Exxon lied, crabbing died: Fishermen suing over the destabilization of the climate

There’s a long list of individuals and corporations who understood the reality and dangers of climate change, and chose to steal the future from humanity for their own profit. At or near the top of that list is Exxon, and everybody they made rich over the last 40 years or so. That money belongs to humanity, and the resources it represents will be needed if we’re going to survive.

The lawsuit being brought by Our Children’s Trust is part of trying to get back some of what was stolen by forcing the U.S. government to take action on climate change, and re-allocate its funds and power as a result. It’s a good start, but it’s only the beginning. As ecosystems enter the final stages of their collapse, industries are dying too, and taking whole ways of life with them. Other victims of this crime are starting to fight back. [Read more…]

Sea walls vs flood-friendly cities: Boston’s plan to adapt

The life of a sincere environmentalist is one of perpetually hoping and working to avoid the opportunity to say “I told you so”. The biggest successes are marked by nothing notable happening in the world, other than the continued thriving of life that all of us have known for our whole lives. If we had moved off of fossil fuels in time to prevent catastrophic warming, we would be facing a much happier, healthier, and less bloody future, in which some people would undoubtedly use the stable climate as a reason why the actions that kept it stable were unnecessary. That would have been nice.

I would have like to live in a world where climate change, like Y2K, was a disaster averted by hard work, so a lot of people thought there wasn’t potential for disaster in the first place.

Too bad, I guess.

There is one small rhetorical benefit to being past the point of no return, when it comes to a stable climate, and that is that regardless of your politics, the sea really is rising, and that’s going to be more obvious and more expensive every year. Never, ever let anyone forget that this could have been avoided, but at this point, what matters is the tasks at hand. Seas are rising, so how are we going to deal with that?

The most common proposal I’ve heard over the years is seawalls – if we’re expecting a couple feet of sea level rise, then we just build a wall, and carry on with life. This always frustrates me, because it’s basically a deliberate refusal to acknowledge the very real danger that sea levels won’t stop rising at just a couple feet.

Well, now it won’t stop, and so now we’re seeing plans that actually try to come to terms with the scale of what’s happening to our planet.

Building a wall, when we don’t know how much sea levels are going to rise, or how fast, or what kind of storm surges we’re going to see, is not a real solution.

So rather than spending vast amounts of money on allowing their city to exist as if the sea wasn’t rising, Boston is taking a tip from the Netherlands, and looking into a new kind of city designed to let people live with sea level rise, and to pull the city back from the water’s edge a bit.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, a Democrat, announced the city would be scrapping the idea of a sea wall in favor of, among other things, a system of waterfront parks and elevation of some flood-prone areas. The city will add 67 new acres of green space along the water and restore 122 tidal acres.

The idea is to give people access to the shoreline when the weather is nice, but when the parks get flooded — well, it’s not that big of a deal.

While Boston needs to do a lot better when it comes to economic and environmental justice, this is a big step toward a more just future. The horrors wrought on New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina underscore a simple fact – walls that allow building below sea level mean gambling with human lives, and those most at risk will always be those with the least political power, and the fewest resources to help them withstand the losses of a failed levee or seawall. This plan avoids the creation of neighborhoods that will flood should the walls fail, whether by accident or by design.

As always, this isn’t the only way to solve the problem of sea level rise, but I think it’s a big step in the direction of a better philosophy of how to interact with the planet we live on. It’s the kind of change we’re going to need if we’re to survive what’s coming.


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A bid for empathy: Three letters that can make white folks understand non-white fear of police

Beau of the Fifth Column has a bit of insight that might help clarify things for those who’re confused about why non-white Americans are upset about the status of policing in this country:

 

 


If you found this post useful or enjoyable, please share it! If you think the contents of this blog are worth a dollar a month please consider becoming a patron over at my Patreon page. Your donations make this blog possible, and even as little as one or two dollars per month adds up to make a difference. If you feel you can afford more than that, you can get access to all sorts of other content and perks! Your patronage allows me to put more of my time and energy into making this blog a useful resource. Thanks for reading!

 

Trump is concentrating hundreds of “unaccompanied” children into a camp.

And they’re lying about why they’re doing it.

A surge of undocumented children at the border ― and not the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy of separating migrant families ― was driving the need for more beds, HHS spokesman Kenneth Wolfe told The Washington Post last month. Officials have “worked round the clock to add beds or add shelters to avoid any backup” at the border, Wolfe said.

A follow-up New York Times article reported that huge increases in the number of detained migrant children in recent months were due to a reduction in the number being released by the federal government to live with families and other sponsors ― and not an influx at the border.

[Read more…]

Gelada baboons give us insight into the history of domestication

When I think about the history of human evolution, I always feel a twinge of regret that our sibling human species didn’t survive to grow with us. The more I learn about the rest of the biosphere, the clearer it is to me that we’re just one among many species, each with a lineage as ancient as our own. As the original Grand Poobah would say, I can trace my ancestry back to a protoplasmal primordial atomic globule, along with the ancestries of my dog, my cat, and that damned fly that got in here somehow. As with the dogs, and cats, and flies, we did not evolve in isolation. We were not always the only species on the planet with our kind of intelligence, and I think it’s sad that, for whatever reason, the rest of humanity didn’t manage to survive and thrive alongside Homo sapiens.

The painting shows a shirtless man wearing something like a kilt, talking to his son. The man's hair and beard are dark, the boy's hair is light blonde. The father is holding a stone hand ax, and pointing to it as his son looks. It appears to be a lesson in how to make a hand ax. To the sighted eye, their proportions and features are a little odd, and the label in the top corner tells us that while they're not Homo sapiens, but rather Homo neanderthalensis.

A man showing his son how to make a hand ax, H. neanderthalensis, by Tom Bjorklund

There’s also hope for the future though. While I will almost certainly never live to see another high-tech life form interacting with humanity, there’s always a chance that other people will. I understand that I’m being seriously optimistic here, but I think that if human civilization manages to last for tens, or hundreds of thousands of years, we’re both likely to encounter other intelligent life, and we’re likely to develop a society that’s not going to consume itself with xenophobia upon that encounter.

That vague hope is part of why it made me so happy when my wife sent me this article that I had missed back in June:

In the alpine grasslands of eastern Africa, Ethiopian wolves and gelada monkeys are giving peace a chance. The geladas – a type of baboon – tolerate wolves wandering right through the middle of their herds, while the wolves ignore potential meals of baby geladas in favour of rodents, which they can catch more easily when the monkeys are present.

Basically, the monkeys allow the wolves to become part of the herd, and to use that as a way to surprise unwary rodents. Good behavior is enforced by the geladas, of course, and if you compare sizes in this picture, it’s clear that the only way wolves can do anything in that herd is if the monkeys allow them to.

The image shows grassy scrubland, mostly in shades of green, with some brown and white where non-grass plants are growing. A herd of gelada baboons are going about their business. They're loosely scattered, all doing their own thing, and there's a wide array of sizes, from babies smaller than cats, to the fully grown adults. There's a single Ethiopian wolf near the bottom of the picture, and it's about the same size as the adult monkeys, and smaller than one male in the top right corner of the picture.

If left alone, where will this relationship end up? Could this be the beginning of a relationship like our own with dogs? I have no idea, but I really, really hope this is still going on, and going strong by the time I die. It seems unlikely at the moment, but hey, what are we fighting for?

Today I’m fighting for literate baboons that ride wolves.

 


If you found this post useful or enjoyable, please share it! If you think the contents of this blog are worth a dollar a month please consider becoming a patron over at my Patreon page. Your donations make this blog possible, and even as little as one or two dollars per month adds up to make a difference. If you feel you can afford more than that, you can get access to all sorts of other content and perks! Your patronage allows me to put more of my time and energy into making this blog a useful resource. Thanks for reading!

 

Vertical Farms and Automation

So here’s a topic I haven’t touched on in a while – as we’re getting off of fossil fuels, I think we should also invest in indoor farming infrastructure, particularly in cities. A well-run indoor farm can recycle water, keep out pests and pathogens, and generate a constant level of food production year-round. That production can be maintained regardless of temperature or drought, and without the need for anything like the level of pesticides and herbicides used in modern industrial agriculture. More importantly, it’s a way to grow food in population centers, which would dramatically increase a city’s resilience to all sorts of disasters. Fortunately we are seeing an increase in the indoor farming industry, so we may be closer to that slice of the future than most of us expect:

I noticed a couple things while watching this video. [Read more…]

Amphibian Extinction: Climate change isn’t the only problem

For scientists studying life on this planet, the question is no longer whether global warming is having an effect, but rather how much it’s affecting a given ecosystem. With that understanding, it’s not hard to jump to the conclusion that a given problem is due to the rise in temperature, and the changes that follow from that. It’s a trap I’ve fallen into more than once, and it’s not just a problem because I want to speak the truth. It’s also a problem because it’s important to remember that while the destabilization of the global climate is possibly that most dangerous side-effect of human activity, we’re causing other problems as well. [Read more…]

What is a species worth? Turtles in decline around the world

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time wandering around in some of the forests and wetlands in the greater Boston area. One of my earlier memories was seeing a snapping turtle crossing the newly paved Minuteman Bikeway.

Somewhere between kindergarten and second grade, I was walking down a stream near my school, using a stick to help balance as I went. I poked it down into a dark pool against the bank, and something grabbed my stick and gave it a good jerk. There’s something special about the shiver of startlement that runs over you when you realize that in that alien world, just on the other side of the stream’s surface, there’s something watching you. Something as strong as I was – maybe stronger – had just seized hold of my stick, and I couldn’t get it back until whatever creature was lurking below let go.

Thinking on moments like that, it’s easy to see how legends would spring up of water spirits who attack the unwary. [Read more…]

Corporations are not friends, my people.

The point has been made that if corporations are people, then their behavior is downright psychotic. Case in point, CSX Railroad actively obstructed Lumberton, NC’s efforts to prepare for Hurricane Florence. They needed to put down a sand berm across a CSX track as part of the effort to stop the town from flooding. The response?

Not only did CSX refuse to allow the city to build the berm, it also threatened to take legal action if the city did, multiple people with knowledge of the situation told HuffPost. It wasn’t until local officials petitioned Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to intervene that they were able to begin construction of the makeshift wall late last week.

CSX has come out with a couple different reasons for this. The first was the claim that the sand would damage the tracks. As we all know, while railroad tracks all have magical spells on them to prevent damage from flooding, sand is another matter entirely. It’s coarse, andrough, and irritating, and basically, corporations are Darth Vader is what I’m saying. During his whiny Haydn Christianson phase, not the murder-cyborg with the James Earl Jones voice – that part comes later when the workers try to stand up for themselves.

The image shows a vast warehouse or underground cavern. White lights on the ceiling create a glow in the misty air. Three trains

We are altering the deal. Pray we don’t alter it any further.

[Read more…]

Facebook is not your friend, and it might be your enemy.

Do not trust billionaires. Do not trust big corporations. Both owe their existence to a lack of concern for human wellbeing. Whatever their PR teams say, do not look to them for salvation, and do not expect them to have your back when the going gets tough.

The 2016 election gave many Americans a new awareness of the dangers of propaganda. In particular, we had our eyes opened to the ways in which aspects of our daily lives, like Facebook, can be used like puppet strings to control the unwary. Don’t forget that – Facebook was one of the tools used to influence the election and give us President Donald John Trump.

Facebook, of course, ran a spin campaign to convince everybody that they weren’t to blame. It’s currently seen as important for corporations to be viewed as “the good guys”. Facebook announced that they were very, very sorry for their support of propaganda, and that they would be fact-checking things now, so it would all be OK. You may be shocked to learn that all does not be OK. [Read more…]