The Only Way for us to Survive Climate Change is Stroopwafel…or Something

A bunch of years ago I’m driving down that Manchsexy section of 128 at dusk and inside my skull my brain yells, “Ostrich!”

Looking down the road I see the unmistakable shape of that large, flightless bird in the middle of the highway. “Meatpuppet, be aware, the object obstructing the road is an ostrich!” (my most distinct internal voice obnoxiously refers to the rest of me as “meatpuppet” and I wish it wouldn’t).

What happened next stuck in my memory, because it defined the way I and I think a lot of us deal with issues and threats considered “out of the norm”. From differing corners of my mind other opinions, not the “observation and reaction” part I consider my “brain”, but  a disparate chorus of doubts sparked up. It was like a busy channel on maritime radio, with different vessels reacting to the same scenario from unique perspectives. “Memory” reminded me I’ve never seen any similar thing on the highway before, insisting I look again. “Logic” recited Occam’s Razor, which states that if I see an ostrich in New England it’s statistically more likely to be a turkey and a trick of the light. “Guilt” reminded me of the time I did mushrooms in college, how it totally knew this would happen, hallucinating weird shit all over the place, even decades later, you stupid, stupid man.

“Meatpuppet, ignore these fools!” My actual “Brain” yelled, trying to override the cacophony. “That is an ostrich! I have searched memory, judged size against distance accounting for our forward velocity and I know what a fucking turkey looks like and this is not one. There is an ostrich in the road! Avoid collision and alert the authorities!”

“Maybe it’s, like…weird trees…” said “Imagination”.

Bob Ross lives in my head, apparently

For the record, it’s loud inside my head, pretty much all the time. But, also for the record, it turns out there was indeed an actual fucking ostrich (or a close cousin) in the road.  Somebody had been keeping emus over in West Gloucester, one got out and wandered onto the highway. In retrospect, this seems simple. But it was an impossible conclusion to resolve at the time. This is how most of us, myself included, deal with life. It’s a massive mental lift to face a new and unexpected set of facts, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. 

After Bomb Cyclone Grayson (alert aspiring DJs for solid potential name) we are having what social/economic/historical theorists call a Black Swan Event and which I call an “Ostrich Somewhere in the Vicinity of Exit 16 Event”. A Black Swan Event is something that should have been predictable, but no one accounted for and denied right up to the point it eventually changed history. Personal computers, the fall of the Soviet Union, the housing bubble crash and most notably 9/11 are all things that were, in hindsight, predictable but no one did anything appreciable about at the time in terms of preperation. Humans suck at acting on predictions, even good ones. We extrapolate the future from past experience because it used to serve as a pretty good guide when change was at a normal pace. But change now, including the climate, is not happening at a “normal” pace. Technology, income disparity and the climate are all hitting the metaphorical meth pipe and we’re going to have to learn to deal. Ostriches are on the road, my friends. EMUS ON METH! (alert aspiring speed metal bands…)

You go from this

To running down the street naked being chased by the cops

(from Wikipedia)

Black Swan events all share the same characteristics:

  1. The event is a surprise (to the observer)
  2. The event has a major effect
  3. After the first recorded instance of the event, it is rationalized by hindsight, as if it could have been expected; that is, the relevant data were available but unaccounted for in risk mitigation programs. The same is true for the personal perception by individuals.

Cars taken out by global warming. Ironic, no? But also transport to work, trips to the doctor, etc. We have to help these folks AND do better about sea level rise.

The worst thing about global climate change as Black Swan is an added 1a, which states: “A bunch of douchebags got Fox News to convince people it won’t happen, even while it’s happening all over the place.”

So here we are. Post Black Swan/Ostrich/Emu

What the fuck do we do now? (This has become a somewhat classic Clamquestion)

On Facebook, seeing all the pics I posted of the floods around Gloucester, an old friend of mine from the Netherlands messaged me:

Her: You need stormvloedkering

Me: ?

Her: Like weirs

Me: ??

Her: Barriers against the sea. We have them in Zeeland in our country. We also have decriminalized cannabis, pervasive cycling infrastructure and nationalized health care.

Me: But we had to save your butts in World War II.

Her: Yes. But you still need stormvloedkering. I’m sure someone here will show you the plans, in thanks for World War II.

The little tram is because Dutch people go to see it on holiday. When I went to Holland all my guidebook mentioned was weed and hookers.

So the Dutch are sassy, in a chill sort of way. But they also know how to hold back an angry sea. And that’s what this is, folks. The sea is pissed. For the first few centuries of our history Gloucesterites have been going out to face it, and now it’s coming to meet us at home.

And nobody is out ahead of this. Not the federal government, which as of this writing is too busy taking on the essential task of tweeting insults at itself to mitigate the potential destruction of a major population, cultural and economic center. Not our underfunded local government which is trying to manage a dozen full-blown crises at any given time on shoestring budgets. And not most of us citizens who are just trying to go about our lives, decidedly not thinking “how will global climate change be affecting my choice of parking spot/lunch meetup/pet shampoo?”

And that’s gotta change. On all levels. It’s up to us, folks. Running for city council Jen Holmgren said climate change was one of her top priorities, and I of all people counseled her to talk about issues closer to home. Three days into her term, Newell Stadium and Rocky Neck go under. Also the Mayor made climate change a key piece of her inauguration speech. As she was reciting it, on the stage, I noticed a few of the councilors rolling their eyes when she started talking dealing with climate challenges facing Gloucester. Roll them at your peril now, everyone is on blast for this issue after Grayson, me included. Clear?

Jen now, probably

We live by the sea. We’re going to have to get used to the fact that the very same sea is rising and getting more violent. It’s tempting to point fingers (see Black Swan rule 3), like blaming people for parking in a lot which hasn’t seen that kind of flooding in a century. This is not useful. In the same way as blaming the city for not knowing the lot would flood. The city is made up of people (shocker), they have access to the same prediction tools as the rest of us. Back to the classic Black Swan example: Someone in the government clearly should have insisted, “assholes with box cutters and Microsoft Flight Simulator could destroy the World Trade Center and damage the Pentagon”, but obviously no one was convincing enough in that prediction. And, to be honest, even if they were doing full body searches and spending tons of money on air marshals before that event, most of us air travelers would have been total dicks about the “unreasonable preparations for a highly unlikely circumstance” and complaining to our representatives and the media and probably writing snarky blog posts about it.  

So, I’m considering this the “wake up call”. There aren’t “we didn’t know” excuses from now on. We know. It’s happening. And this is not the kind of thing where we’re going to really get much wiggle room for divisiveness around. You are either on the stormvloedkering or off the stormvloedkering.

I think I got that right. Holy crap we are so behind on this.

No Snark Sunday: Fusion and all that Jazz

Once, on a research project for an ad agency trying to come up with a campaign for long term health care insurance we found a weird thing: When you told people they have a 30% chance of needing nursing care, they would be less likely to buy it than if you didn’t, actually mention that. It completely weirded us out. You’re supposed to tell people the problem and then sell them the solution, that’s the whole job. Like, Problem: “You’ve got ring around the collar!” Solution: “Try Wisk! No, don’t drink it you idiot!” (advertising research could get pretty weird)

But in this case actually telling people about the reality made them far less likely to act. In interviews after the primary research with people whom we had told they stood a good chance of needing long term care, they mostly threw up their hands and were like, “Well, whatever. It’s in God’s hands, not mine.” It made them want to steadfastly do nothing, as if aggressively ignoring the problem would somehow make it go away, like a bee flying around your head

Just sit still and ignore it and it will go away

Just sit still and ignore it and it will go away

It’s what psychoanalysis calls “resistance.” You can caution me about a small problem, like that I have spinach between my teeth and I’ll act, and you can warn me about an acute problem, like my suit is on fire, and I’ll roll around on the ground.  But try and get me to deal with something big and long-term that is going to cause me a massive amount of psychological pain and I just shut down and do nothing. This is because we humans are, for all our intelligence about some things, complete fuckwits about others.

No I do not have a cigar

No I do not have a cigar

Thus, we have such a hard time managing big, societal problems. When faced with them a significant population of people just throw up their hands and say, “It’s too big!” and another, much stupider, bunch go into full-bore denial mode and start coming up with crazy-ass stories about the chemtrails and the Masons and the Rothschilds or drop some brain turd like about how a bunch of scientists got together and agreed on faked global climate research at which point I splurt hot coffee out my nose from laughter. I work with scientists a lot and you can’t get any two of them to agree on anything even when we’re trying to simply explain what a product actually does, right there, on the bench in the lab, in front of our faces.

What you learn about managing big problems is that you need to A) break it down into smaller, digestible pieces (“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Pilot speaking, I want to highlight a single problem we’re having right now and that’s the loss of our starboard wing”) and B) Make sure there is optimism. That one is tough when you’re dealing with situations like the climate where you can kind of get to Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic living without much effort. You have to show people there is hope that the future is bright. Like, for instance the Mad Max lifestyle will mean lots of fresh-air and exciting wardrobe choices.

Tina rocked it

Tina rocked it

With that in mind, I’m going to drop some really good news on y’all. Everyone who isn’t a total dipshit knows climate change is a massive challenge facing everyone on the planet. But there is a really good chance that if we can keep it in check by doing some of the right things in the short term, the incredible advances being made in fusion energy research will save our asses in not-too-long a time.

Nuclear reactors of today work using the principle of fission, splitting atoms. It’s messy, hard to control, produces a lot of waste, has a lot of safety issues and is tremendously expensive to scale up and it’s increasingly difficult to economically produce fuel. Fusion is smooshing (technical term) atoms together is what powers the Sun and will be an amazing energy source right here on Earth once we learn to sustain the reactions. But the good news is that, unlike fission which needs to be shut down to keep the reaction from running away, fusion can be turned off like a light switch and the reaction won’t continue, explode or produce dangerous radiation.

Behold! Whats going to save our asses!

Behold! Whats going to save our asses!

I’ve been following the progress since I was a kid (Science fiction author Robert Heinlein always talked about it) and even though it’s been around for 50 years, it’s really only the last 20 years there have been tremendous breakthroughs in making is useful for more than weapons. There are incredible experiments going on in California and an ongoing international project in France is making an actual fusion reactor. As we learn more the progress tends to become exponential, especially as we get better with material production and computer modeling using artificial intelligence. I could tell you more but so many words, just watch the video. Yeah, it’s nine minutes and the guy is a nerd, but it’s the future of our species so maybe worth the watch?

This is not a pipe dream. The experiments going on in other places are also making tremendous progress. The estimate, and it’s not overly-optimistic- is that we can have fusion up and running by 2030.

That is not a long time. What we need to do between now and then is work on the intermittent technologies, the renewables and efficient systems. We need to keep our consumption in check. We need to fully fund the science and hold our government and others accountable and let public interest not specific industries make the decisions.

Mostly we need to not lose hope, because this power source is coming. Fusion happens in nature, in fact most of the visible universe is made up of plasma made from fusion. In just the past 85 years we’ve split the atom, harnessed its energy, albeit crudely via fission, and now it’s time to move to the far more elegant and efficient and exponentially less risky fusion.

Pictured: Not you

Pictured: Not you

And since the planet and our species and society will likely survive, it’s far less likely  your polished skull will wind up as the hood ornament of a spike-covered dune buggy. So you should probably also get long term care insurance, is what I’m saying.