Breathing water in a warming world: Oceanic dissolved oxygen update

While the general public – even in the United States – is ever more convinced of the reality and dangers of climate change, most of the focus is, understandably, on large events with a human death toll and a big price tag. While these big changes are important to track, to respond to, and to prepare for, it’s useful to check up on the ones that aren’t as easy to see, so that we can, at least in theory, plan for when they become more obvious, and more dangerous. [Read more…]

Massive crop failure is coming, and nationalism will kill us all.

2010 was a particularly frustrating year for climate activists, at least in America.  It was a year of massive, destructive climate catastrophes, and it barely caused a ripple in American politics. Growing up, I learned a lot about how important rainforests – the Amazon in particular – were for producing oxygen. 2010 marked the second time since we were able to measure it that the Amazon rainforest suffered a drought so severe that it became a net producer of CO2. That particular headline was overshadowed, mostly by the flooding in Pakistan.

Because that was also the year that Pakistan got so much rain that about 20% of the country was under water. But of course that water had to come from somewhere, right? A lot of it came from Russia, which was suffering a heat wave and drought so severe they had to halt grain exports, causing global food prices to rise. The global river of wind called the Jet Stream had changed its pattern, and that held the heat on Russia, sucking up all its water, and carrying it over to the mountains of Pakistan, where a continent’s worth of rain was dumped on one small country. All of that also lost a bit of attention when Nashville flooded over here.  Oh, and China had some problems, as did Australia. The whole planet got hit pretty hard all at once, and it caused food prices to spike. And to be clear – when food prices spike, that means that there really is less food. The whole planet got closer to starvation in 2010, and there were, without question, people who did starve to death, because – and it can’t be said enough – a bunch of politicians and fossil fuel executives decided to spent vast amounts of money lying to the whole world.

And the one, consistent refrain from the scientific community was that this was a glimpse of what we can expect normal conditions to be like later on in the 21st century. Almost a decade later, and we’re just as vulnerable. It’s not a question of if we will need food assistance from the rest of the world, but of when we will need it.

So what can we do about this? The first, most urgent thing to do is fight against the current trend towards nationalism and authoritarianism. If we further the divides between our various nations, we will not survive as a species. If the world is made up of self-centered, nationalist regimes who focus only on themselves, then the only “solution” to a nation- or continent-wide crop failure will be war, which will mean more land made infertile, and fewer people able to focus on growing food.

In addition to strengthening international bonds, we should be taking steps to change our own food production. In the long run, if we want a human civilization that can have a long run, multiple-story, enclosed farms may be the only way to both ensure farm production, and allow for natural ecosystems to exist and evolve. I honestly don’t think it would be less resource intensive than current large-scale farming, but the resources needed would be different, and more importantly, available. The primary farming resource for all of human history – predictable annual weather patterns – is now depleted. Our food system is operating on the scraps of stability that remain, but those are going to go away, and it’s going to happen very soon.

Indoor farming is a growing method of food production, but as has been said so often, we need to be mobilizing on the scale of our mobilization in WW2. We could be doing this. We should be doing this. Currently, we’re not.

 


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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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American Justice: Get debt for being human, go to prison for being in debt

The American economy has been structured to force anyone who’s not wealthy into debt. All humans will require healthcare at some point in our lives, and politicians from both major parties have played a huge role in ensuring that when you get sick, you can’t afford treatment.

Faced with the choice between debt and death, most people choose debt, in the hopes that they can find a way out of it. Now that debt is being used as an excuse to ensla- imprison people.

This is not an accident. This is not “the free market” – this is people billionaires funding judicial campaigns so that they can indulge their megalomania and push us closer to fascism and slavery. Let’s not forget that many modern companies made large fortunes off of the American slave trade, as well as from the policies of Jim Crow and Segregation. These people never wanted slavery to end. They never wanted Segregation to end. They never wanted labor laws.

Their only allegiance is to money and power, idolized in themselves. Given the opportunity, they will enslave you, and they’ll use your government to do it, just as they always have.


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!

 

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!

 

Fascist takeover alert: Brett Kavanaugh and the end of democracy

Let’s pretend, for just a moment, that we have rule of law in America right now, and that this country is democratically run, and just having a crisis right now.

Kavanaugh will end that if we give him the power he seeks:

With Gamble vs. U.S., No. 17-646, the results of this case will have the power to change the lives of Donald Trump and every Republican scumbag in Congress (and beyond), as well as America as we know it. Gamble vs. U.S. deals with the “separate sovereigns” exception to the double jeopardy clause and, if overruled, will allow a sitting president to pardon both federal and state-level crimes.

For those who don’t see the danger, Trump and his partners in crime are vulnerable to multiple state-level charges. Because states are supposed to have some level of self-governance, the power to pardon those convicted of state crimes rests solely with the governor of that state. The President of the United States of America is currently only authorized to pardon people for federal crimes.

Kavanaugh is already known to believe that the President should be above the law, and this would be the last step to total impunity.

This is the Republican long-game. This is why the GOP has been fighting tooth and nail to rig the justice system to have as many conservative activists swinging a gavel as possible. I don’t know if it was the shift caused by the Southern Strategy, or the influence of powerful people wanting more power, but the GOP has been deliberately trying to overthrow democracy in America for decades. They also haven’t really been quiet about it – the desire to have total control has been at the forefront of their strategy, and it really seems like the Democrats were so used to punching hippies, that when the GOP started agreeing with the hippies and saying “yeah, no, we want authoritarian Republican rule in perpetuity”, the Dems ignored that the same way they ignore Antifa.

It’s almost enough to make one wonder if the gaggle of millionaires “representing” the left wing of this country aren’t actually fighting very hard for the American People. Every step of the way, they have insisted on returning to regular order after the GOP pushed the government to the right, including refusing to get rid of the filibuster even as the GOP abused it in a manner never before seen in American history.

Regardless, the Democrats are all we’ve got, and this supreme court fight may be all that stands between the GOP and total authoritarian rule.

Once Kavanaugh gets on the court, Trump will be able to pardon ANYONE in the country for ANY crime, and it’s not going to stop there.

Remember the laws proposed to make it legal to murder protesters with your car?

Or how about the Universal Military Service and Training Act of 2001, or it’s multiple predecessors?

Think about the camp that currently houses hundreds of children whose “crime” is that they came here or were brought here seeking refuge. Think about the thousands of dead in Puerto Rico. Think about the thousands of dead from Katrina.

Fascism in the 21st century will be just as brutal as it was in the 20th century, but in addition, the climate that the GOP ensured would be unstable is going to be killing off most of their targets  anyway. And if someone gets charged with criminal negligence for letting thousands die of preventable disease, or flooding, or starvation? Well, they control the courts, and even if there’s a judge or two with a conscience, they’ll be able to just pardon them.

Or pardon a person who might “accidentally” let the A/C break in a concentration camp during a heatwave.

Or whoever was responsible for the now-undrinkable water left to rot in Puerto Rico while people were drinking from wells they KNEW were poisoned to survive.

However bad you think it is now – however bad you think it has been in the last century, Fascist America will be worse. There is no end to how bad this gets. The longer Fascism has hold, the more it consumes, and if you look at the rhetoric, policies, and actions of today’s GOP, they will make excuses for everything. It’s an ideology that requires a world-ending enemy to unify the nation, and there’s no limit to what humans will do to an enemy like that.


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…]