Annihilation of Space by Time: High Speed Rail Edition

 
 Alfred Twu via grist.org

Alfred Twu via grist.org

We can dream. We can dream.

Update: Sarah Laskow on Grist gives us the depressing actual state of train travel in the US. It's not pretty.

Climate Change: End of Social Science?

A new article by Clive Hamilton argues that climate change reveals the long Western notion of the separation of humans from nature (nature/culture dualism) to be a sham. Climate change, he argues, lays bare that humans are and always have been embedded within natural systems, which at this point in time, we are so entangled we cannot epistemologically and ontologically separate the two. Hamilton writes, 

Climate science is now telling us that such a separation can no longer be sustained, that the natural and the human are mixed up, and their influences cannot be neatly distinguished.

This is an idea that has been circulating in environmental history (William Cronon) and political and urban political ecology (e.g. Nik Heynen, Maria Kaika, and Erik Swengedouw, among many others). Recently, the hybrid thesis is moving into mainstream writing with the help from writers like Emma Marris.

Hamilton declares the social sciences to be on the way out. Why? He argues that since nature and society are not separate categories there is no longer a need for a dedicated social science. He writes,

So the advent of the Anthropocene shatters the self-contained world of social analysis that is the terrain of modern social science, and explains why those intellectuals who remain within it find it impossible to “analyze” the politics, sociology or philosophy of climate change in a way that is true to the science. They end up floundering in the old categories, unable to see that something epochal has occurred, a rupture on the scale of the Industrial Revolution or the emergence of civilization itself.

It's a bold argument. But I think he's wrong.

Environmental sociologists and other environmental studies folks, far from fading into oblivion, have an unique position in these matters because of their understanding of cultural, political, and economic systems, which analyzed properly are not siloed away from nature, but rather the society-nature hybrid is integrated into an overall analysis. Multi-disiplinary and trans-disciplinary collaboration, such as the Sustainable Engineering and Ecological Design institute at my alma matter. 

Furthermore, Hamilton oddly enough makes an environmental determinist claim, which goes against his overall argument:

From hereon our history will increasingly be dominated by “natural processes”, influenced by us but largely beyond our control. Our future has become entangled with that of the Earth’s geological evolution...it can no longer be maintained that humans make their own history, for the stage on which we make it has now entered into the play as a dynamic and capricious force.

He wants to argue that social science is going away, that the Modernist human-nature duality is crumbling, but then makes a statement that subsumes society into the totality of nature and puts us at the complete whim of nature. This is not hybrid socio-nature thinking that I and others, and Hamilton, up until that point, make.

Environmental studies requires systems thinking rather than category thinking. We may be embedded within natural systems, but it is incorrect to argue that we are now at the whim of nature. It is not enough to just turn Modernity on its head, as Marx once turned Hegel on his head, replacing base with superstructure. We need to continue to push the boundaries and dissolve the categories towards new socio-ecological studies. Down with dualisms, old and new.

Wind Beat Natural Gas As America's Fastest-Growing Power Source in 2012

This, in addition to renewables being the fasted growing energy sector last year. And the IEA declaring that renewables will be the worlds second largest energy source by 2015. Encouraging signs; long road ahead.

"Nature" More Persuasive Than Sceintists

A new poll shows that extreme weather events have more impact on changing the perceptions of climate change in respondents than scientific studies. Natural and socio-natural events, and our perception of them, can shift society's attitudes more than rational discourse and science. Perception/experience vs. rational thought. What does this mean for climate change politics? Well, as more and more climate events transpire, whether due to anthropogenic climate change or not, it's possible that public attitudes and perhaps politics will begin to shift even further in favor of concrete steps to reduce CO2 emissions. Yet, it is also possible that more frequent and extreme weather events, with death and destruction, will only fuel the politics of despair and give more weight to the secular Dooms Day environmentalism that is so popular. 

What Do We Owe to the Next Species After Us

The central question of this provocative piece by Emma Marris:

Climate change may not be forever, but it’ll be for a long, long time. Who—or what—will be around thousands or millions of years hence, when the consequences of our casually massive carbon emissions are still playing out? And do we owe them anything?

What Could Disappear

Interesting NY Times maps showing large US coastal cities and the portions of them that could be submerged underwater if different climate change scenarios play out (5-ft, 12-ft, and 25-ft sea rise scenarios). 

Near where I live, it surprised me to see Sacramento, which is at least 90 miles from the ocean, so vulnerable because of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta.

 Boston, MA Image NY Times

Boston, MA Image NY Times

 Bay Area, CA and Sacramento, CA Image NY Times

Bay Area, CA and Sacramento, CA Image NY Times

Greenhouse Gases at Historic High

United Nations' World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reports that greenhouse gases reached a recored high in 2011. 

Carbon dioxide levels reached about 390.9 parts per million last year, which is 140 percent of the pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million and nearly 2 parts per million higher than the 2010 carbon dioxide level, according to the WMO report.

Via: Yahoo! News

2013 Motor Trend's Car of the Year...

is the Tesla Model S. It is the first time an internal combustion engine automobile has not won the award. To quell any squabbling that this is eco-hype, Motor Trend says, "At its core, the Tesla Model S is simply a damned good car you happen to plug in to refuel."

 image via motortrend.com

image via motortrend.com

 

work to be done

With Obama's re-election, those concerned about accelerating an energy transition and addressing global climate change will need to step up pressure, sooner rather than later. Obama's record hasn't been stellar, especially with climate change, but at least there is a President who acknowledges the importance of an energy transition and human induced climate change. Much more work to be done. Note to Congress: extend the wind tax credits!

Mining the Great Ocean Landfill

 
 Image via  Dwell

Image via Dwell

Method's new Ocean Plastic line of soap strikes me as classic greenwashing. But, hey, if they want to commodify and mine the gigantic floating island of plastic trash out in the Pacific Ocean, go ahead. However, making and buying these products does not strike me as a good solution to the plastic problem. File under: Shopping Our Way to Safety.

The Great Dithering

Presidential debates do not determine actual policy, but they do set conversation agendas. After three debates this year, global climate change was not mentioned once. It's increasingly clear that the US political machine is incapable at this time to address the threats posed by climate change. Global climate change is not even on the conversation agenda.

Further, the US political elite have zero coherence on matters of an energy transition. Striking evidence of this fact is that typically celebrated capitalist entrepreneurialism, in the form of renewable, green energy technology companies, are openly ridiculed and lambasted by right-wing pundits and politicians. Yes, some of these companies received government loans and subsidies, and yes a few of them failed, but almost all US businesses benefit form direct and indirect subsidies (roads, highways, tax codes, etc).  

Global climate change is a dead policy issue in Washington, but the end around energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables is also so politicized that no policy coherence seems possible. The nascent US wind turbine industry is poised to collapse if congress doesn't renew subsidies for the industry. Contrary to the ahistorical accounts from pundits and politicians, all energy transitions involved policy guided capitalism (see English industrial revolution, or US automobile, oil boom). 

Sadly, novelist Kim Stanley Robinson is probably right, in 200 years our period will be known as the Great Dithering.

Geoengineering, Let's Just Fiddle with the Earth

Businessman from the US conducts unregulated geoengineering experiment off the coast of Canada, dumping 100 tons of iron sulfate into the Pacific Ocean. Native American communities were told it was a salmon enhancement project. It was not.

Businessman says of international regulations:

George told the Guardian that the two moratoria are a "mythology" and do not apply to his project.

We are going to see more of these kinds of geoengineering stories and the international governance institutions need to agree on rules, norms, and regulations for these kinds of activities.

Update: The Guardian now reports that members of the Canadian government knew about and was complicit in this experiment.

The chief executive of the company responsible for spawning the artificial 10,000 square kilometre plankton bloom in the Pacific Ocean has implicated several Canadian departments, but government officials are remaining silent about the nature of their involvement.