Catastrophic convergence: drug resistance, climate change, and overpopulation

The 20th century saw a  number of failures that were potentially avoidable, and that all seem to be converging on the mid-late 21st century.

Image shows a petri dish with white lines of yeast growing in it.

From Washington Post – A strain of Candida auris in a petri dish

Aside from the many, many failures in the realms of war and economics, there are three big ones that worry me right now, and that I think will feed into each other in a horrific manner. The first, obviously, is climate change. The other two are overpopulation and drug resistance in diseases.


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Potentially electrifying development in battery technology

These days I’m a bit wary about new developments in renewable energy that have shown up in a lab. There are a lot of these that come out on a regular basis, and a vast majority of them have yet to actually be put to any practical use. They’re fun to check out, and it can be encouraging to see the things we could do, if we had a national effort to change our energy infrastructure, but it’s also frustrating, because it seems like most of these developments don’t really go anywhere, or if they are going somewhere, it’s not fast enough.

Another problem I have is that I don’t know enough about electronics, physics, and chemistry to make a concrete assessment of the practicality of any given technology, so I’ve gotten caught up in pipe dreams in the past. I don’t know which this is, but if it pans out, it’s a seriously big deal.

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Dancing on thin ice

In case you missed it, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) announced last week that Arctic sea ice had reached its annual winter maximum, and that was the lowest on record for the third year in a row. This is bad news, but we knew it was coming.

Over the years, I’ve found it necessary to remind people that the theory of human-caused climate change was a predictive one. We knew the temperature would rise decades before the rise was statistically significant. We knew that sea levels would rise too, and that ice would melt. We also knew that melting arctic ice would increase the amount of heat that the ocean absorbed, and lead to faster warming, and faster melting.

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Action alert: Save climate data!

Trump has told the EPA to lose their climate change page.

“If the website goes dark, years of work we have done on climate change will disappear,” one of the EPA staffers told Reuters, who added some employees were scrambling to save some of the information housed on the website, or convince the Trump administration to preserve parts of it.

Please consider downloading materials from this site to save them. I’ll need this stuff for my work, but the more people have it, the lower the chances something will be missed. I’ll start posting stuff for download on my blog soon, but for now I’m going to try to make sure I’ve got everything I can. Also – get stuff from NOAA:

I’ll also post other sites that might be covered by this.


What do we do now? Disease in the 21st century

The question of what to do about global warming has always been a difficult one to answer. It’s a problem caused by a myriad of factors, many of which lie beyond the power of the average citizen to affect. Deliberate and accidental inaction to avoid destabilizing our climate have led us to the point where “What can we do?” is a simpler question to answer than it used to be.

When it comes to changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere, our options as individuals are still pretty limited, but we’re no longer facing a question of if the climate will warm. The climate is warming, and the evidence indicates that it will continue to do so for the rest of our lives. What, then, can we do about it?

When the warnings about global warming first came out, we had time to work to change our energy infrastructure, and to avoid destabilizing our climate. The same is true now, at a smaller level. For most of us, the worst effects of climate change aren’t here yet. They’re coming, and they’re coming soon, but we’ve got just a little breathing space. We can use that for preparation to reduce the harm to ourselves and to others when the shit really hits the fan.

2016, as an El Niño year, gave us a glimpse of one of the dangers waiting over the horizon. As temperatures rise, ecosystems all over the planet are creeping into new territories, and that includes changes in location and behavior of diseases. PNAS has just published a study from the University of Liverpool that concluded that the El Niño conditions of this past year played a key role in the Zika Virus outbreak:

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Happy thanksgiving y’all. I’ve got a new post coming soon, but in the meantime here’s something more important from Caine:

Today is a holiday for some. Not for me, not for most Natives, we don’t care to celebrate genocide. Today, we’re on the way back to the Oceti Sakowin camp (this post was set up last night, we have to do that whole crack o’ dawn thing), and we’ll be back when we’re back. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to take the computer and all that crap with me. If you see posts in the next couple of days, then I did. If not, I didn’t. Marcus has most generously offered to be our back up if we are arrested, so don’t worry about that. If we are, we’ll make it back out eventually. We’ll have the van, because we’ll be hauling building wood and fire wood once more, and the need for firewood is severe. More, more, and more is needed, as it gets colder, and all the kitchens need it to keep feeding people. There are ways you can help on that score, and I’ll be including them. We’ll be staying at the Oglala camp, as usual.


Climate change, elections, and fear

I have a major problem when it comes to writing about climate change. I don’t like the notion that all I’ve got to offer is doom and gloom. What we know about climate change isn’t good for humanity, and the closest thing we get to good news from climate scientists is something along the lines of “this thing might provide a very, very minor mitigating factor, so it might not get as bad as we fear as quickly as we fear.” A good example would be this publication from 2011 talking about how icebergs that break off from rapidly melting ice sheets actually create a small increase in CO2 absorption. It’s nice that there are some negative feedback loops in play, however small, but it’s small comfort in the face of what’s going on. Likewise, there’s plenty happening in renewable energy around the world, and I do plan to write more about that, but the take-away is that it’s not enough yet. Not close to enough.

And so there’s this election. The best possible outcome tomorrow is that we’ll all be relieved that Trump was not elected, and that’s not nothing. The case has been made many times now that while Clinton might not be the candidate that many of us wanted, she will move the country in the right direction on a number of issues, that none of the third party candidates have presented a clear case to vote for them (if your personal moral system includes doing the most good and the least harm possible with the power you have), and that Trump is a weak-willed, insecure, Putin wannabe with no self control who could single-handedly plunge the world into generations of chaos.

I often find myself reminding people that context matters, and in this context, a Clinton win is something to celebrate without reservation. Backing away from the election of a bigoted demagogue is a major accomplishment that a number of nations around the world have failed to achieve. It’s something that humans do on a regular basis, and avoiding that course is no small feat.

But no matter the outcome of this election, we will be faced with yet another presidency that underestimates the scale, severity, and urgency of what is happening in our climate. In that context, it’s hard not to feel gloomy about what the rest of this century is going to look like. Droughts, floods, and lethal heat waves are coming, and with them will come starvation, disease, and unrest across the globe. From what I can tell, that is no longer avoidable.

And while there are some encouraging predictions about what will happen to global society and global energy sources in the next two decades, this election has served as a stark reminder that there are some people who fantasize about living in a Mad Max-style hellscape, because they think they’d do well in that situation, and they’d be “free”. These people are also generally heavily armed, and have spend a significant portion of their lives fantasizing about a world in which they can, or indeed must kill other people to survive. The problem with trying to maintain a somewhat ordered civilization is that it doesn’t actually require a majority of people to disrupt it and create chaos. There’s no question that the U.S. armed forces, even without bringing in the really heavy weaponry, could create an massive amount of chaos if they turned their weapons on this nation. They make up less than one percent of the population. I don’t know what percent of the nation is involved in the militia movement, the KKK, and other extremist groups, but the reality that as the climate conditions worsen in the coming years, my biggest fear is the damage that could be done by the people who have stockpiled weapons, ignorance, and paranoia.

I don’t have an answer. I don’t think anybody does, but I trust the scientific method, and the data I’ve seen indicate to me that the biggest threat to civilization will come from a combination of worsening conditions and some of the people who think it’s a good idea to hand over world-ending power to someone like Donald Trump.

Randall Munroe does it again

A while back, XKCD shared this excellent comic about climate change, proposing the “Ice Age Unit”, or IAU, defined as 4.5 degrees Celsius, and justified as follows:

Image is headed by the text,

“The good news is that according to the latest IPCC report, if we enact aggressive emissions limits now, we could hold the warming to 2°C. That’s only HALF an ice age unit, which is probably no big deal.”

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