Debate the Role of Climate Policy on Surging Energy Prices

Cedric Durand and Adam Tooze debate if and how the current shortfall in energy supply is directly connected to climate policy. First, Durand over at Sidecar:

[C]apitalism has already experienced the first major economic shock related to the transition beyond carbon. The surge in energy prices is due to several factors, including a disorderly rebound from the pandemic, poorly designed energy markets in the UK and EU which exacerbate price volatility, and Russia’s willingness to secure its long-term energy incomes. However, at a more structural level, the impact of first efforts made to restrict the use of fossil fuels cannot be overlooked. Due to government limits on coal burning, plus shareholders’ growing reluctance to commit to projects that could be largely obsolete in thirty years, investment in fossil fuel has been falling. Although this contraction of the supply is not enough to save the climate, it is still proving too much for capitalist growth.

Putting together several recent events gives a taste of things to come. In the Punjab region of India, severe shortages of coal have caused unscheduled power blackouts. In China, more than half the provincial jurisdictions have imposed strict power-rationing measures. Several companies, including key Apple suppliers, have recently been forced to halt or reduce operations at facilities in Jiangsu province, after local governments restricted the supply of electricity. Those restrictions were an attempt to comply with national emissions targets by restricting coal-fired power generation, which still accounts for about two thirds of China’s electricity.

Next, Tooze over at Chartbook:

The attraction of this kind of argument for a crisis-theorist of a Marxist bent is obvious. It has about it the ring of a contradiction from which one could then derive a general crisis model. It has also had a surprising amount of currency in the pages of the FT. It is, after all, a plausible-seeming scenario. But, as an account of the 2021 energy crisis it is fundamentally misleading. It attributes far too much influence to climate policy and mistakes the basic dynamics of investment in the sector. Read more »

Glowing Worms Could Shed Light On the Secrets of Regeneration

Jennifer Ouellette in WIRED:

IN 1961, OSAMU SHIMOMURA AND Frank Johnson isolated a protein from jellyfish that glow green under UV light. Corals, too, can fluoresce in a wide range of hues, thanks to similar proteins. Now scientists at Harvard University have genetically modified the three-banded panther worm to enable the creature to emit a similar green glow, according to a new paper published in the journal Developmental Cell. Their hope is to uncover the secrets to regeneration.

Most animals exhibit some form of regeneration: regrowing hair, for instance, or knitting a fractured bone back together. But some creatures are capable of particularly amazing regenerative feats, and studying the mechanisms by which they accomplish these could have important implications for human aging. If a salamander loses a leg, the limb will grow back, for example, while some geckos can detach their tails as a distraction to evade predators and then regrow them later. The zebra fish can regrow a lost or damaged fin, as well as repairing a damaged heart, retina, pancreas, brain, or spinal cord. Cut a planarian flatworm, a jellyfish, or a sea anemone in half, and it will regenerate its entire body.

And then there is the three-banded panther worm (Hofstenia miamia), a tiny creature that looks a bit like a plump grain of rice, so named because of its trademark trio of cream-colored stripes across its body. If a panther worm is cut into three parts, each part will generate into a fully formed worm within eight weeks or so.

More here.

In 19th-Century New England, This Amateur Geologist Created Her Own Cabinet of Curiosities

Reed Gochberg in Smithsonian:

On Christmas Day in 1839, 17-year-old Ellen Sewall received gifts from two suitors who happened, unfortunately, to be brothers. From John, she received a pale pink opal. From Henry, she received a collection of poems. Within a year, she had rejected both men’s offers of marriage—but she kept their gifts.

Sewall (later Osgood) had crossed paths with the Thoreau brothers that summer while visiting her aunt in Concord, Massachusetts. She would remain friends with the younger sibling, Henry David Thoreau, for the rest of her life and the elder, John Thoreau Jr., until his sudden death three years later from tetanus. At some point around a decade after they first met, Henry, who would go on to become a Transcendentalist philosopher and the author of Walden, sent Osgood another gift: an intricately built box designed to hold rocks and minerals. Now housed at the Concord Museum, this box—and the collection of specimens within it—has long been classified as the property of Osgood’s husband, Joseph, a minister and education reformer. In truth, however, the collection belonged to Ellen. It was the product of her lifelong interest in geology and her friendship with the now-famous Henry.

More here.

Saturday Poem

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

by Billy Collins

Friday, November 19, 2021

Fashion is the medium and the message

Richard Thompson Ford in The Hedgehog Review:

The pursuit of authenticity in fashion has taken more than a few interesting turns in the modern world. Consider its role in the political project of President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, who during the early 1970s imposed a series of cultural reforms known as the retour à l’authenticité (return to authenticity) designed to rid the nation of European influences. Cities named after Europeans and colonial officials were given African names: Leopoldville became Kinshasa; Stanleyville, named after the Welsh explorer who established European rule, became Kisangani. Mobutu’s government encouraged citizens to change their Christian names and threatened any parent giving a child a Western name with five years’ imprisonment.

Mobutu also banned European attire, imposing a sort of national uniform—a Mao-style tunic called an abacost—short for à bas le costume, or “down with the suit”—inspired by a visit to the People’s Republic of China in 1973. The abacost, thick horn-rim glasses, and a leopard-skin fez or toque became the signature style of dress for Mobutu, who controlled Zaire until 1997.

More here.

Why our thoughts and actions are essential to any model of the universe

Jenann Ismael at the IAI:

Any attempt to describe the universe as a totality inevitably involves self-reference. This isn’t something that one often confronts in physics. Most day-to-day physics is modelling other systems: cells, gases, planets. We maintain a separation of subject and object, or of investigator and system being investigated. And even though cosmology is explicitly devoted to the study of the universe as a whole, it is customary in cosmology to maintain the imaginative fiction that we – the people modelling the universe – are looking at it from the outside. We adopt, that is to say, the God’s Eye View.

Ultimately, though, we are part of the universe. And that means that however we regiment the universe, whatever regime we work in, if we aim for a theory that describes all of existence, self-reference is unavoidable. Any system that is modelling the universe as a whole – aiming for full coverage of all of existence – is going to encounter self-reference. This is something that we can ignore in some contexts. It matters in others.

The people that have unavoidably encountered it are people who are trying to program an artificial general intelligence (an AGI).

More here.

Science needs conformity — but not the kind it has right now

M. Anthony Mills in The New Atlantis:

What is worrisome about the lab-leak controversy therefore is not only that our public discussions and political decisions about Covid-19 may have been hampered by the experts’ mischaracterization of scientific knowledge. The long-term danger is that the experts themselves have helped to undermine public trust in scientific expertise and the institutions that depend on it, at a moment when such knowledge is more deeply intertwined with our social and political life than ever before.

To help us understand what went wrong, we need to ask again what “scientific consensus” really means, and how the experts got it so wrong in discussing Covid’s origins. One tempting response, particularly to those already primed to distrust elites, is to conclude that scientific consensus is inherently dangerous — little more than self-deluded group think, or a tool for manipulating the public. But that is the wrong conclusion to draw. Consensus, rightly understood, is a distinguishing feature of modern science, indispensable to its progress, and part of its well-earned authority in understanding the natural world — it deserves a defense.

More here.

Céline Sciamma: Mother Of Invention

at Sight and Sound:

Petite maman seems an unlikely project for Sciamma, who has tended to be very much a realist director. Yet the film is absolutely of a piece with her previous depictions of female experience at different ages – whether depicting the shifting identities and burgeoning desires of teenagers in her debut Water Lilies (2007) and her breakthrough film Girlhood (2014) or investigating nonconformist gender identity at an earlier age, in her altogether ahead-of-its-time Tomboy (2011). It was 2019’s ambitious Portrait of a Lady on Fire – a lesbian romance set in the 18th century – that confirmed her international auteur renown and that also made her a prominent figurehead in contemporary women’s cinema (even a name emblazoned on T-shirts). But Portrait also marked a shift from conventional realism into a stripped back, imaginative realm of poetic filmmaking, an investigation she pursues further in the concise (72-minute), sparely crafted Petite maman.

more here.

Sophie Calle and the Art of Leaving a Trace

Lili Owen Rowlands at The New Yorker:

Although there is something oblique about these conceits, Calle is associated, above all, with acts of bald exposure. Her celebrity, which now extends far beyond France, has long been attached to charges of voyeurisme and exhibitionnisme (which have sometimes resulted in legal trouble). Yet, as “The Hotel” vividly shows, what Calle is really looking for is more enigmatic and compelling than other people’s dirty laundry. Rather than erase the residue of human presence, as a “real” maid is expected to, Calle does the opposite, preserving every stain and scrap as a sign or symbol. But of what? This is the question at the heart of Calle’s work, and the answer may hardly be the point; what interests her most is the seduction and projection involved in knowing another person—how fantasy intervenes in every attempt to see and be seen.

more here.

Friday Poem

The Toolmaker Unemployed

—Connecticut River Valley, 1992

The toolmaker
is sixty years old
since the letter
from his boss
at the machine shop.

He carries
a cooler of soda
so as not to carry
a flask of whiskey.

During the hours
of his shift,
he is building a barn
with borrowed lumber
or hacking at trees
in the yard.

The family watches
and listens to talk
of a bullet
in the forehead,
maybe for himself,
maybe for the man
holding the second mortgage.

he stares down
into his wallet.

by Martín Espada
City of Coughing and Dead Radiators
W.W. Norton Company, 1993

The moon has carbon dioxide “traps” that astronauts could use to make fuel and grow plants

Nicole Karlis in Salon:

Though the moon was long considered a barren, inhospitable rocky world, researchers over the past few decades have found that the moon has many of the amenities that humans would need to build a self-sufficient habitat. Indeed, recent discoveries of plentiful water ice pockets on the moon tantalized scientists and space agencies. Now, a new finding suggests that there is plentiful carbon dioxide on the moon as well.

According to new research published in the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letter, scientists have confirmed the existence of lunar carbon dioxide “cold traps,” a geological anomaly in which carbon dioxide could collect for long periods and settle. This discovery will likely have a significant impact on future space exploration as humans — or robots — could use carbon dioxide or other organic materials in the cold traps as fuel, convert it to oxygen, or use it in lunar greenhouses for growing plants.

In astronomy, a cold trap refers to a pocket on the surface of a solid body in which volatile gases can accrue and remain still for long periods, often millions of years. Because many planets and bodies in the solar system, the moon included, lack a significant atmosphere, any unlit area can remain at frigid temperatures for thousands or even millions of years. In that span, gases like carbon dioxide can accumulate and sometimes freeze in sufficient quantities, hence the term “cold trap.” Carbon dioxide freezes at -109° Fahrenheit or -78° Celsius; the temperature on the Moon in the shade or at night is cooler than that, around -298° F (or -183° C) or even colder in some regions.

More here.

Is therapy the best way to make the world happier?

Dylan Matthew in Vox:

When people think of ways to help the world’s poor, a few obvious ideas come to mind: giving them cash; preventing diseases like malaria through the distribution of bed nets and pills; treating HIV/AIDS in areas ravaged by those conditions; and other tactics that take aim at economic privation and infectious diseases. That focus is understandable and necessary — but what if it elides a different way of thinking about easing suffering in the world? What if there was a real opportunity to improve the lives of low-income people by devoting resources toward their mental well-being, too?

new report raises that intriguing prospect. Written by Michael Plant, Joel McGuire, and Barry Grimes of the Happier Lives Institute, a research center that aims to find evidence-based ways to improve happiness worldwide, the study looks at the role therapy can play in improving lives in the developing world.

To date, global health efforts have mostly focused on illnesses of the body: malaria, vitamin deficiency, HIV/AIDS prevention, tuberculosis. Obviously, such diseases can affect the mind, and canonically “mental” illnesses like depression can take a physical toll. But historically, mental well-being has simply never gotten equal billing. Until 2015, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals didn’t even include benchmarks for mental health, even as they focused heavily on infectious diseases and markers of physical health. Through the increased use of tools like randomized controlled trials, policymakers have gotten better at understanding what really works in raising incomes and treating diseases among the world’s poorest people, and what doesn’t. That’s great, but it also may have led to some complacency — the idea that we already know what works.

More here.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Rebecca Solnit: Ten ways to confront the climate crisis without losing hope

Rebecca Solnit in The Guardian:

We will meet climate change with real change, and defeat the fossil-fuel industry in the next nine years.

If we succeed, those who come after will look back on the age of fossil fuel as an age of corruption and poison. The grandchildren of those who are young now will hear horror stories about how people once burned great mountains of poisonous stuff dug up from deep underground that made children sick and birds die and the air filthy and the planet heat up.

We must remake the world, and we can remake it better. The Covid-19 pandemic is proof that if we take a crisis seriously, we can change how we live, almost overnight, dramatically, globally, digging up great piles of money from nowhere, like the $3tn the US initially threw at the pandemic.

The climate summit that just concluded in Glasgow didn’t get us there, though many good and even remarkable things happened.

More here.

As the War on Cancer Turns 50, Earlier Diagnoses and Treatments Are Saving Lives

Sari Harrar at AARP:

In dozens of laboratory freezers at Columbia University in New York City, 60,000 cancer specimens await testing that oncologist Azra Raza, M.D., anticipates will find “cancer’s first cell” — the earliest mutated cell that will eventually multiply to become a cancer — and lead to treatments that knock the disease out before it grows. The blood and bone marrow samples come from nearly every one of her patients of 35 years, provided as they moved through cancer treatment.

“We have not won the war on cancer,” says Raza, a professor of medicine and director of the MDS Center at Columbia. “Understanding cancer will take 1,000 years. It is too evolved,” she says. “Instead, we have to find the first cell and eliminate it.”

Raza’s $15 million project, with input from a think tank of researchers from eight major cancer centers, aims to collect 50,000 tissue samples from another group: people who do not have cancer­ — yet. Intensive analysis, she says, can find tiny trouble cells, then examine how genetic changes and everyday exposures lead to cancer.

More here.

Probation Profiteering Is the New Debtors’ Prison

Andrew Ross in the Boston Review:

The carceral system has become a vast debt machine. It creates a dizzying array of financial obligations for those unfortunate enough to be caught in its dragnet. The lowest hanging fruits are the traffic fines extracted from motorists who fall foul of a speed trap, carefully laid by officers assigned to do “revenue policing” to help fund law enforcement budgets. Judges are also under pressure from county and municipal managers to pass down ever higher fines and court fees to pay for salaries and other local government operations. For those too poor to pay, penalties and surcharges are added to the debt load every step of the way.

At the other end of the system, formerly incarcerated people typically re-enter society with large debt burdens on their backs, accumulated while serving their sentences. A recent NYU study showed that individuals have to pay more than $3,700 annually just to cover basic needs (food, clothing, phone calls) during a prison stay in New York’s prisons. The numbers are much higher in states where the cost of room and board are directly borne by detainees. Wherever for-profit companies are allowed to operate, these sums are further inflated.

More here.

Thursday Poem

Unto Others

….. To a roomful of people at a private fundraiser for Mitt
….. Romney, Mormon; US presidential candidate, May 2012

….. “There are 47 percent who are with (the President),
….. who are dependent upon government, who believe that
….. they are victims, who believe that government has a
….. responsibility to care for them, who believe that they
….. are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you
….. name it. . . . That’s entitlement.”  —Mitt Romney

….. “All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should
….. do unto you, even so do ye also unto them.” —Matthew 7:12

….. “Who is here so vile that he will not love his country? If any,
….. speak; for him have I offended.” —Julius Caesar, act 3, scene 2

Who there knows how good it is to know
a warm bed and a roof? If any, speak.

Who there knows how good it is to know
a schoolroom? If any, speak.

Who there knows how good it is to know
the stiffness of new shoes? If any, speak.

Who there knows how good it is to know
the steam of a meal on your cheeks? If any, speak.

Who there knows how good it is to know
some God hears you weep? If any, speak.

Who there knows how good it is to know?
All of you know, so speak.

Say you know how good it is to know.
All of you know, so speak. Say it’s OK

for others to know how good it is to know.
Go ahead, speak.

If you know how good it is to know,
why then don’t you speak?

Why then don’t you speak?
Say something. Speak. Speak. Speak.

by Lauren Marie Schmidt
Filthy Labors
Curbstone Books, 2017

Shark’s Eye: The more I learned about the pain humans can cause each other, the more I turned to sharks

Rebecca Flowers in Guernica:

It was the year that my sister, feeling depressed and isolated, swallowed an entire bottle of pills. For that day, and perhaps a few days afterward, my brain stopped making memories. There are fragments that float to the surface. The doctor telling us she might have ruined her kidneys forever. The image of a scene I hadn’t actually witnessed: the plastic pill bottle falling from my sister’s limp hands and clattering to the tile floor. The blur of an ambulance ride. The clearest memory I have is from a few weeks later: I am doing homework by my sister’s hospital bed, she in her hospital gown, my uniform still on from the school day.

Three years later, my parents split up. In the fallout, my sister went to live with my father. I stayed with my mother, who was heartbroken. I tried to comfort her, but by now all I knew was how to be quiet.

…The more I learned about the world of humans — the pain they can cause each other, the fighting and the guilt — the more I turned to sharks. I caught a Shark Week special depicting the rash of shark attacks in the summer of 1916 that had inspired Jaws. I watched eyewitness videos and documentaries about marine biologists. I grew on a diet of encyclopedias and books filled with Latin names and anatomically correct illustrations of sharks.

More here.