The faster ice melting couldn’t entirely explain the shift, Deng said. While they didn’t analyze this specifically, she speculated that the slight gap might be due to activities involving land water storage in non-polar regions, such as unsustainable groundwater pumping for agriculture.

Humphrey said this evidence reveals how much direct human activity can have an impact on changes to the mass of water on land. Their analysis revealed large changes in water mass in areas like California, northern Texas, the region around Beijing and northern India, for example — all areas that have been pumping large amounts of groundwater for agricultural use.

“The ground water contribution is also an important one,” Humphrey said. “Here you have a local water management problem that is picked up by this type of analysis.”

Liu said the research has larger implications for our understanding of land water storage earlier in the 20th century. Researchers have 176 years of data on polar drift. By using some of the methods highlighted by her and her colleagues, it could be possible to use those changes in direction and speed to estimate how much land water was lost in past years.

We appear to have reached the point where we can calculate our extraction and movement of natural resources like groundwater by the ways in which that activity is changing the speed and angle of our planet’s rotation. It’s incredible that as a species, we’ve gotten to the point where we’re capable of making such calculations, but it also drives home the central point of this article.

Humanity is now, by the scale at which such things are calculated, a force of nature on this planet. Our activities are effecting literally the entire planet. Through collective thought and collective labor we have become powerful enough, as a species, to shake the foundations of the Earth, and that fact should terrify anyone, especially given how the use of that power is currently decided.

This, more than the weapons with which our rulers are so enamored, is proof that we are meddling in forces that can erase us from existence. Give any untrained person control over something like an explosive or a truck, and there’s a very real danger that they will kill either themselves or someone else. In general, we don’t allow people to wield that kind of power until they’ve demonstrated the ability to do so safely. I want humanity to reach the stars some day, and to fulfill the potential that has inspired countless science fiction writers before me; but in order to get there we must develop a degree of collective responsibility that is commensurate with that terrifying power, and we must do it quickly.

If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my recent move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!

Community science: A way to help

I recently touched on the concept of ecosystem services, and I wanted to expand on that a little today, and highlight an opportunity for people in Florida (and everywhere else) to help out.

To be very brief, ecosystem services are the ways in which the other forms of life that surround us help humanity simply by going about their lives. Bats eat insects that might otherwise spread disease or damage crops. Earthworms aerate the topsoil and move nutrients around. Whales literally stir the oceans by being huge and moving vertically in the water column. Insects pollinate crops. Plants produce oxygen, and so on.

Another key concept here is that of biodiversity. Biodiversity generally refers to the number of different species in a given area (species richness), as well as the health of those populations. At first glance, it may seem that a healthy ecosystem has each species in its niche, but in general if you remove one, others will adapt to take advantage of the gap.

Humans have been managing our surroundings in one way or another for many thousands of years, and as I’ve said before, we have no way to stop doing so. Our only choice is to try to do it in a way that will promote biodiversity and ecosystem resilience. Doing so would be impossible without a clear understanding of the current state of our ecosystems, how we are affecting them, and what results come from our efforts to change those effects.

Specialization has allowed humanity to achieve amazing things by using diverse skills in concert. The downside is that we rarely know a whole lot about specialties other than our own. This ignorance creates a gap that can be exploited by dishonest actors, or even honest folks who just get the wrong idea. That means that whenever there’s an article about a species going extinct, there’s always someone asking the reasonable question, “how do they know?”

The answer isn’t too hard to find, of course, but people often lack the time, energy, or interest to go looking. In brief, we know what’s happening in our ecosystems because thousands of people of all levels of expertise spend their lives catching and counting plants and animals, checking their bodies for industrial byproducts and other pollutants, and so on. It’s a painstaking, sometimes dangerous task, and also very rewarding.

In college I participated in a couple animal surveys, including one that was responsible for saving a species of Bahamian rock iguanas. Every year, conditions allowing, a team of biologists and students spends about a week trying to catch, identify, and measure every single member of the population. Often the breeding season is also monitored, using different methods. It’s hard work, but it’s how we know how the population is doing, what threats it faces, and so on.

I’ve been part of similar efforts monitoring freshwater turtle species, and grassland snake species, and I’ve worked with scientists doing the same for insects, bats, plants, and birds. In my childhood I spent many hours playing in the Middlesex Fells around Boston MA while my father counted native and invasive plants for his graduate degrees.

I also worked with groups who organized every day members of the community to help in those efforts.  Every year, millions of people of all ages help ecologists by reporting sightings of birds, flowers, insects, frog calls, and so on, as opportunity or hobbies dictate. Those reports can be part of an organized study, or they can be made directly to relevant government agencies. In the latter case, there will be someone like me who goes through the reports to determine their likely accuracy. One common example is that a “cobra sighting” in the American Midwest is almost certainly a terrified Hognose snake trying to look scary.

I’m writing this post because Tegan came across an opportunity for folks in Florida to help with such a project, and it’s something I keep forgetting to write about.

Since I wasn’t sure what was up with this dude, I did what I always do whenever I see something weird going on with a wild animal; I called my local Fish & Wildlife! This might sound like a crazy reaction to seeing a splotchy turtle but I actually learned something extremely important that I would love for my followers (especially those in Florida) to know about too. After calling F&W I spoke with the turtle specialist for quite some time, as it turns out there is an unknown pathogen killing softshell turtles in Florida, and biologists are desperate to find the cause. They need our help to do this! The biologist that I spoke with says they’re relying on civilian reports to find cases for further study, so it’s incredibly important to spread the word and make sure people know how to report any abnormal appearance or behavior in turtles that they see.

Fortunately my splotchy turtle (I call him Uncle Walter) doesn’t seem to be sick based on his presentation or behavior! The turtle experts examined his photos and at this point they agree he is probably just piebald, though they asked me to keep an eye on him and make sure his condition doesn’t change. I’m so happy that I am armed with knowledge I can use to monitor him and his friends in the face of this worrisome unknown illness.

To my friends here in Florida- if you see ANY wild turtle that looks sick, weak, distressed, or abnormal please contact Fish and Wildlife immediately using the information provided below! To my non-Fl friends, if you have any contacts that enjoy herping or just outdoor activity in the state please let them know about this as well. Our turtles are very dear to us and reporting possible illness is the best way we can help find what’s killing these animals.

These projects are everywhere. While I was working for the Wisconsin DNR I was able to see some data that’s exempted from things like the Freedom of Information Act, not because of anything related to national security, but because making the exact locations of endangered species easy to find leaves them open to harm from the illegal pet trade, animal parts trade, and people whose quest for riches is blocked by laws protecting those species.

These projects are everywhere.

If you are reading this, the odds are very good that if you do a search for “citizen science” or “community science”(a term I prefer), a local species you like, and your area, you’ll be able to find something. If that doesn’t work, you can contact local nature centres, natural history museums, or universities, or look for hobbyist clubs. If you go through all of that and can’t find anything, let me know and I’m willing to bet I can find something.

Responding to climate change, and to human destruction of the ecosystems we rely on requires a massive amount of information. Science at it’s best is a collective effort, and with the ubiquity of cameras and recording equipment, helping that effort has never been easier. If you can’t see, you may be able to help with frog or bird call surveys. If you can’t do any field work, there are always data that need to be processed, or you could count animals via video, and you can always help to publicise these projects. If you have the time, energy, and interest, go see what your options are!

If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my recent move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!

Another update

A fuse blew while I was writing the post this is replacing, and it won’t let us reset it yet, so this is from my phone’s dwindling battery.

Moving shenanigans have delayed my work a bit, but I’ll be putting a few shorter posts up this week, once I can turn on my computer again.


I hope you all are taking care of yourselves.

Update: Good health, and good spirits

I’m grateful to report that Tegan’s symptoms – which remained mild throughout – have disappeared and not returned for several days. It seems that her bout with COVID-19 was about as mild as is possible, while still having symptoms. As I mentioned before, I tested negative, and we maintained a pretty strict regimen of distancing and home ventilation. I’ve yet to show symptoms, so it seems like I somehow managed to avoid catching the virus altogether.

Isolation and ventilation work.

We’ve gotten a very short visa extension, and have pushed our move back by a couple weeks, so we can be sure Tegan’s PCR test will come up negative so we can travel, and so we have a little more time for packing and logistics. When the lockdown started, we had already stored up a little extra food against Brexit causing any shortages, after which point we forgot all about Brexit in the chaos of the pandemic.

Well, now Brexit is making our move to Ireland with pets newly complicated, so more time is needed.

In the meantime, my household is happy to be out of isolation, and I’ll have a more interesting blog post up tomorrow!

COVID-19: We almost made it a whole year

Tegan and I entered voluntary lockdown and started masking up in early March of 2020. For most of the last year, we’ve been extremely careful, and our primary risk of infection came from shopping from groceries, and Tegan’s job at a drive-thru. Now, alas, our luck has run out. Tegan tested positive for COVID-19 after we realized she had a slight fever.

We’re now isolating within the apartment, with me camped out on the couch by the open window, and her mostly staying in bed. I’ll go to get tested either Monday or Tuesday, but I can’t imagine that I haven’t caught it during her asymptomatic phase. I’ll probably blog about the experience either way.

I’ve been working on a longer piece about the pandemic and the responses to it, so now I guess I get to do a little field research into it’s personal affects. With any luck, I’ll be writing about a very mild case, for both myself and for Tegan.

So close to making it to vaccination…

Oh well.

This isn’t the last time I’ll say it, but the responses to the pandemic from governments like the U.S. and the U.K have not only led to unnecessary mass death and long-term disability, but also to the rapid evolution of multiple new strains of the disease, all of which are more infectious, and so will kill that many more people.

We knew how to stop this disease in its tracks, and it wasn’t done because it would not have been profitable. Policies influenced by capitalism and ignorance of science (evolution, in particular) have always been lethally destructive, but going into this century, the harm caused will escalate. We need a change, and we need it fast.

If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my upcoming move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!

A Trans Coming Out Story, from Philosophy Tube

The struggle for trans rights has, at the rhetorical and PR level, revolved around finding ways to get the cis, heteronormative majority to allow trans people to simply live their lives. Since it may not go without saying (yet), I want to emphasize that this effort, which is what most cis folks see, rarely actually gets at the depths of science, philosophy, and other forms of analysis that surround the experience of being trans. It’s merely the part that’s brought to the attention of the majority, as part of the effort to survive, and to thrive. In making the case for the need for medical transition, a lot of the focus has been on the suffering addressed by that treatment. This has been successful in increasing public awareness and acceptance of that need, but it has also given an incomplete picture of what being trans is like.

So I think this is an important video to watch. As with everything on Philosophy Tube, the video is interesting and informative, and I think it presents thoughts and perspectives that may be unfamiliar to many of my fellow cis folks.

Comforting analysis of what Trump can or cannot do

I’m hoping most of you keep an eye on the Youtube channel Beau of the Fifth Column, but if you haven’t seen it, this video is worth a few minutes of your time. Over the next few years, I think we’re likely to get a trickle of revelations about the work the GOP did to dismantle the infrastructure of the US government, and of US democracy (such as it is), but fortunately, he wasn’t able to do enough damage to keep himself in power.


That said, It seems very likely to me that the GOP is going to continue its adherence to fascist ideology and tactics, and they will try this again. People sometimes like to play the “who was the worst president” game, and while cases can be made for various people, the reality is that no president exists in a vacuum. The actions of each are made possible by those that came before. Trump’s immigration policies built on what the Obama administration did. Trump and Obama both made use of the security apparatus that was developed under George W Bush, and so on. It’s possible that the institutions of the American government will be patched up enough that the next would-be dictator will have as much difficulty as Trump did – or more – but it is by no means guaranteed.

Regardless of what comes next, I hope it is becoming clear to everyone that the version of representative democracy with which we are familiar is a failure. We cannot delegate self-governance to “leaders” by voting every couple years, and trust them to act for the common good. We must learn how to take a more active role in how our country is governed, not just to get the changes we need with regard to climate change and economic justice, but also to hold on to the dream of democracy, and to work to bring it into reality.

Climate change, despair, and hope

I recently got a comment from a reader who was feeling pretty hopeless about our future under climate change. Whether you’re thinking about the ways that higher temperatures will hurt agriculture, the direct human impact of ever-worsening heat waves, mass migration from rising sea levels, or the oceanic collapse that seems to be the likely outcome of rising temperatures and acidity, it’s easy to feel like the future is just going to be endlessly escalating misery, leading to extinction. As this introduction may have indicated, I am not immune to those fears. I think there’s a degree to which despair is the most logical conclusion when faced with the scale of the problem; even more so when you consider the ways in which the global political and economic landscape seems almost designed to guide us to the worst of all possible futures. It’s the biggest problem ever faced by humanity, at a time when it feels like all the resources we need to respond to it are committed to stroking the egos of the ruling class.

I’ve mentioned before that the original purpose of this blog was to provide a bit of perspective on what the worst-case scenarios of climate change looked like. At the time, activists I interacted with were still mostly caught up in the idea that we could somehow prevent the climate from changing in any major way, and those not active on the issue seemed to think it was a problem that could be put off for a century or two. The problem with researching worst-case scenarios is that it’s easy to feel that it’s all hopeless. It also made it easy to see how, once denial became impossible, those who wanted to prevent a systemic response to the problem would switch from “it’s not happening” to “there’s nothing we can do about it”.

Denial and doubt are powerful demotivators, but I fear they’re downright harmless when compared to despair.

With all the focus on the myriad of ways in which our future was likely to be horrible, there were definitely times when it seemed like there was no way out. In trying to deal with that, I struck on a metaphor that still resonates with me. It’s not hard to spark fear, and cause people to run away from a threat. The problem is that the future is unfamiliar territory. If you start fleeing for your life, and you don’t know where you’re going, the odds of going the wrong way are pretty high. You might run into a dead end, or toward an even greater danger. If you have some prospect of safety, however, you can run with that in mind.

I don’t just want to tell people what they need to avoid, though we should never forget that aspect of the situation. I want people to have some notion that running away can lead to more than just surviving until we can’t run anymore. The future doesn’t have to be terror, misery and death, if we work now to build what we’ll need for safety, community, and joy.

We need to build something that has never been built before, and it’s hard to get people to join in an effort like that if they can’t see what that has to offer. As it stands, the choice is less between good or bad futures, and more between two unknowns. Even as more and more people become convinced that one path leads towards hell on earth, if the other path leads into darkness, it’s not hard to imagine that it could be worse.

And we have people whose full-time job is telling us about all the horrors that might lurk in that darkness. Now that a lot of folks have realized that the planet’s going to keep warming, probably for generations to come, it now seems like the dark path is not just unknown, it’s the unknown plus all the horrors of the path we can see more clearly.

So, if I want to help people take action on climate change, and work with me to build a better future, I can’t just tell them what we’re avoiding. Blind panic won’t do us any good – it’s just as likely to lead to people seeking out the “comfort” of totalitarianism. Maybe more likely. What we need is to convince people that a better future is within our reach – that something different is possible, and good. The future is, without question, going to be terrifying in a lot of ways. But there’s a very real possibility that it could be wonderful, if we’re able, as a species, to stop clinging to the past and commit ourselves to something better.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

  -Antoine de Saint Exupéry

It’s tempting to compare the emotional reaction to climate change with the challenges of coping with depression. When you’re suffering from depression, it’s a bit like being stuck in thick fog. Even if you know it’s not your fault that you’re there, and that there are other people there with you, you still can’t see anything but endless, formless gray. The difference is that because other people have found ways to treat depression, and overcome it, we can hear voices telling us that the fog isn’t endless. There’s a way out, and they can try to help us find it. It gives us something to work towards.

When a country faces a problem like America’s nightmarish healthcare system, we can look to other countries, and see how they’ve tackled similar problems. We can see that there are better ways to do it. We can talk to people who’ve experienced both systems, and hear about the differences. We have something concrete to work towards, and the knowledge that even if the general solution is the same – universal healthcare – we can do it in our own way, if that’s important. We can try to do what others have done, and to improve on it.

Climate change is global, and there’s nobody on the other side of it. We’re all in the fog together, some people have discovered that the water’s rising, and told us which way is likely to lead to higher ground, but nobody can really see it, or claim for certain that it’s there. Nobody’s been there, and some people seem convinced that the water’s not rising, the higher ground doesn’t exist, and if we go looking for it, we’ll fall off a cliff or get eaten by monsters hiding in the fog.

We need to organize all of humanity to do something that’s never been done before. While I think it’s important for me to write about climate science, it may be more important for me to take a more speculative approach. I have a vision – or a hundred visions – of what a better future could look like, and it’s my job to try to share that with other people, and work with them to sort through the myriad of possible futures, and to work towards those that seem best. It’s difficult to do, because I don’t know what the future will look like either, and it’s much easier to conjure an image that strikes the viewer as impossible than it is to conjure one that we can believe is within our reach.

I also want to do that without misleading anyone about the gravity of our situation, or the difficulty of the work ahead.

 “The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned … I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.”

   -Antonio Gramsci

It’s common, in atheist circles, to point out that one cannot choose one’s beliefs. It’s not really possible to simply decide one day that you will begin to believe something. That said, I think it is possible for us to indoctrinate ourselves to some degree. That’s the truth behind the advice of “fake it till you make it” sometimes given to those who don’t believe but feel they should. If you’re surrounded by people who reinforce a certain belief, and you keep reinforcing it to yourself, you may come to actually believe it in time. This trait leaves us vulnerable to propaganda and malicious indoctrination campaigns, but it is also a tool that we should be able to make use of, not to mislead ourselves, but to convince ourselves of things that we may know to be true, without feeling to be true.

I’m not sure, but I think the version of this with which the most people are familiar is fear of the dark. For all the rational reasons behind it, there are times when that fear is, quite simply, not founded in reality. And so when forced to cope with darkness, many of us have resorted to reminding ourselves that there’s nothing to fear, or spinning narratives that cast the goblins of our imagination as incompetent, or having to follow strange, arbitrary rules that will provide us with safety if we step carefully.

Because darkness is something most people have to deal with from time to time, most of us learn to lose our fear of it, or to cope with that fear if it never goes away.

Similarly, I think there’s good evidence that we can not only survive climate change, but that we can build a world that allows us to thrive despite it. I do actually believe that, most of the time. The biggest obstacles are political, hence the frequency with which I write about politics. In this area, I think there’s also cause for both pessimism and optimism. Massive political changes have occurred throughout history, even against obstacles that seemed insurmountable.

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”

As hopeful as that quote is, it’s also worth remembering that most of the changes that can be compared to what’s needed today were not peaceful changes. Those who make the accumulation of wealth and power their life’s work are rarely willing to just give that up, and would rather destroy everything than lose their power over other people. That is dangerous, particularly in a world with so many tools and weapons available to the powerful. That said, their power still relies on the general population. I think overcoming global capitalism is necessary for humanity’s survival, and while that is a profoundly dangerous project, it is also entirely within our power. The fact that the capitalist class spends so much money convincing people that change is impossible, is an indication that they really do need to have most of the population either opposed to change, or unwilling to commit themselves to it. They’re willing to let go of some of their hoards to keep us passive, because they know that without our consent, they will not be able to keep those hoards.

That means that just as a better future is technologically possible, it is also politically possible. The question is figuring out how to make it happen. There’s a degree to which studying things like the labor movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the socialist and communist movements of the same era can provide us with many useful ideas, but the world has changed radically in the last few decades, and both the obstacles to change, and the available tools were unthinkable during those movements. There is no perfect formula that will solve the problem. While we need global change, we also need to accept that the exact form of that change is going to look different in different parts of the world. Humanity is too contrary and diverse for a one-size-fits-all approach. That said, we’re also all the same species, and more similar than we often think.

One size won’t fit all, but a basic pattern can be adapted to suit a wide variety of needs. I don’t think any one person can design that pattern, so my approach has been an attempt to piece together an eternal work in progress from the efforts and expertise of others.

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve moved from talking about the emotions surrounding climate change, to the kinds of work we need to be doing. There’s a reason for that. It’s a lot easier to feel like something is possible when you’re actively involved in working to make it happen. The problem is that for really big problems, we often don’t know where to even start, and it’s hard to see how the miniscule accomplishments of a single person, even working for an entire year, can make a difference. That’s the other aim of the direct action piece I just linked – while I believe that it can form at least part of the foundation for a global change, it’s also designed to provide the means for individual and community-level change. It helps me to know that if the grocery store runs out of food, I can feed my household for a while, as we figure out new sources. Even more, it helps me to know that I can help to feed my neighbors, so that we’re all able to work together toward solving that problem.

And I also know that I can convince others to accumulate a store of food for the same reasons, which further extends our ability to survive as a group. Focus on the things you can change personally, not because that’s enough, but because it puts you in a better position to tackle larger changes, and because it can connect you with others who are doing the same work. Do the work where you live, and I will do it where I live. Communicate with those around you. Communicate with those, like me, who live hundreds, or thousands of miles away. In the last few years I’ve helped people I will probably never meet, and been helped in turn. It gives me hope to see people contributing a little to the work I’m trying to do, not just because I like being able to make ends meet, but because it also means that they are doing well enough themselves that they’re able to do so. It gives me hope to know that there are people reading this blog in the US, and in Europe, and in Australia, and in other parts of the world, because that means that even with my tiny audience, there is a network of people who are at least thinking along similar lines, while they read these words. The problem is global in scale, but so is our ability to respond to it.

My direct action plan is not enough. Not nearly. But neither is it the only effort at dealing with the problem. My plan isn’t even “mine” – it is, itself, a collection of the efforts and thoughts of other people, in other parts of the world, who are almost certainly doing more than I am.

My “pessimism of the intellect” comes from a sober analysis of our circumstances. My “optimism of the will” comes from reminding myself, day after day, that there are people all over the world who are working on this problem, and who are helping others to do the same right now.

I would honestly be shocked if the planet didn’t continue warming for the rest of my life, but, self-indoctrination or no, I also believe that we can build lives worth living for an ever-expanding proportion of humanity as part of our effort to survive that warming.

This blog is currently my only source of income. If you’d like to support the work I do, feed my dog, or help offset the costs of our upcoming move, please head over to patreon.com/oceanoxia, and join the Oceanoxia collective. My patrons have kept my household fed and housed during this crazy year, and while I’ll continue looking for wage labor, I really like writing for you all, and would love to be able to continue dedicating most of my time to that endeavor. If you have the means and the desire to do so, please give according to your ability, that I might survive, according to my needs!