I’ve always been a sucker for a good time lapse. This one strikes me as a time lapse within a time lapse. It’s half a day, compressed into less than 5 minutes, with people flitting around like moths, posing for pictures with an ice sculpture of the future. Only the time lapse eyes of the camera can see what’s happening. And by the end the passers by probably can’t even tell what the message might have been. But the art is a piece of time lapse too. A century or a millennium compressed into a day of melting. Even that is a stretch for our attention span. Even the 5 minute video seems long and slow. How can we create a society with a more meditative mindset? With an attention span that reflects the extent of our impacts in deep time?
A Love Story And A Clearance Sale, musings of an arctic sea ice researcher on the fact that he will probably outlive the object of his professional affections. A minimum of zero sea ice appears likely between 2015 and 2020, and models suggest that once you get to a minimum of zero, the ice-free season is likely to expand quickly, with significant impacts to northern hemisphere weather patterns.
The human timescale isn’t appropriate for climate change. We can’t see it minute to minute. Day to day. Year to year. Like watching an analog clock, you never see the hands move, and yet time passes. We need more time lapse eyes.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder automatically generates this plot of arctic sea ice extent (and many others) every day:
It’s probably not horrifying unless you’re a geoscientist.
The wet side of Greenland. Apparently almost the entire Greenland ice sheet, including the summit, are experiencing above-freezing temperatures this year, with ice sheet albedos at an all time low, leading to a dramatic increase in meltwater flow, doubling previous flow records in some rivers. Yikes!
I’m not sure what to make of our willingness to participate in the terraforming of the Earth. To explore it, I’ll consider an alternative history in which Antarctica was marginally habitable, and colonized a million years ago by woolly hominids who developed a Yeti civilization. Our whaling vessels meet up with them in the 1820s, but it’s so cold down there that nobody feels the need to molest them except for few hardy anthropologists, the occasional overzealous missionary expedition, and the usual cohort of scientists who will study the ends of the Earth, no matter how inhospitable. Inevitably, the Yeti spend some late nights with the scientists in their hot tubs watching the aurorae.
They get to talking about the magnetosphere, some atmospheric physics, and the geology of their ice-clad homeland. One day they decide their lives would be better if they could inhabit the entire continent, instead of just clinging to the coastal fringe, and so with the help of some misguided sympathizers, they develop a vast clandestine industrial complex pumping long-lived fluorinated super greenhouse gasses like CF4, C2F6, and SF6 into the atmosphere to warm things up. These compounds are vastly more powerful warming agents than CO2 and methane. They are also long lived atmospheric species, sticking around for up to 50,000 years. If a serious industrial complex were set up to produce and release them en masse, they would close a good chunk of the atmosphere’s thermal infrared window and radically alter the climate for tens of thousands of years. This atmospheric engineering could be done over the course of an election cycle, especially if the Yeti bastards had help from the cold-hearted Canucks and Russkies.
Would the G-20, the OECD or the UN Security Council stand by while a rogue Yeti nation threatened the billions of people who live in coastal cities, or depend on glacial water supplies, all in the name of Manifest Destiny? Of course not. We’d be more likely to bomb their furry white asses back into the Ice Age.
Winter poses special challenges to the utilitarian cyclist. Those who ride purely for fun and fitness tend not to ride when it’s dark and cold and snowy. If you consider the bike your primary form of transportation, you don’t necessarily have this option. You still need groceries in February, after all. There are three main differences between fair weather and winter cycling: more darkness, the cold, and snow and ice on the roads.
Climate Wars – A Canadian radio show exploring some of the climate change scenarios which have been studied by the US Dept. of Defense in a personal, "War of the Worlds" kind of way. Be forewarned, this is apocalypse porn, and probably not productive unless you need to get yourself riled up. (tagged: politicsclimatesustainabilityfuturewar )
The Choice of Cities – I'm not convinced we really know why the humans are coming to the cities. Whether it's a pull, or a push. How the migrants feel about their lot. Is it, globally, the same as the push we had in this country a hundred years ago? Or was it a pull? What happened when the frontier closed, when all the land was spoken for, and the factories and mines and mills were opened for business.
And what will cities look like once everyone has arrived? If we actually reach that day, when the countryside is emptied, and the flow staunched, then how will cities develop going forward? What will their margins look like? Will the slums filled with newcomers vanish? What will they be replaced with? (tagged: technologieurbandesigneconomicshistorytechnologypoverty )
Bike Among the Ruins – Detroit is half abandoned. The houses are almost free. The streets are empty and the people are poor. It's also flat. Could a cyclone of bicycles wipe clean the slate, even within the sight of our beloved, bankrupted, and now employee owned husk of an industrial titan… GM? (tagged: bicycletransportationurbandesigneconomy )
The Revolution Will Not Be Digitized – Iran is one of the first places we get to see old school blood in the streets mixed with the new age of instantaneous, ubiquitous communication. We've tended to focus on the positive aspects, while briefly forgetting the potential powers of an electronic police state, which is to some degree what Iran has built. No massive army of eavesdroppers and informants is needed in such a regime. A few deep packet inspection boxes from Siemens sitting on the fiber backbone, and a few on the microwave towers from Nokia. Technology is largely neutral. (tagged: technologypoliticsinternetprivacygovernmenttwitterweb2.0iran )
How To Destroy Half the Planet for the Low, Low Price of 5% of Global GDP – Never mind the possibility of unforseen climatic consequences. Even if the pessimistic IPCC scenarios are right, and even if they "only" reduce global GDP by 5% over the next 100 years, that purely economic metric is not sufficient, because it turns out you can wipe 2.5 billion people and their nations off the face of the Earth, mainly in the tropics, and only reduce global GDP by 5%. Cold comfort, that. (tagged: climateeconomicsgdp )
Property Assessed Clean Energy Bonds – PACE bonds are a way of overcoming the capital intensivity of many energy efficiency retrofits which make sense in the mid to long-term, but not on the typical short term investors time horizon. They also allow homeowners who may move before their investment in efficiency has paid for itself to pass on the obligation to future owners, instead of losing the investment. They also shift the costs of doing energy efficiency from capital expenses to debt servicing, which is advantageous in many jurisdictions for tax purposes. Berkeley, CA and Boulder, CO pioneered them for municipalities, but they can also work in a commercial context. (tagged: energyefficiencysustainabilityfinancegreendebtinvestingbonds )
Power Struggle – A commentary on Steven Chu's position that we need major basic scientific and technological breakthroughs to successfully tackle our energy problems in the context of global warming. The hope is that in the short term, the vast array of incremental changes we have available is enough to get us started, and that by mid-century, the major breakthroughs will have been forthcoming. Ah, non-linear dynamics. (tagged: technologyscienceenergyclimatenon-linearsustainabilitypolicy )
The Great American Bubble Machine – An article from Rolling Stone, by Matt Taibbi, on the endless bubble building shenanigans that Goldman Sachs has engaged in over the years, and their supposed current machinations to engineer a bubble in the as-of-yet uncreated market for greenhouse gas emissions. Markets, I like. Markets run by some Great American Gangster Kingpin, not so much. Especially not this particular market. Remember: Nature doesn't do bailouts. (tagged: economicsfinancegoldmansachscapitalismclimatebailout )
Paul Romer: A Theory of History, with an Application – Paul Romer talks about two different kinds of informational goods: "technology" and "rules". The former being knowledge about how to re-arrange the material world to increase its value to humans, and the latter being constraints on the ways we interact with each other. His "new/endogenous growth" theory suggests that overwhelmingly, wealth creation throughout history has been due to these two kinds of goods, and that they are virtually infinite resources. What he does not explicitly admit in the talk though, is that much of our increased apparent wealth has come at the cost of virtual liquidation of material resources. Truly sustainable growth absolutely must close the materials loop somehow. Better sooner than later. The rest of his idea is wonderful: we need a system which enables rule set entrepreneurs, or we aren't going to get sufficient innovation in the field. He suggests myriad autonomous city states, and I agree emphatically. (tagged: economicsurbansocietynon-linearpoliticslongnow )
The Swimming Cities of Serenissima – Improvised and chaotic houseboats built from found bits, floating down the Mississippi (2006-2007), or the Hudson (2008), or sailing the Adriatic from Slovenia to Venice (2009). Like a tiny maritime Burning Man. Only a couple of boats today… What if it were an armada? (tagged: artboatperformancesailing )
The New Nostradamus – Bruce Bueno de Mesquita uses large game theory simulations to try and predict the outcomes of complex negotiations involving many parties, both economic and political. Sounds interesting. Also sounds a little bit like bullshit. But apparently the CIA did a prospective trial (no backtesting bias) and found that the models made accurate predictions something like 90% of the time, when the analysts providing the inputs to the model made wrong predictions. Not so surprising that computers are better at synthesizing massive logical datasets into an outcome. The hard part seems like it would be getting the right inputs, and also trusting that people behave rationally, and (perhaps) know what's good for them. (tagged: economicspoliticssciencemathpredictiongametheorytechnology )
Ice Shelf Instability Backgrounder – A good backgrounder from last summer on the Wilkins Ice Shelf (which has just collapsed), and shelf dynamics in general, with links to the relevant literature. None of this is quite as sudden and shocking as the media reports have made it out to be. (tagged: climateantarcticaiceshelf )
The Case Against Breast-Feeding – Backlash against the relatively new social imperative (in the west) that women must breastfeed to be good mothers. I think the real issues are that we haven't structured our society and its expectations to meaningfully accommodate having children and equitable peer spousal relationships. I agree there's something broken, but I don't think it's breastfeeding. And I feel like it's another example of the Newtonian hangover… we're so used to being able to figure things out authoritatively, a la Newton, that we almost don't know how to deal with planning around and purturbing complex systems like the climate, or ecologies, or economies, or agricultural systems, or genomes, or nutrition… which we depend on, but don't understand fully (and because of their chaotic nature, may never understand fully. We're used to Apollonian systems, but actually we live in a Dionysian world. (tagged: sciencefoodchildrenhealthbreastfeedingsociety )