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Charlie's Diary by Charlie Stross - 5d ago

Here's the shape of a 21st century I don't want to see. Unfortunately it looks like it's the one we're going to get, unless we're very lucky.

Shorter version is: there will be much dying: even more so than during the worst conflicts of the 20th century. But rather than conventional wars ("nation vs nation") it'll be "us vs them", where "us" and "them" will be defined by whichever dehumanized enemy your network filter bubble points you at—Orwell was ahead of the game with the Two Minute Hate, something with which all of us who use social media are now uncomfortably, intimately, familiar.

People will be die in large numbers, but it will happen out of sight. It'll be "soft genocide" or "malign neglect", and the victims will be the climate change refugees who are kept out of sight by virtual walls. On land there may be fences and minefields and debatable ground dominated by gangs, and at sea there may be drone-patrolled waters where refugees can be encouraged to sink and drown out of sight of the denizens of their destination countries. This much we already see. But the exterminatory policies will continue at home in the destination zones as well, and that's the new innovation that is gradually coming online. There will be no death camps in this shiny new extermination system. Rather, death by starvation and exposure will be inflicted by the operation of deliberately broken social security systems (see also universal credit), deportation of anyone who can be portrayed as an un-citizen (the Windrush scandal is an early prototype of this mechanism), and removal of the right to use money (via electronic fund transfers, once cash is phased out) from those deemed undesirable by an extrapolation of today's Hostile Environment Policy and its equivalents.

You don't need to build concentration camps with barbed wire fences and guards if you can turn your entire society into a machine-mediated panopticon with automated penalties for non-compliance.

The Nazis had to leave their offices in order to round people up and brutalize or murder them. They had to travel to the Wannsee Conference to hammer out how to implement Generalplan Ost. Tomorrow's genocides will be decentralized and algorithmically tweaked, quite possibly executed without human intervention.

Why?

The people who buy into the idea of eugenics and racial supremacy—the alt-right and their fellow travellers—will sooner or later have to come to terms with the inevitability of anthropogenic climate change. Right now climate denialism is a touchstone of the American right, but the evidence is almost impossible to argue against right now and it's increasingly obvious that many of the people who espouse disbelief are faking it—virtue signalling on the hard right. Sooner or later they'll flip. When they do so, they will inevitably come to the sincere, deeply held belief that culling the bottom 50% to 90% of the planetary population will give them a shot at survival in the post-greenhouse world. (That's the "bottom 50-90%" as defined by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.) They'll justify their cull using the values we're seeing field-tested today racism, religious and anti-religious bigotry, nationalism, sexism, xenophobia, white supremacism. These are values with tested, proven appeal to [petty authoritarians](https://theauthoritarians.org who feel that their way of life is under threat.

Of course there will, as time goes on, be fewer and fewer members of the murdering class, as climate insecurity causes periodic crop collapses, automation reduces the need for human labour is required to keep things running, and capital accumulation outstrips labour value accumulmation (leading to increased wealth concentration and societal stratification and rigidity).

Who are the murderers? I'll give you a clue: they're the current ruling class and their descendants. A while ago Bruce Sterling described the 21st century as "old people, living in cities, who are afraid of the sky". I'm calling it "wealthy white people, living in cities, who are afraid of the rising seas (and the refugees they'll bring)".

As for what this soft genocide will look, right here at home in Brexitland ...

Forget barbed wire, concentration camps, gas chambers and gallows, and Hugo Boss uniforms. That's the 20th century pattern of centralized, industrialized genocide. In the 21st century deep-learning mediated AI era, we have the tools to inflict agile, decentralized genocide as a cloud service on our victims.

Think in terms of old age homes where robots curate the isolated elderlies (no low-paid immigrant workers needed) and fail to identify their terminal medical conditions until they're too advanced to treat. People fed by vertical farms where solar/battery powered robots attend to the individual plants (thank you,

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Charlie's Diary by Charlie Stross - 1w ago

Some of you might be aware of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) that comes into force throughout the EU on May 25th. (For a broader lay person's introduction, see this essay by Jacques Mattheij.)

Here's what you need to know about this website and GDPR:

  • This may look like a personal blog, and as such you might think it's exempt from GDPR (Article 2 states that the regulation doesn't apply to processing of personal data "by a natural person in the course of a purely personal or household activity"). However, this blog is an adjunct to my business (writing novels) and is used for marketing purposes from time to time (carrying marketing information about my books, and links to third parties selling them). Prudence dictates that I should comply with the requirements of the GDPR—not to mention ethics: GDPR is about protecting individuals' privacy, and I'm all in favour of that.

  • I do business on such a small scale that, essentially, I'm responsible for everything on this website. (I sometimes pay other folks consultancy fees to do design or technical maintenance tasks I'm not competent to do myself.) Thus, all the corporate roles and responsibilities outlined in GDPR (such as the Data Protection Officer) devolve to me.

  • This website retains blog entries and blog comments. By posting an entry on this blog, or by commenting on an entry, you are implicitly agreeing to let me republish your material around the world. (This is mentioned in the moderation policy which you were advised to read before commenting, and I make it clear to the invited guest bloggers in their intro email.)

  • This website runs on top of a software stack using the Apache web server. Yes, Apache saves logfiles. These are only digested for statistical analysis of overall traffic. It also uses cookies to maintain your login session if you create a username and password so that you can comment (or post blog entries). Stuff it knows about you includes the IP address your browser request came from, the page requested, the referrer page (if any), and your browser identification string (if any). If this worries you, you're welcome to use a VPN and obfuscate or anonymize any or all of these things: you won't be blocked (although it may make posting comments problematic if you block cookies and/or javascript).

  • This website does not attempt to track you, does not knowingly feed your personally identifiable information to any other business or advertising affiliate or network—I don't even use Google Analytics—and I don't intend to start collecting or processing personal identifiable information.

  • This website may leak information about your session to third parties if you allow it to load content in the sidebar from Zazzle.co.uk (hint: the merchandise links), and if you view it with image loading enabled (I sometimes post image links that direct to websites I don't control).

  • Many years ago I ran a mailing list; this is now discontinued/deleted. More recently I set up a Google Group (antipope-storm-shelter or some such), so long ago I've lost track of it. That is covered by Google's GDPR compliance policy. If I ever decide to relaunch my author mailing list, I will do so by outsourcing operations to a third party organization that is GDPR compliant, and I will only ever operate a mailing list on a strict opt-in basis: I will never harvest your email address from your blog login for my own, or a third party's, mailing list.

  • If you want to exercise your right to be forgotten, or have personal information removed from this site, Contact me via this link if you don't already have my email address, or DM me on Twitter (@cstross). I do not use Facebook: requests made via Facebook will probably be missed. Note that I am not a corporation with a dedicated IT support staff and I spend 4-10 weeks of each year traveling, frequently without a laptop. If you don't get a reply within a week, email me again—I probably didn't get your request or I was swamped by other stuff.

  • Once I receive a GDPR request I will comply with it promptly, but bear in mind I'm a human being with a day job, and this blog is a peripheral pursuit. If your requests become an irritant (e.g. if you request multiple fiddly comment deletions or edits across multiple threads) I may just erase all your content and ban you from the blog in future. (GDPR gives you a right to be forgotten; it does not impose an obligation to be remembered.)

Any questions? Ask below. Use this link for GDPR requests

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Charlie's Diary by Frank Landis - 2w ago

Nope, Charlie's not done, it's just me again.

Yes, I wish Cthulhu Counterfactual was the title of the book I was publishing, but alas. Charlie's tied up in a D=3.76931323 fractal dimensional knot that he needs to solve in order to bring his trilogy to a satisfying conclusion, and I decided to fill in the silence with some silliness.

So...Anyone interested in playing a game of Cthulhu Counterfactual?

It's simple, playing what-if with a question that subverts the Mythos in some way.

Here are some scenarios:

A. You've met a time traveler who's taken over the brain of a friend. This being, while being really smart, is definitely fascist, if not a full-blown Nazi.[1] Do you cooperate with this being, avoid it, turn it in to the authorities, keep it off social media...? Moreover, its understanding of time makes it seem like history is pre-determined and free will is an illusion. Why even be fascist in this context? Wouldn't it be simpler to be a hardworking anarchist whose main goal is to know what to do next? Governments are only necessary if the future is unknown, right? But if everyone knows what will happen and what needs doing, what's the purpose of government? Do you try to change its mind about being a member of, well, Ultima Thule (or is that Thule Ultima?)? What do you do?

2. It's the 1920s, and anarchists are Public Enemy #1. They shot McKinley, started WWI, and so forth. Heck, J Edgar Hoover just started the FBI to hunt them down.

In some desolate wilderness near your home, you run into a being that offers to let you, or perhaps your species, whichever, join an intergalactic civilization. This being the 1920s, you're not even sure what "intergalactic" means, but that's not the squicky part (no, you don't know what squicky means, either. Sorry). Anyway, there are two problems. First, this, erm, civilization, as this entity describes it to you, sounds a lot like total anarchy, right down to intelligent "ships" with names like Pulsating Orifice of Tentacles Humorously Deployed. Worse, the being trying to recruit you looks a bit like an overgrown, moldy crab, and it gives you a long, convoluted explanation about something called "uploading" that sounds like it wants to stuff your brain in a jar and run off with it.

What do you do? Do you go off and become an intergalactic anarchist? Why not? Would you get other people involved? Would you do it because you think it will help avoid getting your brain canned? Would you keep it quiet from the G-Men, or would you tell them right off?

III. Would you being willing to mutate into a fishlike marine being if it meant you could live forever? What about taking such a being as a spouse if it meant that your kids would live forever, albeit you couldn't visit them at home when you got old?

xxxx. What should a god-fearing, star-hopping species worship as a creator, to be scientifically accurate? Black holes at the center of galaxies? Water? Entropy and dissipative structures? The quantum observer? Knowledge that has to be coded for mental transmission because books are too heavy to carry when you're flapping between the stars? Explain your answer (extra points for responding in verse or filksong).

5e. It's the 1920s, and you're not a member of the dominant, colonialist race or gender. You get offered a position in a secretive group that says that soon, you'll get to experience new ways of killing and dying. Sounds gross, but your would-be recruited explains that death won't be permanent, for you or anyone else. You get to die multiple times and come back each time, and you'll have what they call a "restore" point of memories that you'll come back to, so it's much more convenient than the reincarnation of Eastern Religions. Are you in, or not? Do you keep it a secret, or try to get your friends to join? What details do you need to know before you'll want to join this particular cult?

Feel free to tackle any or all of these, or make up your own.


Note [1](from The Shadow Out Of Time): "The Great Race seemed to form a single loosely knit nation or league, with major institutions in common, though there were four definite divisions. The political and economic system of each unit was a sort of fascistic socialism, with major resources rationally distributed, and power delegated to a small governing board elected by the votes of all able to pass certain educational and psychological tests. Family organisation was not overstressed, though ties among persons of common descent were recognised, and the young were generally reared by their parents."

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Charlie's Diary by Charlie Stross - 3w ago

Stop me if you've heard this before:

Hobby Lobby, the American arts and crafts stores owned by anti-contraception Christian fundamentalists the Green family (who most famously sued for exemption from the Affordable Care Act because it required them to provide health insurance covering contraception for female as well as male employees) have been at it again.

The Museum of the Bible in Washington DC opened in November 2017; claiming to have one of the largest collections of biblical artefacts and texts in the world, it's primarily funded by donations from the Green family (owners of Hobby Lobby) and the National Christian Foundation. (You can take a biblical literalist view of history—young earth creationism—as a given.)

It now appears that a large number of artifacts in the museum, donated by Hobby Lobby, were smuggled out of Iraq via the UAE, as part of the extensive archaeological looting of historic sites that took place in the wake of the Iraq invasion. (Hobby Lobby was forced to relinquish 5,500 artifacts for repatriation to the Iraq Museum, and paid a $3M settlement.)

Anyway, the latest update: hundreds of the looted 4000-year-old cuneiform tablets in the Hobby Lobby collection appear to come from the lost Sumerian city of Irisagrig: they've been identified as legal and administrative texts between 3600 and 4100 years old, although a few contain religious/magical incantations.

So: dubious Protestant fundamentalist cultists, 4000 year old lost cities, looted archaeological sites, magic spells ... does this remind you of anything?

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Charlie's Diary by Charlie Stross - 1M ago

So, we upgraded the OS on the server that hosts this blog. Then discovered that Movable Type, the blogging system we use, is ... problematic ... with secure HTTP. (There's a fix, but it imposes a performance penalty.)

This coincided with (a) the UK eastercon and (b) the copy edits for "The Labyrinth Index" (which are now done and it's on course for publication on October 30th), but explains why I've been silent for the past week-and-a-half. The silence is going to be ongoing for a while longer, too: I'm about to head off to Fiuggi in Italy for Deepcon 19, where I am guest of honour, and I won't have much time for blogging until I get home in the last week of the month.

Also, reality is leaving me in the dust when it comes to making up surreal news headlines: Hackers in Finland acquired data from a North American casino by using an Internet-connected fish tank. With news like that, what's an author to do? (Part 942, contd ...)

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Charlie's Diary by Charlie Stross - 1M ago

Sorry about the long silence.

The server this blog runs on has been updated to a new OS, and it now supports secure HTTP. However, it's not a 100% smooth transition (mixing https: and http: content on a single page is a no-no, as you'll see if you look at https://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/). I have a whole bunch more tweaking to do before we're up and running again, and before I can do that, I want to run a backup script so that in event of a terminal whoopsie I can roll the blog back to a safe state. Unfortunately the backup script is horribly slow and last time it crapped out after about 36 hours ... possibly because it was never designed with a web community with about a quarter of a million comments in mind. (Yes, I've got a database snapshot: it took about two minutes. That's why I'm sure the backup script is badly written. But relying on an external tool to backup a complex CMS is asking for trouble and I don't have time to try and rewrite the Movable Type backup system, which is supported across multiple DBMSs.)

Anyway, I'm going dark again for a couple of days while I take care of the backup and move on to the next phase, upgrading the blogging software itself and making sure everything's neatly tied together.

Once it's done I will probably be cutting across to https-only access for the blog, with a redirect from http on the main pages. The 0.1% of you who have non-SSL web browsers and who want to continue reading the blog, you might want to think about your life choices.

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Charlie's Diary by Charlie Stross - 1M ago

Hi there. Sorry for the hiatus on blogging; I'm just back from the Eastercon, and managed to forget to schedule an April Fool update while I was gone.

The bad news is, the hiatus is going to continue for a bit longer—and I'm switching off comments, too! The good news is, this is so that I can do a long-overdue operating system upgrade and blogging system upgrade, and add support for secure HTTP (so that google doesn't start flagging my wholly non-commercial blog as an insecure ecommerce site and downrank it in search). There may be other new features, too, when service is resumed: I particularly want to see if I can make the blog more tablet- and smartphone-friendly (while not compromising on the desktop experience).

There will be a couple of regressions, however: notably, the secure web server support will not include Internet Explorer 10 and previous releases (yep, Windows XP is officially end-of-life at this point). There may be other issues with support for older/obsolescent standards too, although I'll try to keep the system accessible to users with browsers less than a decade old.

Schedule: as of now, I'm switching off comments so that I can take a complete and consistent backup of the database and download it to my NAS, so that if everything goes pear-shaped I've got the wherewithal to rebuild everything. With close to a quarter of a million blog entries and comments, running on an ancient machine, this takes some time. (Yes, I run periodic backups. But new comments are coming in all the time, so they're incomplete.)

Once the backup is done, downloaded, and verified, my highly experienced sysadmin will do a long-overdue security audit and operating system upgrade, we'll create certificates for SSL and set up secure HTTP servers, mess with the DNS settings for antipope.org to support them, and switch things back on. Then I will do a long-overdue blogging software upgrade (skipping the technology forward about five years) and make sure everything works.

We should be back up by this time next week (hopefully a few days earlier).

See you on the other side!

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Charlie's Diary by Charlie Stross - 2M ago

So it finally happened: a self-driving car struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. And, of course, the car was an Uber.

(Why Uber? Well, Uber is a taxi firm. Lots of urban and suburban short journeys through neighbourhoods where fares cluster. In contrast, once you set aside the hype, Tesla's autopilot is mostly an enhanced version of the existing enhanced cruise control systems that Volvo, BMW, and Mercedes have been playing with for years: lane tracking on highways, adaptive cruise control ... in other words, features used on longer, faster journeys, which are typically driven on roads such as motorways that don't have mixed traffic types.)

There's going to be a legal case, of course, and the insurance corporations will be taking a keen interest because it'll set a precedent and case law is big in the US. Who's at fault: the pedestrian, the supervising human driver behind the steering wheel who didn't stop the car in time, or the software developers? (I will just quote from CNN Tech here: "the car was going approximately 40 mph in a 35 mph zone, according to Tempe Police Detective Lily Duran.")

This case, while tragic, isn't really that interesting. I mean, it's Uber, for Cthulhu's sake (corporate motto: "move fast and break things"). That's going to go down real good in front of a jury. Moreover ... the maximum penalty for vehicular homicide in Arizona is a mere three years in jail, which would be laughable if it wasn't so enraging. (Rob a bank and shoot a guard: get the death penalty. Run the guard over while they're off-shift: max three years.) However, because the culprit in this case is a corporation, the worst outcome they will experience is a fine. The soi-disant "engineers" responsible for the autopilot software experience no direct consequences of moral hazard.

But there are ramifications.

Firstly, it's apparent that the current legal framework privileges corporations over individuals with respect to moral hazard. So I'm going to stick my neck out and predict that there's going to be a lot of lobbying money spent to ensure that this situation continues ... and that in the radiant Randian libertarian future, all self-driving cars will be owned by limited liability shell companies. Their "owners" will merely lease their services, and thus evade liability for any crash when they're not directly operating the controls. Indeed, the cars will probably sue any puny meatsack who has the temerity to vandalize their paint job with a gout of arterial blood, or traumatize their customers by screaming and crunching under their wheels.

Secondly, sooner or later there will be a real test case on the limits of machine competence. I expect to see a question like this show up in an exam for law students in a decade or so:

A child below the age of criminal responsibility plays chicken with a self-driving taxi, is struck, and is injured or killed. Within the jurisdiction of the accident (see below) pedestrians have absolute priority (there is no offense of jaywalking), but it is an offense to obstruct traffic deliberately.

The taxi is owned by a holding company. The right to operate the vehicle, and the taxi license (or medalion, in US usage) are leased by the driver.

The driver is doing badly (predatory pricing competition by the likes of Uber is to blame for this) and is unable to pay for certain advanced features, such as a "gold package" that improves the accuracy of pedestrian/obstacle detection from 90% to 99.9%. Two months ago, because they'd never hit anyone, the driver downgraded from the "gold package" to a less-effective "silver package".

The manufacturer of the vehicle, who has a contract with the holding company for ongoing maintenance, disabled the enhanced pedestrian avoidance feature for which the driver was no longer paying.

The road the child was playing chicken on is a pedestrian route closed to private cars and goods traffic but open to public transport.

In this jurisdiction, private hire cars are classified as private vehicles, but licensed taxis are legally classified as public transport when (and only for the duration) they are collecting or delivering a passenger within the pedestrian area.

At the moment of the impact the taxi has no passenger, but has received a pickup request from a passenger inside the pedestrian zone (beyond the accident location) and is proceeding to that location on autopilot control.

The driver is not physically present in the vehicle at the time of the accident.

The driver is monitoring their vehicle remotely from their phone, using a dash cam and an app provided by the vehicle manufacturer but subject to an EULA that disclaims responsibility and commits the driver to binding arbitration administered by a private tribunal based in Pyongyang acting in accordance with the legal code of the Republic of South Sudan.

Immediately before the accident the dash cam view was obscured by a pop-up message from the taxi despatch app that the driver uses, notifying them of the passenger pickup request. The despatch app is written and supported by a Belgian company and is subject to an EULA that disclaims responsibility and doesn't impose private arbitration but requires any claims to be heard in a Belgian court.

The accident took place in Berwick-upon-Tweed, England; the Taxi despatch firm is based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Discuss!

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I'm not a Solarpunk, I just play one in real life, it seems. While Charlie's out doing important stuff, I decided I'd drop a brief, meandering essay in here for the regular crowd of commenters to say some variation on, "Why yes, that's (adjective) obvious," and to eventually turn the conversation around to the relative merits of either trains or 20th Century weapons systems, if we can get past comment 100.

As most of you know, I do a lot of environmentalism, so much so in fact that I'm not working any creative writing right now (except this!), just going to meetings and reading environmental impact reports (if you don't know anything about California's perennial punching bag, CEQA), well, don't bother, it's tedious). This post was inspired by what I saw in the process of the San Diego County Supervisors approving the most developer-friendly version of the County Climate Action Plan (CAP) that they could. The details of about seven hours of meetings really don't matter, but the universality of what happened might, at least a little.

The situation (try to stifle those yawns in back, they're impolite) is that California, like the rest of the civilized world and unlike much of the US, has the goal of actually meeting the Paris Accords, and we've got the sunshine to do it. At least in the southern part of the state. Maybe. Moreover, because California's kinda bureaucratic, every municipality has to have a general plan telling people what they can build and where. By 2020-ish, said general plans are also supposed to include a section on how each municipality will meet the state's goals on decarbonizing. Yay! Or rather, meh, because these documents tend to err on the side of vague aspiration, for reasons that will become obvious below.

So San Diego County just approved CAP 2.0, CAP 1.0 having been litigated out of existence a couple of years ago. As is usual with such decisions, the public got to testify before the supervisors voted. Here's a sampling of the testimony at the approval meeting, highly digested:

• the building industry claimed meeting the CAP is too expensive. Figures were disputed, but since almost everyone on the county planning commission is a (retired) developer and the supervisors are pro-development, "too expensive" got repeated ad nauseum, especially by one elder who ranted about spending more than $10k on solar at a home in Hawai'i. Obviously said personage hasn't checked the prices recently, but that's what you get with appointed commissioners.

• The urban forestry crowd wanted more trees in the streets to sequester carbon. Street trees have about the same lifespan as a plastic lawn chair, and San Diego is known for, well, droughts and such, but more street trees would be good, no? Who can argue against that?

• The enviros were talking about carbon farming, where we get carbon sequestered into farm soils or whatever. It sounded good, mostly because we don't know anything about it.

• The agriculture community, which has been ripping out avocado and orange orchards since there's no more water for them, pointed out that they could plant two orders of magnitude more trees than the urban foresters could, if only someone could give them more water. Oddly enough, that's a huge problem, given water wars, increasing urban demand for water, and all that. They're experimenting with putting carbon into soils here too, just to see if it'll work like we enviros keep saying. Good on them.

• What set us enviros off was the notion of carbon offsets (read "indulgences for polluters") where somebody whose project farts off a lot of greenhouse gases can buy something (a tree farm, or a marsh restoration, or a livestock manure digester that burns the methane into CO2, which is a less potent greenhouse gas) and claim credit for offsetting their emissions. Wanna buy some Congolese swampland or Indonesian peatlands? I'm not joking: these would be great places to buy, if only you could be sure that your investment wasn't just taken by FlyByNight Sequestration Opportunities (accepts only cryptocurrencies), with documentation returned to you in a one-ply roll with perforated sheets to tear off. Anyway, most of the local enviros want the County to make sure that carbon offsets happen only in San Diego county for preference, or in California, where we can theoretically see if anything useful was done with the money spent on the indulgence, excuse me, the carbon offset. Did I mention how easy it is to game the documentation? Sad that I'm so cynical as to think that would happen.

• Then there was stupid ol' me, commenting that it's effing hard to do carbon offsets in San Diego, because of that little drought and climate change thing, with a side helping of tree-killing beetle plagues. Everybody looked at me like I'd sprouted two heads and sold my soul to Koch, until I explained that carbon offsets only really work if you take the carbon out of the air for a century. That means century-old street trees, avocado trees, orange trees, pine trees in the mountains, farm soil holding carbon, restored marsh peat, whatever. The carbon bank has to keep the greenhouse gases out of the air for at least a century. Burn the trees, oxidize the marsh soils, or over-till the farmlands, and all the carbon goes back into the air just as climate change really gets roaring. The other enviros are starting to get it, kinda, while I'm left wishing I'd brought this up years ago, so they'd be more up to speed. Am I the only enviro around here who's had plant physiology and even published a paper modeling plant growth? Why yes, unfortunately, I am. Most of the people involved don't understand how the numbers work. Argh!

Alright, here's where you wake up again. The underlying theme of the above mess? Ignorance. How do all of us think San Diego will meet its climate goals? By dumping the carbon in some place we don't know much about, since all the options we do know about don't seem to be good enough. Surprise! Here's how it would work in real life:

We could put solar panels on every roof, as environmentalists (including me) have been ignorantly harping for years. Except that the median SD income is $64,000, the median home price is $540,000, solar panels are around $15-20,000, and most people can't afford them yet. So, um, yeah, that means more big solar panels out in the backcountry and the desert, probably trashing a lot of wildlands (and Ol' Cheeto Grande and his cronies just stuck their middle manipulative digits in to make that harder). It's easy to argue on a moral basis that each city should power itself. But to do that in the real world, you've got to solve little things like housing crises, so that each building owner can actually afford to buy and maintain the necessary infrastructure.

We could offset our emissions in the County, except that almost certainly means piping in more water from somewhere else, like it was 1950 or something. And yes, desalination is pretty effin' expensive, thanks so much for thinking about that option. Wanna eat a $10 avocado and pay to keep the tree producing it alive for the next century?

We could offset our emissions elsewhere, except that not getting scammed over the next century is kinda hard, especially since the people buying these indulgences might not really care if they're getting scammed or not.

Notice how just one City's flailing around to become sustainable could affect areas around the globe? To me, that's the real Solarpunk. Multiply that by around 3,500,000,000 (something like the number of people living in cities now), and you can see new ways in which urban demands are going to punk the 97 percent of Earth's surface that isn't urbanized.

With Solarpunk, we should be talking about aesthetics and aspirations, like, say, wooden skyscrapers, cities ditching problematic sewers and turning to using sustainably-sourced humanure production to sequester carbon by sending this urban carbon to be buried in the untilled soil on multi-ethnic, diversely gendered, community supported, sustainable farms. With all the pathogens nicely controlled, thank you very much. And definitely there must be shiny solar panels on every surface that points either to the equator or to the west.

Unfortunately, the real-world trends embodied in events like the meetings I regurgitated above mean that the next few decades are far more likely to be old-school Noir Solarpunk, with the wealthy and powerful forcing the rural and less advantaged to deal with the problems activists like me bring up, just as they have for decades now.

Kinda sucks, but that doesn't mean that the Solarpunks should give up their ideals. It just means that, if they want their work to have drama, tension, and (dare I say it?) relevance, then they need to stop dreaming about moving to Wakanda and go to more boring meetings. It's amazing what you can learn while you're trying to sit through those things.

Oh yeah, comments. Have fun chewing on this. It's not that we're doomed (help the thread hit 100 comments and you can bewail Teh Doom to your hearts' content after comment #100). Rather, it's that we don't really understand most of what's going on, and ignorance in action leads to, well, gonzo literature. In a slightly more realistic Solarpunk work, for every pastel-tinted "plyscraper," there's going to be a multinational solar plant where an irrigated farm in a poor rural county used to be, with food prices rising as a result. For every shipping container farmlet installed, there's going to be ten carbon offset scams. For every environmentalist wondering if the end of internal combustion means the end of a lot of the weeds that air pollution fertilized, there's going to be a score of urban planners frustrated by how hard it is to rebuild car-driven cities to accommodate a 100% electric fleet, when batteries turn out to be not as good as gas. And so it goes. This mess is where solar goes punk. What do you think it will look like?

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Charlie's Diary by Charlie Stross - 3M ago

I'm making a few public appearances over the next months:

First up, on Saturday 10th of March I'm doing a public Q&A, short reading, and signing at the American Book Center in Amsterdam. (Click link for details.)

Then, from March 30th to April 2nd I'll be at Follycon in Harrogate, the 69th British Easter SF Convention. (Guests of honour are Kieron Gillen, Christina Lake, Nnedi Okorafor, and Kim Stanley Robinson, so it's going to be good. OK?)

Finally, from April 19th to 22nd, I'm a guest of honour at Deepcon 19 in Fiuggi, Italy.

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