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]
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.
Life behind the Three Gorges Dam
The major themes of the China story - unprecedented socioeconomic change, environmental crises, the thirst for energy, the destruction of historical and cultural heritage - are all here, framed against the backdrop of millions of ordinary Chinese struggling to cope with the powerful man-made and natural forces beyond their control. Would the huge sacrifices be worth it in the end...Photo-Essay, over time, by Singaporean photo-journalist Chua Chin Hon
UN Climate Report: We Must Focus On 'Decarbonization', and It Won't Wreck the Economy - "The basic message is simple: We share a planet. Let's start acting like it." [more inside]
In 1971, the newly-created US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hired a bunch of freelance photographers to collectively document environmental issues around the country. They were given free rein to shoot whatever they wanted, and the project, named Documerica, lasted through 1977. After 40 years, the EPA is now encouraging photographers to take current versions of the original Documerica photos and are showcasing them on flickr at State of the Environment. There are location challenges, and a set has been created with some of the submissions, making side-by-side comparisons. [more inside]
A month after its release, Naughty Dog's sweeping interactive epic The Last of Us is being hailed as one of the best games of all time, with perfect scores even from notoriously demanding critics. Inspired by an eerily beautiful segment from the BBC's Planet Earth, the game portrays an America twenty years after a pandemic of the zombiefying Cordyceps fungus (previously), leaving behind lush wastelands of elegant decay teeming with monsters and beset by vicious bandits, a brutal military, and the revolutionary Fireflies. Into this bleak vision of desperate violence journey Joel, a gruffly stoic Texan with a painful past, and his ward Ellie, a precocious teenager who may hold the key to mankind's future. Boasting tense, immersive gameplay, compelling performances from a diverse cast, a movingly minimalist score from Oscar-winning Gustavo Santaolalla, and an array of influences from Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, it's already being slotted alongside BioShock Infinite and Half-Life 2 as one of modern gaming's crowning achievements. And while it's hard to disentangle plot from action, you don't have to buy a PS3 to experience it -- YouTube offers many filmic edits of the game, including this three-hour version of all relevant passages. And don't miss the 84-minute documentary exploring every facet of its production. [more inside]
William Temple Hornaday was an early--and probably a founding--member of the American conservation movement, and was also director of the National Zoological Park. He wrote a tremendously bitter and accurate report for the U.S. National Museum in 1894 on the extermination of the American bison, an absolute head-shaker, detailing the history of the bison in North America and its destruction at the hands of sportsmen, hunters, mindless dolts and many others who massacred tens of millions of the animal ("murdered" is the word Hornaday uses constantly). To put the whole issue in perspective, Hornaday issued a famous map showing the shrinkage of the North American bison herd, setting out the enormity of the issue instantly on one piece of paper, a summary of hundreds of pages of bad stories and big numbers.
Ah wilderness! What better place to escape the stifling trappings of urban existence - overflowing inboxes, two-hour commutes, social-media addiction. And, of course, indoor plumbing. "Take off your shoes for a while, unzip your fly, piss hearty, dig your toes in the hot sand, feel that raw and rugged earth," the great Western author and curmudgeon Edward Abbey once exhorted car-bound city slickers. Contemplating the reasons for taking a trek down the Appalachian Trail (and aping Abbey-ish machismo), travel writer Bill Bryson mused, "I wanted a little of that swagger that comes with being able to gaze at a far horizon through eyes of chipped granite and say with a slow, manly sniff, 'Yeah, I've shit in the woods.'"
Five years ago this week, the BBC started broadcasting one of the most extraordinary documentaries ever to grace television: Planet Earth. The culmination of five years of field work, it employed the most cutting-edge of techniques in order to capture life in all its forms, from sweeping spaceborne vistas to shockingly intimate close-ups -- including many sights rarely glimpsed by human eyes. Visually spectacular, it showcased footage shot in 204 locations in 62 countries, thoroughly documenting every biome from the snowy peaks of the Himalayas to the lifegiving waters of the Okavango Delta, a rich narrative tapestry backed by a stirring orchestral score from the BBC Concert Orchestra. Unfortunately, the series underwent some editorial changes for rebroadcast overseas. But now fans outside the UK can rejoice -- all eleven chapters of this epic story are available on YouTube in their original form: uncut, in glorious 1080p HD, and with the original narration by renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough. Click inside for the full listing (and kiss the rest of your week goodbye). [more inside]
SEED Magazine: Wealth of Nations: "Shared natural resources underpin the global economy, but our current economic system does not acknowledge their worth. Can a major new effort to assess the costs of biodiversity loss force a paradigm shift in what we value?" [more inside]
An image of leafcutter ants at work in the Costa Rican rainforest has scooped top prize in the 2010 Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition (via The Guardian). The winners are on display now at London’s Natural History Museum. Online gallery. Previously on MeFi.
Nathalie Miebach translates scientific data related to meteorology and ecology into woven sculptures and musical scores. She discusses her work in an interview with the Peabody Essex Museum. (via Mira y Calla)
40 Things You Need to Know About the Next 40 Years For it's 40th anniversary issue, Smithsonian magazine asks experts in various fields for insights into our future and compiles a list of 40 predictions about the future of science, nature, the arts and technology. The feature essay is by President Obama, in which he explains why he's optimistic about America's future. (VIA) [more inside]
How does an ecosystem rebound from catastrophe? Thirty years after the blast, Mount St. Helens is reborn again. Interactive Graphic: Blast Zone. Also see National Geographic's feature article from 1981, chronicling that year's eruption. Previously on MeFi [more inside]
40 years ago, a small crew of filmmakers set out to document some of the more pressing issues involving wildlife in America. They made eight half-hour films around the country and in doing so made what is believed to be the first environmental TV series in the US. Entitled Our Vanishing Wilderness, all eight episodes are now online and free to view here.
A car graveyard in Kaufdorf, near Bern is home to 500 abandoned and decaying cars mostly from the 1930's to 1960's. It has not been touched for over 30 years and has some rare flora and founa. The opportunity to take stunning photographs is unparalleled, but it is causing environmental issues which results in an auction this September. It was a struggle between history, nature and European law. History and nature lose. [more inside]
"Natural communities and ecosystems possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist, flourish and naturally evolve..."
Recently, John Michael Greer has been exploring a little known idea of the deceased economist E.F. Schumacher (a student of the oft-discussed Keynes). "Schumacher drew a hard distinction between primary goods and secondary goods. The latter of these includes everything dealt with by conventional economics: the goods and services produced by human labor and exchanged among human beings. The former includes all those things necessary for human life and economic activity that are produced not by human beings, but by nature. Schumacher pointed out that primary goods, as the phrase implies, need to come first in any economic analysis because they supply the preconditions for the production of secondary goods. Renewable resources, he proposed, form the equivalent of income in the primary economy, while nonrenewable resources are the equivalent of capital; to insist that an economic system is sound when it is burning through nonrenewable resources at a rate that will lead to rapid depletion is thus as silly as claiming that a business is breaking even if it’s covering up huge losses by drawing down its bank accounts." [more inside]
Imagine nature's most elegant ideas organized by design and engineering function, so you can enter "filter salt from water" and see how mangroves, penguins, and shorebirds desalinate without fossil fuels. That's the idea behind AskNature, the online inspiration source for the biomimicry community. The featured pages are a good starting point. Cross-pollinating biology with design. [more inside]
SpaceTimeTV collects and lets you watch all the best educational videos online from full length documentaries (such as the 50 minute long Is There Life on Mars) to short video clips such as this one on glaciers and global warming. There are hundreds of videos on topics including history, space, technology, and nature.
Mushrooms Save the World (long form) -- Paul Stamets on mycelia. Previously: 1 2 3 [bonus: slime molds]
Rethinking Earthrise. On the 40th anniversary of the NASA's Apollo 8 mission [caution: weird JFK animation], which answered Stewart Brand's epochal, LSD-inspired question "Why haven't we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?" with an unforgettable image of a seemingly fragile and isolated blue planet, Nature editor Oliver Morton -- author of a new book on photosynthesis called Eating the Sun -- disputes the notion that the Earth is fragile and isolated. "The fragility is an illusion," he writes. "The planet Earth is a remarkably robust thing, and this strength flows from its ancient and intimate connection to the cosmos beyond. To see the photo this way does not undermine its environmental relevance -- but it does recast it."
Can you identify these common plants and animals? A study shows that increasingly, 9- to 11-year-old children can't. Quoth David Attenborough: "The wild world is becoming so remote to children that they miss out, and an interest in the natural world doesn't grow as it should. Nobody is going protect the natural world unless they understand it."
Ferocious-looking mystery creature in Tahoe National Forest confirmed to be a California wolverine, thought to be extinct since 1922. A motion-detecting camera snapped a compelling photo behind the beast last month, and the California Department of Fish and Game just confirmed the discovery with a clear profile shot. Notably, both photos appear to show the same animal.
The dangers of living in a zero-sum world economy - naked capitalism reprints (with added commentary) an FT article by Martin Wolf on why it's vital for (civilised) society to sustain a 'positive-sum' world, otherwise: "A zero-sum economy leads, inevitably, to repression at home and plunder abroad." Wolf's solution? "The condition for success is successful investment in human ingenuity." Of course! Some are calling for more socialism, while others would press on to build more megaprojects. For me, at least part of the solution lies in environmental accounting and natural capitalism :P
An interview with Lebbeus Woods -- designer and illustrator of speculative futuristic landscapes and buildings. Woods just set up his own website, which has an amazing quantity of drawings, photographs, and text focusing on his lesser known projects [for those willing to deal with a frustrating flash interface and sound. It's better in IE than Firefox.] [more inside]
Navarre now generates more than 50% of its energy needs by wind power: a profile of the small autonomous region in northern Spain that is leading the way in renewable energy. This is one of many free access articles in this special supplement on energy issues to the journal Nature.
When I grow up I want to be an environmental engineer. I want to work on projects that can provide potable water for people. I want to clean the polluted Mother Ganga [Ganges] who provides life giving water from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal. Or the Nile, both blue and white, spilling fertility from her bunds on a regular cycle. I want to design products that use the least amount of energy and fuel, from recycled materials and are biodegradable. I want to seek alternative sources of energy, such as using biofuel to power cellphones. I want to design with maximum constraints. Call her mother earth, gaia, demeter, ceres or inanna, our planet is on the brink of no return. Or is it all just a matter of perspective?
Bacteria Roll Out Carpet Of Goo That Converts Deadly Heavy Metal Into Less Threatening Nano-spheres. This microbe joins another reported not too long ago. We certainly could use their help.
the new urban jungle. . . is a growing movement led by cities like San Francisco, New York, and Leiden to restore active and vibrant natural systems in urban areas. Far from the eden-like depictions of nature of yesteryear, i.e. the garden of earthly delights (nonetheless, still attracting some dynamic new christian converts), the movement has morphed into today's backyard and grassroots environmental movement which is more and more a picture of hybridity, compromise, mixed-use, and ultimately, taking nature out of the walled islands of zoos, aquaria, national parks and other thick-walled institutions and offering a different kind of everyday "unmediated" community experience with the new urban wilderness. VIDEO LINK
A NOAA report says Earth's surface and atmosphere are both warming, and that earlier work that found otherwise contains flaws. In other news, global warming has started to weaken an important wind circulation pattern over the Pacific Ocean, a study suggests. The change could alter climate and the marine food chain in that area; polar bears and walrus pups sad.
Left Behind: Bush's Holy War on Nature. Chip Ward enumerates the bizarro-world logic and Orwellian language of current American environmental policy. Even as Katrina's aftermath is focusing attention on links between global warming and more severe hurricanes, and studies of arctic sea-ice suggest that we may be 'past the point of no return' of climate change, the Department of "Justice" seems intent on blaming the flood of New Orleans on environmental groups. This War on Terra may not end in our lifetimes (despite the number of lives it will end...)
Incredible feat of engineering or environmental disaster in the making? Despite continued protests, the Karahnjukar project rumbles onwards. Some people are desperate to see it stopped, although the Icelandic public aren’t so sure. In fact, Alcoa - the US company driving the project – is proud of its environmental achievements. Whatever the truth, there’s no denying that the area under threat contains some stunning scenery. Take a look while you still can.
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.
Blinded By Science: How `Balanced' Coverage Lets the Scientific Fringe Hijack Reality. How and why the media has failed so completely to educate the American public on the massive environmental dangers we face. (via WorldChanging)
The Animaris Rhinoceros Transport: "Since about ten years Theo Jansen is occupied with the making of a new nature. Not pollen or seeds but plastic yellow tubes are used as the basic matierial of this new nature. He makes skeletons which are able to walk on the wind. Eventualy he wants to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives." [2MB Quicktime Video]
The 25 richest and most threatened reservoirs of plant and animal life on Earth. Of the 25, here are the hottest of the hotspots. An interactive map. And the latest news about how companies like Office Depot are helping Conservation International protect threatened animals who don't get to vote in even the world's [cough] most enlightened democracies.
For the adventurous reader Dispatches From The Vanishing World a collection of environment themed travel articles by Alex Shoumatoff. Observe the "skeed row" behaviour of The Alcoholic Monkeys of St.Kitts, or travel to the worlds largest swap almost twice the size of England in the Amazon, this site presents magazine articles by Alex over the last 30 years as seen in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Rolling Stone.
However you spell it, it sounds like good news. After five years of lobbying by the Aborigines, Australia set aside a huge chunk of the central Outback yesterday as the country’s largest national park. At 38,000 sq mi (98,000 sq km), Ngaanyatjarra is twice the size of Switzerland. This comes on the heels of the Canadian government's plans for ten new national parks and five new marine conservation areas over the next five years, a move greeted with skepticism by some. (And then there are those that say national parks are obsolete anyway). Has anyone been to any of these places?
Shocking photos which show just how much glaciers have melted in the last century. Now that the North Pole is a swimming pool, the Ross Ice Shelf has, as the Onion put it, embarked on a world tour, and the worst flooding in 800 years is hitting Eastern Europe, aren't we maybe a little bit worried about climate change... just a little, maybe? What freak weather phenomenon is creeping you out these days?
The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement "Phasing out the human race by voluntarily ceasing to breed will allow Earth's biosphere to return to good health. Crowded conditions and resource shortages will improve as we become less dense." More inside...