CLIMATE ADAPTATION

I want to punch climate change in the face. A blog about the interactions between the built environment, people, and nature.


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It takes luck and new technology to survive. We may be particularly lucky to have Internet technology to help manage the six requirements of a durable civilization:

1. “Try not to cough on one another.” More humans have died from epidemics than from all famines and wars. Disease precipitated the fall of Greece, Rome, and the civilizations of the Americas. People used to bunch up around the infected, which pushed local disease into universal plague. Now we can head that off with Net telepresence, telemedicine, and medical alert networks. All businesses should develop a work-from-home capability for their workforce.

2. “Don’t lose things.” As proved by the destruction of the Alexandria Library and of the literature of Mayans and Minoans, “knowledge is hard won but easily lost.” Plumbing disappeared for a thousand years when Rome fell. Inoculation was invented in China and India 700 years before Europeans rediscovered it. These days Michelangelo’s David has been safely digitized in detail. Eagleman has direct access to all the literature he needs via PubMed, JSTOR, and Google Books. “Distribute, don’t reinvent.”

3. “Tell each other faster.” Don’t let natural disasters cascade. The Minoans perished for lack of the kind of tsunami alert system we now have. Countless Haitians in the recent earthquake were saved by Ushahidi.com, which aggregated cellphone field reports in real time.

4. “Mitigate tyranny.” The USSR’s collapse was made inevitable by state-controlled media and state-mandated mistakes such as Lysenkoism, which forced a wrong theory of wheat farming on 13 time zones, and starved millions. Now crowd-sourced cellphone users can sleuth out vote tampering. We should reward companies that stand up against censorship, as Google has done in China.

5. “Get more brains involved in solving problems.” Undertapping human capital endangers the future. Open courseware from colleges is making higher education universally accessible. Crowd-sourced problem solving is being advanced by sites such as PatientsLikeMe, Foldit (protein folding), and Cstart (moon exploration). Perhaps the next step is “society sourcing.”

6. “Try not to run out of energy.” When energy expenditure outweighs energy return, collapse ensues. Email saves trees and trucking. Online shopping is a net energy gain, with UPS optimizing delivery routes and never turning left. We need to expand the ability to hold meetings and conferences online.

See the webinar explaining these things, here.

These hard to dispute maxims were developed by the flashy neuroscientist, David Eagleman. He presented them to the Long Now Foundation, an institute that makes a boat load of money selling guru-esque science, technology, and economics books and seminars. Like TED Talks, the Long Now Foundation presents new thinking in a compelling way, salesy way. 

Yes, I’m skeptical of TED and Long Now, mostly because they present information with a tone of all-knowing infallibility. One also has to be particularly “alpha” in order to make a presentation with either of these organizations - a disposition that the vast majority of researchers do not have. This method of presentation only supports a certain type of researcher, while thousands of others are left behind.

So, on the one hand, these organizations vacuum-up large sums of cash from an easily-entertained, science hungry public. On the other hand, ‘science-as-entertainment’ might be the best way to communicate heavy and complex ideas to wider audiences. Is “sci-tainment" sustainable? How long until the public becomes jaded from watching TED Talks and Long Now? How long will these organizations last? What are the long term effects of these things on various fields of scientific research?

Has anyone quantified the social impacts or value of TED Talks and the Long Now Foundation?

What do you think? Am I being too harsh on these venues?

Two ancient Mayan cities discovered in southern Mexico using aerial photographs, local knowledge, and computer models. Unknown why the cities were abandoned, but researchers speculate loss of resources like food and water supplies, changes to climate, invasion, and/or disease.

Great story via Slovenian Academy of Sciences.

insteadofwatchingtv:

Weird Places: The Bay of Fundy

Remember this invention? 19 year-old student proposed this design to clean up plastics in the oceans. The idea was picked up by TED, and green blogs exploded with glee. 
I criticized the project as ineffective buffoonery and likely illegal. And several others also panned the invention as foolish and naive. Well, now the student is back with a revised version of the plastic’s clean up machine. He’s partnered with some serious engineers and PR and he formed a new company, “The Ocean Cleanup.” Video here.
A science journalist in Germany, Sarah Zierul, interviewed me and a few other experts who also criticized the machine. Sarah’s article really got to the heart of the story and you can see researched for several months to get to the facts. She re-tells the story of the young inventor, and describes the original machine and its problems, as well as the new machine and the engineering behind it. She also interviews several critics, noting how their complaints have evolved into support.
Excellent science reporting!
Read Sarah’s excellent article, here. If you don’t read German, go here.

Remember this invention? 19 year-old student proposed this design to clean up plastics in the oceans. The idea was picked up by TED, and green blogs exploded with glee.

I criticized the project as ineffective buffoonery and likely illegal. And several others also panned the invention as foolish and naive. Well, now the student is back with a revised version of the plastic’s clean up machine. He’s partnered with some serious engineers and PR and he formed a new company, “The Ocean Cleanup.” Video here.

A science journalist in Germany, Sarah Zierul, interviewed me and a few other experts who also criticized the machine. Sarah’s article really got to the heart of the story and you can see researched for several months to get to the facts. She re-tells the story of the young inventor, and describes the original machine and its problems, as well as the new machine and the engineering behind it. She also interviews several critics, noting how their complaints have evolved into support.

Excellent science reporting!

Read Sarah’s excellent article, here. If you don’t read German, go here.

Asian Development Bank’s new climate infographic quantifies how south Asia economy will be hit by climate impacts.

I think the bank underestimates the hit to GDP. If a storm wipes out major infrastructure (think Japan’s Fukushima), the effects on economies and lives will last for decades.

rhamphotheca:

This White-tailed Ptarmigan was spotted with her four chicks up at Logan Pass yesterday. She is part of a research study to determine changes in habitat location and breeding numbers.

White-tailed ptarmigans are well-adapted to high elevations and cool temperatures. Rising temperatures (3x the global average rise in temperature) at high elevations over the last century means change for this alpine specialist.

According to researcher David Benson, data from the ptarmigan study shows that “white-tailed ptarmigan in Glacier have changed distribution, altered habitat preferences, and perhaps on a local scale, experienced declining population numbers in late summer.” (ms)

What a beeeeautiful bird! Lives in Montana. Of course, endangered because humans.

The report claims the eruption could strand 10 million travelers.

Driving in Japan.

If Mogadishu occupies an ambiguous space in our minds and hearts, it is because ours is a land with an overwhelming majority of pastoralists, who are possessed of a deep urbophobia.

Maybe this is why most Somalis do not seem unduly perturbed by the fate of the capital: a city broken into segments, each of them ruthlessly controlled by an alliance of militias.

by Somali writer Nuruddin Farah (1988). I read this mind blowing quote while researching migration as a climate adaptation option for certain cities.

Urbaphobia" - the condition that cities are a threat to rural life. As a consequence, said cities will not obtain the support required for their long term existence.

I’m not sure of the cultural scale required for urbaphobia to supplant the viability of cities, but it is an interesting concept. Perhaps, for example, Detroit needed a certain level of support from the surrounding rural areas in order to survive. If true, which other cities are threatened by this phobia?

Massive toxic spill in British Columbia pollutes streams and lakes. The Mount Polley Mine mines copper and gold. These mines require massive amounts of toxic acids to “eat” the rocks that contain the copper and gold. The waste is “contained” in a big retention pond (in this case a huge lake). The ponds just sit there with no plans for clean up. Humans are banned from the ponds. Governments say they are safe (despite that ponds fail on average of 30%).

Millions of tons of harmful metals, soils, and wastewater spilled into pristine habitat. Canada’s response? Whooppsy! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Above images: NASA and CBC.

An earthen dam at Mount Polley Mine in British Columbia breached on August 4, 2014, sending contaminated water surging into nearby lakes. Wastewater and metal-laden sand spilled from a retention basin and triggered a water-use ban in Likely, British Columbia, and other nearby towns. Local authorities had lifted the ban as of August 12.

On August 5, nearly all of the wastewater in the retention basin had drained, exposing the silty bottom. Hazeltine Creek, normally about 1 meter (3 feet) wide, swelled to a width of 150 meters (490 feet) as a result of the spill. In the aftermath of the flood, a layer of brown sediment coated forests and stream valleys affected by the spill. Notice how much forest immediately north of the retention basin was leveled. Debris, mainly downed trees, are visible floating on Quesnel Lake.

Video:

Several excellent Canadian, environmental, and political tumblrs are covering the spill: https://www.tumblr.com/search/mount+polley+mine.

Asker chromac Asks:
Hi Michael, I was wondering if you've been following the recent events at Mount Polley. What's it all about and what's its significance? Thanks, Dom.
climateadaptation climateadaptation Said:

Hey chromac, I heard of the spill. Lucky it wasn’t near people or significant habitat. Still, pretty devastating. There’s some excellent coverage on tumblr here: https://www.tumblr.com/search/mount+polley+mine.  A quick skim of the headlines and it’s pretty clear the Canadian government’s response is in favor of the mine. Best, Michael

newurbanismfilmfestival:

#streetart flower arrangement in Brussels