Tag Archives: ecosystem services

the Anthropocene

When exactly did the Anthropocene begin? Trying to measure that is important to certain people. The answer according to certain of those certain people is 1950…

According to their calculations, human activity eclipsed the sun, Earth, and errant falling stars as the dominant process shaping life on this planet around 1950. “This coincides with things like the first nuclear bombs, which put traceable radiation in the atmosphere, which is visible in the sedimentary record,” says Gaffney. They aren’t the first to fix on the post-war period. The 1950s mark what many researchers call the Great Acceleration, when the booming middle class caused spikes in global GDP, agricultural land use, paper production, dam building, personal vehicle ownership, international tourism, and other markers of consumption. Steffen and Gaffney’s equation just adds more oomph to the argument that the Anthropocene began in the same era as color TVs.

2016 in Review

Each month this year, I picked three scary, three hopeful, and three interesting posts or groups of post from the month. Now I’m going to pick one of those three to represent each of the months. The choices are fairly arbitrary and the main point is just to review what the media was saying and what I was thinking about over the course of the year. Then I’ll see if I can identify any trends or come up with any insights.

Most Frightening Stories of the Year

  • JANUARYPaul Ehrlich is still worried about population. 82% of scientists agree.
  • FEBRUARY77% of jobs in China may be threatened by automation.
  • MARCH: An IMF official uttered the words “economic derailment“. That sounds like it could be a real train wreck. Meanwhile Robert Gordon has expanded his pessimistic article on future growth into a book.
  • APRIL: Robert Paxton says Trump is pretty much a fascist. Although conditions are different and he doesn’t believe everything the fascists believed. Umberto Eco once said that fascists don’t believe anything, they will say anything and then what they do once in office has nothing to do with what they said.
  • MAY: The situation in Venezuela may be a preview of what the collapse of a modern country looks like.
  • JUNE: Trump may very well have organized crime links. And Moody’s says that if he gets elected and manages to do the things he says, it could crash the economy.
  • JULY: The CIA is just not that good at spying.
  • AUGUST: A former U.S. secretary of defense thinks the risk of nuclear war is higher now than during the cold war. The Republic Party platform appears to be outright in favor of nuclear weapons, while the Democratic Party platform includes a tepid commitment to maybe “reducing reliance” and spending on nuclear weapons. Jeffrey Sachs says the Syria War has become essentially a U.S.-Russia proxy war.
  • SEPTEMBER: The ecological footprint situation is not looking too promising: “from 1993 to 2009…while the human population has increased by 23% and the world economy has grown 153%, the human footprint has increased by just 9%. Still, 75% the planet’s land surface is experiencing measurable human pressures. Moreover, pressures are perversely intense, widespread and rapidly intensifying in places with high biodiversity.” Meanwhile, as of 2002 “we appropriate over 40% of the net primary productivity (the green material) produced on Earth each year (Vitousek et al. 1986, Rojstaczer et al. 2001). We consume 35% of the productivity of the oceanic shelf (Pauly and Christensen 1995), and we use 60% of freshwater run-off (Postel et al. 1996). The unprecedented escalation in both human population and consumption in the 20th century has resulted in environmental crises never before encountered in the history of humankind and the world (McNeill 2000). E. O. Wilson (2002) claims it would now take four Earths to meet the consumption demands of the current human population, if every human consumed at the level of the average US inhabitant.” And finally, 30% of African elephants have been lost in the last 7 years.
  • OCTOBER: According to James Hansen, the world needs “negative” greenhouse gas emissions right away, meaning an end to fossil fuel burning and improvements to agriculture, forestry, and soil conservation practices to absorb carbon. Part of the current problem is unexpected and unexplained increases in methane concentrations in the atmosphere.
  • NOVEMBER: Is there really any doubt what the most frightening story of November 2016 was? The United Nations Environment Program says we are on a track for 3 degrees C over pre-industrial temperatures, not the “less than 2” almost all serious people (a category that excludes 46% of U.S. voters, apparently) agree is needed. This story was released before the U.S. elected an immoral science denier as its leader. One theory is that our culture has lost all ability to separate fact from fiction. Perhaps states could take on more of a leadership role if the federal government is going to be immoral? Washington State voters considered a carbon tax that could have been a model for other states, and voted it down, in part because environmental groups didn’t like that it was revenue neutral. Adding insult to injury, WWF released its 2016 Living Planet Report, which along with more fun climate change info includes fun facts like 58% of all wild animals have disappeared. There is a 70-99% chance of a U.S. Southwest “mega-drought” lasting 35 years or longer this century. But don’t worry, this is only “if emissions of greenhouse gases remain unchecked”. Oh, and climate change is going to begin to strain the food supply worldwide, which is already strained by population, demand growth, and water resources depletion even without it.
  • DECEMBER: The geopolitical situation is not good. If Russia did hack the U.S. election, it wouldn’t be the first election they have hacked. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not over, and the rest of the greater Middle East is increasingly a mess.

Most Hopeful Stories of the Year

Most Interesting Stories of the Year

  • JANUARY: The World Economic Forum focused on technology: “The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.”
  • FEBRUARYTitanium dioxide is the reason Oreo filling is so white.
  • MARCH: Michael Pollan urged us to eat food. not too much. mostly psychedelic mushrooms.
  • APRIL: Genes can now be programmed just like circuits.
  • MAY: The world has about a billion dogs.
  • JUNE: Switzerland finished an enormous tunnel through the Alps that took 20 years to build.
  • JULY: I was a little side-tracked by U.S. Presidential politics. Nate Silver launched his general election site, putting the odds about 80-20 in favor of Hillary at the beginning of the month. The odds swung toward Trump over the course of the month as the two major party conventions took place (one in my backyard), but by the end of the month they were back to about 70-30 in favor of Hillary. During the month I mused about NAFTA, the fall of the Republic, the banana republicThe Art of the Deal, how to debate Trump, and Jon Stewart.
  • AUGUST: Here is a short video explaining the Fermi Paradox, which asks why there are no aliens. Meanwhile Russian astronomers are saying there might be aliens.
  • SEPTEMBERMonsanto is trying to help honeybees (which seems good) by monkeying with RNA (which seems a little frightening). Yes, biotech is coming.
  • OCTOBERNeil deGrasse Tyson says “we might expect to find as many as 100 alien civilizations in our galaxy communicating with radio waves right now.”
  • NOVEMBER: New technology can survey and create a 3D model of a room in seconds.
  • DECEMBER: According to Bill Gates, “new genome technologies are at the cusp of affecting us all in profound ways”. But an article in Nature says we should not be too hopeful about living much past 100.

And now for trends and insights…

Serious long-term threats related to population, food, water resources, natural capital depletion, biodiversity loss, and climate change. These are all inter-related. In past years I probably would have suggested that these threats are so likely and so consequential that we should focus nearly all our efforts on them. But things have changed a bit over the past year. Now it appears that we face dire short term threats as well in the form of serious geopolitical instability, risk of war and global economic stagnation. If you don’t deal with short term threats you might not be around to deal with the long term ones. And voters have chosen leaders in the past year who have no intention of dealing with the long term threats. They make no serious attempt to understand their nature or root causes. In fact, they don’t even acknowledge that the threats exist in many cases.

War. The possibility of war is certainly the biggest short-term threat we face. If we get through the next 4-8 years without a war between major powers or any sort of nuclear detonation, we will have to consider that a win. The greater Middle East from North Africa to Afghanistan is dangerously unstable, and the U.S. has already been drawn into a proxy war with Saudi Arabia and its allies on one side and Iran and Russia on the other side. And it appears that Russia may have played a direct role in influencing the U.S. election. An accidental clash between U.S. and Russian forces in Syria, Eastern Europe, or over the world’s oceans could be enough to set off a series of escalations and miscalculations that leads to a war nobody wants or stands to gain anything from. A naval confrontation between the U.S. and China could be a similar risk.

The Great Recession. Although the U.S. economy has picked up, the overall global growth and employment situation is deeply concerning. Rather than just a cyclical downturn, it may be a long term trend driven by demographics, debt, and underemployment caused by automation. The automation trend is going to be relentless. The 2007-8 financial crisis caused by excessive risk taking in the U.S. finance industry may just have been the straw that broke the camel’s back and made the long-term trends obvious, and another financial crisis that severe at a time of weakness might be the one the world doesn’t recover from. Our new U.S. leaders are already working with big business to roll back the necessary but still inadequate protections put in place after the ’07-8 crisis. Costs and risks imposed by climate change are not going to make the economy any better.

Technology. Technology brings us grave concern over the employment situation, but also great hope that we could see a long-term pickup in productivity, and therefore our overall wealth and quality of life. Of course, an increase in overall wealth and quality of life may help only a small slice of society if that society is structured to concentrate rather than share the wealth, and the leaders we have chosen in the U.S. for the next few years are clearly committed to the former. Extreme concentration of wealth could lead us eventually to a situation of such instability that the only outcomes are armed revolution in the streets or else absolute authoritarian control.

But let’s optimistically assume that our political system eventually comes up with a consensus on sharing the wealth. Now a higher rate of productivity growth (within ecological limits) would be good for everyone. In this world, people whose jobs are displaced by automation would be quickly retrained for new jobs, and they would be educated in the first place so that they are very flexible and adaptable to changing conditions. Over time, we could become so rich that we simply don’t have to work so much, and we could devote more of our time to leisure activities, learning for the sake of learning, the arts, civic and social activities, etc.

This might seem like a utopian vision, but it has happened in the past. People used to work incredibly long, hard hours to grow just enough food to survive, and they didn’t live all that long at that. Later people used to work long, hard hours in factories and sweat shops. Technology, cheap energy, and the wealth they have brought have made huge changes in working hours and life expectancy for most of us. With technology seemingly advancing all around us, the puzzle is why we aren’t seeing similarly spectacular advances today as we have seen in the past.

Advances like the tractor and electricity were enormous changes at the time of course. Maybe today’s technological advances, even though they seem impressive to us, simply aren’t as dramatic as these advances were in their time. That is the basic thesis of Robert Gordon, who I mention above. The World Economic Forum and Nouriel Roubini articles I mention above have good summaries of the advances we are seeing. Roubini categorizes them as:

  • ET (energy technologies, including new forms of fossil fuels such as shale gas and oil and alternative energy sources such as solar and wind, storage technologies, clean tech, and smart electric grids).
  • BT (biotechnologies, including genetic therapy, stem cell research, and the use of big data to reduce health-care costs radically and allow individuals to live much longer and healthier lives).
  • IT (information technologies, such as Web 2.0/3.0, social media, new apps, the Internet of Things, big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality devices).
  • MT (manufacturing technologies, such as robotics, automation, 3D printing, and personalized manufacturing).
  • FT (financial technologies that promise to revolutionize everything from payment systems to lending, insurance services and asset allocation).
  • DT (defense technologies, including the development of drones and other advanced weapon systems).

Roubini acknowledges the argument that these advances are not the equivalent of past advances, but also suggests that we may be in the lag phase between when technological advances happen and when they begin to have obvious effects on productivity. I think I said it pretty well in my post so I’ll repeat what I said:

Although the plow, the printing press, the steam engine, electricity, etc. were game changing, the game didn’t change as soon as they were invented. They had to catch on, infrastructure had to be built, resistance to change had to be overcome, and it took awhile. Each successive revolution happened faster though, which is why I am skeptical that this time is different… I think there is a lag, and it just hasn’t hit yet. If and when there is a sharp technology-driven surge in productivity, it doesn’t mean everything is going to instantly be great for everybody. As we produce more with less effort, there will be winners and losers, haves and have nots. And there will be a lag between when that starts and when it gets resolved. And just to beat a dead horse, we can’t just keep producing and consuming more forever unless we figure out a way to do that without growing our ecological footprint. And, we need to watch out for those defense technologies.

The information technology is all around us now, and the biotechnology is just starting to take off. 2017 could be the year when we have the same excitement in the popular imagination about biotech as we saw with the internet in the mid-1990s. Or maybe it will take a few years.

It is possible that our technology could advance so fast that ecological limits will cease to be relevant before they begin to exert a major drag force on our global economy and society. I don’t think it is safe to put all our eggs in that basket though. I am also saddened by the extreme and seemingly accelerating destruction of our planet’s ecosystems as we have known them throughout human history. We can try to preserve some of what is left, but even if we are successful it will be more like a museum or zoo recording what we used to have than a real, large-scale functioning planetary ecosystem.

There, I ended on a pretty pessimistic note. That’s how I feel at the moment. Not all stories have to have a happy ending. (This is exactly why King Lear is my favorite Shakespeare play, because the bad guys do bad things and get away with it, and sometimes real life is like that.) I just don’t want to get my hopes up about 2017. Come on 2017, maybe you will pleasantly surprise me.

November 2016 in Review

Sometimes you look back on a month and feel like nothing very important happened. But November 2016 was obviously not one of those months! I am not going to make any attempt to be apolitical here. I was once a registered independent and still do not consider myself a strong partisan. However, I like to think of myself as being on the side of facts, logic, problem solving, morality and basic goodness. Besides, this blog is about the future of our human civilization and human race. I can’t pretend our chances didn’t just take a turn for the worse.

3 most frightening stories

  • Is there really any doubt what the most frightening story of November 2016 was? The United Nations Environment Program says we are on a track for 3 degrees C over pre-industrial temperatures, not the “less than 2” almost all serious people (a category that excludes 46% of U.S. voters, apparently) agree is needed. This story was released before the U.S. elected an immoral science denier as its leader. One theory is that our culture has lost all ability to separate fact from fiction. Perhaps states could take on more of a leadership role if the federal government is going to be immoral? Washington State voters considered a carbon tax that could have been a model for other states, and voted it down, in part because environmental groups didn’t like that it was revenue neutral. Adding insult to injury, WWF released its 2016 Living Planet Report, which along with more fun climate change info includes fun facts like 58% of all wild animals have disappeared. There is a 70-99% chance of a U.S. Southwest “mega-drought” lasting 35 years or longer this century. But don’t worry, this is only “if emissions of greenhouse gases remain unchecked”. Oh, and climate change is going to begin to strain the food supply worldwide, which is already strained by population, demand growth, and water resources depletion even without it.
  • Technological unemployment may be starting to take hold, and might be an underlying reason behind some of the resentment directed at mainstream politicians. If you want a really clear and concise explanation of this issue, you could ask a smart person like, say, Barack Obama.
  • According to left wing sources like Forbes, an explosion of debt-financed spending on conventional and nuclear weapons is an expected consequence of the election. Please, Mr. Trump, prove them wrong!

3 most hopeful stories

3 most interesting stories

climate change, ecosystems, and food

This 17-author paper in Science describes evidence for how natural organisms and ecosystems are already adapting themselves to climate change, and what it means for humans.

The broad footprint of climate change from genes to biomes to people

Species are undergoing evolutionary adaptation to temperature extremes, and climate change has substantial impacts on species physiology that include changes in tolerances to high temperatures, shifts in sex ratios in species with temperature-dependent sex determination, and increased metabolic costs of living in a warmer world. These physiological adjustments have observable impacts on morphology, with many species in both aquatic and terrestrial systems shrinking in body size because large surface-to-volume ratios are generally favored under warmer conditions. Other morphological changes include reductions in melanism to improve thermoregulation, and altered wing and bill length in birds.

Broader-scale responses to climate change include changes in the phenology, abundance, and distribution of species. Temperate plants are budding and flowering earlier in spring and later in autumn. Comparable adjustments have been observed in marine and freshwater fish spawning events and in the timing of seasonal migrations of animals worldwide. Changes in the abundance and age structure of populations have also been observed, with widespread evidence of range expansion in warm-adapted species and range contraction in cold-adapted species. As a by-product of species redistributions, novel community interactions have emerged. Tropical and boreal species are increasingly incorporated into temperate and polar communities, respectively, and when possible, lowland species are increasingly assimilating into mountain communities. Multiplicative impacts from gene to community levels scale up to produce ecological regime shifts, in which one ecosystem state shifts to an alternative state…

The many observed impacts of climate change at different levels of biological organization point toward an increasingly unpredictable future for humans. Reduced genetic diversity in crops, inconsistent crop yields, decreased productivity in fisheries from reduced body size, and decreased fruit yields from fewer winter chill events threaten food security. Changes in the distribution of disease vectors alongside the emergence of novel pathogens and pests are a direct threat to human health as well as to crops, timber, and livestock resources. Humanity depends on intact, functioning ecosystems for a range of goods and services. Enhanced understanding of the observed impacts of climate change on core ecological processes is an essential first step to adapting to them and mitigating their influence on biodiversity and ecosystem service provision.

As smug as we are about the advanced state of our civilization, this planet still gives us an enormous amount for free, and we simply can’t afford to replace all the free goods and services with our own effort and technology. I continue to hear alarm bells sounding from many different quarters on one particular issue – food.

WWF’s Living Planet Report

WWF has released their 2016 Living Planet Report. It paints a pretty bleak picture using a number of statistics and indices, including the shocking statistic of a 58% reduction in Earth’s wild animals between 1970 and 2012, headed for 67% by 2020. So humans have simply displaced nature physically on an enormous scale. The ecological footprint index is reported at 1.6 Earths, unchanged from recent reporting at least within its rounding error. But remember this index is itself a rate of change, and anything greater than 1.0 is a path to collapse. It’s like saying you only spend 1.6 times your income last year, but that is okay because it is the same amount you spent the year before. It’s not okay because you will run out of money and you and your family will be sleeping on a park bench at some point.

They try to offer some upbeat solutions. Some days I feel more upbeat than others. Today I feel like our civilization has to be faced with a crisis before we are likely to act, like a severe famine, energy shortage, or loss of major cities. And when that happens, any response may be too little, too late to prevent human suffering on an enormous scale. Anyway, here is the report’s attempt to be semi-upbeat:

Transitioning toward a resilient planet entails a transformation in which human development is decoupled from environmental degradation and social exclusion. A number of significant changes would need to happen within the global economic system in order to promote the perspective that our planet has finite resources. Examples are changing the way we measure success, managing natural resources sustainably, and taking future generations and the value of nature into account in decision-making.

This transition requires fundamental changes in two global systems: energy and food. For the energy system, a rapid development of sustainable renewable energy sources and shifting demand toward renewable energy are key. For the food system, a dietary shift in high-income countries – through consuming less animal protein – and reducing waste along the food chain could contribute significantly to producing enough food within the boundaries of one planet. Furthermore, optimizing agricultural productivity within ecosystem boundaries, replacing chemical and fossil inputs by mimicking natural processes, and stimulating beneficial interactions between different agricultural systems, are key to strengthening the resilience of landscapes, natural systems and biodiversity – and the livelihoods of those who depend on them.

The speed at which we chart our course through the Anthropocene will be the key factor determining our future. Allowing and fostering important innovations, and enabling them to be rapidly adopted by governments, businesses and citizens, will accelerate a sustainable trajectory. So too will understanding the value and needs of our increasingly fragile Earth.

more on human footprint

This study attempted to map the human footprint on the earth on a fine scale back in 2002.

The Human Footprint and the Last of the Wild

There is little debate in scientific circles about the importance of human influence on ecosystems. According to scientists’ reports, we appropriate over 40% of the net primary productivity (the green material) produced on Earth each year (Vitousek et al. 1986, Rojstaczer et al. 2001). We consume 35% of the productivity of the oceanic shelf (Pauly and Christensen 1995), and we use 60% of freshwater run-off (Postel et al. 1996). The unprecedented escalation in both human population and consumption in the 20th century has resulted in environmental crises never before encountered in the history of humankind and the world (McNeill 2000). E. O. Wilson (2002) claims it would now take four Earths to meet the consumption demands of the current human population, if every human consumed at the level of the average US inhabitant. The influence of human beings on the planet has become so pervasive that it is hard to find adults in any country who have not seen the environment around them reduced in natural values during their lifetimes—woodlots converted to agriculture, agricultural lands converted to suburban development, suburban development converted to urban areas. The cumulative effect of these many local changes is the global phenomenon of human influence on nature, a new geological epoch some call the “anthropocene” (Steffen and Tyson 2001). Human influence is arguably the most important factor affecting life of all kinds in today’s world (Lande 1998, Terborgh 1999, Pimm 2001, UNEP 2001).

Yet despite the broad consensus among biologists about the importance of human influence on nature, this phenomenon and its implications are not fully appreciated by the larger human community, which does not recognize them in its economic systems (Hall et al. 2001) or in most of its political decisions (Soulé and Terborgh 1999, Chapin et al. 2000). In part, this lack of appreciation may be due to scientists’ propensity to express themselves in terms like “appropriation of net primary productivity” or “exponential population growth,” abstractions that require some training to understand. It may be due to historical assumptions about and habits inherited from times when human beings, as a group, had dramatically less influence on the biosphere. Now the individual decisions of 6 billion people add up to a global phenomenon in a way unique to our time. What we need is a way to understand this influence that is global in extent and yet easy to grasp—what we need is a map.

Until recently, designing such a map was not possible, because detailed data on human activities at the global scale were unavailable. The fortunate confluence of several factors during the 1990s changed this situation. Rapid advances in earth observation, using satellite technology pioneered by NASA and other space agencies, meant that, for the first time, verifiable global maps of land use and land cover were available (Loveland et al. 2000). The thawing of the cold war and calls for efficiency in government meant that other sources of global geographic data, for example, on roads and railways, were released to the public by the US National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA 1997). Improved reporting of population statistics at subnational levels enabled geographers to create global digital maps of human population density (CIESIN et al. 2000). Finally, advances in geographic information systems (GIS) have provided the integration technology necessary to combine these data in an efficient and reproducible manner. Although the datasets now available are imperfect instruments, they are of sufficient detail and completeness that scientists can map the influence of humans on the entire land’s surface.

August 2016 in Review

3 most frightening stories

3 most hopeful stories

3 most interesting stories

  • Bokashi is a system that essentially pickles your compost.
  • There is an unlikely but plausible scenario where Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, could become President of the United States this fall. Speaking of implausible scenarios, I learned that RIchard Nixon made a serious attempt to pass a basic income bill in 1969.
  • Here is a short video explaining the Fermi Paradox, which asks why there are no aliens. Meanwhile Russian astronomers are saying there might be aliens.

July 2016 in Review

3 most frightening stories

  • The financial crisis triggered by U.S. banks in 2008 may have been a major factor behind a resurgence of right-wing politics in Europe.
  • Household chemicals may have adverse effects on the developing brain, including a contribution to the risk of “neurodevelopmental disorders that affect the brain and nervous system including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, intellectual disabilities, and other learning and behavioral disabilities”.
  • The CIA is just not that good at spying.

3 most hopeful stories

  • There are new tools for considering ecosystem services and biodiversity in development decisions.
  • Uber Pool could be a game changing technology that ushers in a new kind of flexible transportation system.
  • The problems of a civilization in overshoot can seem overwhelming, but one thing you can do is convert your lawn to a sustainable ecosystem. Moss is an option. Also related to this, some ecologists are paying more attention to soil.

3 most interesting stories

  • I was a little side-tracked by U.S. Presidential politics. Nate Silver launched his general election site, putting the odds about 80-20 in favor of Hillary at the beginning of the month. The odds swung toward Trump over the course of the month as the two major party conventions took place (one in my backyard), but by the end of the month they were back to about 70-30 in favor of Hillary. During the month I mused about NAFTA, the fall of the Republic, the banana republicThe Art of the Deal, how to debate Trump, and Jon Stewart,
  • It’s really okay to cook pork chops medium rare.
  • It’s really hard to predict earthquakes. Many scientists think it is impossible, but once upon a time they thought that about predicting weather.

biodiversity and ecosystem services in decisions

Here’s an “open-source software tool for integrating biodiversity and ecosystem services into impact assessment and mitigation decisions“.

Governments and financial institutions increasingly require that environmental impact assessment and mitigation account for consequences to both biodiversity and ecosystem services. Here we present a new software tool, OPAL (Offset Portfolio Analyzer and Locator), which maps and quantifies the impacts of development on habitat and ecosystem services, and facilitates the selection of mitigation activities to offset losses. We demonstrate its application with an oil and gas extraction facility in Colombia. OPAL is the first tool to provide direct consideration of the distribution of ecosystem service benefits among people in a mitigation context. Previous biodiversity-focused efforts led to redistribution or loss of ecosystem services with environmental justice implications. Joint consideration of biodiversity and ecosystem services enables targeting of offsets to benefit both nature and society. OPAL reduces the time and technical expertise required for these analyses and has the flexibility to be used across a range of geographic and policy contexts.

May 2016 in Review

3 most frightening stories

  • There are scary and seemingly reckless confrontations going on between U.S. and Russian planes and ships in the Indian Ocean. And yet, it is bizarrely humorous when real life imitates Top Gun.
  • The situation in Venezuela may be a preview of what the collapse of a modern country looks like.
  • Obama went to Hiroshima, where he said we can “chart a course that leads to the destruction” of nuclear weapons, only not in his lifetime. Obama out.

3 most hopeful stories

3 most interesting stories

  • I try not to let this blog get too political, really I do. But in an election season I just can’t help myself. This is a blog about the future of civilization, and the behavior of U.S. political, bureaucratic, and military elites obviously has some bearing on that. In May I mused on whether the U.S. could possibly be suffering from “too much democracy“, Dick Cheney, equality and equal opportunity, and what’s wrong with Pennsylvania. And yes, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, TRUMP IS A FASCIST!
  • The world has about a billion dogs.
  • It turns out coffee grounds may not make good compost.