(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘climate change

“These are the times that try men’s souls”*…

Last January, (R) D looked, via Adam Tooze, at the concept of the Polycrisis: “I know it is relentless. That is also a feature of the polycrisis we are in. It comes from all sides and it just doesn’t stop.” He’s developed his thinking, summarizing in a recent Financial Times piece…

Pandemic, drought, floods, mega storms and wildfires, threats of a third world war — how rapidly we have become inured to the list of shocks. So much so that, from time to time, it is worth standing back to consider the sheer strangeness of our situation…

Of course, familiar economic mechanisms still have huge power. A bond market panic felled an incompetent British government. It was, you might say, a textbook case of market discipline. But why were the gilt markets so jumpy to begin with? The backdrop was the mammoth energy subsidy bill and the Bank of England’s determination to unwind the huge portfolio of bonds that it had piled up fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

With economic and non-economic shocks entangled all the way down, it is little wonder that an unfamiliar term is gaining currency — the polycrisis.

A problem becomes a crisis when it challenges our ability to cope and thus threatens our identity. In the polycrisis the shocks are disparate, but they interact so that the whole is even more overwhelming than the sum of the parts. At times one feels as if one is losing one’s sense of reality. Is the mighty Mississippi really running dry and threatening to cut off the farms of the Midwest from the world economy? Did the January 6 riots really threaten the US Capitol? Are we really on the point of uncoupling the economies of the west from China? Things that would once have seemed fanciful are now facts.

This comes as a shock. But how new is it really?…

Welcome to the world of the polycrisis” (gift link)

Then, in his newsletter, he goes more deeply into the concept and its roots…

Polycrisis is a term I first encountered when I was finishing Crashed in 2017. It was invoked by Jean-Claude Juncker to describe Europe’s perilous situation in the period after 2014. In the spirit of “Eurotrash”, I rather relished the idea of picking up a “found concept” from that particular source. On Juncker check out Nick Mulder’s wonderful portrait of “Homo Europus”. It turned out that Juncker got the idea from French theorist of complexity and resistance veteran Edgar Morin, who is a whole ‘nother story…

Polycrisis – thinking on the tightrope

Both pieces are fascinating and useful; both, eminently worth reading in full…

* Thomas Paine, The American Crisis

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As we ponder profusion, we might recall that it was on this date in 1898 that an American institution was born.

The University of Minnesota football team (for our non-American readers out there, I’m of course referring to the kind of football where you’ll get a penalty for using your feet) was playing their final game against Northwestern University. The U of M’s team had been having a lackluster year, and there was a general feeling on campus that this was due to lack of enthusiasm during the games. So several students, lead by Johnny Campbell on a megaphone, decided to lead the crowd of spectators in a chant: “Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-U-Mah! Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Minn-e-so-tah!” The crowd went bananas, as they say, and an energized Minnesota team won the game 17-6.

That day Johnny Campbell and his (presumably drunk) friends became the first cheerleader squad.

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Johnny Campbell

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“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance”*…

The noble but undervalued craft of maintenance could, Alex Vuocolo explains, help preserve modernity’s finest achievements, from public transit systems to power grids, and serve as a useful framework for addressing climate change and other pressing planetary constraints…

… If you start talking with engineers about maintenance, somebody always brings up Incan rope bridges. Maybe you’ve seen an illustration or a digital rendering in a Hollywood movie. They’re the color of hay and hang with a bit of slack over rivers and canyons in Peru’s rugged terrain. Made from ichu grass threaded into progressively denser and denser bundles, they were ritualistically maintained by ancient Peruvians. They lasted for centuries. Most are long gone now, though at least one has been preserved for posterity as an infrastructural artifact, just like the R32 at the New York Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn.

It’s hard to imagine a modern ritual that would be equal to the task of perpetually renewing steel bridges, concrete highways and cement buildings. It would require an entirely new industrial paradigm. One label for such a system is “circular economy,” which the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which funds research on the topic, defines as “an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design.”

The concept dates to the 1960s and the work of economist Kenneth E. Boulding, but most of us are more familiar with a related slogan that emerged from the environmental movement of the 1970s: reduce, reuse, recycle. Those have been the guiding principles for the green movement for much of the past half-century, informing everything from municipal recycling programs to efficiency standards for toilets to lifestyle movements calling for “zero-impact living.”

Maintain is notably missing from the triplet, perhaps because it’s difficult to reconcile with sustainability’s implicit emphasis on reduction and restraint. By contrast, maintenance is about keeping things — sometimes large, intensively built things like skyscrapers and subway cars that might be difficult to imagine in the biodegradable utopias of the most gung-ho environmentalists. Ultimately, reduction is prioritized. We must not hold onto things. We must let go like good Buddhists, as industrial civilization becomes merely a painful, transient phase in human history, passing out of us like bad karma.

There is tension in the question of whether to build objects more intensively, so that they last longer, or to recognize that some things cannot endure and thus should be designed that way. There’s no hope for a paper plate in the long run, for example. It’s designed to enter the waste stream as cheaply and easily as possible. Conversely, a toaster could last for decades if maintained properly, assuming the manufacturer hasn’t built obsolescence into it (as is often the case).

More complex objects and built environments, like a transit system or a housing development, compound questions over what should last and what cannot. How do we create systems that can address these questions on their own terms?

The work of maintenance is ultimately a way of parsing and knowing a thing and deciding, over and over, what it’s worth. “Maintenance should be seen as a noble craft,” said [Louis] Rossmann, [owner of a computer repair shop in New York City and a popular Youtuber] “It should be seen as something that teaches people not just how to repair, but how to think.”

Eminently worth reading in full: “The Disappearing Art Of Maintenance,” from @AlexVuocolo in @NoemaMag.

* Kurt Vonnegut

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As we take care, we might recall that it was on this date in 1876, during the Centennial celebration in Philadelphia, and at the end of a three-day “Convention of Librarians,” 103 librarians (90 men and 13 women) signed a register as charter members of the American Library Association. The oldest library association in the world, It has grown into the largest.

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“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings”*…

Tim Flannery considers George Monbiot‘s (@GeorgeMonbiot) new book, Regenesis, in which Monbiot argues that neither the industrial farming that become our norm nor the most rapidly spreading alternative farming methods can help save our food system from impending crisis…

What will we be eating in the future? Will it be wholesome, locally grown organic produce or some Soylent Green–like nightmare food? The only certainty, George Monbiot argues in Regenesis, is that we cannot continue to eat what we eat today. Climate disruption will see to that. And even if climate impacts are less severe than some project, industrial agriculture and the so-called global standard diet it creates are environmentally unsustainable and are destroying the planet’s soils so rapidly that we already stand on the brink of a worldwide catastrophe. We have, Monbiot warns, a very brief period in which to reshape our food systems…

[There follows a fascinating (and chilling) diagnosis of the challenge, and a consideration of possible answers…]

Humans have been farmers for only around 10,000 years. Before that we were hunter-gatherers, and the planet could sustain just a few million of us. Then we moved down the food chain by harvesting the seeds of the grasses that fed the great herds. With that innovation, many millions could be nourished. But the agricultural system that produced the grain was damaging to the environment. We now face the prospect of one further leap down the food chain to bacteria. The benefits could be enormous. Yet we have fetishized our food so thoroughly that it’s difficult to think of a yellow powder made of dried bacteria as being healthy, fresh, and good for the planet. Perhaps the first person to hand out baked cakes of crushed grains at a barbecue serving mammoth and bison steaks to Paleolithic big-game hunters faced the same problem…

It’s Not Easy Being Green,” in @nybooks.

A pair of shorter-term views that raise some of the same issues (and conflicts): “The U.S. diet is deadly. Here are 7 ideas to get Americans eating healthier” and “The next threat to global food supplies.”

* Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution

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As we contemplate comestibles, we might note that National Procrastination Day was yesterday.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 7, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie”*…

Charles F. Kennel and Martin Rees argue that the Anthropocene demands a massive realignment of priorities…

Our Earth has existed for 45 million centuries; and humans for a few thousand. But this century is the first when our species is so numerous—and so demanding of energy and natural resources—that we risk collectively despoiling our planet. It’s surely an ethical imperative that we should not deny future generations the wonders and beauty of the natural world. Policy must, in the words of the Brundtland Commission, “meet the needs of the present—especially the world’s poor—without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This requires a massive transformation in our lives—how we derive our energy, and how we feed ourselves. It’s an inspiring challenge for the younger generation, and an investment crucial for the future of humanity—and indeed all life on Earth. But it requires a massive realignment of priorities in all nations—a change in individual attitudes, as well as in public policy.

Planet Earth is on a perilous course. Society’s delayed adjustment to Anthropocene dynamics has amplified risks to global, regional, and local human security and threatens a comprehensive crisis, especially if risks materialize in reinforcing ways. This, the Crisis of the Anthropocene, is likely to be most acute when world population peaks—according to U.N. demographers this should happen before the end of the century. The number of humans at risk will therefore be largest when resource consumption and stress on eco-environmental systems are maximal and extreme climatic events disrupt ecologies at their most vulnerable. Since threats we presently think distinct are the most likely to interact and cascade then, we will not have the luxury of dealing with them one at a time, as we are trying to do today.

The nations of Earth need to transform their economies in little more than one human generation to meet the challenges posed by Anthropocene dynamics…

Read on for their prescription: “Two Distinguished Scientists on How to Rescue Humanity,” from @kennel_charles and @LordMartinRees in @NautilusMag.

* Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well

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As we face the future, we might send precipitant birthday greetings to atmospheric scientist Bernard Vonnegut; he was born on this date in 1917. While he was not as well-known as his novelist brother Kurt (nor in some circles, as his architect father Kurt Sr.), he is nonetheless widely remembered for his discovery that that silver iodide could be used effectively in cloud seeding to produce snow and rain.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 29, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Mustard: Good only in Dijon”*…

France is facing a widespread dearth of Dijon mustard; Emily Monaco explains…

Take a wander down any condiment aisle in France these days, and you’ll notice a pervasive absence between le mayo and le ketchup. Since this May, France has faced a widespread dearth of Dijon mustard, leading one French resident to advertise two jars for sale to the tune of €6,000 or about £5,000 (since revealed to be merely in jest). The shortage has incited expats (this author included) to not-at-all-jokingly smuggle squeeze bottles of Maille back into the country from places like the US to get their fix, while author and Paris resident David Lebovitz even resorted to hunting his jars down at a local gardening store, of all places.

While French news outlets wasted no time in attributing the shortage to the war in Ukraine, the real story is a whole lot spicier than that.

Omnipresent on French tables, Dijon mustard, made by combining brown mustard seeds with white wine, is a beloved condiment that provides a counterpoint to rich, hearty dishes thanks to its acidity and heat. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a slice of crisp-skinned roast chicken, the ideal way to jazz up a simple ham-and-butter sandwich and an essential ingredient in homemade mayonnaise.

That the condiment is so anchored in France’s Burgundy region – of which Dijon is the capital city – is thanks to the historical co-planting of brown mustard seeds with the region’s renowned grapevines, a practice introduced by the Ancient Romans to provide the vines with essential nutrients like phosphorous. Monks continued to cultivate mustard in this fashion for centuries, and, in 1752, the link between Dijon and mustard was cemented thanks to Dijon local Jean Naigeon, who married the seeds, not with vinegar, but with verjuice – the juice of unripe wine grapes historically used to add a pleasantly sour flavour to recipes in regions inhospitable to citrus…

But the truth is that despite its historical link the to the region, Dijon mustard has been delocalised for quite some time.

After Burgundian farmers largely abandoned mustard cultivation in favour of higher-paying crops decades ago, moutardiers (mustard makers) began looking further afield for the tiny seed at the root of the condiment that launched 1,000 “Pardon me, sirjokes. Their mustard seed needs were chiefly met by Canada, which produces about 80% of the world’s supply. But this winter, Canadian-grown mustard also dried up, when, after several years of declining production had reduced stores, dry summer weather obliterated the Canadian crop, sending mustard seed prices skyrocketing threefold.

Though the shortage was not caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it was exacerbated by it, impacting Dijon mustard makers “indirectly”, according to Luc Vandermaesen, CEO of mustard producer Reine de Dijon. Rather than the brown seeds required for Dijon, Ukraine predominantly produces the white variety used in yellow and English mustard. Given the conflict, producers less tied to specific mustard varieties turned to Canada’s already meagre supply, intensifying the shortage.

Inadvertently, this all shed new light on the discrepancy between the name “Dijon mustard” and where it’s made. After all, unlike Champagne or Roquefort, the “Dijon” in Dijon mustard refers to a specific recipe and not to a geographic region protected by an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) or Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) designation, which regulate products like wine, cheese and even lentils with an iron fist…

A spicy tale: “Why there’s no ‘Dijon’ in Dijon mustard,” from @emily_in_france in @BBC_Travel.

* Gustave Flaubert

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As we spread it thin, we might recall that it was on this date in 1795 that the Reverend Samuel Henshall was awarded the first patent for a corkscrew.

His idea was to incorporate a button between the shank & the worm. Its purpose was to compress and turn the cork once the worm was fully inserted, thus breaking any bond that might exist between cork and bottle.

Henshall’s improvement to the simple direct pull corkscrew was no doubt a winner. His design
was produced well into the 20th century in a vast array of different styles…

Antique & Vintage Corkscrew Guide

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 24, 2022 at 1:00 am

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