From deities to data - "For thousands of years humans believed that authority came from the gods. Then, during the modern era, humanism gradually shifted authority from deities to people... Now, a fresh shift is taking place. Just as divine authority was legitimised by religious mythologies, and human authority was legitimised by humanist ideologies, so high-tech gurus and Silicon Valley prophets are creating a new universal narrative that legitimises the authority of algorithms and Big Data." [more inside]
In his follow-up to Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari envisions what a 'useless class' of humans might look like as AI advances and spreads - "I'm aware that these kinds of forecasts have been around for at least 200 years, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and they never came true so far. It's basically the boy who cried wolf, but in the original story of the boy who cried wolf, in the end, the wolf actually comes, and I think that is true this time." [more inside]
GrowUp: the future of food - "The new concept of commercial aquaponics, argue Hofman and Webster, has a much-reduced environmental impact. Companion farming fish and crops dates back to the Aztecs, but it took until the 2010s, in Chicago, to move it indoors at any scale. In the UK, only eco-smallholdings have so far attempted it, and the only European aquaponics farms of note use purpose-built greenhouses. GrowUp's model, by contrast, is to fit out empty urban buildings, use no chemicals, employ LED lights, source 100 per cent renewable energy and, crucially, be based within five miles of its customer base in a dense urban area."
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari - "The book delivers on its madly ambitious subtitle by in fact managing to cover key moments in the developmental history of humankind from the emergence of Homo Sapiens to today's developments in genetic engineering." Also btw, check out Harari on the myths we need to survive, re: fact/value distinctions and their interrelationships.
The war against genetically modified organisms is full of fearmongering, errors, and fraud. Labeling them will not make you safer.
When Dr. Patrick Moore appeared on cable channel Canal+ to argue for the safety of the widely used herbicide glyphosate he asserted that it would be completely safe to drink right from a glass. When the interviewer challenged him to follow through on the act, he backed down. Recently, Stu Burguiere of The Blaze decided to accept the challenge and drank a glass of the herbicide along with fracking fluid and artificial sweeteners. The cocktail also included a salt rimmed glass and a lemon garnish. It had the neon green appearance of a Vodka and Diet Dew. Don't try this at home. Or anywhere.
California Drought Tests History of Endless Growth [New York Times]
A punishing drought is forcing a reconsideration of whether the aspiration of untrammeled growth that has for so long been the state’s engine has run against the limits of nature.California Water Use [New York Times] Are you affected? [New York Times] The Drought, explained. [New York Times Video] [more inside]
Halfway through my three-week, 417-mile journey down the “most endangered” river in America, the water began flowing backward and the mud started talking. It spoke in baritone gurgles, like Barry White trapped in a bong. You know what this is, John? No, Barry White mud. This is QUICKSAND.
From the mid 40s to the mid 50s Coronet Instructional Films were always ready to provide social guidance for teenagers on subjects as diverse as dating, popularity, preparing for being drafted, and shyness, as well as to children on following the law, the value of quietness in school, and appreciating our parents. They also provided education on topics such as the connection between attitudes and health, what kind of people live in America, how to keep a job, supervising women workers, the nature of capitalism, and the plantation System in Southern life. Inside is an annotated collection of all 86 of the complete Coronet films in the Prelinger Archives as well as a few more. Its not like you had work to do or anything right? [more inside]
State of the Species: Will the unprecedented success of Homo sapiens lead to an unavoidable downfall? [Via]
Industry regulators have known for years that Monsanto's Roundup herbicide causes birth defects according to a newly released report by Earth Open Source. Regulators knew as long ago as 1980 that glyphosate, the chemical on which Roundup is based, can cause birth defects in laboratory animals... Although the European Commission has known that glyphosate causes malformations since at least 2002, the information was not made public. (Previously) [more inside]
Yale's 2010 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks 163 countries on 25 performance indicators tracked across ten policy categories covering both environmental public health and ecosystem vitality. These indicators provide a gauge at a national government scale of how close countries are to established environmental policy goals.
How to feed 9 billion people: The global food supply is starting to get tight, with increasing sensitivity to droughts and floods causing price spikes and food shortages. The UK commissioned a report to examine how to feed a planet with a population that is set to increase to 9 billion by 2050. [more inside]
'Priceless collection' in Russia was never registered so is therefore worthless and does not officially exist, say developers
In 1926, Nikolai Vavilov founded the world's first modern seedbank, and amassed a collection which today contains over 90% unique varieties of plant, contained in no other collection in existence. For his opposition to Lysenkoism he died in prison, and several of his colleagues famously starved to death instead of eating their specimens during the Siege of Leningrad. Now the Pavlovsk seedbank facility has been seized by the Federal Agency for Public Estate Management, and pending a court ruling will be demolished - contents and all - to build a housing development. The collection cannot be moved in time because it is a working seedbank of living plants.
Urban gardening and agriculture are becoming increasingly important as our world becomes more urbanized. Urban Gardening Help is for those environmentally conscious urban dwellers who want to use hydroponics and other tools to create a green corner devoted to nature in their own home. Urban Gardens looks for innovative and eco-friendly designs, trends, and ideas for the stylish urban home. See, for example, tiny herb gardens, where succulent cuttings come in small packages. Urban Garden Casual works with the constraints of limited-space, light, and micro-climates created from the shadows of neighboring buildings by using unconventional ideas like the garden pouch.
Governments around the globe are opening up their data vaults allowing us to check out the numbers for ourselves. This is the Guardian’s gateway to that information. Search for government data here from the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand — and look out for new countries and places as they are added. Read more about this on the Datablog. [more inside]
How green was my valley: California's economic meltdown The fields of wheat, cotton and cantaloupe that sustained his family for three generations are gone. The land is a mess of fallow fields, cracked earth and swirling dust. (PDF - By some estimates, 12.8% of the United States' agricultural production (as measured by dollar value) comes from California, and the majority of that is in the Central Valley). However, his particular scene of devastation, Mr. Allen argues, has nothing to do with the credit crisis, the housing crash or the downturn that has California in a vice grip. It has to do with a seven-centimetre-long, semi-translucent, steel blue fish known as the Delta smelt. [more inside]
The globe’s networked ecologies of food, water, energy, and waste have established new infrastructures and forms of urbanism. While these ecologies exist at the service of our contemporary lifestyles, they have typically remained hidden from view and from the public conscience. Infranet Lab is studying the shifting / changing conditions. [more inside]
"Dear Mr. President-Elect, It may surprise you to learn that among the issues that will occupy much of your time in the coming years is one you barely mentioned during the campaign: food." Michael Pollan advises the next president on what he can and should do to remake the way we grow and eat our food. [Via]
The U.S. Climate Change Science Program has just released "Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.3: The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity in the United States." It makes for pretty interesting reading. [more inside]
Villagers in the mountains of northern India and Pakistan have been growing their own glaciers for centuries. They're small domesticated glaciers, cultivated by hand, and they provide a reliable source of water for agriculture. Legend has it that they made glaciers to block mountain passes and keep the Mongol Hordes out! More detail in New Scientist - subscription required, but you can probably see this instruction sheet.
Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal by Joel Salatin. This Saturday will mark this article's four year anniversary. Frankly, I was mildly surprised not to have found it mentioned before in MeFi. It's a good read about a sad state of affairs; how our government is turning its own people into outlaws, because freedom has been traded in for an illusion of security. ...but then we already knew that. Don't we?
The Case for Resilience. How Efficiency Maximizes Catastrophe.
The Alien Plant.
In Georgia, the legend says
That you must close your windows
At night to keep it out of the house.
In Georgia, the legend says
That you must close your windows
At night to keep it out of the house.
Where have all the bees gone? Wild bee populations appear to be declining (members of a local naturalists' mailing list I subscribe to report seeing substantially fewer bumblebees in recent years), and domestic honeybees are susceptible to mites. Since one third of our crops require pollination, this is not just an environmental concern but also a very real threat to our food supply. Find out what's being done about it. Fascinating stuff, if a little frightening.