Just letting the world know I’m still alive- I’ve just been super busy with grad school/research, transitioning, and the care and feeding of my now-officially-a-veterinarian fiancée* , that this has sort of slipped by the wayside.
I still have stuff I want to write about at some point- in particular, I want to an essay on looking at realistic approaches for sustainable/low-impact medicine (and by realistic, I mean “actual medicine, not ‘alternative’/New-Agey dubiousness”), as well as how I imagine what a sustainable future might look like. There’s also a fiction piece I need to actual sit down and write (before December, at any rate, because that’s when the call for scifi from trans authors that Topside put out closes) that marries both my interests in liveable futures and trans issues.
So, yeah. Watch this space. You may have to watch it for a rather long while, but I promise, at some point, I’ll actually get the time and energy to put something up.
*And hey, we have a date now! Halloween weekend 2016- we’re doing a masquerade ball theme. It’s going to be the gayest thing ever.
I’ve recently stumbled across more of Charles Eisenstein’s writings. For those of you unfamiliar with him, he’s a writer and would-be philosopher and economist, and who is oddly popular with the green left crowd. As an author, he’s not bad- which is a shame, because a lot of what he says is total nonsense.
Eisenstein’s major idea is the gift economy, of which he is a staunch proponent. His hope for us as a society to eventually replace our existing economy with a collection of gift economies at some point in the future. He has written, somewhat compellingly, about open source software and peer-to-peer (P2P) exchanges as models of what these economies might look like. However, much like the neoliberal economists he stridently criticizes, he makes the mistake of assuming his ideology trumps natural law. In his particular case, since gift economies work best with as limited scarcity as possible, he goes out of his way to invent ways to ignore scarcity in the real world. For example, with regards to energy scarcity, he assumes that the laws of thermodynamics are essentially social constructs, artifacts of our previous, “limited” capitalistic/industrial worldview, and as soon as we abandon that for a more holistic/enlightened worldview, the time will finally be right for the “free energy” concepts that supposedly have been previously suppressed to emergy. Boom, no energy scarcity. Of course, this is like saying the Law of Gravity is a social construct, and we can all fly if we just let go of the Newtonian worldview (please don’t try this, it will end badly).
Charles Eisenstein is a moron who doesn’t understand science (physical or social). That is all.
Some of my (admittedly purely hypothetical) readers may have noted that for someone who’s ostensibly an environmentalist, I spend a lot of time complaining about environmentalists. This is a fair criticism- most of my content has focused on the flaws (as I perceive them) in a lot of environmental thought at the moment. Why do I do it, especially if it may end up hurting my “own” side? Well, partially because there isn’t a whole lot of this kind of critiquing coming from within the movement itself (most of the criticism comes from, instead, right-wing commentators, who usually have an axe to grind a priori).
But also I do it because there are major themes in the environmentalist/ecology/sustainability movement that are not only holding it back, but could be detrimental if allowed to reach their logical conclusion. I feel I have a responsibility to point these out, in the hopes that we can avoid the harmful repercussions of these thought-traps.
I’ve mentioned, usually in more specific context, what these issues are, but after thinking over all of them, I’ve figured out what they are in more general terms:
Earlier this month, research came to light suggesting that the Permian-Triassic extinction- the greatest mass extinction in the history of the planet- was most likely caused by a population explosion of methane-producing bacteria (aka methanogens), probably caused by the large amount of nickel released by the massive eruption of the Siberian traps. These bacteria spewed out enough methane to wreck the climate and disrupt the carbon cycle.
This isn’t the only incident of microbial alteration of the Earth’s climate. The Huronian glaciation– one of the longest and most severe ice ages known- was probably caused, at least in part, by the rapid addition of oxygen to the Earth’s atmosphere by the evolution of bacteria capable of oxygenic photosynthesis. The O2 oxidized the methane, reducing the greenhouse effect of the Earth’s atmosphere, and leading to extensive glaciation.
This is of interest to astrobiologists, of course- if the evolution of life is potentially hampered by these kinds of events frequently, that may be the reason complex life seems to be so rare in our galaxy- but I think it also has relevance for environmental thought and philosophy. Specifically, we may need to rethink the Gaia hypothesis.
Last month, Washington state tried- and failed- to pass a ballot measure that would mandate labeling of GMOs. While some of my friends were quite zealous in their advocacy of the measure, I was fairly ambivalent about it, and wasn’t sure how to vote. On one hand, people do have a right to be informed on what’s in their food. On the other hand, there’s no real evidence that there’s a health risk associated with GMOs (a belief which seems implicit, and often is explicit, in GMO labeling supporters), and labeling them may cause unneeded alarm. Ultimately, I didn’t get a chance to vote- I ended up being called away due to an unexpected family emergency before I could mail off my ballot- but the debate obviously still continues.
Part, I think, of what has made this particular debate so spirited is that while it is ostensibly grounded in science, the parameters of the discussion often stray far from the realm of the scientific method. An article I stumbled across the summer really highlighted this for me – that, when you get down to it, an awful lot of the rhetoric around GMOs is ultimately grounded in an emotional response.
Last month, the Curiosity team announced that they had not detected any methane on Mars. This was something of a disappointment, as earlier studies had suggested, somewhat controversially, that methane was present at detectable levels- and on, Earth, anyway, the vast majority of methane is produced biologically. Furthermore, given Mars’ atmosphere, methane is not stable over long periods of time- so for it to be there, something has to be actively producing it. While there are geologically processes that can generate methane, there’s a fairly simple way to determine if the methane in question is biological in origin, by measuring the ratio of isotopes of carbon in the methane (biological systems prefer lighter isotopes, because, in plain English, they weigh less and take less energy to move around). As a matter of fact, Curiosity had equipment on board that could make this particular measurement, and, needless to say, the negative result has been a bit anticlimactic.
However, this doesn’t rule out life on Mars. Continue reading