Malthusian Nightmare

Harry Harrison’s classic dystopia Make Room! Make Room!, written from the vantage point of a world of 3.4 billion in 1966, predicted a world of seven billion people by 1999. He was only a billion over, or twelve years too early, depending which way you look at it. (He overestimated the rate of US growth, though. The book ended with a Times Square billboard on new year’s eve announcing that the US had reached 344 million citizens. The chances are it’ll reach that figure this year.)

Read more…

4 March 2024

Warm Bath

With the unsettling news that Atlantic Ocean circulation is nearing a devastating tipping point, a 2006 article on the source of Europe’s mild climate is a helpful reminder that the Gulf Stream isn’t everything (via Mefi). The author doesn’t deny that the Gulf Stream has a warming effect, but points out that the effect is on coastal regions on both sides of the Atlantic. The idea that Liverpool is mild compared with Edmonton at the same latitude because of the Gulf Stream, though, is a myth—one that still prevails in the UK almost twenty years later.

I was fascinated to see just how much the Rockies affect climate not only in North America but also in Europe—not because of ocean currents, but because of air currents. But most eye-opening was the article’s opening, pointing out when and how the idea originated that the Gulf Stream is what makes Northern Europe warm: it was one man’s best guess in the mid-19th century, and has been received wisdom ever since. I’d always assumed that it was a product of oceanographers’ and climate scientists’ findings since, say, the mid-twentieth century. Nope. One guy a century earlier, in a single book. Science has progressed a fair bit since its publication four years before The Origin of Species.

Read more…

12 February 2024

Plastic Hearts

The thylacine was hunted to extinction as a supposedly large predator, but was only half as heavy as thought. The lessons of a 140-year-old thylacine brain sample.

Indo-European languages originated 8100 years ago.

A human genome has been recovered from 5700-year-old chewing gum.

Microplastics have been found in human hearts.

A UK scheme to reuse waste heat from cloud computing.

Why there was no water to fight the fires in Maui.

Climate scientists’ worst fears are here.

20 August 2023

Don’t Camp Outdoors

The trip to Rose Cottage is Cal Flyn’s account of a trip to Swona, a remote Scottish island that was abandoned in 1974. A herd of cattle has been running wild there for decades. Videos of a visit to Swona in 2000 and a history of the island capture its peaceful desolation. If you’re ever sailing due west of Burwick in Orkney, why not stop by for a visit yersel’? A Metafilter post.

2 October 2022

Neon Blue Lava

Reactions are spiking at Chernobyl.

We’re hurtling toward global suicide.

The scientists turning the desert green.

England’s forgotten rainforests.

Cool paint.

An electric vehicle motor that uses no magnets.

A battery that charges sixty times faster than lithium-ion.

The solar power of the future.

Neon blue lava.

9 June 2021


Your age in CO2. Up 28% in my lifetime. It only went up 14% between 1850 and the year I was born.

Our warmest decade.

Climate change is flooding the Arctic Ocean with light.

Hundreds of Australian species face extinction after last year’s fires.

Hormone-altering chemicals threaten human procreation.

We’re tearing apart the tapestry of life.

The scale of the threat is difficult to grasp.

Read more…

20 March 2021

Kangaroo Ground

A year of talking about climate change.

The search for clean air.

If the Australian Liberal Party approached the First World War like they approach climate change.

A huge spike in one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

UK police list Extinction Rebellion as extremists and include Greenpeace with neo-Nazis on counter-terror lists.

Laurie Garrett on the Wuhan virus.

Australian aboriginals recorded ancient sea rises in 10,000 years of oral history.

Let’s abandon climate targets and maximise climate action.

31 January 2020

The Ashes

Our scientific predictions are coming to pass. Why climate change deniers are irrelevant. The Australian public’s obsession with arson is being fueled by another social media disinformation campaign.

How a bank undermined Jimmy Carter’s Iran strategy forty years ago. We are in uncharted waters without a compass.

7 January 2020