ashnistrike: (lightning)
1. I've started a more public, and more regularly updated, blog on the psychology of sustainability--also on portable sensors, games for change, local foods, and my various other sustainability-related obsessions.

2. Speaking of local foods, our CSA for the past 2 weeks has been full of mushrooms.  This on top of the entirely non-local dried porcini and preserved truffles that showed up for the holidays. There has been mushroom quiche, and mushroom pasta, and cow-share steak with porcini butter.  And I still have to find something to do with the last truffle and a bag of shitakes.  This is not a hardship.

3. I just read Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel.  Fairies in Dust-Bowl-era Kansas, magic based on folk and blues and swing and jazz music, and honest explorations of racial politics.  Many thanks to [ profile] mrissa for the recommendation.

4. I am now reading Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel by Jacqueline Koyanagi. This appears to be Firefly fanfic with the serial numbers heavily filed off and replaced by better world-building.  And set in a universe where the unmarked state is dark-skinned lesbian.  If you wanted a novel like that--and don't pretend you didn't--this is totally the novel that you wanted.

5. This item is self-referential.
ashnistrike: (lightning)
I'm trying to come up with a list of SF authors who write frequently about climate change, communications technology, or both--and preferably who connect these to justice and societal change. I need the info for an upcoming conference on climate communication, scheduled for August in DC.  (Yes, I know.  But it's our mosquito-infested swamp.  And it will be cool inside!)

I'm quite positive that this conversation already took place at Wiscon and I missed it, probably while I was at the Imaginary Book Club or something.
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I've got an article up at This Big City about a plan to make Chicago's downtown massively more sustainable.  This was a lot of fun to work on.  It's a very ambitious plan, and looks like a very good idea--if we can only get a decent mayor out of February's elections who'll support the thing.
ashnistrike: (Default)
The world has always been about to end.  When I was growing up, it was World War 3.  It was the most well-documented of modern wars, so we all knew the shape of the thing.  Someone would mistake a flock of birds or a computer error for nuclear warhead, and they'd launch all their missiles, and then the other side would launch all their missiles, and that would be the end.  Depending on your literary bent, a few people might survive in bomb shelters, their children growing up as very well-armed mutants.

Charlie Stross has pointed out that World War 3 is topologically equivalent to the return of Cthulhu.

The most common nuclear war/Cthulhu/cometary impact/Rapture story (if such things leave room for stories) is the cozy catastrophe.  A few survivors band together.  Civilization has fallen away, leaving small tight-knit groups to guard their resources and each other.  They live with medieval technology and whatever additions they've been able to cobble together from the instructions in preserved encyclopedias.  S. M. Stirling's Change books (which I love, it should be said) are the epitome of this form--all the distraction of radiation and so on is forgone, replaced by an unknown force that prevents the use of technology above a certain level.  The world is ruled by Pagans and SCAdians.  This is quite common in cozy catastrophes, by the way: the reader's favorite groups, unappreciated in our impersonal modern civilization, turn out to have exactly the skills required in the new world.

A lot of people think about climate change and/or peak oil in the familiar terms of the cozy catastrophe.  They find response strategies appropriate to the Rapture.  Get away from civilization.  Start a homestead.  Learn to keep bees and milk goats.  Assume that cities will fall apart and crowds will riot, and that your best bet is to be far away from targets.

But climate change is not topologically equivalent to nuclear war.  Nuclear war is (mostly) all or nothing.  There is one dramatic event; you have to get through it, and then lay low during the aftermath.  And there's no missing it.  When the bombs fall and the dead rise, everybody will know, and everybody will react. 

Climate change is slow and incremental.  It has already started; the effects are measurable and perceptible.  Some people notice, and some people don't, and some people who notice aren't yet alarmed.  No one riots.  Fuel prices rise slowly, but the fuel itself doesn't disappear overnight.  When peak oil comes (or when we realize we've overshot it by 20 years), access will decrease slowly.  If we're not careful, we'll get to a very bad place, very slowly--but people who are in a very bad place don't react like people who are surprised.  They don't panic, and things don't collapse so much as disintegrate or simply change--slowly.

So, no riots.  No return to medieval technology, either.  Medieval tech levels depend on a low population density, as much as modern ones depend on a high population density.  And if we implement any solutions, no matter how imperfect or inadequate, many of them will be high-tech solutions.  There will be beekeeping and wind farms.  There will be solar-powered laptops.  There will be sustainability coordinators calling you through the carefully maintained cell phone network to let you know that electricity is rationed tonight and you need to turn off your lights at 8.  There will be cities with local food grown on green roofs, and country homesteads networking with people around the world for efficient organic gardening techniques, and people going hungry because we don't have the resources for artificial fertilizers, and a ban on plastic packaging because we need that oil to make sterile medical supplies. 

If we survive this, it's not going to be in isolation.  It's going to be in, and because of, civilization.  This problem is too big to handle in small homesteads with no connection to the outside world, or in 100-person tribes of east African plains apes.  All of the solutions I've seen--not just the ones that will minimize the warming, but the ones that will help us adapt to it--depend on the resources of a large and reasonably well-coordinated civilization.  We currently have one of those.  We also have people who are trying to tear it down, who insist that it's not good for anything.  These are also, in many cases, the people insisting that climate change is not a real problem.  This is not a coincidence.

So that's what I've learned.  Much as my society drives me crazy sometimes, I am inextricably intertwined with it.  I cannot get through this by myself.  I cannot huddle off the grid and wait for the storm to blow over.  The evidence very strongly supports the idea that we are all in this together.
ashnistrike: (Default)
Somewhere over the course of the last year, I've moved from "studying sustainable behavior as one application of cognitive psychology" to "learning everything I can about climate change and sustainability."  This is all in service of the meta: the central climate change problem is a psychological one.  People do things that make the problem worse, or don't do things to improve it, because of what's going on in their heads.  Maybe they don't believe the problem exists, or they think the costs of doing something are too severe.  Maybe they don't think any action they can take will do any good.  So I need to know the baseline facts in order to know what accurate, action-provoking mental states might look like.  Here are some things I've learned:

-The causes of climate change are simple.  We know exactly what sorts of emissions cause it, and what the sources are.  We know that reducing those emissions would not only address climate change, but improve human health, and end up with more of the world's energy being produced by democratic countries with some vague notion of human rights.  We know that these changes in energy sources need to be made eventually, because the current sources will eventually run out.  We know that the longer we delay these changes, the more they will cost.  We know that longer delays would still allow us to compensate for climate change effects, but would also be much more expensive.

-The effects of climate change are complicated.  Raise the average global temperature, and the effects on weather and climate vary from place to place.  Some places will actually get colder, some of the time.  In the Midwest, we expect a longer growing season, but with less rain, and shorter winters with more snow compressed into more extreme storms.  In parallel with atmospheric effects, the ocean temperature changes at a different rate, along with acidity.  Ocean and air temperature interact in only semi-predictable ways.  There is genuine controversy over the effect on hurricanes and other major storms--maybe there will be more of them, maybe fewer but more extreme. 

-Systems theory is crack, even when the system in question is your own planetary climate.  Everything interacts with everything else in a way that is both scary and beautiful.

-Humans react badly to fear.  We would rather "understand" a situation than be right about it.  We'd rather be wrong than lose something we care about.  The people most likely to deny climate change are those whose career and status depend on the current energy infrastructure.  The way around this is to offer them outs.  Some of these are useful--getting oil companies to start making money off of wind power is good. Some are greenwashing--getting massive polluters to improve their office recycling rate isn't exactly bad, but it's not exactly addressing the core issue either.  Meanwhile, some of the people who believe there's a problem also believe it's too late to do anything about it, which is an excellent way of making it too late to do anything about it.  People who feel helpless likewise need outs--things that can be done that are affordable for the recession-pressed household.  (Two of the things we do in Chez Emrys are eat vegetarian a couple nights a week, which saves money, and bother our representatives, which is free but requires some sensible limit on frequency for our and their sanities.  Plus I study how to influence the other 6.5 billion people.)

What I really wanted to write about here was one particular mistake that people make: we try to fit climate change into the boxes that older apocalypses came in.  And I discovered that I needed an introductory post.  So that one will be after dinner or tomorrow, depending on how much of a mess we make with dinner.


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April 2017

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