Holidays

Sep. 27th, 2013 11:41 pm
ashnistrike: (lightning)
Happy belated Stanislav Petrov Day!  One does appreciate the world still being here, however fubarred it may occasionally seem.

Today is my birthday, and also Google's.  Every year I go through approximately 15 seconds of being creeped out by the "personalized" Google doodle until I remember this.  Oh my god, this evening they do have a personalized doodle that says "Happy birthday Ruthanna" when I mouse-over.  Happy birthday, Panopticon.

My family, chosen and otherwise, are an awesome family.  I had mushroom leek tart that I did not have to cook, and chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting that I did not have to bake.  And I am now the proud owner of a Tam Lin t-shirt (with Janet wrestling the lion), and a mint copy of the "Peter Principle" game in which the goal is to avoid promotion.  I am also the even prouder owner of the 1983 Avalon Hill catalog that came with the game, including gems like Amoeba Wars and Empire of the Overmind, and a chart of which games can be played on which computers that also carefully explains how to read a chart.  1981, you had your points but I do not miss you.
ashnistrike: (Default)
I love my wife.

I got home today and saw a copy of The Watchtower on the coffee table.

Me: Oh, did we get Jehovah's Witnesses today?
S: Yes, apparently some live nearby.
Me: So, what happened?
S: They asked whether I'd noticed all the bad things happening in the world, and whether I agreed that things seemed to be getting worse all the time, and didn't I think that was a sign of the coming apocalypse?  I explained to them about the availability heuristic* and about how rates of violence are actually getting lower.
Me: I love you--what did they say?
S: That it made sense. And they stayed and rested a while before they went back out in the rain.

And now I feel like I ought to put these things together in a convenient pamphlet for the benefit of people not married to psychologists.


*I can't find a good link for this aspect of the heuristic, but in general it's easier to think of bad things that happened recently, because it's generally easier to think of things that happened recently.  And it's definitely easier to think of bad things that have happened during your lifetime.  This leads to every generation imagining a recently lost golden age when this stuff was unheard of.
ashnistrike: (Default)
I had to watch the new Star Trek movie for work today--yes, I actually do consider this a "had to," as I'd been deliberately avoiding it.  Mobius is putting together a workshop on science in the movies, using a scene from this one, and I needed some context before critiquing the entirely superfluous giant planet-core-drilling-laser.

For my own amusement, I took notes:

Cut for slightly cryptic spoilers... )
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.

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