Category Archives: Writing

Random Roundup, 7/1/19

 

(My milkshake brings all the views to the blog…)

Hello again folks!

It’s been a while since my last update. Work has been crazy busy, and the weather is finally starting to get nice, so I have been spending more time outside than over the past few months. That means the writing has slowed down a bit. Also, if I’m being really honest, I have not known what to write about recently. Writing has been… hard. I’m starting to ease back into it, and I hope to have something soon. I’ll probably be returning to the recent folklore posts I have been working on. Still plenty of ground to cover there.

That said, today I just wanted to do a random roundup for you all, as basically an update/place holder. There has been a lot of great articles lately, and I think a few of them deserve some attention.

First, Animism Does Not Conflict with Science

This should come to a surprise to almost non-one that is a regular reader of this blog. I am a huge supporter of the fusion of animism as a worldview, and Western science. This is a practical, observation based approach that can firmly ground us in the here and now. Both are a way of knowing and relating to the world, and together, they could be something wonderful.

Another example of how animism and science can be remarkably effective together is in the area of climate change and environmental protection. Science has been telling us that the way we treat our planet is a huge problem for a long time, and they’re right. But an emotional and personal experience of the natural world and our relationship to it is so much more compelling than a graph or statistic; when you can experience how interdependent you are with your land and natural world, the concerns about sustainability become unforced; not just intellectual exercises.”

Second, The Price of Renewable Energy is Plummeting

Again, no surprise, that I am a huge proponent of converting our energy systems to renewable energy. I have actually been thinking a lot about energy lately, and what this means for our future. I don’t think we can have infinite growth on an finite planet, and we must do everything in our power to reduce our impact on the planet. Using less energy (efficiency), and moving to renewable sources are two important steps in that direction.

“Renewable power is the backbone of any development that aims to be sustainable… We must do everything we can to accelerate renewables if we are to meet the climate objectives of the Paris Agreement.”

Thirdly; We can design healthier cities

Cities are the heart of our civilization, and by consequence, they are also where we use the most energy and materials. Our consumption, production, and living habits are among many factors contributing to the climate crisis, and taking a fresh look at how we live, especially in cities, can go a long way towards a more sustainable future.

By some estimates, cities consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy, and account for more than 70% of global CO2 emissions: a figure sure to increase as the global migration from rural to urban areas continues. In the pursuit of exploring new models for how healthy cities could more effectively sustain these demands, Dutch design and research studio FABRICations has investigated how cities of the Netherlands can reduce carbon emissions through new design-led approaches.”

Last, but certainly not least, we need sustainable visions of the future

Imagination is a wonderful tool, and it takes big visions to change the world. Those visions can be turned into strategies, and those strategies into goals. By using visions to create goals, we can then start building a better future for all; one step, one checkbox at a time. The linked article is another vision in a growing collection of visions for a sustainable future, and I for one believe the more the better. No one vision will accurately predict the future, but that’s not the point. The point is to a give us a range of options, tools in the toolbox, so that every community can find out what works best for themselves. That way, a more ecological and sustainable future has the rich soil it needs to evolve and grow organically.

In three years of research and interviews, what emerged were solutions that improve health, income inequality, security and communities with the bonus of drastically reducing emissions and regenerating ecosystems. These solutions include decentralised solar micro-grids in remote villages that allow the buying and selling of energy between homes and keep money in the local economy. They include regenerative agriculture practices which takes carbon from the atmosphere and returns it to the soil with the cascading benefits of water retention and nutrient-dense food…

But perhaps the most poignant solution I came across was the wide-reaching impact the education and empowerment of girls and women would have.

It is clear we have everything we need right now to create a better 2040.”

The last line is worth repeating; we have everything we need right now. The trick is making it work for everyone.

As always, thanks for reading! I hope to have something new for you in the next couple of weeks!

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Spiritual Community, Ecologic Community (Week 9)

(Image by Jessica Perlstein, as concept art for Starhawk’s Fifth Sacred Thing, curiosly a widely cited book in both paganism and solarpunk 🙂 )

Hello again folks!

This post is another prompt by the ongoing Deepening Resilience Project organized by Syren Nagakyrie. I’m a little bit behind, so I hope you will forgive me on the delay for this one. Some genius around here decided to take on a solarpunk novella project that is due June 1st. Yes, that ‘genius’ is me, and yes that was sarcasm. It would seem I am glutton for writing-based punishment.

All the same, I think the question today is an important one, and I certainly have a lot to say on this topic!

How can we work with the spirits of land, deities, and ancestors as we address climate change and build resilience?

I would like to jump right into the deep end with this one, so first I want to start with a basic understanding of how I relate to the concepts of spirits, deities, and ancestors. For starters, I would probably best describe my spirituality as a kind of naturalistic animism; the intersection of science, spirituality, and big ‘s’ Story. It is a path grounded firmly in physical reality, but with plenty of room for awe, inspiration, and reverence. It is a relational path that asks us to consider ourselves as agents in a much bigger, much more complex, cosmic system.

I don’t default to supernatural explanations for my spiritual understanding of that complexity. There is no ‘Otherworld’, or ‘outside’ beings in my cosmology. There is the here and now, the physical beneath our feet, and the wonderful, complex, and marvelous universe we happen to inhabit. Spirits, ancestors and deities are here for me, not beyond some mysterious spiritual veil, nor residing in some spirit-only “spiritual plane”. There is no Veil, except maybe the one we pulled over our own eyes. If the spirits are hidden from us, it’s because we’ve become infected by self-inflected blindness. We have simply refused to see them, and that is our own fault, and perhaps of the very monotheistic worldview we have been raised in.

That means that how I relate to spirits is very much grounded in practical knowledge and experience. I am a hunter, a hiker, and all around person of the outdoors. I like to swim, to walk, and to kayak. I love archery, as well as anthropology and archaeology. I have one foot in the past, one in the present, and an unaccounted for third foot in the future.

I see the world as something intrinsically filled with creativity, with life, and with agency. The basic drive of the universe is to create, to make new and mysterious forms with basic parts formed in the hearts of long dead stars. To take those parts, and to create planets which like the Earth, eventually have life emerge from them. This is not a linear process, nor one dictated by some almighty outside god. It has starts and stops, failures, and restarts. I have no idea if it has any kind of ultimate goal, but that doesn’t take away from the deeply spiritual nature of that experience. To be the result of billions of years of creativity is a hell of a spiritual experience. I’m scavenged parts from a dead star, a bit of the cosmos, having a very Earthly and human experience. That’s wild and wonderful.

Earth is a planet that was born in fires of Sol, our local star. A planet of countless cultural names, orbiting of star with just as many names. My cosmology is rooted in complexity, and complex systems. Systems like forests that have a life and spirit all their own. Rivers, who are far more than just fish poo and water. Entire complex networks of deer, dirt, and other denizens that in totality starts to look a lot like a living, breathing, being. This extends to me for to the whole Earth, the only planet we know of with a robust biosphere, and an intelligent civilization building species.

Ancestors are still with me, deep in my own DNA, and buried into the collective memory the Earth as a living being. A living planet, the child of the Sun, which is another link in the ancestral tree that goes back to beginning of Creation, of our Universe, as a whole. Even grounded solidly in nature, my spiritual path is full of ancestors, forest and river gods, and spirits from the Whitetail Deer to Hydrogen Atoms, and everything within and beyond that.

As such, working with spirits, deities, and ancestors is as much a practice of science and ecology as it is practice of spirituality. With my gods existing in forests and rivers, my ancestors in my blood and bones, as well the earth around me, and the spirits I work with being in part, the totality of a living biosphere; climate change is a crisis for all of them. For all of us, as it is for the whole living, breathing being of the planet. Gods, ancestors, and spirits; are all part of this process. The climate crisis threatens millions of species of organisms, as well as ourselves.

The Climate Crisis is a Global Crises, and no one, not even our spirits and ancestors, get a pass on this one.

A loss of a habit is the loss of innumerable spirits; the death of forest and river gods. Logging, industrial waste, plastics in our oceans, that is Threat to them as much as it is to me. For me, that has resulted in deeply painful experiences that run the gamut of human emotions, and non-human emotions that I can translate. The gods of the forest are just as angry as we are, just as scared. Others are angry, and blame us for where we are now. I don’t blame them for that, as we fuel up the bulldozers for another oil pipeline.

One of the big problems associated with the climate crisis are climate refugees. People displaced by raging fires and rising seas. But most of rhetoric on the crisis only includes human refugees. From an animistic perspective, is has been happening for a longtime. How many non-human persons have been displaced? How many fish, how many birds, how many trees? How many megatons of earth have we scrapped clean of deep buried memories? How many ancestors have been dug up and taken away into colonial museums?

Human and non-human communities are already being displaced, already being forced into extinction by human-driven climate change. Habitat loss is spiritual loss, and that breaks down communities and the relationships that joins them together. There is deep trauma there, and deep grief. Not only for ourselves, but for the planet as well. I don’t think any of us get out of this clean, without scarring.

But climate refugees, broken habitats, and broken communities is not where this ends. As a bit of an optimist to a fault, being aware of the problem is only the first step. Looking with eyes unclouded at all we have done and articulating the raw scale and scope of the problem is only the first step. Once we’ve framed the problem, and gods is it planetary, then we can start to see what needs to be done. That is the Work that we all have to do.

From an animistic perspective, we start to realize that the scope of this problem is big, really big. It is a crisis of communities, in the widest and broadest sense of the word. The destruction of non-human communities, ecological communities, to fulfill our own needs is what brought us here. The Work that needs to be done is taking a step back away from that precipice.

(Artist credit, AJ-Illustrated)

We can start by epicly scaling up the rebuilding of communities. Not only for human communities but for non-human ones as well. Maybe by making half the planet into a nature preserve. That would certainly go a long way towards giving non-human communities the space they need to rebuild as they see fit. Ecosystems are amazing like that. If we give them the space, the forests and rivers will come back. Maybe not the same as they were before, but they will rebuild.

Yet, the crisis is also a lot bigger than that. The scale of transformations we need to make cut across our own communities as well. The science is clear at this point, and we need to change our political, economic, and social systems to have a chance at navigating our way through the climate hell storm. There are countless numbers of technical, economic, and social ideas on the table. Wind turbines, carbon pricing, ‘rights of nature’, hydrogen fuel cells… There is no silver bullet, but a lot that can and needs to be done.

In addition to giving space for natural communities to do their own thing, we can also embark on large public works project; such as habitat restoration. Creating new forests and wetlands, rehabilitation of old mining sites, and wide reaching preservation of the biomes across the planet. More than this, we can also embark on the great Work of building a truly ecological and sustainable civilization.

Our cities and communities are spirits in their own right, the gods inhabit our cities if you prefer. They are also huge systems of matter and energy, human-created ecosystems. Cities especially really start to look a lot like living beings from an animistic perspective. Adaptation is part of evolution, and it is time for our cities to evolve. A big first step would be inviting non-humans back into our cities. Urban gardens, green roofs, urban agroforestry, and expansive green infrastructure in place of the gray of parking lots.

By producing more of what we need within our cities, as well as using natural solutions to clean air and water, we can reduce the impact of our own communities. Growing food within cities means less in fuel and pollution to import food. Growing materials such as wood, hemp, and bamboo, we have to produce and import less concrete and steel. By creating decentralized and localized systems of renewable energy, we can create more resilient cities in a less certain future. Wide scale grid failures would become a thing of the past with networks of decentralized and distributed community scale microgrids.

I could go on and on, but suffice to say there is a lot that can and should be done. Spirits are in our ecosystems and in our communities. Gods can be found in our cities and forests. Ancestors are within ourselves as well as part of the deep memory of the Earth. The Work that must be done includes everyone. A large part of that of that work is rebuilding relationships with each other, and rebuilding communities whether they are human, animal, or plant. In short, working with the spirits, deities, and ancestors, is the act of creating a sustainable planetary community for everyone.

Thanks for reading!


Happy Belated Earth Day!

This is a special Earth Day post in the ongoing Deepening Resilience project organized by Syren Nagakyrie.

“We can make the Anthropocene into a new era for both our civilization and the Earth. In the end, our story is not yet written. We stand at a crossroads, under the light of the stars, ready to join them or ready to fail. The choice will be our own.” – Light of the Stars – Adam Frank

Happy (Belated) Earth Day everyone!

For this post, I wanted to explore something that has been on my mind for some time. We live increasingly in uncertain times, with the climate crisis on our doorstep, and whether we succeed or fail as a species is in the balance. That to me, gives Earth Day a whole different kind of meaning. A kind of urgency, to do all we can to make the future at least a little bit better.

It brings with it a deeper kind of spirituality. For me, animism and ecology are the two sides of the same coin. There’s a reason I started this post with a quote from Carl Sagan. I tend to be more naturalistic in my animism, as I don’t like to default to ‘occult’, ‘supernatural’, or ‘paranormal’ explanations in my understanding of the world. How I understand spirits, spirituality, and my place in the whole is just that, natural. No “outside” gods or spirits needed.

But what exactly does that mean? For starters, I have defined my version of animism many times before. I use Graham Harvey’s definition; that animism is view that the world is full of persons (most of which are non-human), and life is lived in relation to others. Animism as I understand it is worldview, a way of relating and connecting to the world.

Compare this to the definition of ecology; ecology is the branch of biology which studies the interactions among organisms and their environment. Objects of study include interactions of organisms that include biotic and abiotic components of their environment. – Wikipedia

In broad strokes, both animism and ecology are talking about the same thing from different perspectives; our relationship to the environment and the world around us. This is the delicate dance of science and spirituality. Physics, astronomy, biology, art, writing, stories, civilization, the Earth… All of it becomes an experience of the spiritual.

“Thus, strange and trite as it may seem, the survival of civilisation itself could in part depend on a fusion of science with animism.” – Stephan Harding

It should come as no surprise then that Earth Day in particular holds a special place for me in the procession of the year. I think it should be nothing short of a Global Holiday. This year especially, as we get report after report of the pressing problems of climate change. Earth Day is a day about Earth-Centric spirituality; animism and ecology. It asks us to question our relationships with the world, and our place upon it.

At the end of the day, we are the Earth. As Carl Sagan was so apt to point out, we are all stardust. We are the current result of billions of years of the life and death of stars, of billions of years of biological evolution on a single Pale Blue dot in the outskirts of the Milky Way galaxy. We are all travelers on the only known Class 4* world, the only planet we know of that is home to life. We are all the children of the Earth and the land of waters of this world. That is true in the very real iron in our blood, the soil in our food, and the air in our lungs. We are the planet, and that makes the current crises all the bigger, and Earth Day all that more important.

To truly come into a cooperative coevolution with a biosphere, a technological civilization must make technology – the fruit of its collective mind – serve as a web of awareness for the flourishing of both itself and the planet as a whole.” – Adam Frank

This comes with important implications of our relationship to the natural world around us. We are not separate from the planet, nor is our civilization from us. We are an extension of nature, and all our creations are an extension of ourselves. Planet’s are the engines of turning starlight into something interesting, and that makes our planet one of a kind. We are the children of starlight, and we are the Earth building amazing and wonderful things for itself.

The science is settled, that the climate is rapidly changing and this is mostly entirely the fault of us, the consequences of our actions and our relationships to the Earth. This is at the heart of both ecology and animism, our relationship to the land, the spirits, and the world around us. It asks us to live responsibly in a way that is sustainable, not only for ourselves, but for all of nature and the Earth.

Sustainable Civilizations don’t “rise above” the biosphere, but must, in some way, enter into a long, cooperative relationship with their coupled planetary systems… “ – Adam Frank

The climate crises is all our unhealthy relationships with the planet coming back home to roost. We can no longer continue to burn fossil fuels, or continue to pursue economics that rely on growth for the sake of growth. That is not a healthy relationship, and it will be our downfall if we don’t correct the path we are on. We need to walk more softly, and be more aware of our actions and the consequences of our relationships. This is where animism and ecology both have lessons to teach. Indigenous people across the world form deep reciprocal relationships with their ecosystems, and those ecosystems build relationships with them too.

That is something that we lack in the West. For all our ‘progress’, for all of our science, we are broken and uprooted from our ancestral lands and cultures. In many ways, the world has moved on. Those cultures may not even exist anymore, and for those of you like me, ‘returning’ to ancestral cultures is not an option. Aside from financial limitations, and the time pressures of modern life, I no longer feel as I am ‘part’ of any of the cultures that I can claim ancestry to. I don’t speak the language, and I have never lived in the lands those cultures are rooted in. My ability to ever travel to them may well be a pipe dream.

Which means that animism and ecology ask me to engage where I am right now. In Michigan, in the lands of the Great Lakes. With the forest and wetlands ecologies around me, and those roots might start to form once more. I can start shaping new relationships, ones that live in mutually beneficial ways with my environment. Ways that help both my environment as well as myself to flourish. That work goes well beyond me, Earth Day, and even beyond my local ecosystems. This work is daily, weekly, yearly, season after season. This kind of work is a way of relating to and viewing the world, a lifetime of relationship tending. It includes me, the air, the water, plants, animals, humans, cities, civilizations, and eventually the Earth and the stars.

We as humans don’t get a pass, and neither do our civilizations. In a way, as an extension of ourselves, civilization is our process of bringing our intelligence to the planet, and the planet becoming ‘intelligent’ in the process. We need a plan, a blueprint for the next thousand years. Not only for ourselves, but for the planet too. Animism and ecology are at the heart of that too. Building relationships where all can not only survive, but flourish.

Our project of civilization must become a way for the planet to think, to decide, and to guide its own future. Thus, we must become the agent by which the Earth wakes up to itself….“ Adam Frank

The climate crises to me presents a unique opportunity, I think, to get our shit together as a species. To understand ourselves deeply as a part of the Earth, not as in anyway separate from it. The planet is us, and we are the Earth. The climate crises represents not only the consequences of our action, but also a sobering view of our own power. Humanity has reached a point where we have the power to shape and change a planet, and not always for the best. With that kind of power, comes a great responsibility. A responsibility for the survival and flourishing of the entire planet. We have grown as children of the Earth, but now we are starting to mature. As we come of age, the health of our planet is starting to fail.

Will we be responsible children, and care for an ailing parent? The answer to that question stands firmly in the intersection of science and spirituality. In the understanding that we are the result of billions of years of emergent physics and biology. Once we start to understand that the earth is our flesh and bone, the waters our blood and sweat, and the airs the breath in our lungs… Then we start to realize that our relationship with the Earth is in need of a desperate rethinking.

I am grateful for the new animism, because it counts for something. Its importance cannot be overstated. It is a beginning, even without the history and aboriginal connection to this land. It says the human is searching and with a need to be in touch with this land, or other lands of origins in a time when the world is so achingly distressed.” – Linda Hogan

Happy Earth Day!

 

Notes:

* Class 4 is a category created by Adam Frank. Earth is the only known class 4 planet, which is basically a planet with a robust biosphere. Technically in Frank’s classification, the Earth is between a Class 4 and a Class 5 planet, which is a robust biosphere with a growing planetary civilization and intelligent species. That is, you and me.

Light of the Stars, by Adam Frank. 2018.

Harding, Stephan http://wildethics.org/essay/towards-an-animistic-science-of-the-earth/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecology

Hogan, Linda; quoted from her article in the The Handbook of Contemporary Animism edited by Graham Harvey


Grieving the World to Come (Week 5)

(All I got are quotes this time…)

This is another post in the ongoing Deepening Resilience project I have been taking part in. Every two weeks, we are given a new writing prompt that focus on climate change and community resilience in the wake of a rapidly changing planet. This week, I am exploring this question;

How do you experience ecological grief? How can communities respond to environmental trauma?

As I said in my week 3 post, it would be a drastic understatement to say I have a lot of complex emotions when it comes to facing climate change. Sadness, grief, anger, more anger, depression, and a whole host of others across the human spectrum of emotions.

It’s hard to state cleanly how much climate change is already changing our world. The last year alone brought a whole plethora of wild fires, hurricanes, flooding, cold snaps, and on and on… Yes, we can admit that these are common annual natural disasters, but it is the scale of these disasters that is accelerating. They are getting more powerful, more devastating, and more destructive. That has real impacts for not only human communities, but non-human ones as well. Especially those that are not adapted or use to these kinds of disasters.

The truth is, the temperature is still rising, and so are the sea levels. A whole lot of cities are at risk, and are already working to mitigate what they can. But it doesn’t change the fact that it might not be enough, and that millions of people could become climate refugees…. It scares me as much as it makes me grieve. Entire cities; people and ecosystems are at risk here.

To put this into perspective, because of Cyclone Idai, the city of Dondo has been called “The First City Completely Devastated by Climate Change”;

The city of Dondo, about 30 kilometres from Beira, central Mozambique, didn’t escape the strong winds of Cyclone Idai. It is estimated that more than 17,000 families were displaced and more than a dozen schools were destroyed in the city.”

17,000 families, and the natural environment around them. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s also important to keep in mind that this is a clear sign of what is to come. It may be the “first” city, but it likely won’t be the last. We are already seeing record flooding in the Midwest, which is predicted to get worst by reports such as the IPCC and the National Climate Assessment.

It is hard for me to put into words the kind of grief that makes me feel. It’s sad, it’s devastating… It’s the all encompassing feeling of despair and hopelessness when faced with something like the climate crisis. It’s large, global, and complex beyond our abilities to comprehend that kind of immensity. It makes me feel a powerlessness that borders on paralyzing sometimes. Is there anything that can be done when facing such a force?

While wildly misinterpreted, there has been a huge loss of animals, and insects and… and… and. The list goes on, and there is no lack of bad news. It’s too much sometimes, at least for me. The scale, and the real risk of watching social systems and ecosystems break down and collapse in real time… That’s a kind of both existential dread, and of existential grief. Crippling, debilitating grief.

But, perhaps that kind of grief is useful. The anger, the despair, the desperation… That can come with drive. A drive to change, and impetus to action. In the words of Greta Thunberg;

We have to understand the emergency of the situation. Our leadership has failed us. Young people must hold older generations accountable for the mess they have created. We need to get angry, and transform that anger into action.”

I think that idea can be applied to grief as well. We need to grieve, and from there move into action. That leads into the second question for this week. The trauma is not something that is “coming”, it is already here. People are already being displaced, cities and lands are already underwater. We are teetering at the top of an existential precipice, a place where all our actions matter. Shall we fail, and face extinction of ourselves and our environments; or will we rise to meet the challenge of our times. Of our lives, of our existence?

That is part of grief, and many other emotions. Anger, despair, grief…. All of these have within them an impetus, an unspoken power. It is not healthy to avoid these emotions, no, and we have to face them head on. We have to cope, and I know I have my own ways. I write, I walk outside, I play games that let me imagine possible futures. But we can’t lay down, we cannot give up.

We can grieve, and we should. We should cry, and wail, and channel all our grief and anger into songs and poems. We should express that, and let that raw emotion overflow. And then, direct that towards the changes that need to happen.

It is not enough, to be overwhelmed by grief. It is insufficient that we should pull the covers over our head (or stick it in the sand), and wait for the world to end. Now is the time for loud anger, and for louder grief. The unmistakable voice of the displaced, the refugees, and the dead. The world is in crisis, and that grieving should be heard to all corners of the planet.

That we hear the grief of the planet, and that we share in that grief. That we suffer as the planet suffers, and that is an ecological truth. If the world overheats, if the extinctions continue, if our ecosystems collapse… Humanity will not be far behind. All of our cities and technology, all of our achievements over 6+ million years of our species will not matter at all. We will follow the same fate as the dinosaurs, but not at the hands of some cosmic asteroid. It will be by our own hands, our actions that have brought us to this point, and those that follow from here.

So how can our communities face the coming crisis and the traumas that will come? Certainly, there are people that understand that work a heck of lot better than I do. Trauma resilience is something I know only a little about, and there are those far more versed in those issues.

But I can offer a few suggestions from what I do know. Mitigation is the first; doing every thing we can to lessen the impacts of the climate crisis, and that includes emotional/traumatic impacts. That might be reducing emissions, or building seas walls, creating rebust community ritual or mental health… Or countless other valuable works. Any mitigation effort is worth it, because in the long run mitigation is about harm reduction. We can do work today that will lessen loss, grief, and trauma in the long run. Prevention I think is a viable strategy.

Adaptation is the next. We must be forthcoming in the fact that we cannot avert everything the climate crisis threatens. This is a long process, and in some cases in may already be too late. For those situations, adaption is the key. It has been the key of survival of our species in the past, and all all species on the Earth to date. Those that could not adapt to changing conditions went extinct. I do not desire that fate, and believe firmly that we are one of the most adaptable species on the planet. We have a whole host of methods, technologies, and techniques at our disposal. Some of these are deeply rooted in ecosystems regeneration and restoration. Again, adaption is the acknowledgment that we cannot fix everything, but we can reduce the impact. It is another method of harm and trauma reduction.

That, I think, gets at the heart of what I am trying to say. Grief is going to be a fact that comes with the climate crisis. We shouldn’t, and probably can’t, avoid that. It is healthy to grieve loss, and some measure of loss is certainly on the horizon. We will have to learn to cope with that, not just as individuals, but as communities, as a planet. There is immense amounts of work to be done there, and we need that now.

Thank you for reading!


Space Engineers

This looks like a good place for adventure. (Me, playing Space Engineers)

Hello again everyone!

This is kind of a ‘just for fun” post, but something I think is important to talk about all the same. It should come as no surprise to anyone here that aside from being a fiction writer, I’m also a gamer. I like games, and I make no apologies for that. Oregon Trail, Super Mario Brothers, SimCity, Minecraft… All of it. I have been gaming for a long time (and this includes tabletop). Games aren’t real life, but it has always struck me how informative games can be when it comes to thinking about real life. There are important lessons to be learned from games.

Games are designed to simulate some aspects of real life, and so can help us think about all sorts of issues. I really like sandbox, exploration, and building games; so games like Starmade, Minecraft, and Simcity have a lot to teach us about building, crafting, and even urban design and energy policy. It’s the last I really want to focus on today, through the lens of a game called Space Engineers.

I really enjoy Space Engineers, because it is a game built around creativity and exploration, using technology inspired by the real world, in a near future scenario. We see a lot of energy technology that we have at our disposal right now, such as wind turbines, solar panels, hydrogen engines, and even nuclear reactors. There are no fossil fuels in the game, so it is a really useful lens for thinking about energy policy, and the current state of our energy systems.

Michigan

As games and fiction are can be useful for imaging the future, I want to take you on a bit of thought experiment today. We are going to use my home state of Michigan as an example, with Space Engineers as a lens on our energy policy. So here is our current energy mix for electricity generation;

(From here and here.)

Alright, so we can from the chart above that Michigan has four main electrical power sources; coal, nuclear, natural gas, and renewable energy (wind, solar, and hydro; primarily.) By contrast, Space Engineers uses all clean sources (though not necessarily renewable) sources of power as I have already pointed out. So can we use Space Engineers to rebuild Michigan’s energy system? Release the army of engineers!

They took the scenic route in their solar/hydrogen powered vehicle.

According to the recent IPCC report, we have to drastically reduce our usage of fossil fuels, and they need to be zero by about 2050 if we are going to have any chance to mitigate climate change. So on the above pie chart, that means that coal and natural gas have to go, so we will start there.

Coal & Natural Gas

Coal and natural gas in Michigan make up about 63% of our total electrical energy supply. As such, well over half our energy system comes from fossil fuels, and would have to be phased out by 2050. Coal is definitely the worst of the two offenders, as natural gas is slightly ‘cleaner’, but in the long run it should go too.

Starting with coal then, and utilizing our full army of Space Engineers, we have to replace 37% of our energy sources. The most obvious sources (leaving nuclear aside for now) are renewable energy, especially wind and solar. Michigan has tremendous wind and solar resources, so our limited factor is energy storage more than production capacity. However, with increasing efficient battery technology, and local Michigan pumped hydro storage, our engineers have no problem replacing coal with renewable energy by 2050.

Which brings our renewable energy percentage up to 45%. Drawdown lists on-shore wind, solar farms, and rooftop solar in the top ten solutions to combat climate change. I don’t see 45% as an unreasonable number, as it may be technically possible to run Michigan on 100% renewables.

Unleash the wind and solar! (Yes, I’m flying. Big whoop.)

The next kicker in our energy mix is natural gas. Like coal, natural gas energy is a form of combustion. Basically, burning a fuel to turn a turbine, which creates electrical energy. There are a lot of variations and methods of this, so I’m not going to go into the technical details all that much. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel, produced primarily from oil wells. And while it is ‘cleaner’ than coal, it still produces quite a bit of carbon. Methane is it’s chief component, which is carbon with four hydrogen atoms. So how do we get natural gas out of the mix?

Well, our engineers are good at what they do, so we could just expand more renewables and bring our mix up to 71% renewable. That is possible too, and again the IPCC report says 70-80% renewable energy is about where we’d need to be. So that is one option. We will call that scenario one.

But our Space Engineers also give us another option. One of the big sources of energy in the game is hydrogen; which is used for everything from jetpacks, to rocket engines, to hydrogen engines. So this gives us another option, the hydrogen economy. By using clean renewable energy (as opposed to current techniques), for electrolysis, we could produce abundant amounts of hydrogen from water. If we built up the infrastructure for safe transport and storage of hydrogen gas  (which is quite volatile), we could use hydrogen in everything from transportation to gas turbines. In short, it may be pretty easy to convert natural gas power plants to use hydrogen. If we use pure oxygen in addition to the hydrogen, the only waste would be water vapor. So 26% of our energy could also come from hydrogen plants. We will call that scenario two.

Now this is only a hypothetical situation, as there are several aspects of hydrogen and renewable energy that aren’t quite there yet. The only way to make hydrogen viable would be clean, renewable primary energy. That isn’t the case, as we still are mostly using coal and natural gas. Also, the infrastructure isn’t in place yet, though it is growing.

Nuclear

Moving on, the next big energy source in Space Engineers are nuclear reactors. I have used these in the game for a lot of different applications, from factory power to starship reactors. There are some things in the game that require quite a bit of power, and nuclear works nicely for this. In addition, in the real world Michigan gets 30% of it’s energy from nuclear power plants. We have three plants in total.

Drawdown ranks nuclear as #20 on it’s list. This power source has the potential to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, but it comes with a whole bunch of risks and drawbacks. Drawdown lists nuclear as a regrets solution, and has this to say on the topic;

“At Project Drawdown, we consider nuclear a regrets solution. It has potential to avoid emissions, but there are many reasons for concern: deadly meltdowns, tritium releases, abandoned uranium mines, mine-tailings pollution, radioactive waste, illicit plutonium trafficking, and thefts of missile material, among them.”

However, Drawdown goes to say that plausibly; “we assume its share of global electricity generation will grow to 13.6 percent by 2030, but slowly decline to 12 percent by 2050. ” It is important to note that this is global generation, and regional generation can vary a bit. For example, right now global energy production from nuclear is about 11%, whereas Michigan’s percentage is 29%.

With nuclear being both and option in the game, and in real life Michigan, I am going to assume our engineers use the resources we have, and upgrade them to newer, safer reactors. Maybe they even deploy some of those generation IV reactors we hear so much about? (Most reactors in existence are second generation, built in the 70-80’s)

The Scenarios 

Alright, so our army of engineers have scoured the state of Michigan, and made huge improvements and refinements to our energy system. They also changed out our transportation system, which works mostly now on electricity and/or hydrogen. So where does all this leave us in our game inspired fantasy? With two unique scenarios for a possible sustainable energy future.

Scenario 1: 29% nuclear, 71% renewable.

Scenario 2: 29% nuclear, 45% renewable, 26% hydrogen

I like scenario 1 a little better, because it makes a few less assumptions and relies more on technology we know to work today. The hydrogen economy is a little more of a stretch, because there are a lot of technical details and infrastructure that just doesn’t exist right now. But this imagined scenario is 2050, so our wonderful engineers may have worked that out. It is also technically possible, that the grant us a third scenario that eliminates the nuclear.

Scenario 3: 100% renewable energy, or 100% hydrogen/renewable.

Could the last be possible? I think so, and our engineers are a brilliant sort. It would be the ideal scenario for sure, but engineers are also very pragmatic. That leaves nuclear an open question.

Even though Space Engineers is a game, again, I think it is a great tool to help us think about the future. A future where space travel is real, and our civilization is sustainable. So I leave you with this thought and image. A ship powered by hydrogen and electric thrusters, with energy supplied by a mix of solar, hydrogen and nuclear.

It’s my ship, and thanks for reading!


Random Book Recommendations!

Hello again folks!

I just wanted to drop by quickly and say a few words. First of all, thank you all for reading this blog. There have been an above average number of reads this year, and I am really grateful for that. Thank you for sharing this journey with me,

That said, I keep seeing the above meme circulating around social media. It frames our existence in terms of four pretty well known dystopian novels. I think this speaks deeply to the times we live in, but also speaks to the power that narratives have in our lives. That we can see our own troublesome reality in rather depressing stories says a lot. It means we are living in times of fear, and that we need to be on guard for things like authoritarian governments, misinformation, and the erosion of women’s rights, and the separation of church and state.

Yet, it also speaks volumes to the power of narratives to shape our outlook on the world. Consider Christianity and the Bible, a book that has undeniably shaped the West and our history in the US. There has been no shortage of dystopian stories, and this is a product of living in uncertain times.

However, it also shapes our perspective on the present as well as the future. Narratives are inspired by our experiences, and they simultaneously shape those experiences. What I am trying to say is, we need to be careful that a grim present doesn’t limit us to a grim future. Just because we can see ourselves reflected in the four stories in the meme above… Well, this should not be the measure by which we shape the future. We have other options, and so I give a short list of some great books that have a little more positive view, even if they are far from perfect.

Fiction

The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson

What can I say about this one that I haven’t said already? This is a great series that involves the terraforming of Mars, and all the scientific, cultural, religious, and political aspects that go along with that. It had a huge impact on me and helped shaped by views of democratic socialism, science, and where we are going as a species.

New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson

It should go without saying that I am huge Kim Stanley Robinson fan, and this book has been one of my favorites. New York 2140 is a great story about the city of New York in the aftermath of rising seas. Yet, life goes on, and the people start to come up with new ways of living in a drowned city. If you want a great fictional introduction about climate change, capitalism, and what a post-capitalist society might look like… This book is for you.

Gardens and Glass – Solarpunk Summers, edited by Sarena Ulibari

I’m an unashamed solarpunk, and this is a great introduction to the genre! Inside are all kinds of short stories that show what a world changed by climate change might look like. But instead of grim and dull, these stories are bright, scientific, and full of promise. Yes, the climate crisis is real, but another world is still possible. That world may just be in these pages.

Non-Fiction

Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken

There is a lot we can do to mitigate the worst of the climate crisis, and the best of those solutions are within this book. From solar farms, to wind turbines, to the rights of women and indigenous peoples; those solutions are ranked within Drawdown. It’s a great starting place for what we all can do right now, with the technology and methods we have available to us.

Physics of the Future, by Michio Kaku

I love this book for a lot of reasons, even if I don’t fully agree with every point. (And this is true no matter the book.) That said, this book is a great overview of the science and technology that will be available to us in the near future, and paints a fairly progressive and optimistic view of what that could look like. It’s a great compliment to the other books already on this list.

Light of the Stars, by Adam Frank

Last, but definitely not least, this has been one of my favorite recent reads. In a way, this book is a love letter to Carl Sagan. But more than that, it highlights all the scientific knowledge that informs how we might face climate change as a planet and as a civilization. It lays out what we learned from other planets about climate, ideas like the Gaia Hypothesis, and Drake’s Equation. It’s a wide ranging book, and very enlightening to where we stand now as a species, as a planet, and what our future might be. And no, not all hope is lost.

We still have numerous possible futures open to us, even though the present is full of troubles. But we can let present troubles define our possible futures. That is still up to us.

Thanks for reading!


Random Roundup 2/8/19

(A hand picked random meme from Facebook for this roundup)

Hello again folks!

I am busy working around on a few different projects, so I wasn’t able to get anything of length ready for publication just yet. So today, I am bringing you another roundup of ideas and news that I think are good ones.

First, something local (for me);

“Consumers Energy says it plans to dramatically increase its reliance on solar energy in the next few decades.

Battery storage can save some of the energy that solar panels produce during the day, so it can be used at night.”

It’s no secret that I’m a big proponent of solar energy, and so it warms my heart to see more and more local projects being installed. I think we need to ambitiously address the problems of the climate crisis, and solar panels are energy storage are a good start.

Second, something that is a great step in the right direction;

“The plan to eliminate coal-burning plants as well as nuclear means that Germany will be counting on renewable energy to provide 65% to 80% of the country’s power by 2040. Last year, renewables overtook coal as the leading source and now account for 41% of the country’s electricity.”

Germany is commiting itself to ambitious goals to combat the climate crisis. The 2018 IPCC report is very clear that we need to drastically reduce emissions and fossil fuel use in the next twelve years, and we are in need of models to show how that change could happen. Germany is offering one such model, and I think the world would be wise to pay attention.

Last, the Green New Deal;

“In very broad strokes, the Green New Deal legislation laid out by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey sets goals for some drastic measures to cut carbon emissions across the economy, from electricity generation to transportation to agriculture. In the process, it aims to create jobs and boost the economy.

In that vein, the proposal stresses that it aims to meet its ambitious goals while paying special attention to groups like the poor, disabled and minority communities that might be disproportionately affected by massive economic transitions like those the Green New Deal calls for.”

The IPCC 2018 report and others are very clear about the need to mobilize on a massive scale if we are to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis. Local and regional governments can certainly take up that charge, but frankly, we need all the resources we can get. I for one would love to see the United States step up to the plate here, and I think a form of the Green New Deal is a great start to figuring out what that looks like.

I hope to have more stuff for you in the next week or so.

Thanks for reading!