Florida state of emergency highlights a larger problem

Whether it’s banning references to climate change, or sending armed goons to invade the home of a scientist calling out false COVID numbers, the Florida Republican Party hasn’t been shy about suppressing or ignoring science that relates to ongoing crises.

That’s why it was rather alarming to hear that Florida governor Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency over a looming industrial disaster.

Work crews were pumping millions of gallons of contaminated wastewater into an ecologically sensitive Florida bay on Sunday, as they tried to prevent the “imminent” collapse of a storage reservoir at an old phosphate mine.

Officials in Manatee county extended an evacuation zone overnight and warned that up to 340m gallons could engulf the area in “a 20ft wall of water” if they could not repair the breach at the Piney Point reservoir in the Tampa Bay area, north of Bradenton.

In addition to the direct kinetic and water damage of a flood that size, mine waste ponds tend to contain toxic, often radioactive materials, as in this case.

Crews are working both to plug the leaks, and to drain the pond, but it’ll be a little over a week before they’re done. In the meantime, the area is being evacuated.

If you do a quick search for “mine tailing disasters”, you’ll see that this is neither a new problem, nor one that is limited to any one part of the globe. The reality is that dealing with the problem of mine waste has been put off more or less indefinitely, rather than cutting into profits to address the issue. It should come as no surprise to my readers that I think this is not a problem that can be put off much longer.

Obviously climate disasters like storm-fueled floods or drought-fueled dust storms or fires can spread toxic waste, but “storage solutions” like this also put drinking and irrigation water at risk. Unfortunately I think the problem goes deeper than that. As I mentioned this past September, the industrial activity involved in non-fossil energy technology is neither cleaner than any other form of mining and manufacturing, nor is it exempt from the ways in which the profit motive encourages companies to cut corners and ignore problems.

I very much hope that the immediate danger is averted, and neither the homes, nor the jail in the flood zone are harmed. Once the crisis has passed, however, the larger problem remains, and as with so many others, the longer we delay dealing with it, the more it will cost in blood and resources to deal with it.


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!

Forests for food: ecosystem management for a brighter future

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, much of the blame for the disaster that followed rightly went to neglected or inadequate infrastructure, and the structural racism that allowed known problems to linger until they brought devastation on the low-lying minority communities of that city. Most of that death and destruction could have been prevented, had those with the power to do so cared more about human life than about money.

The region’s “natural” infrastructure got a bit less focus. Salt marshes and mangrove swamps once lined far more of the Gulf Coast than they do today. Industrial and commercial activity have both steadily cut away at those ecosystems, carving channels for ships and poisoning the water with oil and gas wells. The result was that the natural breakwaters that used to protect low-lying populations like New Orleans are mostly gone, so when a storm surge rises, there’s no tangle of vegetation to slow its momentum and reduce its power to overwhelm the human structures farther inland.

In our careless destruction of the ecosystems around us, we are also robbing ourselves of the benefits we derive from so-called “ecosystem services“.

Other such services include things like the oxygen generated through photosynthesis, the food we take from wild populations, the pollination provided by bees and other insects, the parasites eaten by insectivores, the water cleaned by wetlands, and so on.

It’s pretty common for people to take these services for granted. They’ve always been there, and it can be easy to feel like they always will be.

These days, however, it’s increasingly obvious that not only are we losing them at an alarming rate, for some, like natural protections against storm surges, they’re effectively almost gone.

If we want humanity to survive, we are faced with either attempting to replace these services with human constructs, or with cultivating and protecting them, restoring at least some of what has been lost, and living in a manner that encourages those ecosystems to thrive.

This is no small task, as we’ve done a lot of damage and the rapid warming of our planet will do still more in the coming years. It may well end up costing us as much as the technological and societal changes -like ending fossil fuel use- that are already at the centre of environmental discourse.

Now that we are effectively a force of nature on the surface of this planet, our survival depends on planning for the deep future. I think this is one reason the concept of a food forest has appealed to me since I first encountered it.

Food forests are basically what they sound like. A planned and cultivated forest ecosystem filled with plants that produce food for human consumption. Nut, fruit, and sugar trees for the upper stories, berries and things like grape vines lower down, and various edible greens, roots, and mushrooms at ground level.

Done right, such an ecosystem requires little labour to maintain, and where conventional farming often depletes the soil, leaving the land less productive for future generations, a food forest can potentially feed people for centuries or more without the need for massive use of fertilizers or pesticides.

I want to be clear – this is a trade-off. I don’t know the exact numbers, but a system like this is going to produce a lower density of food per acre than a monoculture field. Machine-based harvesting wouldn’t work, or wouldn’t work as efficiently. This is not a form of agriculture designed to produce vast amounts of a single crop like wheat, corn, or soy.

I think the ideal arrangement would be a mix of unmanaged wilderness, conventional farmland, and various kinds of food forest. The concept also isn’t limited to a conventional “forest” – similar planned ecosystems are possible in a wide variety of conditions,  and may not always include things like larger trees. While food is a central part of such an ecosystem, it’s multi-purpose.  It provides habitat for wildlife, a communal place for recreation, a tool for public education, and the cultivation and maintenance of ecosystem services.

This is not a new concept. Not even close.

When I say a well-managed food forest can feed people for centuries, that’s because such forests have already done so. Perhaps the most famous example is an ancient forest in Morocco, but in reality this form of agriculture has been found in all sorts of places. European cultures, as part of their obsession with the imagined superiority of their “race”, dismissed the possibility that Native American cultures, for example, pursued their own forms of agriculture and land management, simply because they didn’t conform to how the colonists thought such activities “should” look.

What this really comes down to is this: our current global society operates largely on the assumption that humans are somehow separate from the rest of life on this planet – that because we are different in how we interact with our surroundings, we do not depend on the ecosystems we inhabit. I’ll delve more into ecosystem services and things like food forests in the future, but with the alarm about declining wild bee populations alone, I think it has become abundantly clear that that perceived separation was always as much of a lie as the white supremacist dismissal of these forms of ecosystem management.

As indicated by some of the sources I have linked, work has long been underway to both raise awareness of these practices and to expand existing food forest projects – both new, and very, very old. In ecology, diversity tends to mean strength and resilience. I think that’s a guideline we would do well to follow if we want humanity to have a future worth living in.


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!

Dublin, at last

Well, where to begin?

Firstly, let me apologize for my long absence. My extended visa in the UK expired at the end of March, and so Tegan and I had arranged to move to Dublin, where her PhD began this year.

Unfortunately, her bout with Covid back in February is still showing up on tests, so she wasn’t allowed to travel. I came on ahead, with the cat and the dog to set up shop. Without going into too much detail, life got a lot more complicated than we had expected, and, I didn’t have much time or energy for anything other than moving.

Now I’m in Dublin at last, with Tegan shortly behind (I hope), and so far it has been lovely. Pretty much as soon as I got off the ferry from Holyhead, a fellow stopped to declaim at length about what a pretty dog Raksha is (which is an inarguable Truth), and to give me both his number, and the offer of help if I needed it.

That has set the tone for my time here the last couple days, with neighbors and contacts helping with boxes, groceries (since I am in quarantine) and other offers of assistance.

I couldn’t help thinking that this is very like the kind of community organizing/building work that inspired my direct action post, and after so long in the fragmented social landscape that seems so common in cities, there’s a lot for me to learn simply by trying to be a good member of this community to which I’ve moved.

It’s remarkable, for example, how a group of people going about their lives will cover enough ground in a city that if someone needs something, the odds are good that a neighbour will be able to pick it up, without needing a company like Amazon.

I suppose it comes with a loss in privacy – I’m not used to people outside my household knowing my grocery list and whatnot – but I find that it doesn’t bother me too much.

Maybe coming to terms with mass surveillance and other invasions of privacy has prepared us all to re-embrace the comparatively mild inconveniences that might come with a supportive community.

Multiple governments and corporations know, or will know as soon as they wish to, my health problems, my money problems, what I say near microphones, and what I do online.

They will never offer to pick up supplies for me, or to walk my dog.

When I get a terminal disease, they may well know it before I do, but they will not tell me or help me without a high price.

I’ve known them for two days, but I know for a fact that my new neighbours will bring me soup if I’m ill, whether or not I ask for it. I also know that being a renter impedes my ability to give as much to this community as I otherwise could.  Repairs, improvements, and maintenance all have to go through the company that owns my home, and while the people there are perfectly nice, and I’m sure are good people, their decisions in that regard are informed more by seeking profit than by the needs of their tenants.

I cannot be certain, but I suspect that is why my new refrigerator doesn’t work, and won’t until some time after my quarantine is over, despite this flat being vacant for weeks before I got here.

What would life be like if, instead of paying €1600 per month to someone else, somewhere else, I could spend that directly on what’s needed? Even if that was just a few hundred per month, it would allow me to save, and to spend more money on things like communal agriculture projects, or an algal farming cooperative, or something like that.

Instead, we have a long chain of people, each of whom is forced by law and circumstance to pay the next link, all funneling back to a small handful whose only skill is hoarding wealth.

In training themselves to become or remain wealthy, they neglected any of the creativity or human experience that would allow them to spend that wealth in a way that provides a net benefit for their own species, or the species on which we rely.

All.of this is to say that I’m “back”, with no intention of such lapses in the foreseeable future.  My formatting will be different for a bit because I’m doing this on a phone till I can get my computer running, but it good to be able to write for y’all again.

Tomorrow’s post will be on food forests, and as always I’m eager for feedback that will help me improve this blog as a resource for those who read it.

Edit: food forest post is going up Sunday. I lost track of time unpacking. It’s easy to forget that things other than writing also take time.

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 update: Why masks and distancing matter, and why we need to change how things are run

It’s surreal. I’ve been isolating with Tegan and the critters since March. It was pretty easy, because nobody was hiring, and neither of us was able to get wage labor until Tegan got a minimum wage gig in August almost by accident. The animals both love having us around all the time, and we humans still enjoy each other’s company. It’s not a big apartment, and given the infectiousness of this virus, and the long period of asymptomatic contagiousness, we figured that if one of us got it, both of us would. Apparently not. I got tested yesterday, and my result was negative.

Even so, the evidence at this point is pretty clear – even if a mask and distancing don’t prevent you from getting the disease, they will make it far more likely that you’ll have a light case. For those who aren’t clear on why, here’s a basic breakdown:

When the virus enters your system and begins to hijack cells for reproduction, it starts a timed contest. The “goal” of the virus is to infect every cell it can, to reproduce as much as it can, and to spread to as many other people as it can before your body either wipes it out, or dies. The “goal” of your immune system is to develop antibodies that can destroy the virus before it infects you badly enough that you die.

Let’s say you got the virus because some science-denying asshole coughed and sneezed directly in your face. You got a huge dose – your starting population of the virus is in the tens of thousands, and its starting position is in your mouth, nose, and eyes. Viruses grow exponentially in the body – one cell produces many particles of the virus, and because those are starting inside your body, the odds are that most of them will infect other cells and repeat the process. You go from a population of 20,000 to 20,000,000 very, very quickly, and from there to the hundreds of millions, and then billions. By the time your immune system has the ability to really respond, huge portions of your body are infected, and with COVID-19 that means not just your respiratory system, but your circulatory system, nervous system, and multiple organs. Billions of your cells each pumping out thousands upon thousands of new virus particles. This isn’t great for your health, because the virus population is using your resources to do all of this, and those resources are then unavailable for normal bodily functions.

The virus is not what kills you, though. The problem is that the immune system doesn’t kill the virus directly, it targets the virus’s means of reproduction – infected cells. So, your body develops the ability to detect and destroy infected cells, some time after your initial exposure, and then it sets about doing that. The question then is – how many of your cells are infected? If the number is too high, then your immune system will basically be doing the equivalent of amputating a limb that has gangrene to prevent the rot from spreading to the rest of your body. It’s probably better than dying, but it comes with its own dangers. Specifically, it’s amputating one cell at a time, and it’s doing it in your lungs, your heart, your blood vessels, your nerves, and so on. The extent of your viral infection determines the extent to which your body destroys itself to purge the infection.

It’s a bit like doing a controlled burn to eradicate an invasive species like honeysuckle (in the US) – if it’s just in a small area, that method might well work, but if – as is the case in much of the United States – there’s honeysuckle throughout the forest understory, then you’re likely to destroy not just the invasive species, but the rest of the forest as well.

Now let’s say you contract the virus from your significant other or room mate, but you’ve had windows open and kitchen and bathroom vents running, you wear masks most of the time, you stay in separate rooms, and you never interact directly (can you tell I’m bitter about my current situation?). Now, instead of 20,000, your starting virus population is 1. Or more likely 100. Now your body has a better chance of developing and carrying out its response before the virus has infected too many of your cells. Now, instead of hundreds of billions of cells that need to be destroyed, there are just billions, or a few hundred million (out of hundreds of trillions in your body). Your body can take that hit pretty easily. It’s not good, and it’s not fun, but neither is it lethal, and depending on what cells are infected, it might not even have lasting effects.

By taking all those precautions, you’ve gone from your body melting down your lungs and veins, and killing you to eradicate your viral population, to doing pretty minor damage that you may not even notice, in an asymptomatic case.

So, back to my situation if I do catch the disease from Tegan, does that mean I get to interact with her again? No. Not while she’s still sick. See – you don’t stop being vulnerable to infection once you’re infected. It’s not an on/off situation. Let’s say I tested positive, but I don’t have any symptoms. Good. All of my caution has paid off, and my viral load is in the hundreds of thousands. I might get a bit of a cough or a fever, and if I’m unlucky I could have lasting damage to some parts of my body, but I’m not going to be in danger for my life.

And then, since I’m “already infected”, I go to take care of my wife, who’s worse off than I am. And every time I go into the bedroom, my viral population gets a boost. It might even get virus particles that have evolved to be better at invading cells (like the new variants now spreading across the globe). Now I’m going from a manageable, or even asymptomatic viral load, to a dangerous one, and at the same time, I’m adding to Tegan’s viral load, and increasing the odds that her immune system will do serious damage. I might even introduce a new variant to her.

And so I sit in a chilly room with wind blowing through the open door, and a vent running in the kitchen. I don’t go to comfort her, even though we could both use a hug. If I need to give her something, I leave it in the hall, and go back into my part of the apartment. If someone delivers a package, I tell them to set it outside the door, and wait till they’re long gone before I open it to get what they left.

Infectious disease is a numbers game, and knowing that, we can adjust our behavior to cut off the viral supply lines.

As I was writing this, I noticed that a great deal of what I was saying also applies to how countries deal with a pandemic. Fortunately, we’re not just killing everyone who tests positive, but the more people test positive, the more there are to infect others, and the greater the total amount of viral particles there are in any given location. A park on a breezy day may seem safe – and it is safer than an enclosed space – but if everyone in that park is infected, they’re giving off a cloud of viral particles, like cigarette smoke, that is more or less likely to reach other people, depending on how many are producing that cloud.

The lack of response in the US and the UK (probably other countries too, but I haven’t paid as close attention to them) has done just that. It has increased the viral loads of those countries, and consequently increased the viral load of infected individuals. Even now, isolation and masking are still saving lives, and helping to control the pandemic and many other infectious diseases. This basic math is the same for every infectious disease. COVID-19 is worse than most because, like with the honeysuckle I mentioned earlier, it’s an invasive species. It has no “natural predators” in our bodies to slow it down, and it has no “natural habitat” in our bodies that it will focus on and stay in. It’s in new territory, in every human it encounters right now, and so it’s going where it can, to the greatest extent that it can, and it turns out that it can go just about everywhere inside us. Eventually, the global population will have some level of resting immunity to this kind of coronavirus. I think it’s unlikely that it will ever go away completely – it’s going to be more like the common cold or influenza – but it will get less lethal, because it will be harder for the new variants to grow out of control as they do now, because we’ll have at least some defenses against things that look similar.

I’ll end by saying – not for the last time – that a pandemic like this is why it’s so important to have societies that understand and accept science, and that value the lives and wellbeing of the general population over, say, profit for the ruling class. Say what you will about Vietnam, but the evidence is clear – quarantining infected villages, and ensuring that those under quarantine had all the food, shelter, and entertainment they needed was effective. The leaders of the Communist Party of Vietnam may be wealthier than the general population, but that gap is (a) not as big as it is in capitalist countries, and (b) did not lead them to put their own wealth ahead of the lives of their population. Doing the right thing in a pandemic is not profitable for the ruling class. It’s an investment in the population at large. It costs money to inform people they’re under quarantine, and to provide them with meals, and to ensure that they’re able to quarantine without losing their homes, healthcare, or food.

This is not likely to be the last pandemic in my lifetime (assuming I die of old age). This will come up again, and if most of the world is run by and for capitalists, we’ll go through all of this again, even though we know how to stop it. The same is true for climate change. We know what we need to do to both slow the warming of the climate, and to adapt our societies to survive the warming we cannot avoid, but doing so will not be as profitable for the ruling class as the status quo. As long as the profit motive is the primary guiding principle of our society, we will fail to adequately address climate change, and we will fail in our responses to every pandemic that comes along.

Stay the course. Wear a mask. Keep your distance. Listen to the scientific and medical communities, and organize so that we can actually deal with the problems that face us.


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!

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.

Proxy measurements can provide warnings of what’s to come

What does “sea level” mean? How do you go about measuring it? Those with any experience in large bodies of water know that “level” is rarely a realistic description. Even without the moon distorting the Earth and driving the tides as it orbits us, swells and waves mean that most ocean surfaces are constantly moving up and down. Beyond that, areas with a large amount of dense matter – like mountains and ice sheets – will pull water towards themselves, causing higher sea levels in their gravity wells, and lower sea levels in other areas.

Measuring sea level requires taking thousands of different sorts of measurements all over the world, and for all that complexity, sea level represents just a tiny fraction of what’s happening in the oceans, let alone global climate change as a whole.

So how can we measure the rate of climate change? What does that even mean? Calculating the rate at which heat is being trapped, based on greenhouse gas levels, is pretty straightforward. We’ve known the basics of that for over a century, and it’s how we have headlines like “Earth is heating at a rate equivalent to five atomic bombs per second“. The problem is that that heat doesn’t necessarily stay as heat. There are a myriad of ways in which thermal energy can be converted to kinetic or chemical energy, on top of things that are hard to measure like deep ocean temperature changes.

Most of the heat the planet has been absorbing has gone into the oceans, but even so, scientists have been detecting biological and physical changes all over the planet that are driven by the rise in temperature.

And that brings up another question – how much does a given change in temperature actually matter? For humanity’s purposes, there are two main lines of inquiry to look at. The one that tends to get the most focus, for obvious reasons, is the effect on day to day and year to year temperatures. Will heat waves get worse? Will rainfall change? These are important questions to answer, but they might be less important than questions about the non-human parts of the biosphere.

How will a given change in temperature affect the wildlife where you live? Some of that will be a matter of precipitation or heat tolerance – same as with humans – but some will be increased pressure from new species moving into areas that used to be too cold, or too wet for them to survive. The temperature change we’ve seen thus far has already been affecting ecosystems all over the planet. Figuring out what those changes are, and what, precisely, has been driving them, can help us understand what is likely to happen as the planet continues to warm.  These “proxy” measurements won’t tell us what temperature the planet is, but they will help us draw a connection between the heat we know has been trapped by rising greenhouse gas levels, and the changes we’re seeing on the ground. That’s how you begin to build a projection of “if CO2 levels rise to Xppm, it will probably have Y result”. We can’t see or feel the change in atmospheric gas levels, but we can see and feel follow-on results of that change.

Every time a research team runs a model to try to calculate how all these lines of data will interact, they tend to run a pretty wide set, allowing for different scenarios. The “worst-case” and “best-case” models bracket the most likely outcome, based on the data currently available, and the current understanding of those data. The problem here is that the current global changes are unlike anything that has ever happened in recorded history. Every year we enter new territory, which means that historical data are always going to be less reliable.

That’s why proxy measurements are so important. “Bio-indicators” like migrating birds and flowering plants give us insight into what climate change is doing right now to those species whose lives are most closely attuned to climate conditions.

Ice melt is another such proxy – it lets us see how fast energy is being absorbed and “spent” on converting solid water into liquid. Even if our historical data continues to point to the planet being on a “middle of the road” trajectory, if the ice is melting in line with a worse trajectory, then we need to check our numbers, and think hard about what’s headed our way.

Melting on the ice sheets has accelerated so much over the past three decades that it’s now in line with the worst-case climate warming scenarios outlined by scientists.

A total of 28 trillion metric tons of ice was lost between 1994 and 2017, according to a research paper published in The Cryosphere on Monday. The research team led by the University of Leeds in the U.K. was the first to carry out a global survey of global ice loss using satellite data.

“The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” lead author Thomas Slater said in a statement. “Although every region we studied lost ice, losses from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have accelerated the most.”

Ice melt from sheets and glaciers contributes to global warming and indirectly influences sea level rise, which in turn increases the risk of flooding in coastal communities. Earth’s northern and southern poles are warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet. In 2020, a year of record heatArctic sea ice extent hovered around the lowest ever for most of the year.

As I’ve mentioned before, I think it’s reasonable to feel badly about news like this. The world on which most of us were born no longer exists, and beyond finding ways to take direct action, I think we also need to be thinking hard about what human life on Earth looks like, and how it will have to change. Food production is one obvious area of focus, but so is basic habitation. Science fiction as a field has spent decades imagining how humanity might survive on a variety of alien planets. Temperature extremes, toxic atmospheres, hostile wildlife – a lot of it involves putting ourselves in a situation where, despite all of our advanced technology, we’re required to once again struggle for survival against a lethal and indifferent world. Keeping homes cool is already shifting from a matter of comfort to one of survival, and that change is likely to accelerate. Higher temperatures are going to mean more dangerous air pollution, even without things like increasing wildfires or even crematorium smoke as new diseases cause mass death.

I’ve believed for about a decade now that the planet is almost certainly going to keep warming for the rest of my life, even if I manage to have a very long life.

That melting ice released CO2 into the atmosphere. The thawing permafrost is doing the same. The tiny amount of warming we’ve already seen has been enough to cause measurable changes across the entire surface of this planet, and many of those changes are going to make the warming speed up, or at least continue even if humanity stops adding to the problem.

So, we need changes, not just to how we interact with our atmosphere, but also to how we conduct our lives day to day. The floating neighborhoods of The Netherlands are a good example of this – they know sea level rise is going to be an escalating problem, especially with so much of their population already living below sea level. They could have just responded by building up their dikes, or moving people to higher ground, and while those options are definitely still on the table, having residential areas designed to simply float up as the water rises is one way to literally stay on top of the problem.

This is one of the reasons I keep leaning on local organizing as a catch-all starting point for dealing with climate change and political problems (insofar as the two can be said to be separate). The lifestyle changes needed for the Netherlands will be useless in most of California. The changes needed for California won’t help people in Alaska. The changes needed in Alaska won’t help people in Vietnam. What changes are coming to where you live? Should you be thinking about how to deal with killer heat waves as a community, or is air pollution a more pressing issue? Has there been an increasing problem with flooding from the ocean? If so, should you be focusing on how to keep your homes dry, or on how to ensure that there’s safe food and water available when the flooding happens?

At best, we can be sure that the worst-case scenarios are still a very real possibility, and that means that regional differences – and regional organizing – are going to matter a whole lot more going forward.


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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.