"Undermining my electoral viability since 2001."

Public Interest at the Planetary Scale

I'm always surprised when I meet someone who shares my fuzzy vision of globally networked democracy as the plausibly positive planetary prospectus.

This idea is out there, in the air. People sense kind of intuitively that easy/instant global communication will probably change the way we govern ourselves, but even in the thought bubble of San Francisco it's not something that seems to get a lot of direct attention.

I recently had a couple of run-ins, one with a future-focused magazine curator in SF and another with a Berkeley PhD turned Goldman Sachs wizard in New York. It got me thinking about why it's so surprising to find these types of connections.

Tech people tend to be lower-level in their interests — debating the bits and bytes of different languages, products, techniques and companies — and the business-end of the change we're living tends to get a lot more media attention than the broader social implications. Not surprising given the cultural context we inhabit, but still kind of a shame.

To the extent that "big picture" ideas get much play on the nerd scene, people seemed more taken by the Singularity, the computation-driven quasi-apocalypse. It's a neat sci-fi diversion — an interesting enough Dark Future, good for a pulpy novel or two — but doesn't strike me as imminently practical model for anticipating or piloting the future. Other big-think doomsayers fixate on Peak Oil, or the collapse of the global economy, etc.

While I'm as big a fan as anyone of Red Dawn disaster fantasies, I don't really believe preparation for total societal collapse is a wise use of resources. Human beings always believe the end of the world is coming, and we tend to be wrong. The future will bring change, no doubt, but the operative question (to me) is not "how can we ride this out in a compound?" but rather "how do we get ourselves to a new Golden Age?"

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Up With Hope

Canadia to the rescue:

In demonstrating the technology in practice, Keith and his team used a custom-built tower to capture CO2 directly from the air while requiring less than 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity per tonne of carbon dioxide. The tower unit was able to capture the equivalent of approximately 20 tonnes per year of CO2 on a single square metre of scrubbing material -- which amounts to the average level of emissions produced by one person each year in North America.

While still in its early stages, the atmosphere-scrubbing technology has already been touted by environmentalists as an energy-efficient and cost-effective way to complement other approaches designed to help reduce transportation emissions, such as biofuels and electric engines.

Now, this should be pursued in addition to planting a lot of trees, but the truth is that over the past 300 years, we've dug massive amounts of shit out of the ground and set it on fire. Getting back into balance means taking a bunch of that shit out of the air and putting it somewhere else again. Trees don't cut it because when you cut them down they rot and the gas gets out again.

Basically the idea is you perfect this kind of rig along with some solar/wind power to keep it running -- just like highway lights on the remote parts of the highway -- and it becomes somebody's high-paying Union Job to service the thing, put the used-up scrubbers in a box car to be hauled off for burial, etc.

Maybe we can re-build the ruined mountain-tops of Appalachia.

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Red Dawn Remake

I finally found a link (and a few more) supporting rumors I'd been hearing of a Red Dawn Remake.

Most people seem chagrined. I, for one, am most interested to see what folks come up with. It feels likely to happen to, as it's all about ze money, Lebowski:

MGM toppers Harry Sloan and Mary Parent announced the remake -- along with a big-budget rebuild of "RoboCop," which director Darren Aronofsky among others has recently been in to discuss -- in May at the Festival de Cannes. As the studio regroups, its executives have realized that the strong MGM library has numerous classic and cult properties it can exploit for a new audience.

That's smart, yo. It's all about catalog now.

So it may be shit, but it might not. I'll be interested to find out.

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"I think God lives on the Sun, don't you?"

More resisting apoccalyptic thinking: researchers at MIT improve solar cell performance:

As a result, rather than covering a roof with expensive solar cells (the semiconductor devices that transform sunlight into electricity), the cells only need to be around the edges of a flat glass panel [e.g. a window]. In addition, the focused light increases the electrical power obtained from each solar cell "by a factor of over 40," Baldo says.

The real solutions to all of humanities problems are energetic in nature. Currently, as we confront an end to the burning of a billion or so years worth of stored photosynthesis that we dug out of the ground -- that's what oil, coal and natural gas are, really -- we look in new directions. The future is in fusion, and while there are some exciting things (which aught to get funding) happening with small-scale earthbound actions, we have a pretty functional fusion reactor up and running in the neighborhood. It'll burn you too, if you're not careful.

The Sun is the root source of almost all energy, of all life on our Earth. With the exception of geothermal, tidal, and nuclear power, everything else comes exclusively from the Sun. It's a mind-bogglingly huge thing, a mas of incandescent gas emitting literally incomprehensible amounts of energy. There is no scale of reference that can even begin to convey the reality of what the sun is, it's power.

It is truly the most God-like for 35 light years around. We should do a better job of worshiping.

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Resisting Apocalyptic Thinking, Part 793

So after this weekends Kinetic festivities and my own automotive troubles, I feel it's appropriate to take note, again, of the hard facts facing humanity.

Things are going to be different. The price of gasoline is not going to reverse its trend this year, or the next. The rate of CO2 saturation in the atmosphere is also not going to turn itself around for some time, even under ideal circumstances. Things will change.

And we'll deal with it. That's the main thing to keep in perspective. The world will not end. Humanity will not be extinguished. Our particular configuration of civilizations cannot persist indefinitely, but it's not as though we're doomed as a species.

Rocks from space could come close to wiping us out -- real mass-extinction events do happen -- but even in that kind of case it seems highly unlikely to me that humanity (let alone life) would go into the wings.

It's important to resist apoclyptic thinking. This is something that's wired into us as people, a weakness for believing the end is nigh. It's an idea that pops up throughout history, and it's never correct. Which is not to say that terrible tragic things don't happen, but that the rapture never comes, and even sweeping watershed changes take time.

And even better is remembering that dealing with it can be fun. Like these biodiesel cats in Colorado who cut a deal w/New Belgium Brewery:

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What Does The Future Hold?

As a fan of many things sci-fi, I think it's worthwhile to sometimes take a step back and ponder the future. For instance, in 1908 cars and telephones were just beginning to make their presence felt. The US was just starting to experiment with imperialism in Central America and the Philippines. Things were very different.

It makes me re-realize that the ginormous problems we face as a species are going to be managed, if at all, through similar deltas of change. For instance, as we learn to stop digging things out of the ground and burning them to power our civilizations, things like harvesting energy from the friction of walking will be employed along with now-familiar wind and solar power. Or maybe, on the dark side, we'll be sending the space equivalent of oil supertankers to <a href="http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEMCSUUHJCF_index_0.html>the moon of Titan to suck up it's hydrocarbon-rich atmosphere to be brought back here to burn.

Who knows. My gut sense is that investing outside the status quo is probably smart.

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The Big D

Well, I'm glad I got out of debt, but I'm also glad I didn't do it early enough to sink any money into "the market." While I'm sure many funds will still do well and long-term investors have little to fear, the current economic trajectory is pretty ugly. The dow is headed towards 52-week lows, and there's more bad news to come.

This is what happens when you run things like the Soviets. It's increasingly obvious that our economy, beyond being unsustainably debt-based, is also build on a series of consensual hallucinations that don't map well to reality. Because our made-up-prowess is in "financial products" rather than steel and wheat production, we can get by for longer than they did in the USSR -- and we get hit with mortgage defaults rather than breadlines, which is an improvement -- but the books are no less cooked, and CNBC is a propaganda outlet, not a news channel.

The Big D may indeed be coming, although a new bubble/rally may emerge around alternative energy and infrastructure instead. Here are the fundamentals:

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All Of This Has Happened Before

So, as you may have heard, Atlanta is running out of water, and nobody really seems to know what will happen if the unthinkable occurs and drought persists for another two months. But it's not as if this is really a new thing.

It seems like somehow in the latter part of the 20th Century, we in the US lost track of the fact that we're actually quite small and powerless in the face of macro-scale events. Droughts and other disasters (some of them manmade) have always happened, and will happen again, but we've forgotten this. We seem to believe too deeply in our exceptionalism, that we're somehow exempt from history and the cruel twitches of fortune.

As Bukowski said, "The trouble with these people is that their cities have never been bombed.". We have no feel for loss. We've constructed massive metropolises -- the fastest growing in the nation -- in the middle of deserts. There were dead cities in the same places when white people first got here. It's a failure of history and memory; hubris.

As Dick Cheney said, "The American way of life is not negotiable," and indeed it seems literally inconceivable to our leadership class that shit might not work out. I find this baffling and sad.

Politically I think this is part and parcel with the rise of post-modern conservatism. It's a particular blend of resource-intensive, non-scalable, non-sustainable infrastructure -- think exurbs, big lawns, etc -- coupled with a paradoxically anti-government philosophy (juiced with reactionary cultural backlash, of course).

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Red Dawn Roundup

Stories jumping out of the news today. The undercurrent of Doom is running strong again. I preach a dark future! And the overarching theme seems to be "things are worse than we thought."

Did you know that an area of arctic ice roughly the size of Texas and California combined has melted over the past two years? Sucks to be a polar bear:

bq. "If there is no summer sea ice, then there will be no ice- based Arctic ecosystem," Ben Stewart, a spokesman for Greenpeace U.K., said today in a telephone interview. "It's the canary in the coalmine: the impacts of climate change seem to be happening faster than the scientists predicted a few years ago."

On the upside, we can ship imported crap around much faster now, so we can get baby-killing toys and cribs and pet-killing food all that much faster and more efficiently from China, and there might even be more oil under the North Pole! Yippie!

bq.. But the melting ice could open opportunities, including a shortcut for commercial ships between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Already, some ships have breezed through the 5,100-km Northwest Passage in weeks instead of years, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

A thawing Arctic, however, may increase tension among five countries (Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway), which have competing claims to the North Pole. A quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas resources lie in the Arctic, according to the US Geological Survey.

p. That's just peachy. You can see how this unfolds: strange arctic wargames against the Russians as millions of inhabitants of coastal North America migrate to the newly-balmy regions of Saskachewan and Manitoba. Montreal is the new Miami!

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The End Is Nigh

Want to know a sign that the Big D is on the way? Watch the money:

bq. Canada's dollar traded almost equal to the U.S. currency for a second day amid optimism economic growth will be fueled by surging demand for the commodities... The currency rose above $1 yesterday for the first time since November 1976.

Currently it's a $0.999. Meanwhile, as atrios has noted, the Euro is closing in on a buck fiddy. Fed Chairman Bernake says the worst has yet to come:

bq. Losses from sub-prime mortgages have far exceeded "even the most pessimistic estimates", US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke has said.

And then (via Franz) there's this:

bq. Saudi Arabia has refused to cut interest rates in lockstep with the US Federal Reserve for the first time, signalling that the oil-rich Gulf kingdom is preparing to break the dollar currency peg in a move that risks setting off a stampede out of the dollar across the Middle East.

I've been following all this in my own nerdy way, and it looks like most of the bullish pushback against claims of instability are evaporating. Our debt-based economy can't roll on much longer as currently configured.

The upside for me is that I work in an international market on a product that has a very strong European base, so all of a sudden I'm cheap labor to those people. Heck, I may be cheap labor to those socialists up in Canada soon.

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