Putting the life back in science fiction

Dystopias in the time of Bannon
February 13, 2017, 12:10 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Just a quick thought and update.  There are two reasons I’m not writing much here.  One is that I’m swamped with environmental work.  With the combination of a wet spring (good for botanizing), four separate EIRs to comment on and more coming in every week, and two botanical papers to write, I haven’t been concentrating so much on climate change.  Then there’s the current political climate, which has me reading about non-violent conflict.  Yes, I’m a scholar at heart, and I respond to slow-motion crises by hitting the library first.  This second leads to my quick thought for the day:  given that we in the US have a capitol infested with wingnuts, the leader of which seems to believe in a (expletive deleted) theory of cycles of history that regenerate in cataclysms, how does one talk about the process and aftermath of severe climate change without feeding into the wingnut narrative?

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The Malthus-Boserup Ratchet
February 7, 2017, 11:05 pm
Filed under: climate change, Oceania, sustainability, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

This is an idea I picked up from Patrick Kirch.  While it is used to explain population growth by Polynesian archaeologists, I’m starting to wonder if it can be repurposed to a wider context.  The basic idea starts with the notion that, just perhaps, Malthus was wrong.

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The Way of the Island Locust

Sorry for the click-bait title, this has nothing to do with martial arts.  It’s a reference to a post I wrote in December 2015 about humans being locust-like in our ability to have mass outbreaks when and where conditions are right.  My idea was that we call these outbreaks civilization.  I came at this from the biology side, but of course the anthropologists and archaeologists have been looking at the same phenomenon in their own way for quite a long time.  Over Christmas, I ran into a highly readable version of their thinking based on archaeology and anthropology from Oceania, one of my favorite regions, and…

well, there hangs a substory.  I was originally going to post this after Christmas, but I realized I didn’t quite understand what was going on.  So I read more books by the same author (Patrick Kirch), developed some germ of understanding about what he thinks is going on, and finally looked up to realize that it’s been a long time since I posted last.  Anyway, if you want to read about my holiday reading, aka how a small group of people settled the Pacific using mostly indigenous resources and founded one and possibly two archaic, pristine states, then read more after the jump.

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2016 Predictions: The roadkill edition
December 27, 2016, 5:35 pm
Filed under: 2016, climate change, Hot Earth Dreams, Speculation, Uncategorized | Tags:

As 2016 waits for the knackers, I figured I’d go back to the predictions I made last January to see how far off I was.  While yes, I understand that I’m not supposed to look backwards, because the past is gaining on us and they’ve got the original papers on what we owe the future, well, I’m still a pessimist, so let’s see what I got wrong.  Or right.   Continue reading

Interesting Times
December 11, 2016, 1:46 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

To quote Talking Points Memo: “Trump’s administration ends up being made up of plutocrats, right wing extremists and generals. Basically, exactly what you should have expected, unless you were stupid.”  Yes, El Cheeto Grande is probably a Russian tool, yes, the electors should do their jobs and hire someone else, not that I expect them to, and yes, this looks like another coup for Big Oil, which is in bed with both Russia and many US politicians, most especially those in the Republican Party (many of the latter might be chained to the bed, but that’s a different industry).

When I wrote Hot Earth Dreams, I naively thought that our addiction to oil was self-inflicted, that it was more about us not willing or able to break the habit than about having the pushers put guns to our heads to forcibly derail any attempts to get off oil, by, say, going solar, getting an electric car, or paying attention to what the climate is doing.  That’s another thing that needs to change in the next edition of Hot Earth Dreams.  We do have solutions, but we’re being prevented from implementing them.  It’s not our own moral weakness.

I’ll also point out that there are parallels here with both what the tobacco industry did in the 20th century and what the slave industrial complex did in the 19th century.  In that latter case, remember what happened when we forced the issue?  Well, when someone launches a carbon-neutral cyberwar, that will be the 21st Century equivalent of the American Civil War, on a global scale.  However, we’re not yet so embedded in our Internet of Things that we’re sufficiently vulnerable to such attacks.  Yet.  Want to get that internet-enabled burglar alarm for Christmas?  Maybe you should buy it for those embarrassing family members who voted red in November.  Don’t tell them how to change the password, either.

Actually, I didn’t want to talk about this stuff, but reality keeps interfering with my plans to write a nice, philosophical piece about the problems with populism, isolationism, and the whole back-to-the-land meme that we all seem to turn to as the cure for all ills, right or wrong.  Oh well.  Instead, I’d rather talk about the weather.

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Chaos and the Art of the Dead Cat
November 23, 2016, 10:46 pm
Filed under: 2016, American politics, Uncategorized | Tags:

I know, I know, everybody’s getting stressed out about acting thankful tomorrow, and I’m supposed to put out a message about what I’m thankful for (which is a lot, actually.  I’m still breathing.  That counts for something).

Unfortunately, I’m just providing ammo for that Thanksgiving political argument you don’t want to get into.  So if you’re not interested in that, have a wonderful Thanksgiving and read the rest of this on Friday.

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You know, I didn’t want Hot Earth Dreams to come true…
November 10, 2016, 6:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’ve been quiet here because we were moving to a new house.  Now I’m settled in, and El Cheeto Grande won the election, not because he won the popular vote, but because of the arcana of the US electoral college.

If you’re reading this outside the US, as an American, I apologize.  To quote a recent get-out-the-vote song, we shot ourselves in the face. Worse, and more to the point, Trump’s already making good on his anti-environmental stance: he’s chosen a noted climate critic to head his EPA transition team.  Unless a miracle happens, we’re not just going to miss that small window for avoiding severe climate change, here in the US, currently the world’s biggest polluter, we’re going to get the fossil fuel industry on the rampage, pushing back all the controls we’ve tried to set on them.  Unfortunately, that makes Hot Earth Dreams that much more plausible, although I’m going to have to revise bits of it.  There’s something about Trump’s win that seems familiar, too.  I think I’ve seen these patterns in other places.

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Briefly breaking silence
October 9, 2016, 11:01 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Just as a quick note and a few links.  The brief note is that I’ve been really busy with environmental stuff (developers, climate change, dogs and cats living together…), and we’re getting ready to move house.  I’m not even leaving the zip code, but the house search and paperwork has eaten up quite a surprisingly large chunk of time.   Getting a yard and a roof that can support solar panels is definitely an upgrade.

In the meantime, On the Public Record has some lovely comments about water markets and the (un)suitability thereof.  Here she is speaking on behalf of all the power hungry and ignorant regulators  (it’s a  plea to stop posturing and make some proposals).  Or you might like this post about how regulation of groundwater in California is meeting with growers servicing their short-term self interests  (I’m shocked, shocked).  Equally shocking is a regulator’s take on how “coequal” environmental and economic uses of water are, at least if you believe in coded language.  And last and best, here and here are her reasoned explanations for her opposition to water markets (tl;dr, she doesn’t think they’ll work).   Fun stuff.  I’d say the last two are the most interesting.

Yesterday, I heard a symposium presentation from an urban ecologist working on the “urban forest” of LA, and trying to make the case about how cool it is.  Well, it literally is cool, in the sense of all that potable water keeping the trees alive.  I’d be surprised if it’s possible to get an old-growth urban forest, especially one that’s dependent on irrigation and surrounded by overdrafted groundwater.  One thing he didn’t tackle–either out of ignorance or, equally likely, out of a strong desire to stay within a particular jargon cloud consistent with his funding sources–was the idea of how urban forests might be characterized in evolutionary terms as the opening shots of symbiotic relationships between humans and the trees we cultivate.  Some are ancient commensals (like ginkgo), while many others have only been in cultivation for a few decades, and are basically clonal populations.  Personally, I think the urban forest of LA will dry up like Babylon’s Hanging Gardens, probably within 100 years, and its descendants will linger only around a few urban rivers and creeks.  But still, it was fun to hear that researchers were finding trees in LA that no one knew were even in the US.  Shows how go our agricultural inspection is, I guess.

Hope everyone’s having a good October.  Feel free to post news of your own.

High tech, no antibiotics: a thought experiment
September 24, 2016, 8:39 pm
Filed under: futurism, science fiction, Speculation, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

First off, I wanted to share a neat video from Bad Astronomy, showing just how, and how fast, bacteria evolve.  Yes, this is evolution in action, captured on a video.  Share it with your creationist frenemies.  Isn’t the 21st Century awesome?

And now, a thought experiment: normally, when we think of a science fictional future, it contains antibiotics, either explicitly or more generally, implicitly.  Antibiotics are routine, not just for treating infections, but more importantly for treating wounds such as you would get from surgery.  Anything involving a transplant, a replacement, or even opening up the body goes much better if there’s a course of antibiotics afterwards to clear up whatever bacteria got into the wounds that the surgeons made.

It’s not news that antibiotics are ephemeral products, and that the more we use them, the faster they become ineffective.  They knew that when they commercialized penicillin.  My question is, what would an antibiotic-free future look like?  Especially one that is high-tech? Continue reading

And We Thought Hibernation Was Simple 2: now with bleach

Most of a year ago, I posted about the first tardigrade genome sequence, which apparently had a lot of bacterial genes in it.  Now, another group has published another genome (io9 article here, report here), and this apparently changes everything, possibly in a better way.  Or possibly, we’ll see some horror move remake of The Fly, only with Ramazzottius varieornatus at the hybridizing end (paging John Scalzi.  I’ve got your vacuum-sucking warriors right here). Continue reading