Tags: environment

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Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

Orion Magazine | State of the Species

A great piece from Charles C. Mann from five years ago, where you can see the genesis of The Wizard And The Prophet.

For hundreds of thousands of years, our species had been restricted to East Africa (and, possibly, a similar area in the south). Now, abruptly, new-model Homo sapiens were racing across the continents like so many imported fire ants. The difference between humans and fire ants is that fire ants specialize in disturbed habitats. Humans, too, specialize in disturbed habitats—but we do the disturbing.

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

Thanos

I’m going to discuss Avengers: Infinity War without spoilers, unless you count the motivations of the main villain as a spoiler, in which case you should stop reading now.

The most recent book by Charles C. Mann—author of 1491 and 1493—is called The Wizard And The Prophet. It profiles two twentieth century figures with divergent belief systems: Norman Borlaug and William Vogt. (Trust me, this will become relevant to the new Avengers film.)

I’ve long been fascinated by Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution. It is quite possible that he is responsible for saving more lives than any other single human being in history (with the possible exception of Stanislav Petrov who may have saved the entire human race through inaction). In his book, Mann dubs Borlaug “The Wizard”—the epitome of a can-do attitude and a willingness to use technology to solve global problems.

William Vogt, by contrast, is “The Prophet.” His groundbreaking research crystalised many central tenets of the environmental movement, including the term he coined, carrying capacity—the upper limit to a population that an environment can sustain. Vogt’s stance is that there is no getting around the carrying capacity of our planet, so we need to make do with less: fewer people consuming fewer resources.

Those are the opposing belief systems. Prophets believe that carrying capacity is fixed and that if our species exceed this limit, we are doomed. Wizards believe that technology can treat carrying capacity as damage and route around it.

Vogt’s philosophy came to dominate the environmental movement for the latter half of the twentieth century. It’s something I’ve personally found very frustrating. Groups and organisations that I nominally agree with—the Green Party, Greenpeace, etc.—have anti-technology baggage that doesn’t do them any favours. The uninformed opposition to GM foods is a perfect example. The unrealistic lauding of country life over the species-saving power of cities is another.

And yet history so far has favoured the wizards. The Malthusian population bomb never exploded, partly thanks to Borlaug’s work, but also thanks to better education for women in the developing world, which had enormously positive repercussions.

Anyway, I find this framing of fundamental differences in attitude to be fascinating. Ultimately it’s a stand-off between optimism (the wizards) and pessimism (the prophets). John Faithful Hamer uses this same lens to contrast recent works by Steven Pinker and Yuval Noah Harari. Pinker is a wizard. Harari is a prophet.

I was not expecting to be confronted with the wizards vs. prophets debate while watching Avengers: Infinity War, but there’s no getting around it—Thanos is a prophet.

Very early on, we learn that Thanos doesn’t want to destroy all life in the universe. Instead, he wants to destroy half of all life in the universe. Why? Carrying capacity. He believes the only way to save life is to reduce its number (and therefore its footprint).

Many reviews of the film have noted how the character of Thanos is strangely sympathetic. It’s no wonder! He is effectively toeing the traditional party line of the mainstream environmental movement.

There’s even a moment in the film where Thanos explains how he came to form his opinions through a tragedy in the past that he correctly predicted. “Congratulations”, says one of his heroic foes sarcastically, “You’re a prophet.”

Earlier in the film, as some of the heroes are meeting for the first time, there are gags and jokes referring to Dr. Strange’s group as “the wizards.”

I’m sure those are just coincidences.

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

Empty half the Earth of its humans. It’s the only way to save the planet | Kim Stanley Robinson | Cities | The Guardian

Kim Stanley Robinson explores the practicalities of E.O. Wilson’s Half Earth proposal.

There is no alternative way; there is no planet B. We have only this planet, and have to fit our species into the energy flows of its biosphere. That’s our project now. That’s the meaning of life, in case you were looking for a meaning.

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

Angry Optimism in a Drowned World: A Conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson | CCCB LAB

Nobody can afford to volunteer to be extra virtuous in a system where the only rule is quarterly profit and shareholder value. Where the market rules, all of us are fighting for the crumbs to get the best investment for the market. And so, this loose money can go anywhere in the planet without penalty. The market can say: “It doesn’t matter what else is going on, it doesn’t matter if the planet crashes in fifty years and everybody dies, what’s more important is that we have quarterly profit and shareholder value and immediate return on our investment, right now.” So, the market is like a blind giant driving us off a cliff into destruction.

Kim Stanley Robinson journeys to the heart of the Anthropocene.

Economics is the quantitative and systematic analysis of capitalism itself. Economics doesn’t do speculative or projective economics; perhaps it should, I mean, I would love it if it did, but it doesn’t. It’s a dangerous moment, as well as a sign of cultural insanity and incapacity. It’s like you’ve got macular degeneration and your vision of reality itself were just a big black spot precisely in the direction you are walking.

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Pumzi - YouTube

A short sci-fi film from director Wanuri Kahiu set in the aftermath of a worldwide water war.

Pumzi

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Star Wars: Endor Holocaust

Realistically, what happens when you detonate a large metallic satellite (about the the size of the second Death Star) in orbit around an inhabited world (like, say, the forest moon of Endor).

It isn’t pretty.

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Ensia

A lovely new responsive(ish) website dedicated to science and the environment.

Monday, August 20th, 2012

ServerSky - Server Sky

Orbiting data centers. Fuck yeah!

Earth can return to what it is good at – green and growing things – while space can be filled with gray and computing things.

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Apple - Environment - Life Cycle Impact

A detailed document from Apple on their products' total carbon footprint.

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Virtual Worlds

An interactive, collaborative timeline of the history and development of virtual worlds, open for anyone to edit.

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Salon.com News | Apocalypse now

Mike Davis makes some conservative predictions about the near future.

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

Kevin Kelly -- The Technium

Scenius is like genius, only embedded in a scene rather than in genes.

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

Could Zeppelins soon grace our skies again? | Technology | The Guardian

Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes! "A new generation of environmentally friendly 'hybrid airships' could be just about to take off." Anything that makes everyday life more like Steampunk must be good.

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

Q&A: Ridley Scott Has Finally Created the Blade Runner He Always Imagined

A Q&A with Ridley Scott on the eve of releasing Blade Runner: The Final Cut.

Friday, September 28th, 2007

Google 'to test rival to Second Life' - Times Online

Is Google Earth about to become a more immersive environment?

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

Walk Score - How walkable is your house?

Find out whether you really need a car in your neighbourhood. My place got a score of 75 which is pretty darn good.