Systems and interconnected disaster risks

    When you see that humans have exceeded six of the nine boundaries which keep Earth habitable, it’s more than a bit worrying. But then when you follow it up with this United Nations report, it makes you want to do something about it.

    I guess this is one of the reasons that I’m interested in Systems Thinking as an approach to helping us get out of this mess. I can imagine pivoting to work on this kind of thing, because (as far as I can see) everyone seems to think it’s someone else’s problem to solve.

    DALL-E 3 generated illustration showing a metaphorical depiction of climate tipping points. The scene includes a series of large dominoes in a fragile natural environment
    Systems are all around us and closely connected to us. Water systems, food systems, transport systems, information systems, ecosystems and others: our world is made up of systems where the individual parts interact with one another. Over time, human activities have made these systems increasingly complex, be it through global supply chains, communication networks, international trade and more. As these interconnections get stronger, they offer opportunities for global cooperation and support, but also expose us to greater risks and unpleasant surprises, particularly when our own actions threaten to damage a system.

    […]

    The six risk tipping points analysed in this report offer some key examples of the numerous risk tipping points we are approaching. If we look at the world as a whole, there are many more systems at risk that require our attention. Each system acts as a string in a safety net, keeping us from harm and supporting our societies. As the next system tips, another string is cut, increasing the overall pressure on the remaining systems to hold us up. Therefore, any attempt to reduce risk in these systems needs to acknowledge and understand these underlying interconnectivities. Actions that affect one system will likely have consequences on another, so we must avoid working in silos and instead look at the world as one connected system.

    Luckily, we have a unique advantage of being able to see the danger ahead of us by recognizing the risk tipping points we are approaching. This provides us with the opportunity to make informed decisions and take decisive actions to avert the worst of these impacts, and perhaps even forge a new path towards a bright, sustainable and equitable future. By anticipating risk tipping points where the system will cease to function as expected, we can adjust the way the system functions accordingly or modify our expectations of what the system can deliver. In each case, however, avoiding the risk tipping point will require more than a single solution. We will need to integrate actions across sectors in unprecedented ways in order to address the complex set of root causes and drivers of risk and promote changes in established mindsets.

    Source: 2023 Executive Summary - Interconnected Disaster Risks | United Nations University - Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS)

    Image: DALL-E 3

    The rolling drama of the climate crisis just got a whole lot worse

    It’s massively concerning that, although scientists seem to understand why the earth has been warming due to climate change over the last few decades, they don’t seem to know why there’s all of a sudden been a huge spike.

    I just hope it’s not something like methane being released from permafrost, because then we are all completely shafted.

    Chart showing huge spike in temperature
    Global temperatures soared to a new record in September by a huge margin, stunning scientists and leading one to describe it as “absolutely gobsmackingly bananas”.

    The hottest September on record follows the hottest August and hottest July, with the latter being the hottest month ever recorded. The high temperatures have driven heatwaves and wildfires across the world.

    September 2023 beat the previous record for that month by 0.5C, the largest jump in temperature ever seen. September was about 1.8C warmer than pre-industrial levels. Datasets from European and Japanese scientists confirm the leap.

    The heat is the result of the continuing high levels of carbon dioxide emissions combined with a rapid flip of the planet’s biggest natural climate phenomenon, El Niño. The previous three years saw La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean, which lowers global temperature by a few tenths of a degree as more heat is stored in the ocean.

    […]

    The scientists said that the exceptional events of 2023 could be a normal year in just a decade, unless there is a dramatic increase in climate action. The researchers overwhelmingly pointed to one action as critical: slashing the burning of fossil fuels down to zero.

    Source: ‘Gobsmackingly bananas’: scientists stunned by planet’s record September heat | The Guardian

    Climate havens

    I grew up in an ex-mining town, surrounded by ex-mining villages. At one point in my teenage years, I can distinctly remember wondering why people continued to live in such places once the reason for its existence had gone?

    Now I’m an adult, of course I realise the many and varied economic, social, and emotional reasons. But still, the question remains: why do people live in places that don’t support a flourishing life?

    One of the reasons that politicians are turning up the anti-immigration at the moment is because they’re well-aware of the stress that our planet is under. As this article points out, even if we reach net zero by 2050, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere means that some places are going to be uninhabitable.

    That’s going to lead not only to international migration, but internal migration. We need to be preparing for that, not just logistically, but in terms of winning hearts and minds.

    In 2022, climate change and climate-related disasters led nearly 33 million people to flee their homes and accounted for over half of all new numbers of people displaced within their countries, according to data from the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. This amount will surely increase over the next few decades.

    Outside the United States and Canada, the World Bank predicts that climate change will compel as many as 216 million people to move elsewhere in their countries by 2050; other reports suggest that more than one billion people will become refugees because of the impacts of a warming planet on developing countries, which may exacerbate or even precipitate civil wars and interstate armed conflict.

    […]

    The extraordinary pressure that continued international and domestic climate migration will impose upon state resources and social goods like schools, hospitals and housing is difficult to fathom. Over the past year, city and state governments in the U.S. have feuded over the distribution of migrants stemming from the Southern border, with New York Mayor Eric Adams declaring that the current migration wave will “destroy” the city.

    […]

    The stark fact is that the amount of carbon dioxide already amassed in the atmosphere all but assures that certain zones will become uninhabitable by the end of the century, regardless of whether global greenhouse gas emissions reach net zero by 2050. If factories cannot operate at full capacity due to life-threatening climate conditions, periodic grid failures and difficult-to-replace labor shortages over the next two decades — and these challenges reverberate throughout their surrounding economies — the output of the renewables sector will falter and stall projects to decarbonize businesses, government agencies and households.

    Source: The U.S. Government Should Push People To Move To Climate Havens | Noema

    No career progression on a dead planet

    There’s a film starring Matt Damon called Elysium from 2013 in which the wealthy live on a man-made space station in luxury, while the rest of the population live on a ruined Earth. With the latest announcement about a new huge oilfield being opened in the North Sea, the obscene desire for global elites to put profit before planet is clear for all to see.

    As we hurtle towards this scenario, many have realised that there is no longer any link between meaningful work, a decent salary, and a fulfilling life.

    Person sitting on a hillside
    James, a 31-year-old in Glasgow, had always worked hard, from striving for a first at university to working until 8pm or 9pm at the office in the civil service in the hopes of getting noticed.

    But during lockdown in 2020, James had an epiphany about what he valued in life when reading the book Bullshit Jobs by the anthropologist David Graeber. “He talks a lot about how jobs that provide social utility are generally pay-poor while the inverse are paid more,” James says.

    James felt he was working doggedly – but not necessarily either generating public good or building a stable financial life. “It felt futile … You can work really hard and you’re still not going to get ahead,” he says.

    “Salaries and housing costs are so mismatched at this point that you would really need to jump ahead in your career to be able to buy in parts of the country. Not that [owning property] is the be-all and end-all, but it’s kind of a foundation to having financial stability.”

    He now focuses on his life, putting his phone on aeroplane mode while doing activities such as hiking, reading and watching films. “I still value work, I’m very committed to my position. But I’ve just realised that this myth a lot of millennials were told – graft, graft, graft and you’ll always get what you want – isn’t necessarily true,” James says. “It’s a reprioritisation.”

    Social mobility in the UK is at its worst in more than 50 years, a recent study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found, with children from poor households finding it harder than 40 years ago to move into higher income brackets. The IFS said gifts and inheritances from older generations were becoming more important to household incomes.

    Source: ‘It felt futile’: young Britons swap career-driven lives for family and fun | The Guardian

    What's good for us is also good for the planet

    I came across this via Dense Discovery, which is one of a number of additional newsletters to which I would recommend Thought Shrapnel readers subscribe.

    In this article, Erin Remblance shows how modern lifestyles, particularly in wealthy nations, have led to a loss of human connection and an increase in mental health issues. She suggests that the shift from community-oriented activities to individualistic, consumer-driven behaviour has not only harmed our well-being but also contributed to the climate emergency.

    The solution? Returning to simpler, more sustainable ways of living that focus on human connection and creativity. By becoming creators rather than mere consumers we can improve our mental health and simultaneously benefit the planet.

    One of the top 5 regrets of the dying is that they wished that they hadn’t worked so hard. Another is that they wished they’d been brave enough to pursue the life they’d really dreamed of, without worrying about what others thought; that they’d had the courage to do the things that made them truly happy. Which is ironic, really, because according to the 18th century economist and philosopher, Adam Smith, wealth is something that is “desired, not for the material satisfaction that it brings, but because it is desired by others”. People are getting to the end of their lives regretting that they worked so hard – often to accumulate wealth so that others could envy it – wishing that instead they had pursued things that truly made them happy regardless of what people thought. What a lesson we could learn from these people’s dying realisations.

    […]

    Reducing our consumption is of course important for the health of the planet, but what if one way to do this is by becoming producers, or creators, ourselves? Rediscovering what our human-energy – an abundantly available energy we seem to be using increasingly less of – can achieve, something we once innately drew upon, now buried deep within us as fossil-fuelled energy has overtaken our lives. There’s a clear link here to actions that will mitigate climate change: walking, cycling, growing our own food, and other low-tech solutions such as repairing and fostering community that encourages “social connections … rather than fostering the hyper-individualism encouraged by resource-hungry digital devices.”

    […]

    We are not supposed to live like this, and it shows. We can see it in the deterioration of mental and physical health of people in so called ‘wealthy’ nations, in the exploitation of people in the Global South, and we can see it in the planetary-wide ecological crisis we face. What if, in trying to heal ourselves, we also begin to heal the planet? Because, in a wonderful turn of events, it would seem that what is good for us, is good for the planet too.

    Source: We are not supposed to live like this | Erin Remblance

    Cooling down is hotting up

    As the world heats up, humans are going to need to cool down. The use of air conditioning already accounts for nearly 20% of electricity used in buildings worldwide, so this report highlights the urgent need for higher efficiency standards in cooling technologies to mitigate the strain on energy systems and reduce emissions.

    Apparently, effective policies could halve future energy demand and cut costs by $3 trillion by 2050. More importantly than the financial impact, I guess, more efficient air conditioning means that less hot air is dumped into urban environment, which tends to create heat islands (and affects weather patterns).

    Chart showing projected rise in demand for air conditioning

    Cooling down is catching on. As incomes rise and populations grow, especially in the world’s hotter regions, the use of air conditioners is becoming increasingly common. In fact, the use of air conditioners and electric fans already accounts for about a fifth of the total electricity in buildings around the world – or 10% of all global electricity consumption.

    Over the next three decades, the use of ACs is set to soar, becoming one of the top drivers of global electricity demand. A new analysis by the International Energy Agency shows how new standards can help the world avoid facing such a “cold crunch” by helping improve efficiency while also staying cool.

    Source: The Future of Cooling | IEA

    Money does not solve disasters like this

    The Burning Man Festival started in 1986 as a small event on a beach. It was originally an event for hippies, bohemians, and those who lived outside of mainstream culture. It’s an art event.

    As with most things like this, it became cool, and so people with money started going. Now, less than 40 years later, it’s dominated by the Silicon Valley elite, celebrities, and grifters.

    While one person has died this year due to extreme weather events, which is a tragedy, I can’t help but feel some schadenfreude at rich people being stuck in a situation they can’t buy their way out of.

    Tens of thousands of “burners” at the Burning Man festival have been told to stay in the camps, conserve food and water and are being blocked from leaving Nevada’s Black Rock desert after a slow-moving rainstorm turned the event into a mud bath.

    […]

    As of noon Saturday, Nevada’s Bureau of Land Management declared the entrance to Burning Man shut down for good. “Rain over the last 24 hours has created a situation that required a full stop of vehicle movement on the playa. More rain is expected over the next few days and conditions are not expected to improve enough to allow vehicles to enter the playa,” read a BLM statement.

    […]

    The festival this year was already taking place under unusual circumstances with the desert floor flooded by the remnants of Hurricane Hilary as the event was being set up.

    Tara Saylor, an attendee from Ojai, California, faced the threat of the hurricane as well as a 5.1-magnitude earthquake that shook her city before she left, reported the Los Angeles Times. Saylor told the newspaper she’s seen the founders of two different companies at Burning Man this year, but added, “it doesn’t matter how much money you have, nobody can do anything about it. There’s no planes, there’s no buses.”

    “Money does not solve disasters like this.”

    Source: Burning Man festival-goers trapped in desert as rain turns site to mud | The Guardian

    What we can learn about the climate emergency from the world's response to ozone depletion in the 1980s

    This article by Andrew Dessler discusses the near-miss catastrophe of ozone depletion. Anyone alive at the time can probably remember how the world came together to address the issue by phasing out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) through the Montreal Protocol in 1987.

    Dessler draws parallels with the current climate crisis, arguing that global policy collaboration based on scientific research can solve pressing environmental issues. Along the way, he also debunks claims that transitioning to renewable energy would be economically catastrophic.

    In the early 1970s, scientists theorized that certain man-made chemicals, known as chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, had the potential to reduce the amount of ozone in our atmosphere — this became known as ozone depletion. Given the crucial role of ozone in maintaining a livable environment, this caused great concern.

    Even before evidence of actual ozone depletion was observed, countries began to take action. For example, the U.S. banned many non-essential uses of the chemicals, such as propellants in aerosol spray cans. This reflected a different view at the time that government should protect its citizens rather than protect the profits of corporations.

    By the mid-1980s, the world was busy negotiating the phase-out of the primary ozone-depleting CFCs when the Antarctic ozone hole (AOH) was discovered. The AOH is an annual event: over Antarctica, the majority of the ozone is destroyed during Spring. The ozone builds back up as Spring ends and, by Summer, things are basically back to normal.

    […]

    The ‘reference’ future is our world, the ‘world avoided’ is the world that would have existed had we not phased out CFCs. By the 2060s, the world would have lost two-thirds of it’s ozone. This, in turn, would have greatly increased the dangerous ultraviolet radiation reaching the surface. This plot shows the UV dose at noon under clear skies in July in mid-latitudes.

    Today’s value of 10 is ‘high risk’ for UV exposure, which is why public health professionals tell you to wear sunscreen when you go out. The world avoided has a UV index of 30 — three times what is considered high risk and high enough to give you a perceptible sunburn in 5 minutes.

    Source: Ozone depletion: The bullet that missed |Andrew Dessler

    Disaster capitalism, climate change, and agriculture

    Many readers will be aware of the extreme weather conditions in Vermont USA. This has led to a disastrous year for agriculture and financial struggles for local farmers.

    The article delves into the broader implications of these challenges, framing them within the context of ‘disaster capitalism,’ where the degradation of farming and natural resources is exploited for profit, exacerbating systemic issues and inequalities. We’re at the thin of the wedge with this stuff.

    Vermont has suffered a miserable growing season and many Vermonters lost a great deal to the flood. Some lost their home and everything in it. But only two people lost their lives, and very few lost their jobs. This is astonishing, given the number of businesses that were shuttered for most of the last eight weeks. Some are still not open. Yes, we may have lost quite a lot, but our losses are marginal compared to the many dozens of people killed in the Maui fire and the billions of dollars of devastation in flooding elsewhere in this country. Similarly, farm losses across the country are measured not in tens of millions, but in billions. Net income from US farming is expected to drop by $30.5 billion, an 18.2% loss over 2022, which was itself not a good year. I’m sure Vermont is in that estimate, but we only add a bit to the decimal places of that number. And these few horrific numbers barely scrape the surface of loss in the US, with even greater horrors mounting everywhere else in the world. (Can Canada even measure the damages sustained in this year’s fires…)

    These numbers show that we are in the age of the disaster capitalism described by Naomi Klein after she witnessed the response to Katrina. There has always been more income in the breaking of human lives than in maintaining them. In truth, the 20th century surge in disposable products and planned obsolescence was nothing but extracting profits from breakdown. Similarly, our economy was strongest as it pulled itself out of the devastation of World War II. As long as there are resources and cheap labor somewhere, somebody will profit over our loss. What is different now is that nearly resources and cheap labor are being funneled into this economics of disaster with little left to sustain actual lives.

    […]

    We are in disaster capitalism and have been for a long while. I believe that capitalism has always been intrinsically tied to disaster and destruction, whether natural or engineered, but not many people share my views — because my views are from the edge spaces, the bottom and sides of this system. I sit outside and can see things that those dependent on this capitalist system for privilege and wealth do not, or can not. Upton Sinclair’s quip about the inverse relationship between a man’s paycheck and his ability to comprehend any given issue is the duct tape that holds capitalism together in these increasingly disastrous times — increasingly disastrous because of capitalism, whether the result of inadvertent externality or planned waste and breakdown. This system can only survive if enough people refuse to see that its basic function is destruction. Though of course it can also only survive if there are cheap resources and labor to mine for disaster remediation, and we are now entering the stage of late capitalism that has no more cheap things to turn into waste. Capital is feeding on itself, struggling to bring in revenues that can cover its increased costs — costs like fires and floods, scarce resources and a debilitated workforce wracked by disaster. The system needs all the propaganda it can muster to keep telling itself that it is alive and well, keeping those men with dependent paychecks blind to its demise.

    Source: The future earth is already here | resilience

    The uninhabitable earth

    This interactive tool maps in 3D where our planet will become unihabitable due to a combination of heat, water stress, sea level rise, and tropical cyclones.

    It’s an amazing and depressing visualisation, which indirectly shows how climate migration will inevitably increase in the coming decades.

    Climate change is destroying people's livelihoods. By the year 2100, all areas that are red in the visualisation will become “uninhabitable”. Extreme heat, tropical cyclones, rising sea levels, water stress or a combination of those are projected to make it difficult or impossible to live there.
    Source: Climate change: Mapping in 3D where the earth will become uninhabitable | Berliner Morgenpost

    The world's largest climate-positive artwork provides food and nesting spots via algorithm

    It’s interesting that this is being conceptualised as an ‘artwork’ rather than a technological intervention. Perhaps this is the way to deal with the climate crisis, by bringing algorithms from the cold, sterile environment of technology into the warmer, more joyful world of art?

    This multidisciplinary project by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg explores the relationship between humans, nature, and technology and aims to draw attention to the importance of insects in pollination by creating an algorithmic solution for planting designs that serve a diverse range of pollinator species.

    The project changes depending on location, debuting at the Eden Project in 2021 and includes 7,000 plants across 80 varieties. These provide food and nesting spots for insects with the aim to create the world’s largest climate-positive artwork.

    This is not a natural ecosystem planted outside, there are plants from all over the world. With the expert group, we chose not to focus on native plants only because they are locally appropriate so they’re not invasive. So that’s the first thing⁠—it’s an artificial landscape designed for nature, so it’s a very different way of creating an ecosystem. The other big challenge to the art world that I’m proposing is creating a climate-positive artwork. I also show in museums and I use digital media and that’s all very carbon-consuming. Here, we actually have an artwork fabricated in plants. It has its own climate impact because of the soil we’re moving, the plastic pots, the shipping of plants, but it’s here for at least three years, so it starts to outweigh that negative. There’s also a question of how we measure that, and that’s something I’m really interested in.

    The other thing that’s really important to me is upending the idea of value. The art market is all about the one, the singular, the limited edition. This is an unlimited edition. The idea is: the more people who have one, the better each one is because each one supports the other. For me, that’s a strong statement to make to commissioners and when I’m trying to get more partners involved. It’s a very different way of thinking about how we create art and what its purpose is. For me, this is about playfulness, joy and celebrating nature. I call it an artwork and not a garden project because I think situating it in that context makes a powerful statement in itself.

    Source: An Interview with Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg | Berlin Art Link

    When it's getting too hot for plants to photosynthesize, you know we've got a problem

    I used to run a site called extinction.fyi which documented the climate emergency. This definitely would have been an article I would have featured on there.

    As would the news that French nuclear power stations had to stop running when the water in the rivers next to where they’re situated became too hot. The additional heat of water coming out of the cooling circuits would raise the temperature further, killing aquatic life.

    Leaves in the world’s tropical forests are approaching critical temperatures at which photosynthesis breaks down—and a fraction have likely already passed that threshold—raising alarms about the fate of these essential ecosystems under the most pessimistic projections of human-driven climate change, reports a new study.

    […]

    The ECOSTRESS data, along with follow-up measurements from the ground, showed that tropical canopy temperatures tend to peak at around 34°C, though some regions experienced temperatures that exceeded 40°C. Because there is a surprising amount of temperature variation between the individual leaves on a single tree, the researchers estimated that about a tenth of a percent of all leaves in tropical forests are annually pushed beyond the critical threshold of 46.7°C that marks the breaking point of photosynthesis.

    […]

    As global temperatures continue to rise, more tropical leaves will be pushed beyond their photosynthetic capabilities, causing plants to perish. While the researchers emphasized that there is a lot of uncertainty in their models, they warned that an increase in global air temperatures of about 3.9°C could trigger a major photosynthetic meltdown for tropical forests. This estimated increase is within the range of climate models that project a future where human greenhouse gas emissions don’t begin to fall until after 2080.

    Source: It’s Getting Too Hot for Tropical Trees to Photosynthesize, Scientists Warn | VICE

    Landmark ruling in climate trial

    I’ve only been there once, but Montana is an absolutely beautiful place. And much like other places that people call home, those that live there want to keep it that way.

    It’s really heartening to see youth-led action be successful in a court of law. I hope that this leads to more cases being brought around the world.

    A Montana state court today sided with young people who sued the state for promoting the fossil fuel industry through its energy policy, which they alleged prohibits Montana from weighing greenhouse gas emissions in approving the development of new factories and power plants. This prohibition, 16 plaintiffs ages 5 to 22 successfully argued, violates their constitutional right to a "clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations."

    Experts previously predicted that a win for youths in Montana would set an important legal precedent for how courts can hold states accountable for climate inaction. The same legal organization representing Montana’s young plaintiffs, Our Children’s Trust, is currently pursuing similar cases in four other states, The Washington Post reported.

    […]

    Montana tried to argue that adjusting its energy policy and other statutes would have “no meaningful impact or appreciable effect,” the Post reported, because climate change is a global issue. Montana Assistant Attorney General Michael Russell described the testimony as a “week-long airing of political grievances that properly belong in the Legislature, not a court of law,” according to the Post. Notably, the state did not meaningfully attempt to dispute climate science.

    […]

    Experts told Scientific American that Montana’s emissions are significant given its population size, emitting in 2019 “about 32 million tons of carbon dioxide.” That’s “about as much as Ireland, which has a population six times larger,” Scientific American reported. Young people suing alleged that Montana had “never denied a permit for a fossil fuel project,” the Post reported.

    Source: Montana loses fight against youth climate activists in landmark ruling | Ars Technica

    Reducing website carbon emissions by blocking ads

    Blocking advertising on the web is not only good for increasing the speed and privacy of your own web browsing, but also good for the planet.

    What is the environmental impact of visiting the homepage of a media site? What part do advertising, and analytics, play when it comes to the carbon footprint? We tried to answer these questions using GreenFrame, a solution we developed to measure the footprint of our own developments.

    The results are insightful: up to 70% of the electricity consumption (and therefore carbon emissions) caused by visiting a French media site is triggered by advertisements and stats. Therefore, using an ad blocker even becomes an ecological gesture.

    […]

    Overall we observe the same thing: the carbon footprint of a website decreases if there are no ads or trackers on the website. The difference is significant: Between 32% and 70% of the energy consumed by the browser and the network is due to monetization.

    The websites analyzed generate between 70 and 130 million visits per month, and their work has therefore a real impact on the environment.

    Reducing the consumption of one of these sites by only 10% (20mWh), per visit for a site with 100 million monthly visitors is equivalent to saving 24,000 kWh per year.

    Source: Media Websites: 70% of the Carbon Footprint Caused by Ads and Stats | Marmelab

    Naming heatwaves

    I’m hoping other countries follow suit and bring some attention to heatwaves as human-caused extreme weather events.

    The world's first named heat wave hit Seville, Spain, this week, pushing temperatures past 110 degrees Fahrenheit and earning the most severe tier in the city's new heat wave ranking system.

    Heat wave “Zoe” has brought scorching temperatures to the southern part of the country for the last few days, particularly the region of Andalusia where Seville is located. Even in the evenings, the Spanish meteorological service recorded temperatures that hovered in the mid-80s in some areas — an extra stress on the human body, which relies on cooler nights to recover from high daytime heat.

    Source: ‘Zoe’ becomes the world’s first named heat wave | Climatewire

    Foregrounding externalities

    I found this article via the excellent Sentiers, which I support as a member. It discusses the importance of making visible externalities — a term which is reasonably common in literature relating to economics and risk, but not general discourse.

    An externality is “an indirect cost or benefit to an uninvolved third party that arises as an effect of another party’s (or parties') activity”. In this case we’re talking about the cost of extracting materials from the ground and shipping them around the world.

    The shipping container led to the highly sophisticated supply chains we see today, which has been extremely efficient in making, exploiting and creating a form of global labour and material arbitrage.

    It is vital to the relocating and offshoring of production to places where the costs are far lower. But even more importantly it makes the consequences, or ‘externalities’, of production completely invisible to Western consumers.

    What if we suddenly decided that we’re going to stop pretending those things don’t happen? What if we embrace the consequences of what it means to manufacture products and to build, and to price its full cost? If the sticker price included the full cost of everything we build, then suddenly making things locally and sourcing materials locally would become much more attractive.

    Source: Designing without depletion: Joseph Grima’s non-extractive architecture | Foreground

    Discourses of Climate Delay

    I came across this and am sharing it to remind myself of all of the ways that people try to avoid the very pressing problem of the climate emergency.

    Source: Discourses of Climate Delay | Leolinne

    Unintended consequences of smart thermostats

    It must have been about five years ago when we bought a Nest thermostat. Before that point, the temperature of our house would be a continuous low-level source of friction. Since then, not only has it ceased to be a point of contention, but it’s also saved us money.

    This article points out that, while there are really positive benefits of reducing energy usage at scale, there are unintended side effects in terms of spikes at times when renewable energy isn’t available.

    Set by default to turn on before dawn, the smart thermostats unintentionally work in concert with other thermostats throughout neighborhoods and regions to prompting inadvertent, widespread energy-demand spikes on the grid.

    The smart thermostats are saving homeowners money, but they are also initiating peak demand throughout the network at a bad time of day, according to Cornell engineers in a forthcoming paper in Applied Energy (September 2022.)

    […]

    Lee and Zhang investigated “setpoint behavior” and learned that most homeowners use the smart thermostat’s factory-default settings. Evidence showed that residents remain confused about how to operate their thermostats and are often unable to program it, the authors said.

    […]

    While the setpoint schedules are designed to achieve the energy-saving benefit, the peak demands are concentrated primarily when renewable energy is unavailable – aggravating the peak demand by nearly 50%, according to the paper.

    […]

    Without a tenable way to store energy from renewable sources like solar power, the electric utilities will be unable to supply this peak demand, which prompts fossil-fuel generators to satisfy the power load. “This can offset the greenhouse gas emissions benefit of electrification,” Lee said.

    Source: Smart thermostats inadvertently strain electric power grids | Cornell Chronicle

    The future is the least renewable resource

    Carlos Alvarez Pereira, vice president of the Club of Rome is interviewed by WIRED about a book called The Limits to Growth, published in 1972. Interestingly, he’s both critical of capitalism and confident that a cultural movement “hidden in plain sight” means that we’ll be in a better position than we are now.

    The computer modeling made it plain: If people continued to overextract finite resources, pollute on a massive scale, and balloon the human population in an unsustainable way, civilization could collapse within a century. It sounds like that modeling could have been done last week, what with climate change, water shortages, and microplastics corrupting every corner of the Earth. But in fact it dropped in the 1972 book The Limits to Growth, published by the Club of Rome, an international organization of intellectuals founded in 1968.

    To mark the book’s 50 year anniversary, WIRED sat down with Alvarez Pereira to talk about how that future is shaping up, what’s changed in the half-century since Limits, and how humanity might correct course. The conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

    [...]

    WIRED: Presumably economists weren't too fond of it because growth is inherent to capitalism. And unchecked growth really, a kind of maniacal, ecologically-destructive growth at all costs that's built into the system.

    CAP: What the system has done, as a mechanism to continue with growth at all costs, is actually to burn the future. And the future is the least renewable resource. There is no way that we can reuse the time we had when we started this conversation. And by building up a system which is more debt-driven—where we keep consumption going, but by creating more and more debt—what we're actually doing is burning or stealing the time of people in the future. Because their time will be devoted to repaying the debt.

    Source: The Infamous 1972 Report That Warned of Civilization's Collapse | WIRED

    This bus ain't growing wings

    Cory Doctorow: activist, technologist, sci-fi writer and all-round awesome human being has written a powerful article for Locus magazine. He likens the climate emergency to us being collectively trapped on a bus that’s speeding towards a cliff edge.

    We’ll all die at the bottom of the canyon, but no-one will yank the wheel, as it would cause the bus to roll and many people to be hurt.

    The good news is: climate denial is on the wane. The bad news is: deniers have pivoted to incrementalism: “We’ll fix the climate. Give us a couple decades to phase out oil and gas. Give us a couple decades to replace the cars and retrofit the houses. Give us a couple decades to invent cool direct-air carbon capture systems, or hydrogen cars that work just like gas cars, or to replace our overland aviation routes with high speed rail, or to increase our urban density and swap out cars for subways and buses. Give us a couple decades to keep making money. We’ll get there.”

    In other words: “We’re pretty sure we can get some wings on this bus before it goes over the cliff. Keep your hands off the wheel. Someone could get really badly hurt.”

    People are already getting really badly hurt, and it’s only going to get worse. We’re poised to break through key planetary boundaries – loss of biosphere diversity, ocean acidification, land poisoning – whose damage will be global, profound and sustained. Once we rupture these boundaries, we have no idea how to repair them. None of our current technologies will suffice, nor will any of the technologies we think we know how to make or might know how to make.

    Source: Cory Doctorow: The Swerve | Locus Online

Older Posts →