New Unscripted: Expedition to Antarctica

The new episode of my interview podcast Unscripted focuses on Patricia Yager, professor of marine sciences, and her recent experience co-leading a research expedition to the Amundsen Sea Polynya in western Antarctica.

While many research projects on the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration were focused on sea level rise and the physical processes related to the melting, Yager served as co-chief scientist and lead P.I. on the project Artemis, designed to better understand the impact of melting glaciers and ice shelves on the coastal ocean’s biological productivity.

“The glaciers are not melting because the air temperature is warm,” Yager said in the interview. “The glaciers are melting because the ocean is warm.”

Listen to the interview on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and subscribe to Unscripted.

Defeating the porpoises, an ongoing series

At the intersection of global climate issues and all things monetary, well, it can be difficult to decide which word to italicize anymore:

The U.S.-based crypto exchange Kraken has announced that, despite the layoffs and hiring freezes among its competitors in the ongoing “crypto winter”, they intend to keep hiring aggressively. They also took the opportunity to announce that they “believe bear markets are fantastic at weeding out the applicants chasing hype from the true believers in our mission”, and that they had “taken this opportunity to align our internal culture around a set of shared values”. They also make it clear that anyone who disagree with the changes can GTFO: “In commitment to these values, we also expanded our permanent benefits program to make moving on a bit easier for anyone who feels it’s time for the next chapter in their career.”

That’s from Molly White’s terrific and wonderfully-named website and she’s is no danger of running out of content anytime soon. Because lots of everyones out there think all the other everyones are the suckers, or they’re not sure who is. But whatever, the sucker rule still applies.

And at the same time, it’s more than that. When the last necessary thing was another distraction from the burning and belching, from the fanning, the rising and the storming, everyones are out here convincing themselves to believe in yet another free ride. Yes, it would be great if blockchain ‘tech’ guaranteed that you could trust this invisible money (cf. the italics dilemma). But that’s not how people work. What people do is find the sucker, and adjust for scale, malheureusement.

Image via porpoisesdotorg, natch.

All of a piece

photo of freize

In an era/moment/day when fascism is ascendant, it’s a great time to declare which side you are on.

And while that may seem like an obvious statement of alliance with open society, pro-democracy forces, it’s just as important to note those who continue to declare their allegiance to authoritarian white nationalism:

Richard Donoghue, who took over as acting deputy attorney general after Barr left his job in December 2020, also testified that DOJ officials went so far as to tell the White House that Trump’s efforts to get the Department of Justice to parrot his fraud claims were an attempt to outright corrupt the election.

“I recall towards the end saying, ‘What you’re proposing is nothing less than the United States Justice Department meddling in the outcome of the presidential election,’ ” Donoghue testified.

In spite of the day’s dramatic revelations, it seems likely that House Republicans and the rest of the party will continue to rally around the former president, and even Democratic representatives seemed to acknowledge as much. “It’s a reminder that there was a period of time in the days and weeks after Jan. 6 when everybody who now defends the president, and embraces the lie, understood exactly what had happened and in some cases was apparently ashamed of their role,” Rep. Tom Malinowski said. “It was striking to hear—not surprising, but striking—to hear the former president’s attorney general say, finally, that it was all ‘bullshit.’ ”

Believe people when they tell you who they are, who repeatedly remind you that they don’t care about fair elections, are happy to attack the weak and oppressed, who believe that ‘freedom’ refers to theirs and not yours. There is no light between polite Republican voters and outright fascists, and they are not sorry about that in any way, shape, or form. If they were, we would know by now. Instead they remind us again and again: they are one and the same.

We also should note the enormous cowardice of all these so-called patriots who stormed the capitol – as well as those who egged them on and continue to do so – but when they fail and are called out on it, refuse to stand by their BS principles. Plead innocence, hide and refuse to take responsibility for their own dangerous behavior when faced with any consequences whatsoever. Honor? Dignity? Integrity? Forget it, with these people.

Image: Author photo of ’30’s era public art frieze in the fascist style, Rome.

Moving on from Cheap and Plenty

Waste – where does it all come from, where does it all go? In a closed system (Earth), a little of it goes everywhere and all of it goes nowhere. We ‘deal’ with waste by putting it out of view, all the while we make more stuff, want more stuff, buy more stuff, sell more stuff, invent fake stuff to buy and sell, even if it’s a ponzi scheme [Narrator: It’s a ponzi scheme].

Now comes the lament that the good days of cheap goods and easy access to them is coming to an end. It is but a scare tactic. And from the perspective of waste – and not only that – were those days so good? The ethos, such as it is, of disposable _____ (goods, culture, food) creates a self-fulfilling emptiness. We could argue that cultivation of these seeds of despair have bloomed and blossomed, and as we feast upon them, they only serve to further famish. Why? What’s the mystery? From wanting nothing issues the inability to figure out what is wanted, what is meaning, what’s it’s all for. As the noted philosopher Jethro Bodine reminds us, “naught from naught equals naught.”

We shudder at the very thought of empty shelves or infringements on long commutes, when fewer shelves and shorter drives represent a signal turn for the better. But gladly to rush into the arms of division and destruction only to maintain the misery fix, we’re only the worse and will fight to keep it.

These failings are ours, but within them lay great tools of rebuilding – not more new things, but better new selves. All of our many advantages were not achieved just to make money off of money, but to make music – whether that means actual notes and tones to you or not – to enjoy and enjoin.

How to channel the urge to exploit? Realize every instance of the act reserves a double portion for the actor and we won’t need to worry with saving the Earth (closed system) when we get serious about saving ourselves.

Two good shoes and all.

Wait and see

Sort of a corollary of f*ck around and find out. But.. good to see Biden getting serious about supporting Ukraine. That’s a big number and it needs to be. On verra, as they say.

The ‘let’s see if this sorts itself out’ attitude from some western countries – albeit, right now fewer by the day – mirrors the general tendency of the same countries to do very little about climate change. All the while:

Rising seas have long been a threat to coastal cities. New research suggests that cities—particularly in Asia—are sinking as well, compounding the risks of frequent and severe flooding.

In Karachi, land is sinking five times as fast as the sea level is rising, according to the study published this month in Geophysical Research Letters. Manila and Chittagong, Bangladesh’s second-largest city, are sinking at 10 times the rate of the rising waters.

In China’s Tianjin, a coastal city about 150 kilometers southeast of Beijing, the ground is giving way at 20 times that speed.

In those four cities alone, the phenomenon could affect roughly 59 million residents.

The study, which used satellite data to analyze 99 cities around the world from 2015 to 2020, points to groundwater extraction related to rapid urbanization and population growth, oil and gas production, and construction.

The next life you save just might be your own.

Making climate reduction technologies sexy

Or… sexier than ape cartoons.

My head, it shakes. Because no matter how seriously and soberly one might approach the financial dilemma of bringing promising technologies to maturity by broad investments, there are always hand-scrawled love notes, or pictures of pictures, or the newest version of L.H.O.O.Q., not to mention instant toothbrush delivery schemes to entice the ridiculously wealthy or even the passingly prosperous. It’s a problem:

Tony Fadell, who spent most of his career trying to turn emerging technologies into mainstream products as an executive at Apple and founder of Nest, said that even as the world faces the risks of climate change, money is flooding into less urgent developments in cryptocurrency, the so-called metaverse and the digital art collections sold as NFTs. Last year, venture capitalists invested $11.9 billion in renewable energy globally, compared with $30.1 billion in cryptocurrency and blockchain, according to PitchBook.

Of the $106 billion invested by venture capitalists in European startups last year, just 4% went into energy investments, according to PitchBook.

“We need to get real,” said Fadell, who now lives in Paris and has proposed ideas on energy policy to the French government. “Too many people are investing in the things that are not going to fix our existential problems. They are just investing in fast money.”

Even so-called ESG funds and investor movements run the risk of becoming fads, passing, allowing a regression toward the mean, also know as same old, same old. Governments have to do more to leverage current investments and attract new. But there also has to be some boring seriousness to guide the reckless speculation, as contradictory as that sounds. Otherwise, we’re still speculating alright, on something.

Image: Not a new version. Duchamp would be kicking himself

Re-enforcing the Supply lines

So… one man’s colossal miscalculation is another man’s a planet’s sped-up timeline for addressing climate change? I’m not trying not to see it that way, and energy efficiency guru Amory Lovins doesn’t need to convince me. But the winds are at somebody’s back:

Lovins, an adjunct professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, has been one of the world’s leading advocates and innovators of energy conservation for 50 years. He wrote his first paper on climate change while at Oxford in 1968, and in 1976 he offered Jimmy Carter’s government a blueprint for how to triple energy efficiency and get off oil and coal within 40 years. In the years since there is barely a major industry or government that he and his Rocky Mountain Institute have not advised.
But for much of that time efficiency was seen as a bit of an ugly sister, rather dull compared with a massive transition to renewables and other new technologies. Now, he hopes, its time may have come. Lovins is arguing for the mass insulation of buildings alongside a vast acceleration of renewables. “We should crank [them] up with wartime urgency. There should be far more emphasis on efficiency,” he says.
He sees Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine as an outrage, but possibly also a step towards solving the climate crisis and a way to save trillions of dollars. “He has managed to bring about all the outcomes that he most feared, but he may inadvertently have put the energy transition and climate solutions into a higher gear. Whether or not we end up in a recession because of the disruption, [Putin’s war] may prove to be a great thing for climate economics.”

As he explains, solar and wind are among the cheapest bulk power sources, and Putin’s authoritarian misadventure has put energy externalities in the center of the frame.

Again, it’s the boringest, not-technology solutions that have the greatest effect. And there’s a lot to reckon with in what he says about nuclear:

The most energy-inefficient design of all, he says, may be nuclear power, which is heavily subsidised, costly and pushed by a politically powerful lobby. Using it to address shortages of electricity or to counter climate change, he argues, is like offering starving people rice and caviar when it’s far cheaper and easier to give just rice.

The dated conversation

People are shocked! “Shocked” at gas prices. How long have we been having this conversation? Corollary – how long have we been avoiding this conversation?

Obviously, everyone and their mother is mad, mad, mad about the high price of gas, in part because Americans now are back to driving just about as much as they did before the pandemic. We’re not going to the office, but we’re not staying home. From Virginia to Colorado, drivers are liable to pull up to the pump and be greeted with a sticker of Joe Biden, pointing at their total: “I DID THAT!”

A look back at 2011 suggests an interesting counterfactual: What if, facing those high prices, we had made changes on the demand side instead? Believe it or not, this was what some people thought might happen. President Barack Obama took that moment (and the conditions created by the auto bailout) to set new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, known as CAFE, which put in place ambitious fuel efficiency goals for automakers. “Slowly but surely Detroit is shifting its attention from SUVs to cars,” All Things Considered reported in March of that year.

You won’t believe what happened next! It’s all ugh. I don’t wish anybody ill on this point. It’s certainly not enjoyable to being filling up on $4.39 per gallon multiple times in a week, but come on. The conversation about more roads all-the-time, living rilly rilly far from work, school, shopping goes back quite a bit farther than 2011. It’s not just smaller cars but a whole suite of living conditions that continue to be – ta-da! – unworkable, which should be the new unsustainable. The larger unworkable situation – sprawl, mostly non-existent public transit, and yes, gigantic vehicles – makes $4 gas that much more painful, as well as Groundhog Day all over and over again.

[You] Make it stop.

Of Yachts and Fossils

Who ever knew it, but seizing yachts is very popular! And despite the reporting that will tell you that they are impossible to re-sell, as if that makes the seizures moot, taking the oligarchs’ prized possessions scratches a weird itch in the afflicted that actually bothers the comfortable if you know what I mean and I think you do. These are ridiculous manifestations of not only conspicuous consumption, but also conspicuous waste. It also beggars belief that no useful purposes can be devised for these vessels.

Anyway, to the broader situation of Russia, and trying to strangle their economy without strangling the world economy – unless we de-fossilize our energy sources, the former will always be the latter:

This is a coherent platform for left-of-center parties across the globe: a law-and-order crackdown on international kleptocracy, and mass electrification and renewable energy to weaken the repressive and despotic petrostates. It is not a quick fix (though confiscatory wealth taxes ought to work quickly enough), and it is perhaps not as viscerally satisfying to our bloodthirsty pundit class as more fighters and missiles. But in the medium term the “solution” to the “problem” of Russian aggression is not trying to surgically crash their economy while protecting ours (an impossible tightrope to walk so long as high-income nations fail to quit fossil fuels). It may be impossible now to use Apple Pay to ride the Moscow Metro—it may even be impossible, temporarily, for particular Russian-born billionaires to anonymously purchase London pieds-à-terre—but it is still very easy to take the money you made selling natural gas to Berlin and ask a lawyer in New York to explain how to hide it it in South Dakota. The only sensible Russia policy is to make it unprofitable to be the sort of state it is. This approach would also have the side benefit of improving the sorts of states all of us reside in, and perhaps even of saving human civilization. Defeating Russia, by necessity, requires defeating fossil capital.

via.

Image: Andrey Melnichenko’s SY A sailing yacht that at least looks like a sail boat.

No emissions travel to a war zone

Or if not to a war zone, in close proximity to one. This seems far less a question at this point than an eventuality, but… will the last vestiges of fossil fuel domination burn furiously right up to the borders of energy transformation? The physical proximity of Russia and Norway hide the light years in distance they are from one another in ways that should make us wonder about the elasticity of time:

a new study by the Clean Cities Campaign, a coalition of non-governmental organizations, which analyzed 36 European cities on factors such as road safety for pedestrians, access to climate friendly transportation and air quality. The research found that Oslo is making the most progress on wiping out mobility emissions, followed by Amsterdam and Helsinki. Naples and Krakow had the lowest scores due, in part, to congestion. The financial hubs Paris and London ranked fifth and 12th, respectively.

Meanwhile, bombs, missiles, troops, and chaos for civilians in Ukraine. We may think this is about a crazy person’s LOOK AT ME obsession and not a ‘war’ for resources, but without the latter, there is no source for the former. His delusions are being fueled by the old standbys, in addition to resentment and authoritarianism.

Dammit.