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.

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)

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).

View from nowhere, of no thing

This is the best they do and it’s terrible. NPR runs an infomercial on a carbon capture company as news:

DANNY CULLENWARD: Carbon removal refers to things you can do, whether it involves nature-based systems or technologies to literally pull CO2 out of the atmosphere.

KLIVANS: Danny Cullenward researches carbon removal as a fellow at American University. Scientists agree that to avoid catastrophic warming, humans need to stop putting climate-harming pollution into the air, and we need to draw some down. The world’s forests and oceans naturally pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. But – and here’s Cullenward again.

CULLENWARD: The problem is if we don’t intervene in these systems, they won’t suck up enough because we put such an unfathomably large quantity of pollution in the atmosphere in the first place.

KLIVANS: Startups like Charm Industrial need money to develop carbon removal technologies. That’s where the private sector is jumping in. A group of companies, including JPMorgan Chase, Stripe, Alphabet and Shopify, plan to pay Charm millions of dollars. In exchange, the company will bury the bio-oil equivalent of what 31,000 passenger cars emit a year. That’s just a tiny amount of what needs to come out of the atmosphere, but it’s a start. Nan Ransohoff is head of climate at Stripe.

NAN RANSOHOFF: We want to get more companies to the starting line and then help them get down the cost curve as quickly as possible so that we can build carbon removal solutions that have the potential to get to the scale that we need to solve the problem.

But it’s a start? 31,000 cars? Okay, sure. “Let’s plug this cool new startup, you guys! I have their Head of Climate on speed dial.”

Is it to soothe people in their cars so they can worry about really scary things like AI? Wait, don’t answer that – and that story came immediately after the one above. Caveat auditor.

They actually listen to sales people talking about extinction, but in the wrong story.

Designing Horizons

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.

Image: an ancient design, Le Pont du Gard

Carpool Now

Not that kind.

It’s going to be the boringest, most plausible solutions that save us, part the infinity.

No tech/some tech/even with tech, the radical ideas are already here, sitting… waiting. In a discussion with colleagues about the twin scourges of traffic congestion and parking strife permanently visiting our otherwise sleepy little burg, the needless importation of already-existing strategies (get it?) eludes us in favor of trying to think of different ways to evade the problem. We’re not doing that, precisely, but trying to think of ways to incentive the creation of more surface parking instead of how to have less cars is a different kind of plague. Fortunately, we already have a rested and ready vaccine: the carpool.

It’s a word for when more than 1 person rides/drives together from/to like destinations like work or school.

We then ask our eternal question: is there an app for that?

I kid you not.

The car sharing system merges several new people into one car, which leads to meeting new people in one car, and reduces air pollution and noise pollution. The car sharing system saves the economy of each person as they share their rides and also share the cost with the other member by car. This will stop spending endless money on travel. The growth of the global carpooling market is mainly driven by the growing demand for time and cost-saving transportation facilities. A government initiative to promote carpooling due to increasing road congestion is expected to boost market growth.

But I am serious about this. Make it a game, a competition. Give people money, time off, commemorative sweatshirts, rock show tickets, whatever. Just help get us out of cars.

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.

Shop ’til you stop

Insightful NYRB review of two new books about life in a slower economy. It’s NOT that things will necessarily be so much worse when we are spending less, driving less, burning less – they won’t be worse. It’s just the transition to consuming less itself we consider to be so painful as to be unthinkable. We’re such babies:

Generations of economists, meanwhile, have insisted on the goodness of economic growth and warned that any significant drop in consumption would vaporize jobs, leaving millions if not billions of people without a means of supporting themselves or their families. (Margaret Thatcher’s well-known phrase “There is no alternative,” sometimes shortened to TINA, refers to the assumed necessity of perpetual growth.) The resulting dilemma, as MacKinnon puts it, is that “we must stop shopping, and yet we can’t stop shopping.”

Rather than dismiss this conundrum, MacKinnon seeks to complicate it. Whose jobs would be lost, and for how long? How could societies and their economies adapt, and what could they gain in the process? How would other species react to quieter, less polluted habitats? To begin to answer these questions, he proposes a thought experiment to economists, entrepreneurs, and others: Say that on a single day not long from now, consumer spending falls 25 percent. What next? Predictions in hand, MacKinnon seeks real-world equivalents, finding disparate places and times where conditions similar to those of his thought experiment have already come to pass.

This approach, which might be called speculative journalism, was memorably employed by Alan Weisman in his 2008 book The World Without Us, which MacKinnon credits in his acknowledgments. To conjure a planet precipitously vacated by humans, Weisman interviewed architects, engineers, ecologists, and others qualified to forecast the fates of abandoned cities, farms, and forests. He then visited deliberately unpeopled places, such as the Korean Demilitarized Zone and the United Nations–controlled buffer zone between the Turkish and Greek sides of the island of Cyprus. In a kind of reverse archaeology, both Weisman and MacKinnon assemble shards of past and present into plausible futures. The most obvious difference between their thought experiments is that MacKinnon’s became all too concrete: when he was midway through his research, pandemic shutdowns upended the world economy, and the effects of his imagined fall in spending were inflicted on real people in real time.

The Day the World Stops Shopping is neither an economic treatise nor a detailed policy proposal, though it draws on both as sources. It is an enjoyably idiosyncratic tour led by a perceptive, empathetic guide. It assumes that any significant, lasting reduction in consumption will result from accidents and innovations, brought about not by individual households but by loosely coordinated communities, nations, and regions. In this sense, it is both more realistic and more persuasive than any technical argument, for it makes it possible to imagine not only one alternative to endless growth but many.

Lots of important points here, brought us by people who are smarter.