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
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)
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.
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).
Maybe because it leans the wrong way, against the grain/norm/whatever, but this is the kind of dissonant outcome that can be difficult to fit into the pro-business framing of most news reporting:
The US Supreme Court turned away oil-company appeals that sought a key procedural edge in about two dozen lawsuits blaming the industry for contributing to climate change.
The justices Monday refused to consider shifting the lawsuits into federal court, where corporate defendants often fare better. The companies say the suits are governed entirely by federal law, giving them the right to move them out of state court.
In the lead appeal, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Suncor Energy Inc. sought to transfer a suit by two Colorado counties and the city of Boulder. The lawsuit contends the oil companies should compensate taxpayers for the increased cost of maintaining roads and fighting forest fires.
At issue was a legal doctrine known as removal, which lets defendants in many cases shift the forum for lawsuits filed in state court. In the Colorado case, a Denver-based federal appeals court said Exxon and Suncor lacked grounds to remove the suit because Colorado state law governs the claims.
Legacy Guilded Age damage usually allows companies preference to advance appeals claims on practically any point where they are held to account, but this time the court just said no. Of course, Alito recused as a stockholder in at least one of the parties(!) and Kavanaugh would have granted the case. But still, appeal denied.
So maybe the lesson is to keep yelling.
Image: Supreme Court portico, via wikimedia commons
Dr. K brings the medium, sensible heat today regarding Russian failures in Ukraine. It’s a good explainer without the jingoism, importantly including the economic offensives alongside the military ones that have been less than dispositive, or perhaps more so depending on your rooting interest.
So what can we learn from the failure of Russia’s energy offensive?
First, Russia looks more than ever like a Potemkin superpower, with little behind its impressive facade. Its much vaunted military is far less effective than advertised; now its role as an energy supplier is proving much harder to weaponize than many imagined.
Second, democracies are showing, as they have many times in the past, that they are much tougher, much harder to intimidate, than they look.
Finally, modern economies are far more flexible, far more able to cope with change, than some vested interests would have us believe.
For as long as I can remember, fossil-fuel lobbyists and their political supporters have insisted that any attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be disastrous for jobs and economic growth. But what we’re seeing now is Europe making an energy transition under the worst possible circumstances — sudden, unexpected and drastic — and handling it pretty well. This suggests that a gradual, planned green energy transition would be far easier than pessimists imagine.
Read or listen to (not recommended!) the business news any day of the week and everything any normal person would consider good news – strong jobs report, tight labor market, increased consumer protections, penalizing reckless banking and investment behavior – is all cast in terms of doom and gloom. The sky is always falling and we can’t do this or have that and so stop wanting it and vote for more oppression of the powerless. Kick down, pull up the ladders, that’s all we can do.
What if – and yes, caution, slight optimism ahead – all of that is itself just a form of corruption? The fossil fuel industry, just as an obvious example, has been assuring us since the 1970s that it just can’t be done, there is no way to replace coal as our primary energy source, so stop trying. Wind stops blowing. Solar? Have you heard of nighttime? It’s too expensive, too impractical, is itself bad for the environment. Birds! Plus, people hate to see windmills. They don’t want electric cars. Meanwhile what has happened? What is happening?
What if we decided to get even more bold, rather than cowering in fear about what we’re afraid to do, that we are reminded we can’t do? What other issues out there might not be so inviolate?
Oh, for the love of language. As Duncan reminds, the aughts were an incredibly fraught time for cloaking war and destruction in democracy as a way of de-stabilizing and neutralizing domestic opposition – both political and in the media (still a smoking ruin but… bygones). But about the same time – curiously, right around the time of the establishment of this very fine blog – the business community encountered the nascent green movement and saw… well, you know what they saw. Let’s see how the language is holding up:
For the first time in at least a decade, US drillers last year spent more on share buybacks and dividends than on capital projects, according to Bloomberg calculations. The $128 billion in combined payouts across 26 companies also is the most since at least 2012, and they happened in a year when US President Joe Biden unsuccessfully appealed to the industry to lift production and relieve surging fuel prices. For Big Oil, rejecting the direct requests of the US government may never have been more profitable.
At the heart of the divergence is growing concern among investors that demand for fossil fuels will peak as soon as 2030, obviating the need for mutlibillion-dollar megaprojects that take decades to yield full returns. In other words, oil refineries and natural-gas fired power plants — along with the wells that feed them — risk becoming so-called stranded assets if and when they are displaced by electric cars and battery farms.
In other words, companies will pay dividends and buyback stock to keep the share price high for as long as they can, even in the face of all the signs that are telling them to shift, while they shift and not supporting the shift, thereby slowing the shift, when the shift needs to happen much faster. Squeeze all the profits out of short-term projects, eschew longer term investments in fossil fuels, which are obviously foolish because of what we are doing/not doing. If and when, indeed:
US oil production is expected to grow just 5% this year to 12.5 million barrels a day, according to the Energy Information Administration. Next year, the expansion is expected to slow to just 1.3%, the agency says. While the US is adding more supply than most of the rest of the world, it’s a marked contrast to the heady days of shale in the previous decade when the US was adding more than 1 million barrels of daily output each year, competing with OPEC and influencing global prices.
Tell us again – Billions in Handouts as doubts grow – actual subtitle of article (thanks editors!): Shareholders envisioning the imminent peak of petroleum demand want executives to focus on short-term returns rather than long-term projects that risk becoming stranded assets.
In the immortal words of William Burroughs, “And because he was himself a priest, there was no need to call one.”
Funny thing about Green buildings – we need them! That’s decidedly unfunny BUT… timing is very important as far as the technology available and what seems most durable when architectural engineers choose how to power the building. Especially if it’s innovative and edgy:
Some of the building’s most important green features were the right answer to the climate problem in 2016, when design work was completed. “And then the answer changed,” Mr. Wilcox said.
Unlike many skyscrapers, One Vanderbilt generates much of its own electricity. This was a leap forward a decade or so ago — a way of producing power that saved money for landlords and was cleaner than the local grid.
However, One Vanderbilt’s turbines burn natural gas. And while natural gas is cleaner than oil or coal, it is falling from favor, particularly in New York City, which in recent years has adopted some of the most ambitious climate laws in the world, including a ban on fossil fuels in new buildings.
As that transition happened, SL Green was caught in the middle. Although One Vanderbilt went up relatively quickly, topping out after three years, its owner had to watch as the city’s environmental strategy raced forward.
The building is one of those skinny, ribbon skyscrapers in Manhattan. And they had the right idea. Kind of. It was right at the time, which seems like, well, ouch.
It is akin to many familiar things, like choosing a vocation that will interest you for decades and hopefully longer. It can be tricky, based on what you think is out there. If you choose a life of exploration – artistic, scientific, whatever – you throw the rock (the thing you’re chasing) as far as you can. Hopefully the journey to finding/achieving takes a long time, years, enough time for you to develop as a finder of such things.
Building is slightly different, as it is so permanent. So… go with ancient designs or new bells and whistles? It’s a gamble, much like choosing a vocation, if you are so fortunate. Choose wisely.
There is so much of this flying around our ‘culture’ right now, it can almost be too much. It’s like everyone is walking around dizzy from the constant eye-rolling, but can you blame us?
So this is really perfect, plus an expert book review:
By incoherence I don’t mean an “extreme” position or the shriek of the provocateur, but a specific genre of chin-stroking, brow-furrowing, “eye opening” sophistry that’s now robustly represented in mainstream newspapers and magazines. Fluttering near the political center (they refuse to be pinned down!), the exponents of the new incoherence look at the Right’s mushrooming despotism, then at the enfeebled, regrouping Left—and, with theatrical exasperation, declare that both are a bit tyrannical. These pundits are the opposite of adherents; all hail the Incoherents! Like the dadaists and the X-Men, the Incoherents are bound by a shared mission: in their case, the valiant disputation of other people’s missions (which we now know are really “orthodoxies”). Anecdotes and dazzling inanities draped over an individualist common sense—this is the technique favored by the scramblers of our discourse. Faced with Incoherent writing, the reader embarks on a psychedelic saga: the truly trippy liquefaction of virtually all of social reality, especially those parts that have been politicized by the Left. So if you crave a “fresh” opinion, feel free to open the New York Times—on class, read David Brooks; on gender, read Bari Weiss. And on race, read Thomas Chatterton Williams, who has now published his second book.
It has been interesting, at the very least, to observe Williams’s ascent. His first book, released by Penguin in 2010, was the memoir Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture—the subtitle is now Love, Literature and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd—which strode boldly, if rather late, into the “conversation” about black youth culture. (The Washington Post had run Tipper Gore’s famous op-ed “Hate, Rape, and Rap” a full twenty years before.) The volume’s original cover was a picture of the author in a suit: jacket collar popped, tie whipping in the wind. Behind him is a building emblazoned with graffiti.
Read the whole thing. Actually, read other book reviews, too. Hell, read books – but choose wisely! Thanks for the heads-up on this one, Mr. Haslett.
There is an old truism (cite?) that when capitalism and democracy come into conflict, capitalism will always win. But for a long time now it has seemed that the holy virtues of the market are failing the political preferences of the American right. Reasons become excuses and victors turn themselves into victims when they really have to fight against ideas they once supported like market power, not to mention the popular vote. It’s all a bit embarrassing once you step back for a moment. We’ve just gotten used to it, but the whole concept of ‘far-left finance’ is just as crackpot as ‘left-wing corporate media.’ We’re sorry, but no:
Economic modernity isn’t what it used to be. Today, some of America’s largest investors are pension funds that aggregate the savings of unions and public-sector employees, and mutual funds that pool the retirement accounts of white-collar professionals. None of these constituencies are remotely as demographically or ideologically similar to the contemporary conservative base as the capitalist class of yore was to the right-wingers of the mid-20th century. Indeed, over the past 70 years, America’s top executives, money managers, and professionals have grown more diverse, cosmopolitan, and socially liberal, even as the GOP base has grown increasingly animated by exclusionary nationalism and culture wars.
At the same time, consumer-facing brands now covet the favor of young city dwellers, both within America’s borders and beyond them. This is because such consumers are more likely to try new products than your average elderly person in rural America, and the former’s brand loyalty is more valuable, since they are less likely to die soon. That reality, combined with the imperative to compete outside the U.S. market, leads many of America’s most visible firms to align themselves, however superficially, with a progressive and cosmopolitan cultural politics.
Finally, the reality of climate change has given private investors both ideological and financial reasons to disfavor the carbon-intensive industries that supply a disproportionate share of the GOP’s corporate funding. Many public employees and socially liberal professionals like the idea of investing in the green transition, while plenty of far-sighted financiers believe that heavy exposure to fossil fuel assets is unwise in the long-term.
To blame this on some sort of woke anything is just a slur. They can’t compete so they just whine. Refusing to acknowledge where the markets and money flow is not some sort of physics you can undermine with new made-up laws of specialer relativity because you don’t agree with gravity.
Babies are at least honest about what’s in their diapers.
But despite the hype (and… oh boy!), not in a good way. So-called artificial intelligence – no relation to intelligence, but the word just seems so suggestive – is actually just machine learning. And who teaches the machine to learn how they learn what they learn? Humans. Thus, AI/ml also includes all the joys of human foibles.
Oh, and not just the racism + sexism. Also, the burning:
For example, recommendation and advertising algorithms are often used in advertising, which in turn drives people to buy more things, which causes more carbon dioxide emissions. It’s also important to understand how AI models are used, Kaack says. A lot of companies, such as Google and Meta, use AI models to do things like classify user comments or recommend content. These actions use very little power but can happen a billion times a day. That adds up.
It’s estimated that the global tech sector accounts for 1.8% to 3.9% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Although only a fraction of those emissions are caused by AI and machine learning, AI’s carbon footprint is still very high for a single field within tech.
With a better understanding of just how much energy AI systems consume, companies and developers can make choices about the trade-offs they are willing to make between pollution and costs, Luccioni says.
I know – that’s your shocked face. But move fast because it’s important to keep up with the language as it changes and the conditions do not, or are made worse. Because the investment society that cultures large language models and the like already feels three steps ahead, because they never under-invest in PR. Relying on ‘companies and developers to make the right choices about trade-offs’ is only in any way reliable to the extent we change the end of that statement above about what they are ‘willing’ to do. Otherwise, we’re only and ever at the mercy of the companies and developers, no matter whether they blame it on some disembodied algorithm, call it machine learning or whatever.