Issue #418
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Hello!

Oh my days, I can't even. This week has been a rollercoaster of work, pain, and... being invited for a COVID jab! (I just need to find a free appointment slot )
I did not write any Thought Shrapnel posts this week, but I did publish a few posts on my personal blog, so I'm sharing those below. Or, you could just read my weeknote?
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Everyone has an eschatology

simple_critical_infrastructure_maps
Eschatology n. the branch of theology that is concerned with the end of the world or of humankind.
Eschatology n. the branch of theology that is concerned with the end of the world or of humankind.

Whatever our professed spiritual beliefs I reckon everyone has an eschatology. That is to say, we have a theory, either explicit or implicit, about how the world will end ⁠— and whether that will occur in our lifetime, our children’s lifetime, or neither.

My own personal eschatology became a bit more up close and personal after reading Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy this morning. I downloaded it immediately after listening to the author, Prof. Jem Bendell, appear on the Emerge podcast in 2019. I’d stumbled across that podcast (currently on hiatus) due to the episode with Vinay Gupta, which I’ve discussed here.
From the conclusion of Deep Adaptation:

Disruptive impacts from climate change are now inevitable. Geoengineering is likely to be ineffective or counter-productive… In assessing how our approaches could evolve, we need to appreciate what kind of adaptation is possible. Recent research suggests that human societies will experience disruptions to their basic functioning within less than ten years due to climate stress. Such disruptions include increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, disease, civil conflict and war – and will not avoid affluent nations. This situation makes redundant the reformist approach to sustainable development and related fields of corporate sustainability that has underpinned the approach of many professionals (Bendell et al, 2017). Instead, a new approach which explores how to reduce harm and not make matters worse is important to develop. In support of that challenging, and ultimately personal process, understanding a deep adaptation agenda may be useful.

Bendell’s paper is an interesting one, and like my doctoral thesis, takes an academic yet personal tone. I need to read it again and follow up on some links, cross-referencing with some of the material from the Dark Mountain community and Vinay’s Simple Critical Infrastructure Maps (SCIM).

For now, I just wanted to encourage anyone reading this to read the paper and to encourage myself to think about realigning my work around the 4R’s outlined by Bendell:

Resilience asks us “how do we keep what we really want to keep?”
Relinquishment asks us “what do we need to let go of in order to not make matters worse?”
Restoration asks us “what can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies?”
Reconciliation asks “with what and whom can we make peace with as we face our mutual mortality?”

One other thing that I note in terms of operationalising this work is that Bendell seems to have done a particularly useful job of employing what I would call productive ambiguity. As a result, people can take something practical, while being able to contextualise it for their own situation.

Image by Vinay Gupta used under a Creative Commons license.

The role of the man who foresees is a sad one

fire clouds
The role of the man who foresees is a sad one. He afflicts his friends with warnings of the misfortunes they court with imprudence. He is not believed; and when the misfortunes occur, those same friend resent him for the ills he predicted.

Chamfort was writing around the time of the French Revolution. This was a period where everything went (dangerously, murderously) sideways for a bit, before the status quo re-emerged with different rulers.

We tend to think that life is somehow ‘safer’ or more ‘stable’ these days, but the ideological collapse that caused the French Revolution is perhaps more evident in 2021 than it was in 1789.

Things break down when groups within societies fundamentally differ about ontology, epistemology, or ethics. The result is a form of militant tribalism, where each tribe believes that another is stopping them saying or doing particular things. The ‘others’ pose some kind of threat to ‘our’ way of life.

In reality, the biggest threat to societies, wherever you are in the world, is climate change — or as I’ve begun to call it for the sake of emphasis, ‘human extinction’. After all, the planet was fine before us, and will be fine after us. The Arctic was a jungle 55 millions years ago. Needless to say, that meant global temperatures would not have been conducive to human life.

Carbon emissions may have decreased dramatically due to the pandemic lockdowns we’ve experienced over the last year, but recent reports suggest that we would need a similar lockdown every two years to stop runaway climate catastrophe.

It’s not the cheeriest news, but then we need a complete mindshift in order to save our species. Anyone who’s read Jared Diamond’s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed will be aware that globalisation makes it impossible for modern societies to collapse in isolation. Our supply chains are more fragile than we think.

I have often asked myself, “What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?” Like modern loggers, did he shout “Jobs, not trees!”? Or: “Technology will solve our problems, never fear, we’ll find a substitute for wood”? Or: “We don’t have proof that there aren’t palms somewhere else on Easter, we need more research, your proposed ban on logging is premature and driven by fear-mongering”? Similar questions arise for every society that has inadvertently damaged its environment.”

So what are we to do in the face of all this? One thing I’d encourage you to do is to read the Deep Adaptation paper from 2018 by Prof. Jem Bendell. The books by Dark Mountain are also worth paying attention to, particularly Walking on Lava: Selected Works for Uncivilised Times.
Ultimately, we all need to do something. We can’t shrug and say “hakuna matata” until everything burns down around us.

[I]t’s perfectly normal for people to want to live a good life right here and now, no matter what the future holds. It’s certainly stupid to work like crazy towards a future that doesn’t exist. That’s definitely insane. But working towards a present that can exist is but such a bad idea at all.

I know that, personally, I’ve ignored all of this for too long. Yes, I got involved in the climate change protests a couple of years ago, but other than stopping eating meat I haven’t made meaningful changes in my everyday life.

I’m not exactly sure what my next steps will be, but I’m going to see whether Extinction Rebellion‘s approach of non-violent direct action might be the right path forward for me. I’ve got to do something.

Image via Pixabay.

Proof-of-What?

Behind most things is nuance. Blockchain is no different. The recent controversy behind NFTs (?) has polarised debate about the ‘value’ of decentralised currencies, tokens, and the applications they allow.

There’s some important technical differences between how the decentralised networks behind various cryptocurrencies and tokens come to consensus. The point of this post is to point out these to the best of my current ability and knowledge. It’s based on my attempts to ensure that I’m not trying to save the world on the one hand while destroying it through my actions elsewhere.

In the course of buying and selling crypto, I’ve learned about an important difference between currencies such as Bitcoin which use ‘Proof-of-Work’ (PoW) consensus models, and others which use ‘Proof-of-Stake’ (PoS).

Both of these models are called ‘consensus mechanisms‘, and they are a current requirement to confirm transactions that take place on a blockchain, without the need for a third party.

The TL;DR, as far as my understanding goes is that, broadly speaking, PoW is energy intensive and killing the planet, whereas PoS is… less problematic.
Let’s be clear: cryptocurrencies and tokens aren’t going away. And I see plenty of upside in terms of trading value independently of governments. The following definitions are taken from the glossary part of CoinMarketCap’s very helpful guide to crypto called Alexandria.

Proof-of-Work (PoW)

A blockchain consensus mechanism involving solving of computationally intensive puzzles to validate transactions and create new blocks.

Example: Bitcoin, Ethereum*, Zcash
*moving to PoS at some point in the future

Proof-of-Stake (PoS)

A blockchain consensus mechanism involving choosing the creator of the next block via various combinations of random selection and wealth or age of staked coins or tokens.

Example: Cardano, Flow, Polkadot

Other approaches

  • Proof-of-Authority (PoA) — “A blockchain consensus mechanism that delivers comparatively fast transactions using identity as a stake.”
  • Proof-of-Burn (PoB) — “A blockchain consensus mechanism aiming to bootstrap one blockchain to another with increased energy efficiency, by verifying that a cost was incurred in “burning” a coin by sending it to an unspendable address.”
  • Proof-of-Developer (PoD) — “Any verification that provides evidence of a real, living software developer who created a cryptocurrency, in order to prevent an anonymous developer from making away with any raised funds without delivering a working model.”
  • Proof-of-Replication (PoRep) — “Proof-of-replication (PoRep) is the way that a storage miner proves to the network that they are storing an entirely unique copy of a piece of data.”
  • Proof-of-Spacetime (PoSt) — “In simplest terms, PoSt means that someone can now guarantee that they are spending a certain amount of space for storage.”
The legality of cryptocurrencies varies by territory, with India currently considering a ban. I predict that the difference in consensus models will be a determining factor, with a likelihood that Proof-of-Work models are banned in some jurisdictions for their impact on the environment.

Until next week!

Doug
Thought Shrapnel Weekly is published by Dr. Doug Belshaw. You can connect with him by replying to this email, or via Twitter, LinkedIn, and Mastodon.


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