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A Grand New Theory of Life's Evolution on Earth - The Atlantic
A series of energy revolutions—some natural, some technological—built upon one another to give us our rich, diverse biosphere.
additivism  complexity  earth  energy  entropy  evolution  life  negentropy  stream 
3 days ago by therourke
The Fermi Paradox - Wait But Why
So there are 100 Earth-like planets for every grain of sand in the world. Think about that next time you’re on the beach.
earth  life  science  space  aliens  fermi 
3 days ago by hellsten
crap futures — Back to nature
"We live on a remote island - mountainous, mid-Atlantic, still heavily forested and pretty wild - and for that reason nature sometimes sneaks into our otherwise technology-centred work. It is hard not to think local when you live in a place like this. We’re neither farmers nor pioneers - except in the sense that resident aliens on this island are few - but lately our reading has got us thinking about ancient paths and rural places. We’ll discuss the paths today and save most of the farm talk for a future post.

Paths v roads

In his 1969 essay ‘A Native Hill’, Wendell Berry - the American writer, farmer, activist, and ‘modern Thoreau’ - makes a useful distinction between paths and roads:
The difference between a path and a road is not only the obvious one. A path is little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place. It is a sort of ritual of familiarity. As a form, it is a form of contact with a known landscape. It is not destructive. It is the perfect adaptation, through experience and familiarity, of movement to place; it obeys the natural contours; such obstacles as it meets it goes around. A road, on the other hand … embodies a resistance against the landscape. Its reason is not simply the necessity for movement, but haste. Its wish is to avoid contact with the landscape. … It is destructive, seeking to remove or destroy all obstacles in its way.

Aside from conversation as usual, the reason we are talking about Berry is the arrival of a new film, Look & See, and a new collection of his writing, The World-Ending Fire, edited by Paul Kingsnorth of Dark Mountain Project fame. Berry and Kingsnorth, along with the economist Kate Raworth, were on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week recently chatting about the coming apocalypse and how it might best be avoided. It is a fascinating interview: you can actually hear Berry’s rocking chair creaking and the crows cawing outside the window of his house in Port Royal, Kentucky.

The normally optimistic Berry agrees somewhat crankily to read ‘the poem that you asked me to read’ on the programme. ‘Sabbaths 1989’ describes roads to the future as going nowhere: ‘roads strung everywhere with humming wire. / Nowhere is there an end except in smoke. / This is the world that we have set on fire.’ Berry admits that this poem is about as gloomy as he gets (‘blessed are / The dead who died before this time began’). For the most part his writing is constructive: forming a sensual response to cold, atomised modernity; advocating for conviviality, community, the commonweal.

Paul Kingsnorth talks compellingly in the same programme about transforming protest into action, although in truth no one walks the walk like Berry. Kingsnorth says: ‘We’re all complicit in the things we oppose’ - and never were truer words spoken, from our iPhones to our energy use. In terms of design practice, there are worse goals than reducing our level of complicity in environmental harm and empty consumerism. Like Berry, Kingsnorth talks about paths and roads. He asks: ‘Why should we destroy an ancient forest to cut twelve minutes off a car journey from London to Southampton? Is that a good deal?’

It’s a fair question. It also illustrates perfectly what Berry was describing in the passage that started this post: the difference between paths that blend and coexist with the local landscape, preserving the knowledge and history of the land, and roads that cut straight through it. These roads are like a destructive and ill-fitting grid imposed from the centre onto the periphery, without attention to the local terrain or ecology or ways of doing things - both literally (in the case of energy) and figuratively.

Another book we read recently, Holloway, describes ancient paths - specifically the ‘holloways’ of South Dorset - in similar terms:
They are landmarks that speak of habit rather than of suddenness. Like creases in the hand, or the wear on the stone sill of a doorstep or stair, they are the result of repeated human actions. Their age chastens without crushing. They relate to other old paths & tracks in the landscape - ways that still connect place to place & person to person.

Holloways are paths sunk deep into the landscape and into the local history. Roads, in contrast, skip over the local - collapsing time as they move us from one place to the next without, as it were, touching the ground. They alienate us in our comfort.

Here in Madeira there are endless footpaths broken through the woods. Still more unique are the levadas, the irrigation channels that run for more than two thousand kilometres back and forth across the island, having been brought to Portugal from antecedents in Moorish aqueduct systems and adapted to the specific terrain and agricultural needs of Madeira starting in the sixteenth century.

Both the pathways through the ancient laurel forests and the centuries-old levadas (which, though engineered, were cut by hand and still follow the contours and logic of the landscape) contrast with the highways and tunnels that represent a newer feat of human engineering since the 1970s. During his controversial though undeniably successful reign from 1978 to 2015 - he was elected President of Madeira a remarkable ten times - Alberto João Jardim oversaw a massive infrastructure program that completely transformed the island. Places that used to be virtually unreachable became accessible by a short drive. His legacy, in part, is a culture of automobile dependency that is second to none. The American highway system inspired by Norman Bel Geddes’ (and General Motors’) Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair almost pales in comparison to Jardim’s vision for the rapid modernisation of Madeira.

But when you walk the diesel-scented streets of the capital, or you drive through the holes bored deep into and out of towering volcanic mountains to reach the airport - and even when you think back in history and imagine those first settlers sitting in their ships as half the island’s forest burned, watching the dense smoke of the fires they lit to make Madeira favourable to human habitation - it’s hard not to think what a catastrophically invasive species are human beings.

Bespoke is a word we use a lot. In our vocabulary bespoke is not about luxury or excess - as it has been co-opted by consumer capitalism to suggest. Instead it is about tailored solutions, fitted to the contours of a particular body or landscape. Wendell Berry insists on the role of aesthetics and proportionality in his approach to environmentalism: the goal is not hillsides covered in rows of ugly solar panels, but an integrated and deep and loving relationship with the land. This insistence on aesthetics relates to the ‘reconfiguring’ principles that inform our newest work. The gravity batteries we’ve been building are an alternative not only to the imposed, top-down infrastructure of the grid, but also to the massive scale of such solutions and our desire to work with the terrain rather than against it.

Naomi Klein talked about renewable energy in these terms in an interview a couple of years ago:
If you go back and look at the way fossil fuels were marketed in the 1700s, when coal was first commercialized with the Watt steam engine, the great promise of coal was that it liberated humans from nature … And that was, it turns out, a lie. We never transcended nature, and that I think is what is so challenging about climate change, not just to capitalism but to our core civilizational myth. Because this is nature going, ‘You thought you were in charge? Actually all that coal you’ve been burning all these years has been building up in the atmosphere and trapping heat, and now comes the response.’ … Renewable energy puts us back in dialog with nature. We have to think about when the wind blows, we have to think about where the sun shines, we cannot pretend that place and space don’t matter. We are back in the world.

In a future post we will talk about the related subject of sustainable agriculture. But speaking of food - the time has come for our toast and coffee.
2017  crapfutures  wendellberry  paths  roads  madeira  bespoke  tailoring  audiencesofone  naomiklein  sustainability  earth  normanbelgeddes  albertojoãojardim  levadas  infrastructure  permanence  capitalism  energy  technology  technosolutionsism  1969  obstacles  destruction  habits  knowledge  place  placemaking  experience  familiarity  experientialeducation  kateraworth  paulkingsnorth  darkmountainproject  modernity  modernism  holloways  nature  landscape  cars  transportation  consumerism  consumercapitalism  reconfiguration  domination  atmosphere  environment  dialog  conviviality  community  commonweal  invasivespecies  excess  humans  futurama  ecology 
8 days ago by robertogreco
Animal defend earth from aliens
I really want a science fiction story where aliens come to invade earth and effortlessly wipe out humanity, only to be fought off by the wildlife.
They were expecting military resistance. They weren’t counting on bears.
Imagine coming to a hostile alien world and being attacked by a horde of creatures that can weigh up to 3 tons, run at 30 km/h (19 mph), and bite with a force of 8,100 newtons (1,800 lbf).
By the time you realise that they can traverse water, it’s too late. The surviving members of your unit manage to make it back by shedding their excess gear and running for their lives; the slower ones were crushed to death within minutes.
You later describe the creature to one of the humans you captured, wanting to know the name of the monstrosity that will haunt your nightmares for cycles to come.
The human smiles as it speaks a single word, slowly and distinctly, in its barbaric tongue.
This is giving me the biggest, creepiest grin I might have ever grinned
Imagine being the next crew to go down to earth and thinking “it’s fine, we got this. We have the weapons and equipment necessary to deal with bears and *shudders* hippopotamuses. We’ll be fine.”
And at first you are, you’ve learned how to dodge. You’ve learned where their territories are. You know how to defend yourself.
But then one night you are sleeping in your shelter. You’re in a tree covered temperate part of earth. It seems benign. There are been no sightings of the dreaded “hippos” around. Not even any bears. But there is a slight rustle of the undergrowth. You try and ignore it telling yourself it is just the wind.
Then you hear the rustle again. closer this time.
You peer out into the darkness but see nothing amongst the trees.
The rustle again and now you realise you can smell something. It’s musky and slightly foul. It’s the smell of an omen, a warning. But what of? Where is this smell coming from.
You sit up, but it’s too late. The foul smelling creature is on you. You are hit with 17kg of coarse fur and vicious bites. Long dark claws tear in to you and you are pinned down white the striped creature tries to bite your throat.
It takes some doing but you manage to wrestle free. Blood drips from your wounds and already they itch with the sign of infection. The creature has a bloodied snout, rust rad, mingling with the black and white hairs. It lets out a terrifying growl from the back of its throat and looks to attack again. It’s between you and your knife, so your only choice is to back away.
Eventually the creature gives up and snuffles off in to the undergrowth, down a hole near your shelter you hadn’t noticed before.
When you make it back to your base you once again consult the captive human.
“Badger.” they say, with a solemn nod.
One word: Moose
“Our vehicles are far superior to the local human models, in range, speed, armament, and any other metric you care to name! Nothing could possibly-”
“That’s called a moose.”
Also.. dolphins.
The invasion is going slowly. The humans have caught on and are actively destroying information on the planet’s flora and fauna before Intelligence can capture and process it. All that they have are survivors’ accounts. Bears. Hippos. Badgers. Moose. It is becoming obvious this mudball planet is a full-on Death World to the unprepared, and you are so very unprepared.
You lost Jaxurn to a plant. Not even a mobile or carnivorous plant, just one that caused a vicious allergic reaction on contact that killed him in less than a rai'kor. Commander Vura'ko died to an insect bite, a tiny local pest that sucked a tiny bit of her blood and apparently replaced it with a bit of its last meal, which was full of disease. Backwash. She died to bug backwash. And yet you honestly envy them after that… thing you encountered…
When you got back to base the quarantine officer refused to let you inside. They had to roll a containment tank outside to put you in, because you all knew there would be no chance of eliminating the smell if it got into the ship’s air ducts. Smell. You wonder if your nasal slit will ever recover from this stench.
And the smell would. Not. Leave. After incinerating your gear the Q.O. had you use every cleansing agent they could think of, including a few janitorial ones, and still everyone fled the stench if they were downwind of your tank. Desperate to protect everyone’s nasal slits from the smell the quarantine officer interrogated the humans. From them, a glimmer of hope: there was a cure. Somehow the juice of a certain fruit on this mudball was the only thing that could break up the chemicals in the little horror’s spray. Immediately the Q.O. sent a team to recover buckets of the stuff and made you bathe in it. That was hours ago and it didn’t seem to be working, though. All it was doing was turning your blue skin an interesting shade of purple.
Sighing in frustration you wave the med-assist on duty over, who only approaches after checking the wind direction. Annoyed, you flip on the tank`s vox speaker.
“The humans did say it was “grape” juice that removed “skunk” stench, right?“
Every night.
It came for someone almost every night.
Any soldier alone was a viable target for this native monster that moved unseen by any but the security viewers, usually only spotted in hindsight. They were taken as silently as this earth-monster moved. Sometimes they’d find the remains in the morning taken up a tree and hung there, mostly eaten, as if it were a grisly reminder that the monster was still there, waiting unseen, to strike again.
What little they saw of the monster on the vidfeed showed true horror. Yellow eyes that shone with all the light it could gather. It had fangs as long as his grasping digits. Claws half that size formed curved hooks that allowed it to climb up their fortifications with impunity. And in the underbrush, its spots made it almost impossible to see clearly in the undergrowth, if it could be seen at all.
Even the native sentients, the humans, had a healthy respect and fear for it.
The earth natives called the monster a leopard.
It was a constant fear that muddied the senses, and let the monster hunt even more effectively as the soldiers were always on edge. Sleep deprived with fear, it made them even better targets for the monster.
But rumor was that there was worse on this planet. Rumors of a monster like a leopard but larger, and bigger in every imaginable sense. Stripped instead of spotted, which leaped from the underbrush with a sound.
A sound that burst eardrums, paralyzed entire units, and let the monster kill with impunity. While the Leopard wrestled soldiers down and ripped their throats out. This other monster, the Tiger, killed with its pounce alone.
“We’ve been through this,” Group Leader 455 snapped. “The dissection of an Earth life form will help the scientists make weapons to combat the rest of this planet’s hellbeasts. And these are domesticated. Harmless.”
The troops were not-quite-looking at her in the way troops do when they don’t want to be seen to contradict a ranking officer, but can’t quite muster a correct Expression of Enthusiastic Assent. “The name of this species,” she pointed out, “is synonymous with dullness and slowness in the language of the Earth barbarians.” Well, one language out of several thousand—these creatures needed Imperial guidance more than any other world on record—but there was no point in confusing the rank and file.
More not-quite-looking. 455 bubbled a sigh and consulted her scanner. “That one,” she decided. “Alone in the separate pasture. Scans suggest that it’s a male, which means it’s probably weaker. Possibly it’s kept isolated so that the females don’t eat it before mating season. And yes, I know some of you are here on punishment detail, but you’re still soldiers of the Imperium. This squad is perfectly capable of handling a lone, helpless, pathetic male cow.”
I’m enjoying this immensely. Wait until the aliens try Australia for size…
cheerup  aliens  earth 
8 days ago by stormclouds

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