#64: Judge me by my size, do you?

Before we get to the news, let's first pay homage to the recently departed hero who -- and people say this all the time and it's never literally true, but in this case, it actually, definitively is -- saved the world.

"In an interview with the BBC in 2013, former Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov told how he had received computer readouts in the early hours of the morning of 26 September 1983 suggesting several US missiles had been launched.

"I had all the data [to suggest there was an ongoing missile attack]. If I had sent my report up the chain of command, nobody would have said a word against it," he said.

"All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders - but I couldn't move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan."

Although his training dictated he should contact the Soviet military immediately, Petrov instead called the duty officer at army headquarters and reported a system malfunction.

If he had been wrong, the first nuclear blasts would have happened minutes later.

"Twenty-three minutes later I realised that nothing had happened. If there had been a real strike, then I would already know about it. It was such a relief," he recalled.

A later investigation concluded that Soviet satellites had mistakenly identified sunlight reflecting on clouds as the engines of intercontinental ballistic missiles."

So. Yeah. Wow. Fuck me. Right?

The lesson, folks, is that while you will (thankfully) probably never serve in a similar capacity to the late Mr. Petrov, you can use your better judgement to assess the facts around a species-level threat (choose one, there's plenty!), and act accordingly. We're in this shit together.

On to the news!
 

HUMANITY'S HONEY-DO LIST

Good news! Avoiding catastrophic climate change isn’t impossible yet. Just incredibly hard. - Vox

I'm just gonna leave this right here as context for the rest of the newsletter/our lives on this mortal coil:



 

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS

As detailed here over and over, every one of us is going to play a part in getting to zero carbon, and further, to switch it up and actually reverse it.

So where does the March for Science go from here? - STAT News

"“The big picture question was (and continues to be): How do we successfully transition from a march into a movement and how do we continue to mobilize our diverse, interdisciplinary, passionate supporters for science advocacy?” Caroline Weinberg, one of the national march’s co-organizers, wrote to STAT in an e-mail from Paris, where she was meeting with that city’s local march coordinators."


This guy isn't exactly doing his part. - International Business Times

"The Republican congressman from one of Hurricane Irma’s hardest hit counties is leading a legislative effort to let companies conceal how climate change affects their businesses. Only weeks before the storm came ashore, Florida U.S. Rep. Bill Posey reintroduced legislation designed to bar federal regulators from forcing companies to better disclose their climate-related risks to their shareholders. Amid fossil fuel industry lobbying on the bill, a version of Posey’s legislation was passed by the House last year, and now — despite hurricanes and floods intensified by climate change — the legislation could get a boost from a Trump administration that has moved to roll back efforts to combat global warming."


But James Cameron is! - VegNews.com

"The famed filmmaker is helping the shift toward plant-based protein by funding the world's largest organic pea protein-processing facility.

“Frankly, we can live without [meat]," Cameron said during a recent news conference. “It's very important for us to shift—I believe, as a civilization—shift our focus to that expanding wedge of plant-based proteins.”"

+ Remember, kids: cow farts, while undoubtedly entertaining, will eventually kill us all.

 

BUT WE STILL NEED THE BIG BOYS TO CONTRIBUTE. AND WHO'S THE BEST BIG BOY, DONALD? HMM? WHO'S A GOOD BOY?


These guys are, for damn sure. The Tiny Country That Feeds the World - National Geographic

"Almost two decades ago, the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture under the rallying cry “Twice as much food using half as many resources.” Since 2000, van den Borne and many of his fellow farmers have reduced dependence on water for key crops by as much as 90 percent. They’ve almost completely eliminated the use of chemical pesticides on plants in greenhouses, and since 2009 Dutch poultry and livestock producers have cut their use of antibiotics by as much as 60 percent.

One more reason to marvel: The Netherlands is a small, densely populated country, with more than 1,300 inhabitants per square mile. It’s bereft of almost every resource long thought to be necessary for large-scale agriculture. Yet it’s the globe’s number two exporter of food as measured by value, second only to the United States, which has 270 times its landmass. How on Earth have the Dutch done it?"

+ Great question, because in coming decades, we're gonna need a metric shit-ton of food. And not just any food, but nutrient-dense food, because apparently our current stash is seriously no bueno.



Yes, they're still pumping many, many no-no's into the atmosphere, and there's some REALLY not appetizing things about autocratic regimes, but like they did with plastic bags (eliminating them overnight), and have announced they'll do with gas-powered cars, China's "fuck it, we'll do it live" policy with regards to industrial change is something to behold.

China builds world’s largest EV charging network with 167,000 stations, not done yet - The Economist

"China’s government, which is set on remaining the largest market for electric cars, has far bigger plans. This year alone it is installing 800,000 public charging-points, including 100,000 semipublic ones at workplaces and for taxis and commercial vehicles."


The United States Desperately Needs An Earthquake Warning System - WIRED

Apologies for the long quote here, but this drives me nuts:

"On Tuesday afternoon, Mexico City sirens blared a few seconds before a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck the capital, flattening hundreds of buildings and killing at least 200 people. When an 8.1 magnitude quake hit on September 7 off the coast of Mexico, the SASMEX alert system collecting data from sensors along Mexico’s western coast gave residents more than a minute’s warning from sirens and even news reports on radio and TV. A complementary smartphone app is used by millions of Mexicans. And Japan also has a sophisticated earthquake text-alert system, giving tsunami and earthquake warnings to the entire nation.

So why is the US earthquake system stuck in beta mode with only a lucky few getting an earthquake heads-up? (A few) LA residents received their early warning (this week) as part of a pilot study conducted by the US Geological Survey and Santa Monica-based Early Warning Labs. But experts say lack of money and bureaucratic inertia has stymied the USGS ShakeAlert warning system, despite a decade of promises and positive trial runs.

The USGS has only installed about 40 percent of the 1,675 sensors it needs to protect seismically vulnerably areas of the West Coast in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Seattle, says Doug Given, who coordinates the ShakeAlert system at the USGS Pasadena office. “We still don’t have full funding,” says Given. “We are on a continuing resolution through December 8 and are operating at the level of last year’s budget."

ShakeAlert costs a measly $16 million each year to build and operate, but the USGS has only been given $10 million each year. The Trump administration's proposed budget had zeroed-out the entire ShakeAlert program, but dozens of lawmakers from San Diego to Seattle protested. A House committee blocked the cuts in July, but the final budget document is still awaiting passage."

+ Good. GREAT. Fuckers. Take action. Call your reps. 5calls.org.
+ California: here's what's coming, and here's what to do.
+ Oh and this is why the West is burning.
 

SPEAKING OF PLACES THAT SHOULDN'T BE INHABITED IN THE FIRST PLACE, HERE'S A THOUGHT ON FLORIDA

Quick note: this article hit before Irma did, causing massive destruction and loss of life. I don't include it to be insensitive, but -- like our coverage of Houston and the US and British Virgin Islands, and now Puerto Rico, the fires out west, the flooding in Asia, etc -- to remain objective, informative, and inquisitive about weather, climate, the past and future of human settlements, geoengineering, and our long-term decision making. 

A Requiem for Florida, the Paradise That Should Never Have Been - Politico

"There was really just one reason South Florida remained so unpleasant and so empty for so long: water. The region was simply too soggy and swampy for development. Its low-lying flatlands were too vulnerable to storms and floods. As a colorful governor with the colorful name of Napoleon Bonaparte Broward put it: “Water is the common enemy of the people of Florida.” So in the 20th century, Florida declared war on its common enemy, vowing to subdue Mother Nature, eventually making vast swaths of floodplains safe for the president to build golf courses and Vanilla Ice to flip houses and my kids to grow up in the sunshine. Water control—even more than air conditioning or bug spray or Social Security—enabled the spectacular growth of South Florida. It’s a pretty awesome place to live, now that so much of its swamp has been drained, much better than Boston or Brooklyn in the winter, and, for the obvious economic and political reasons, much better than Havana or Caracas all year long.

But Mother Nature still gets her say. Water control has ravaged the globally beloved Everglades and the rest of the South Florida ecosystem in ways that imperil our way of life as well as the local flora and fauna. And sometimes, as we’re about to be reminded, water can’t be controlled."


"Good to see the Pentagon taking shit into their own hands", he says for maybe the only time ever. - Military Times

In March, President Donald Trump rescinded all climate-related federal agency actions directed by President Barack Obama. The Obama-era initiatives that were killed included one that directed the Pentagon to plan for a future where storms, like this week’s Hurricane Irma, are a frequent factor in the Pentagon’s operations.
To meet Obama’s order, the Defense Department published a “climate change roadmap” in 2014 and launched a defensewide review of its installations to identify vulnerabilities.

“A changing climate will have real impacts on our military and the way it executes its missions,” the Defense Department concluded in the 2014 report. “The military could be called upon more often to support civil authorities … in the face of more frequent and more intense natural disasters.”

In January 2016, DoD issued directive 4715.21, “Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience,” which among other things implemented the 2014 roadmap.

Yet the 2014 roadmap was invalidated by Trump’s March 28 executive order, the Pentagon said.

Still, Trump’s executive order has not stopped the military from preparing for climate change. 

The DoD has found space to maneuver by separating the argument of climate change from the threats that more extreme sea states, wind and flooding can generate. Essentially, the DoD is moving forward by leaving the semantics of climate change to others."

Nothing to see here, folks

Ok, I fully admit the following ideas are way insane and not gonna happen in our lifetimes, nor should they, probably. I don't know. But I include them here because the lesson to be learned is we've gotta take some big ass collective risks to fix this place up, and further, if we ever do get off this rock, terraforming other planets is probably necessary. You just know Elon's got these doodled out in his iPhone Notes app. So here we go.

Seven megaprojects that would change the world - New Scientist

 

HERE'S A NICE PALATE CLEANSER, LIKE A DELIGHTFUL FRUIT SORBET

Two articles featuring oft-discussed technological breakthroughs, with slightly off-topic context:

CRISPR Used to Dramatically Change Flower Colour - Nature

Does this directly concern the survival of our species? Nope! But it's fun and cute. That's why it's called a palate cleanser.

So's this:

White nationalists are flocking to genetic ancestry tests. Some don’t like what they find. - STAT News

Oh come on, this is just glorious!

Fine, fine. Here's some more cool shit that's more applicable to us solving, you know, disease as we know it.

23andMe is Digging Through Your Data for a Parkinson's Cure - WIRED

Investors including Google Ventures poured $93 million into a company that's building personalized cancer vaccines - Business Insider

And a personal favorite, should we ever actually budget the money to explore the stars:

Engineering the perfect astronaut - MIT

 

A SMALL, INCOMPLETE, AND PERHAPS IRRATIONAL, YET NOTABLE LIST OF THINGS THAT TERRIFY ME

Why Has Our Sun Been Freaking Out So Much Lately? - Gizmodo

"Since early last week, the Sun has belched out a steady stream of solar flares, including the most powerful burst recorded in the star’s current 11-year cycle. It sounds very alarming, but scientists say this is simply what stars do every now and then, and that there’s nothing to be concerned about."

+ k thanks bye


Astronomers Discover Pitch Black Exoplanet - Scientific American

"The hellish world WASP-12b is darker than fresh asphalt in visible light, but glows red-hot in infrared."


Coffee, Bees and Climate Change Are Linked In Ways You May Not Have Expected - NPR

These robots can work alone or put their brains together - Axios

 

MO MONEY, MO POLLUTION

Remember how we discussed oil subsidies costing $5 trillion a year? Yeah. Good times. Here's how much those same companies should theoretically pay up for climate change. - The Guardian


AND FINALLY, RIP OLD FRIEND.
This week we finally paid farewell to Cassini, one of humanity's greatest scientific achievements. Here's how she spent her last day.

 

STILL HANGING OUT WITH CLIMATE-DENIERS? FORWARD THEM THIS NEWSLETTER, AND MAKE SURE TO POINT OUT THIS LINK

Those 3% of scientific papers that deny climate change? A review found them all flawed - Quartz