Energy Security vs Climate Goals

This brings to mind the old late-night gag about competition between blockbuster films of yore: Jaws 2, Capricorn 1. Didn’t say it was a good joke. (Herrrrrrre’s Johnny!)

But energy security and climate goals, too, do not and should not be considered as competing interests.  The framing represents implicit bias in favor of fossil fuels and needs to be recognized as such. Why isn’t wind or solar-generated energy over [your country name here] considered homegrown? Because it is.

Is renewable energy, in fact, more supportive of energy security? Depends on storage, transmission systems, the amount of harvestable sun or wind available. But so too fossil-derived fuels depend upon availability, refining capacity, and environmental regulations, not to mention military conflicts necessary to secure said security.

Also too, it is quite supportable to see fossil fuel dependence itself as a security vulnerability, as it most assuredly is in even many non-dramatic scenarios. This addendum only informs the debate further in the direction of truth – again, this is all we’re trying to do, see things for what they are. The global energy supply chain is ludicrously rickety, in need of constant expensive propping up [see wars, many through most]. It is THE sector most in need of innovation if not wholesale change. But worms are starting to turn.

And as we continue to depend on the media to inform us about real vs fake debates – whether about Taylor Swift or energy security (probably an actual NPR segue), we must remain critical about framing, context and terms of such debates.

Because even the bawds of euphony cry out sharply.

Image: From the Blue Guitar suite – ‘Etchings by David Hockney inspired by Wallace Stevens who was inspired by Pablo Picasso’

Making Whether

This Bloomberg Cleaner Tech (!) article about whether humans can control forces beyond our control (the weather) accidentally highlights the ways we ignore the choices and actions well-within our grasp:

In an effort to control future rainstorms, scientists in Japan are working on an ambitious government-backed project involving everything from giant curtains floating on the sea to fields of wind turbines to protect the island nation. Their goal, they say, is to turn extreme weather into “a blessing” — if it works.

The effort feels ripped from the pages of a sci-fi novel, but it’s attracted dozens of researchers across Japan. The team, led by Kosei Yamaguchi, an associate professor at Kyoto University, is focused on reducing so-called “guerrilla” rainstorms that can bring large quantities of rainfall within a short period of time. Their goal is to develop an array of weather control technologies that can reduce deluges to manageable rain and roll them out by 2050.

It’s the shiny-object school of journalism – the very next words in that article are the subhead ‘Dams in the air’ – we need something new/fresh/exciting/risky/improbable/easy to attract eyeballs and viewers and clicks. What actually happens even when this works – and let’s not consider whether it’s the true function (whoopsie!) – is that people simply move on.

That’ simply moving on’ repeated over and over into perfection becomes its own feedback loop. Not sure ‘soothing’ is the right word, but numbness definitely follows. An ensuing restlessness opens the door to helplessness, what can I do, what does any of it matter? At the bottom of that fountain (l’eau impotable) lies despair. And adding in the crucial context for a business publication, of course Billions are at Stake. And they certainly are. But which billions, other billions, are left unconsidered.

Image: cloud seeding rocket (Photographer: Zhang Haiqiang/VCG/Getty Images)

The Long Slow before the Quickening

Before it takes shape, as it gradually gains hold, the transition to consuming less – basically, what sustainable neutrality reverse is all about, no matter how specifically construed – is happening painfully too slowly. That ‘pace,’ if that’s the right word, explains part of the associated pain that feels all around, as though it were the the only thing accompanying the shift.

News media – ‘legacy’ is a very generous modifier at this point – have little at their disposal beyond the language of cost, suffering, loss, giving up, change in the context of deprivation. We can say this is the wrong framing, but acknowledging the limitation is important, especially if we are going to progress beyond it.

No magic button here, but a recognition of a kind of system-wide failure, of education, articulation, creativity. But that limit is shading another, broader system-wide failure unfolding right in front of us so slowly, slowly as it can and gradually as a massive system/combination of overlapping massive systems does, that it can seem invisible, not believable, deniable.

Maybe it has slipped the bounds of deniability, as several big things begin to occur at once and more quickly. The need to reckon with the slowness and the quickening, while not seeming to be our major challenge, is the key to unlocking all the other challenges. The cognitive dissonance of a world on fire/drowning will lead to despair absent the ability to think our way out of it.

In some quarters, that is indeed a dark thought. But that’s what we’ve got to do. As I’ve written here and elsewhere over the years, the Earth is still a kind of lady in waiting, with waning patience for us to get our act(s) together. She’s going to start touching herself soon and we’re still not close to ready to think about that.

Auto-propulsive asphyxiation

The driverless car as beau idéal continues to fascinate. The question of whether self-driving cars will work morphs into ‘can it be done at all’ and escapes the gravity of the actual world even as the fantastically expensive contraptions are tested on real people in real streets of real cities:

Waymo’s app, Waymo One, looks and works just like Uber’s does. Riders enter their destination and get an estimated wait time for a ride. Once you enter your requests, the company dispatches from its fleet of 250 white Jaguar vehicles it operates across the city. The cars are staggeringly expensive, outfitted with high-tech sensors and cameras, and are worth as much as $200,000.

The link within that paragraph goes to a 2021 article that paws at the question of the bottomless investment barrel being emptied into autonomous vehicles. And maybe we’re already onboard the 30-year odyssey toward the achievement. But if this is the way home, what is home supposed to look like once we’ve emptied every pocket to get there? We might ask, is the journey worth it? In a way, yes robotaxis can work. But… is this actually an achievement, or just the most expensive movie of all time?

Note how the writers/riders describing their self-driving taxi rides were mostly meh about the futuristic experience.  Sounds familiar.

Image: A Waymo driverless car arriving in front of the Painted Ladies on Monday. Credit…Andri Tambunan for The New York Times

The Palo Alto System

Courtesy of the Review – subscribe and invest in media, whatever it is you read. The NYRB works for me – a review/discussion of two new books about the history of Silicon Valley. You’ll never guess the rationale behind the creation of Stanford the University. Wait – yes, sure you will:

Stanford wanted to breed stronger horses, faster. There was a clear business rationale: at the time, horses were essential for transportation, agriculture, and war. He proposed transforming horse production in the same way that the production of so many other commodities was being transformed during the second industrial revolution: with modern techniques and technologies. This modernizing mentality, as Harris demonstrates, was visible everywhere in California, which has been “a high-technology zone from the beginning of Anglo colonization.” Because there were never enough wage workers, the state relied particularly heavily on “labor-saving machinery” in agriculture, which by the 1860s had overtaken mining as its main economic driver.

The Palo Alto Stock Farm turned out to be a big success. The principal innovation was the Palo Alto System, which involved teaching horses to trot when they were young. That way, Stanford and his operatives could identify the promising ones early, train them intensively, and then use them as studs to produce more promising colts, thereby transmitting talent via superior genes. “Instead of optimizing for adult speed, they optimized for visible potential,” Harris writes.

The Palo Alto System didn’t stop with horses. It became the guiding philosophy of the university that Stanford carved out of his estate in 1885. Harris focuses in particular on David Starr Jordan, the university’s first president, whom Harris credits with bringing the Palo Alto System “out of the barn and into the classroom.” Like many self-styled modernizers of the period, Jordan loved eugenics. Under his direction, Harris argues, “the small, young university became a national center for controlled evolution.” Young white people with potential would be identified and intensively trained, in the hope of staving off racial decay.

One of the features of the Palo Alto System as it applied to horses was an obsession with quantification. As the system migrated to humans, this quantifying impulse turned toward intelligence testing. Lewis Terman, a psychologist who joined Stanford University in 1910, helped popularize the notion that intelligence could be expressed in a single number, such as an IQ score. He was especially interested in high-IQ children. “Budding geniuses needed to be identified and elevated,” Harris writes, “while young degenerates needed to be corralled where they couldn’t dilute the national race or turn their underachievement into social problems.”

And… once again, here we are. Racism continues to be our fundamental foundation, regardless of region. There is no realm in which the wealthy can’t channel their profits into their hatred. Great job, everybody.

Image: Palo Alto Stock Farm (Photos: Stanford Archives)

No new shows

Another episode in the continuing series ‘what does green mean?’ Ahem.

And a sub-them of what does the Screen Actors Guild strike have to do with sustainability – in the business sense, everything. Every. Little. Thing.

The issues of the strike might simultaneously seem clear and be difficulty to parse, especially when the sides are show writers, actors, and creators versus the studios. One might think they would be able to work in concert, at least for the sake for of self-preservation. But panning out just a little, the sand in the gears becomes a bit more apparent. From the third link above:

If you read any of the business, publishing or entertainment press you’ll see stories about hard times in streaming world. This means Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Max, Hulu et al. This is undoubtedly true. You’ve likely seen this in the rising prices you pay and the declining offerings your subscription gets you. I don’t write to dispute any of this. But it’s nothing new under the sun. It is more or less exactly what we’ve seen in the digital new industry. The same pattern.

Entrants raise large sums of money (or use cash on hand from other business lines) and then spend substantially more than your subscription merits. They lose money in order to build market share. At some point the industry becomes mature and then they have to convert the business to one that can sustain itself and make a profit. That means substantial retrenchment. Inevitably that means spending less on the product and charging you more.

Another way of looking at this is that the product as you knew it was never viable. You were benefiting from the excess spending that was aimed at building market share. Now the market is saturated. So that era of great stuff for relatively little money is over. At a basic level what many of us enjoyed as a Golden Age of TV was really this period of excess spending. It was based on a drive for market share, funding lots of great shows with investments aimed at building market share.

Very important to realize that, as Josh points out, streaming media is not a viable business. Without transparency and the upfront, continual re-investment in creative, there is no model, because there is no business. The streaming services don’t own anything – they have platforms and partners. One set of partners is now standing up for themselves but pointing out something very important to us and to the tech companies. If we will  listen. World domination or bust is a faulty Silicon Valley idea and a very costly reality. Maybe they’ll make a show about that. Maybe that’s what they’re doing. Don’t touch that dial.

Image: SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, left, takes part in a rally by striking writers and actors outside Netflix studio in Los Angeles in July. (Chris Pizzello / Associated Press) via LA Times

What intelligence?

How we have prioritized as’ artificial’ as ‘improved’ or superior hearkens back to nothing so much as the advent of sugar substitutes. As we have come to understand artificial sweeteners, so should we think about, as in consider, so-called A.I. The emphasis on artificial has us reeling but in its best light it seems inadvertent – innocently derived from ‘simulated’ – and, whatever the case may be, is not new:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

While freely conceding that the Soviet régime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigours which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.

The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find – this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify – that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

You always want it to be more difficult to find an example from Orwell than it actually is.

In as much as especially concerning

the future, a significant amount of energy and attention continues to be paid to pointless distractions – and this is certainly not referring to Barbie, good grief, which is entirely legitimate cultural production compared to

Influencers Built This Wellness Startup

Anything related to hyper loops or one-way tunnels, ‘crazy golf’, or fiat money. Hardly an exhaustive list, play along at home.

If the whole artifice rests on ‘there is only so much attention’ (bandwidth in the common parl) then lettuce take that idea to heart. Frivolous at this point is tantamount to dangerous and irresponsible. Concern about not bumming people out in proximity to the imminent collapse of the Gulf Stream leads to, let’s say, an incoherent narrative.

Priority has never been our muse, with one or two exceptions, but let’s get organized. At least theoretically imagining the painful stuff first – what would you be willing to give up? Just go ahead and get it out of the way, at least mentally, because that seems to be what frightens people the most. So, pop the bubble: imagine a world without cruises – no, go deeper – cars! Ouch. But see – that’s where to start.

Even the intention could begin to help (us) re-organize how we think about what we think about. Envision liberation, rather than ignore the possibility of collapse.

Image: Peace. Solemnity. Liberation by Aristarkh Lentulov (1917)

Weather or not…

That orange dot was Wednesday July 5.

You want to believe the reports or your lying eyes, it’s getting more and more difficult to hydrate climate denial. Yes, people are still getting rich doing so, with full employment for lobbyists who still help companies muddle the puddles. But that’s basically what they are now and we are full on in our incoherence meltdown. Slow moving isn’t slow enough for the summer news cycle, and though they are always looks for way to spice things up, there’s not a lot of chase left to cut to:

The past three days were quite likely the hottest in Earth’s modern history, scientists said on Thursday, as an astonishing surge of heat across the globe continued to shatter temperature records from North America to Antarctica.

The spike comes as forecasters warn that the Earth could be entering a multiyear period of exceptional warmth driven by two main factors: continued emissions of heat-trapping gases, mainly caused by humans burning oil, gas and coal; and the return of El Niño, a cyclical weather pattern.

The sharp jump in temperatures has unsettled even those scientists who have been tracking climate change.

“It’s so far out of line of what’s been observed that it’s hard to wrap your head around,” said Brian McNoldy, a senior research scientist at the University of Miami. “It doesn’t seem real.”

On Tuesday, global average temperatures climbed to 62.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 17 Celsius, making it the hottest day Earth has experienced since at least 1940, when records began, and very likely before that, according to an analysis by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

Up next: stuck weather patterns, wavy flow, amplified troughs and ridges – and that’s just for the mid-latitudes. Get wise to the flimflammery.

Image: By Elena Shao/The New York Times

Super trees, smh

Not to pick on MIT Tech Review – though kicking Silicon Valley is another story and actually fine – but this story reads quite a bit like VCs trying to re-invent the bus:

At Living Carbon, Mellor is trying to design trees that grow faster and grab more carbon than their natural peers, as well as trees that resist rot, keeping that carbon out of the atmosphere. In February, less than four years after he co-founded it, the company made headlines by planting its first “photosynthesis-enhanced” poplar trees in a strip of bottomland forests in Georgia.

This is a breakthrough, clearly: it’s the first forest in the United States that contains genetically engineered trees. But there’s still much we don’t know. How will these trees affect the rest of the forest? How far will their genes spread? And how good are they, really, at pulling more carbon from the atmosphere?

Living Carbon has already sold carbon credits for its new forest to individual consumers interested in paying to offset some of their own greenhouse gas emissions. They’re working with larger companies, to which they plan to deliver credits in the coming years. But academics who study forest health and tree photosynthesis question whether the trees will be able to absorb as much carbon as advertised.

Even Steve Strauss, a prominent tree geneticist at Oregon State University who briefly served on Living Carbon’s scientific advisory board and is conducting field trials for the company, told me in the days before the first planting that the trees might not grow as well as natural poplars. “I’m kind of a little conflicted,” he said, “that they’re going ahead with this—all the public relations and the financing—on something that we don’t know if it works.”

Re-engineering trees, okay. Super-charged trees. His misgivings are right there, as are the preconditions of going ahead with this:  ‘headlines’, ‘public relations and financing.’ Like they just came out of nowhere.

I, too, want super trees to be a thing. But c’mon. Strauss is actually quoted in the article saying, “There could be a negative. We don’t know”

The point is that Climate Solutions Hype (patent pending) continues to outstrip existing effective solutions that we just don’t like, are bored with or wish were sexier and have become one more dynamic with which the Earth must contend. Along with irony.

Image: Regular Lombardy Poplar tree (also quite super).