This week, two different groups of scientists have found two different, currently undeveloped sources of renewable energy that have the potential to power large chunks of civilization single-handedly. One study, led by the Carnegie Institute for Science, calculated the amount of off-shore wind energy theoretically available over the open oceans, finding enough there to power the entirety of human civilization. There are technical limitations to covering that much of the sea with turbines, of course, but the point is that it’s there for the taking if we can harness it. The second study, done by researchers from Columbia University, looks at the amount of energy in water evaporation, and has even developed a prototype that can convert the natural evaporation of large bodies of water into electricity. According to their calculations, evaporation-driven engines could produce around 70% of the US’s electricity. The future is surely upon us.
More fodder for my growing hostility to social media: the New York Times shows that Russia’s interference in the election was enabled in part by the “anger, passion and misinformation that real Americans were broadcasting across social media platforms.” It seems to me that having given ourselves over to outrage generation and posturing for our peers, we’ve unwittingly set ourselves up to be manipulated for very bad purpose.
Conservative NYT opinion writer Bret Stephens makes the case for repealing the Second Amendment.
In a new journal article, Carrie Lee and Pete Erickson make the case that local governments can affect global greenhouse gas emissions, principally by fostering compact development patterns.
While attending an Indigenous People’s Day event Seattle University School of Law this week, and learned about a wonderful learning tool, Since Time Immemorial. It’s a curriculum that supplements history books with “resources, materials, lessons, and entire units to support the teaching of tribal sovereignty, tribal history, and current tribal issues within the context of Washington and US history.” The lessons go from elementary through high school level, and are aligned with both Washington grade level standards and Common Core standards.
I also listened to another great podcast from the folks at 99% Invisible, this one about how LA’s Skid Row residents joined forces with local businesses and city officials to use zoning laws to prevent Skid Row from being razed in the early 1970s. Seattle’s Pioneer Square makes an unexpected appearance on the episode, called The Containment Plan.
You may have heard this somewhere, but Proportional representation solves gerrymandering! It is often impossible to draw maps that are compact, and fairly represent both parties, and fairly represent racial minorities, and are competitive, and align communities of interest. But any flavor of Proportional representation will sweep all those problems off the table in favor of a robust, flexible system that fairly represents voters.
More evidence that most voters follow their party’s lead. They know which party they like, and adopt the policy positions that party endorses, rather than the more idealistic view that voters know which policies they like and pick the party that consistently fights for those policies.
Brene Brown, as usual, has her finger on the pulse of the nation. Her latest book, “Braving the Wilderness” is about how we can find our sense of belonging in today’s divided political climate. Yes, please!
Why does the US have an inadequate social safety net? Because we have low levels of social trust, and social trust is the very foundation of desirable political, economic, and social exchanges. Why low levels? Because of economic inequality (and racism, though the article doesn’t delve into that). How can we fix it? By fighting corruption, increasing government responsibility and accountability, and reducing inequality. (Seems like a downward spiral it’s hard to get out of: inequality frays social trust which frays the social safety net, which makes it hard to fight inequality but that’s your only hope.)
Thomas Chatterton Williams, an African-American man currently living in Berlin and working on a book about racial identity, wrote this provocative teaser about racial identity, whiteness, White Supremacy, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
How much power do presidents have to sway public opinion? Will the base support a president no matter what or hold him accountable when he gets off the partisan track? These are the kinds of things I and my professors and my cohort got excited about when I was in grad school, but nailing down definitive answers could be tough. But Trump must have sociologists salivating. As Vox shows us, he actually delivers a real life experiment that’s easier to study. His vacillating, scattershot positions on issues can show us more systematically how party loyalty trumps (ahem) ideology. For example, a couple studies show that partisans will change their tune on “liberal” positions if they hear that Trump favors that viewpoint. And Trump obviously has a knack for trumpeting (…cough…) his viewpoints in a way that establishes an Us against Them dynamic. That’s why Yale professor Dan Kahan calls him a “toxic meme” generator. And GOP voter attitudes have indeed swung pretty wildly on issues like Russia/Putin, free trade, and questions of fact about stuff like Obama wiretapping Trump. This isn’t just happening on the right, of course. “When Trump takes a position on something, liberals are sure to oppose it. Vox’s Matthew Yglesias has documented these swings in public opinion here.” There are other factors (like echo-chamber news media, and voters’ level of education and knowledge plays a role) but the upshot is that voters follow the leader: “Very few people have stable policy views. They do have stable party affiliations.”
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My esteemed colleague at Climate Solutions, Derek Hoshiko (also my hero, role-model, friend), shares his feelings of inadequacy and renewed resolve in the face of the last few seasons’ onslaught of in-your-face climate impacts. He acknowledges the climate denier that lives and breathes in us all—even climate crusaders like him: “I see the moments where I distanced myself emotionally to avoid having to confront my worst fears.” As his young son coughs through wildfire smoke and evacuations of favorite summer vacation spots, Derek then asks what the appropriate response should be when our planetary home—our children’s home—is burning.
Also from Climate Solutions, this time climate communications shero Kimberly Larson: Sexism seeps into reporting on severe storms. OMG. Yep, “Turns out we don’t take women storms seriously, either.”
Speaking of appropriate responses to climate impacts, see Public Citizens’ “Storm of Silence” report on climate coverage related to hurricane Harvey.
You may have heard of “snob zoning” or opportunity hoarding or “dream hoarding.” Now you can take a test to see if you’re part of the wealth and access segregation problem. (Note: this quiz is oriented toward a white, privileged audience IMO—probably for a reason.)
Finally, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Seattle’s one and only font of wisdom and snarky awesomeness, Vu Le posted a starter list of 21 things you can do to be more respectful of Native American cultures. One thing to do if you don’t already know, is find out what indigenous land you’re on right now so you can honor it and acknowledge the history that put you there. Here’s a map. As I write this, I’m sitting—with honor, respect, love, awe, inspiration, grief and guilt and a slew of other mixed emotions—where Puget Sound Salish call home, specifically the Swinomish people. (Thank you, Vu Le, and h/t Sightliners KM and PM.)