Never so much in common as this

Reminiscent of the fabled National Debt clock, Bloomberg Green sports a running, parts per million CO2 counter that clicks up and down at various speeds depending on, well, you can check it out.

Despite some with fancy hats acting interested in horse racing, versus others in famine-plagued refugee camps, there is a great bit of unanimity of experience in our current moment. Some dissonance concerning the effect of heat on the Miami Grand Prix notwithstanding, the inability to escape the unusual effects of global warming unites us all, on a way. Not the good kind, yet still, unity toutefois.

One of the questions is whether this great common crisis may elicit in us urgency for collective action that serves the greater good. And yes, cynicism circles the globe twice every morning before hopefulness pours its first cup. But this forced grouping of everyone with everyone else no matter your station under the banner of This Is Happening kicks our profit-maximizing distraction seeking onto a side street. And you know how people like to browse.

There are many things to see. Maybe you consider picking up something special – like something for someone everyone else.

Recipes for frittering

This very poignantly familiar article on How to get Americans to care about a War includes most all the essentials that pour drama, apathy, and avoidance into a toxic stew of catastrophe and suffering around the world.

The dangers issuing from obtuse and deliberate lack of awareness resonate with a study published in the journal Nature this week. The research frames the economic damage that will come from climate change, a projections-based picture of missed opportunities of the world we might have been living in 2050, had different choices been made – in voting booths and boardrooms, primarily.

We can play the blame game of ‘who started what,’ and maybe we should to [better] inform future results. But that fact certain people around the world of whom Americans are definitely some can continue to play games and distract ourselves from wars and global warming is all of a part. The distraction game itself is seen as a growth industry in many quarters, and so of course it is. In the face of getting serious about consumer choices and investment portfolios as incentives or tradeoffs to be considered in the calculations to do anything about massive abstractions like ocean temperatures [not abstract at all, -ed] future choices and prosperity are frittered away.

Getting people to care about things that matter as just another version of vying for your attention is a triumph of marketing and failure of education. It is no indictment of childhood to tell people to grow up. It’s even in the one book they use to ban other books.

Also: put the damn books back. It’s embarrassing. What are we, chil–?

 

Opportunity Costs

I had a note to write a post about ‘Why the ______ industries collapse’ inspired by a WaPo news story about emus, but this is difficult to ignore and maybe that’s a bigger point:

Trump’s golden façade has been crumbling for years. Since he was elected president, units in his buildings have sold for less than those in their luxury competitors and struggled with vacancies. Condo boards across Manhattan have voted to remove his name from their buildings; in 2019, even the flagship Trump International Hotel and Tower agreed to reduce the size of his name. But Trump’s grift came into sharper focus after New York attorney general Letitia James’s civil lawsuit in late September, which alleges that Trump and his family fraudulently inflated the value of their properties in order to receive favorable loans and, in the process, hundreds of millions of dollars. In mid-February, Justice Arthur Engoron found the Trump Organization guilty, and the judgment, tallied on February 23, totals $454 million with interest. Engoran’s ruling doesn’t permanently bar Trump and his eldest children from running the Trump Organization, but Trump is barred from running any corporation in the state for three years, while his sons Donald Jr. and Eric are barred for two.

How much time and energy has been wasted over the previous nine years on this trash person? You can find these stories practically anywhere these days but he has never been anything but a bullshit con. It’s a reminder that the U.S. is still a very young country,  a creaky constitutional republic that we’re too afraid to tinker with. Maybe in a country that has always been dominated by religious crazies, criminals, and tax cheats, it’s a miracle it took this long to produce its perfect avatar. But there he is.

And we need to move on. There are many, many issues that require urgent attention and from serious people. Be one. Start now.

Natural selection

It’s important to step back for a moment and consider the scrum from which the hype around Artificial Intelligence arises.

Even without casting [m]any aspersions on the tools as they are bandied about – and there ARE documented, purposeful uses for crunching data with super computers, from folding proteins to finding exoplanets; real stuff and revolutionary for these fields – the general rush to embrace AI for all sorts of, let’s say, less purposeful application should be acknowledged.

After decades of artificial sweeteners, fabrics, food, and foliage, and of course the accompanying, devastation of health impacts and pollution from plastics, PCBs, and many more, a noticeable shift toward the all-natural, hand-selected, bespoke, organic, non-invasive ensued, at least in the marketing materials. This acknowledgement, more human-centered, initially had a kind of desperate last-gasp tone to it that morphed into a realm of preference, if not elevated choice. Thanks, branding!

But it was more than that, and the shift itself coincided with a growing awareness about the dangers of this fakeness and its seamless integration into the activities as well as the mindset that led to and accelerated global warming.

So, now – if you’re keeping score at home – because some of our overlord disruptors in Silicon Valley need to get in on the ground floor of the next new thing, we’re ready to reek further devastation on the information and images we use to navigate the world. It’s not enough to use the verb ‘consume.’ Once we began to use the word and consider ourselves consumers and now just customers instead of citizens, students, patrons, whatever, everything else became easier. And by everything else, I refer to most things unpleasant, empty, lesser, vapid, wasteful of your time, and detrimental to your heart. Yes, doesn’t that sound quaint. Your heart, come now! C’est drôle.

It’s not that the next new thing could destroy us, but that we are so happy to play our part in the destruction. Suddenly we’re helpless to watch another dynamic seize control of how we navigate the physical world as humans. You need not be an AI skeptic to be a tiny bit underwhelmed by that prospect.

The next new thing after this (not investment advice!) will surely consist of selling us back the key to imagination(tm) we somehow lost because everything is fake.

We worry about AI taking jobs but do our part in cheer-leading the takeover, in wonder no less at the ease with which it all happens and the productivity gains sure to follow. In this senseless meandering from one shiny thing to the next, AI might appear to be just another trend we might try, even get used to. Meanwhile, our only job ever has been to discern not the good from the bad, but the real from the fake.

Natural selection, by humans. Darwin should have been more specific.

And by the way, I’m not at all amused by the extent to which this all rhymes with the original rationale I presented for the green blog, oh so [no that] many years ago.

The Green Revolution

No, not that one. This one:

The Green Revolution refers to a transformative 20th-century agricultural project that utilized plant genetics, modern irrigation systems, and chemical fertilizers and pesticides to increase food production and reduce poverty and hunger in developing countries. The Green Revolution began in Mexico, where scientists developed a hybrid wheat variety that dramatically expanded yields. Following its introduction, hunger and malnutrition there dropped significantly.

The model was subsequently extended to Asia, Latin America, and later Africa to increase food production for growing populations without consuming significantly more land. Over time, however, the techniques and policies of the Green Revolution were questioned as they led to inequality and environmental degradation.

Ahem. Such language. But being mindful of these transformations is important, especially as we seem to be on the verge of several others happening simultaneously and at terrific speed. For instance, which kind of battery will follow lithium-ion? In early 2023, we heard about iron-air batteries that use a water-based electrolyte and store energy using reverse rusting. Now, that’s the sexy tech we need. Companies are being funded and manufacturing facilities built. The storage needs changing, not to mention the problematic issues around mining lithium, are driving this ongoing series of shifts. Like the earlier Green revolution, it’s less important to cheer these development as good or bad but rather to see them in a kind of continuum and consider how each new standard performs under these changing market conditions. Yes, market – the economics as well as the social and physical constraints.

Climate tech is on-again, off-again as we get jaded accustomed to shiny new things, seek improvements and various strategies win out. But as the pressure continues to push costs down and use up, the newer green revolution can usher in a more stable form of societal improvements for everyone.

That, we should expect.

Video: the great Arthur Blythe (Thanks D!), with Bob Stewart on Tuba, doncha know.

Happy New Year + some book recommendations

Happy 2024! Green also means eternally fecund in its way, much like this day, much like you yourself. You are ready to fruit!

I take this moment to wish you well and to recommend some recent readings (though of course they should be required). In lieu of takes or reviews, some digressions on how I came to them or vice versa.

Re-visioning Psychology, by James Hillman. The late JH is/was a close friend of a close friend, so one-degree and all. But I had never read him. Representative sample:

We sin against imagination whenever we ask an image for its meaning, requiring that images be translated into concepts. The coiled snake in the corner cannot be translated into my fear, my sexuality, or my mother-complex without killing the snake. We do not hear music, touch sculpture, or read stories with meaning in mind, but for the sake of the imagination. Though art may hide a multitude of psychological ignorances, at least it does not ask images what they mean. Interpretations and even amplifications of images, including the whole analytical kit of symbolic dictionaries and ethnological parallels, too often become instruments of allegory. Rather than vivifying the imagination by connecting our conceptual intellects with the images of dreams and fantasies, they exchange the image for commentary on it or digest of it. And these interpretations forget too that they are themselves fantasies induced by the image, no more meaningful than the image itself.

Upon the death of Tom Verlaine one year ago, Patti Smith wrote a touching and very generous remembrance/eulogy/essay about him and their relationship. Avoid your heroes, yes, but checkout the obits. Smith shared some terrific authors she learned of or read with Verlaine, some which were unknown or little known to me but contiguous of the tight circle I know well, of which I tracked down

The Blind Owl, by Sadegh Hedayat

Love with a Few Hairs, Mohammed Mrabet

Laziness in the Fertile Valley, Albert Cossery

Other honorable mentions:

Trouble in Mind, a play by Alice Childress

Answer to Job, by Carl Jung

Ask the Dust, John Fante

Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee

So… push yourself into your greatness in 2024. Find a way. Fight the fascists. Punch the nazis. Vote like women’s healthcare depends on it (it does) and like we’re about to turn a corner on climate change (we could be), all of which and more are very much in the balance and under threat. Do it and be just.

Thanks for reading. Always free.

 

 

Fighting emissions with AI

Fossil fuel-derived emissions, that is. Ahem.

So… some of the coverage of COP28, when it’s not debating whether science supports eliminating all fossil fuels, has of course focused on our latest and shiniest of objects, AI.

Artificial intelligence has been a breakout star in the opening days of COP28, the United Nations climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Entrepreneurs and researchers have dazzled attendees with predictions that the fast-improving technology could accelerate the world’s efforts to combat climate change and adapt to rising temperatures.

But they have also voiced worries about A.I.’s potential to devour energy, and harm humans and the planet.

We should just go with ‘machine learning’ but that train has apparently left the barn, been sold for parts and reassembled as an uncanny train. But there is a direct conflict with using inordinate computer power to push giant algorithms to solve immense problems, namely the word ‘power.’

Leaders at the companies developing A.I. technology have already cautioned that it could someday pose a risk of extinction to humanity, on par with nuclear war. Researchers at COP28 have focused on a different risk — that the computing power required to run advanced A.I. could be enormous. That electricity appetite could send emissions soaring and make climate change worse.

A peer-reviewed analysis published in October estimated that A.I. systems worldwide could use as much energy in 2027 as all of Sweden. That would almost certainly add to emissions, even though countries are lagging on their pledges to cut them. (A Boston Consulting Group study for Google also noted that powering A.I. would quite likely require vast quantities of water and produce an increasing amount of waste.)

So, here’s your query, Alexa/Google/Siri: if super-computing will require all of the energy we produce – what is energy or super-computing for?

Image: remember Fantastic Contraption?

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.

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