You'll be hearing a lot more about nodules

    It was only this year that I first heard about nodules, rock-shaped objects formed over millions of years on the sea bed which contain rare earth minerals. We use these for making batteries and other technologies which may help us transition away from fossil fuels.

    However, deep-sea mining is, understandably, a controversial topic. At a recent summit of the Pacific Islands Forum, The Cook Islands' Prime Minister outlined his support for exploration and highlighted its potential by gifting seabed nodules to fellow leaders.

    This, of course, is a problem caused by capitalism, and the view that the natural world is a resource to be exploited by humans. We’re talking about something which is by definition a non-renewable resource. I think we need to tread (and dive) extremely carefully.

    What’s black, shaped like a potato and found in the suitcases of Pacific leaders when they leave a regional summit in the Cook Islands this week? It’s called a seabed nodule, a clump of metallic substances that form at a rate of just centimetres over millions of years.

    Deep-sea mining advocates say they could be the answer to global demand for minerals to make batteries and transform economies away from fossil fuels. The prime minister of the Cook Islands, Mark Brown, is offering nodules as mementos to fellow leaders from the Pacific Islands Forum (Pif), a bloc of 16 countries and two territories that wraps up its most important annual political meeting on Friday.


    “Forty years of ocean survey work suggests as much as 6.7bn tonnes of mineral-rich manganese nodules, found at a depth of 5,000m, are spread over some 750,000 square kilometres of the Cook Islands continental shelf,” [the Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority] says.

    Source: Here be nodules: will deep-sea mineral riches divide the Pacific family? | Deep-sea mining | The Guardian

    Microplastics, tyres, and EVs

    When I took delivery of my electric vehicle (EV) earlier this month, I already knew that it would have actually been better for the environment for me to keep hold of our 10 year-old Volvo. Embodied emissions, which are the emissions created through the cars manufacture, are huge.

    So it fills me with dismay to find out that tyre dust causes a huge problem in terms of microplastics — and the weight of EVs, and subsequent tyre wear, just makes that worse.

    Infographic showing impact on microplastics
    Scientists have a good understanding of engine emissions, which typically consist of unburnt fuel, oxides of carbon and nitrogen, and particulate matter related to combustion. However, new research shared by Yale Environment 360 indicates that there may be a whole host of toxic chemicals being shed from tires and brakes that have been largely ignored until now. Even worse, these emissions may be so significant that they actually exceed those from a typical car's exhaust output.

    New research efforts are only just beginning to reveal the impact of near-invisible tire and brake dust. A report from the Pew Charitable Trust found that 78 percent of ocean microplastics are from synthetic tire rubber. These toxic particles often end up ingested by marine animals, where they can cause neurological effects, behavioral changes, and abnormal growth.

    Meanwhile, British firm Emissions Analytics spent three years studying tires. The group found that a single car’s four tires collectively release 1 trillion “ultrafine” particles for every single kilometer (0.6 miles) driven. These particles, under 100 nanometers in size, are so tiny that they can pass directly through the lungs and into the blood. They can even cross the body’s blood-brain barrier. The Imperial College London has also studied the issue, noting that “There is emerging evidence that tire wear particles and other particulate matter may contribute to a range of negative health impacts including heart, lung, developmental, reproductive, and cancer outcomes.”

    Source: Tire Dust Makes Up the Majority of Ocean Microplastics: Study | The Drive

    Certain surroundings seem to dispel enchantment, and others encourage it

    I really liked this article by Simon Sarris about what we grasp for versus what we get in domestic settings. I’m definitely receptive to the emotional (and even spiritual) aspects of our build environment at the moment, for some reason.

    Handcrafted objects, textured colors, unpainted and unpolished surfaces (my walls show their raw plaster), natural materials, sunlight and shadow—all of these are signs of life. Life accepts the imperfect and the changing. The domestic need not be flamboyant—though sometimes it is magnificent to be so—after all my kitchen and Laquy’s are far from neon. But no kitchen or home should look lifeless. The design cues of the modern home are grasping at a kind of modernist perfectionism, and become flat because all life is removed in the process. Professional atmospheres (restaurant kitchens, warehouses, operating rooms) are antiseptic, often they need to be, so they simply banish life.


    Intimacy is not clutter, but the proper demarcation of space. To lure back enchantment, we must learn to create the nook, to appreciate the wilder garden, to consider the power of shadows and small spaces, to welcome living materials over insensate ones. There is no formula that can easily arrive at intimacy, only a sensitivity to context that can be cultivated. If we look beyond the economic and utilitarian world, we will find a secret one waiting for us.

    Source: Patina and Intimacy | Simon Sarris

    Nine planetary boundaries

    This is a useful diagram to share in order to demonstrate that we might think we’re shafted with regards to climate change, but that pales into insignificance compared to pollution from chemicals and plastics.

    Nine planetary boundaries
    The researchers say there are many ways that chemicals and plastics have negative effects on planetary health, from mining, fracking and drilling to extract raw materials to production and waste management.

    “Some of these pollutants can be found globally, from the Arctic to Antarctica, and can be extremely persistent. We have overwhelming evidence of negative impacts on Earth systems, including biodiversity and biogeochemical cycles,” says Carney Almroth.

    Global production and consumption of novel entities is set to continue to grow. The total mass of plastics on the planet is now over twice the mass of all living mammals, and roughly 80% of all plastics ever produced remain in the environment.

    Plastics contain over 10,000 other chemicals, so their environmental degradation creates new combinations of materials – and unprecedented environmental hazards. Production of plastics is set to increase and predictions indicate that the release of plastic pollution to the environment will rise too, despite huge efforts in many countries to reduce waste.

    Source: Safe planetary boundary for pollutants, including plastics, exceeded, say researchers | Stockholm Resilience Centre

    The end of petrol stations

    Another article looking at the future of electric vehicles. I particularly like the section where it talks about how, if you were trying to sell the idea of petrol stations these days, you'd never get anyone to sign off the health and safety side of things.

    Electric vehicle optimists paint a world where you can plug in anywhere you park - at home while you sleep, as you work, when you are shopping or at the cinema.

    Pretty much whatever you are doing, energy will be flowing into your car.

    At this point, says Erik Fairbairn, 97% of electric car charging will happen away from petrol pump equivalents.

    "Imagine someone came around and filled up your car with petrol every night so you had 300 miles of range every morning," he says. "How often would you need anything else?"

    In this brave new world, you'll only ever pull over into a service station on really epic, long journeys when you'll top up your battery for 20-30 minutes while you have a coffee and use the facilities.

    Source: Why it's the end of the road for petrol stations | BBC News

    You don't hate Mondays, you hate capitalism

    🧠 I Feel Better Now — "Brain chemistry and childhood trauma go a long way toward explaining a person’s particular struggles with mental health, but you could be forgiven for wondering whether there is also something larger at work here—whether the material arrangement of society itself, in other words, is contributing to a malaise that various authorities nevertheless encourage us to believe is exclusively individual."

    😟 Where loneliness can lead — "Totalitarianism uses isolation to deprive people of human companionship, making action in the world impossible, while destroying the space of solitude. The iron-band of totalitarianism, as Arendt calls it, destroys man’s ability to move, to act, and to think, while turning each individual in his lonely isolation against all others, and himself. The world becomes a wilderness, where neither experience nor thinking are possible."

    🙍 The problem is poverty, however we label it — "If your only choice of an evening is between skipping dinner or going to sleep in the cold before waking up in the cold, then you are not carefully selecting between food poverty and fuel poverty, like some expense-account diner havering over the French reds on a wine list. You are simply impoverished."

    👩‍💻 Malware found on laptops given out by government — "According to the forum, the Windows laptops contained Gamarue.I, a worm identified by Microsoft in 2012... The malware in question installs spyware which can gather information about browsing habits, as well as harvest personal information such as banking details."

    🏭 Turn off that camera during virtual meetings, environmental study says — "Just one hour of videoconferencing or streaming, for example, emits 150-1,000 grams of carbon dioxide... But leaving your camera off during a web call can reduce these footprints by 96%."

    Quotation-as-title by unknown. Image via top-linked article.

    Microcast #079 - information environments

    This week's microcast is about information environments, the difference between technical and 'people' skills, and sharing your experience.

    Show notes

    Individual steps to tackle climate change

    Tomorrow, pupils at some schools in the UK will walk out and join protests around climate change. There are none in my local area of which I’m aware, but it has got me thinking of how I talk to my own children about this.

    The above infographic was created by Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas and is featured in an article about the most effective steps you can take as an individual to tackle climate change.

    While these are all important steps (I honestly didn’t know quite how bad transatlantic flights are!) it’s important to bear in mind that industry and big business should bear the brunt here. What they can do dwarfs what we can do individually.

    Still, it all counts. And we should get on it. Time’s running out.