Fully automated luxury communism

“In 2008 a Dutch professor named Mark Post presented the proof of concept for what he called “cultured meat.” Five years later, in a London TV studio, Mr. Post and his colleagues ate a burger they had grown from animal cells in a laboratory. […] The first “cultured beef” burgers are likely to enter the market next year, at approximately $50 each. But that won’t last long. Within a decade they will probably be more affordable than even the cheapest barbecue staples of today — all for a product that uses fewer resources, produces negligible greenhouse gasses and, remarkably, requires no animals to die. It’s not just barbecues and burgers. Last year Just, a leader in cellular agriculture, cut a deal to start producing one of the world’s tastiest steaks, Wagyu. A company called Endless West, which also makes grapeless wine, has started to produce Glyph, the world’s first “molecular whiskey.” Luxury could be coming to all. The case of cultured food and drink, far from a curiosity, is a template for a better, freer and more affluent world, a world where we provide for the needs of everyone — in style…”

“To say the present era is one of crisis borders on cliché. It differs from the dystopias of George Orwell or Aldous Huxley, or hell in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. It is unlike Europe during the Black Death or Central Asia as it faced the Mongols. And yet it is true: Ours is an age of crisis. We inhabit a world of low growth, low productivity and low wages, of climate breakdown and the collapse of democratic politics. A world where billions, mostly in the global south, live in poverty. A world defined by inequality.

“But the most pressing crisis of all, arguably, is an absence of collective imagination. It is as if humanity has been afflicted by a psychological complex, in which we believe the present world is stronger than our capacity to remake it — as if it were not our ancestors who created what stands before us now. As if the very essence of humanity, if there is such a thing, is not to constantly build new worlds.

“If we can move beyond such a failure, we will be able to see something wonderful. The plummeting cost of information and advances in technology are providing the ground for a collective future of freedom and luxury for all…”

Text: Aaron Bastani, The World Is a Mess. We Need Fully Automated Luxury Communism, The New York Times.

Pic: Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog, 1994-2000.

Cartesian Rigour

“…In order to feed, maintain and entertain ever-growing cities, the countryside is becoming a colossal back-of-house, organised with relentless Cartesian rigour. That system, not always pleasant, is proliferating on an unprecedented scale. The resulting transformation is radical and ubiquitous, and manifests itself in different ways around the world.

“In America, for example, a zone runs through the middle of the country where satellite information has a direct impact on agriculture. Deep knowledge of every square inch of the earth is transmitted to the laptop of the farmer. The laptop is the new ground. From the laptop, the farmer feeds the data to a robotised tractor. Each season, an armada of sophisticated harvesters so big and expensive that they need to be shared and work 24 hours a day, operates almost like a military campaign, moving slowly from south to north as the temperature increases to create a linear tabula rasa, dividing America in two halves.

“Russia offers a different example. With the embrace of the market economy, only a fraction of Aeroflot’s once-extensive network of air routes remains. Cities that were once connected are now condemned to return to the 19th century and have to find new purposes. The results surprised. Sometimes it has led to an increased sense of serenity: making the best of an involuntary off-grid condition, a proliferation of museums, where every provincial knick-knack is valued. Superimposed on all this is the impact of global warming: melting permafrost in the north, destroying structures and infrastructure, with new territories becoming suitable for agriculture and shifting a large area of farming to the north.

“Other examples of the countryside’s transformation range from the opportunities in Germany to channel refugees to revive moribund, half-abandoned regions to the impact of Chinese railways that transform the heart of Africa. Then there are the sweeping effects of grand political redesign, not just under dictators such as Stalin and Mao but also under the European Union’s common agricultural policy. In short, for better or worse (often both) the countryside has been completely involved in modernisation, on a global scale.”

Text: Rem Koolhaas, The Future is in the Countryside. The New Statesman.

Pic: Disney Epcot Center, concept art.

“A beguilingly simple, yet fatal problem…”

 

“It’s 2025, and 800,000 tons of used high strength steel is coming up for auction.

“The steel made up the Keystone XL pipeline, finally completed in 2019, two years after the project launched with great fanfare after approval by the Trump administration. The pipeline was built at a cost of about $7 billion, bringing oil from the Canadian tar sands to the US, with a pit stop in the town of Baker, Montana, to pick up US crude from the Bakken formation. At its peak, it carried over 500,000 barrels a day for processing at refineries in Texas and Louisiana.

“But in 2025, no one wants the oil.

“The Keystone XL will go down as the world’s last great fossil fuels infrastructure project. TransCanada, the pipeline’s operator, charged about $10 per barrel for the transportation services, which means the pipeline extension earned about $5 million per day, or $1.8 billion per year. But after shutting down less than four years into its expected 40 year operational life, it never paid back its costs.

“The Keystone XL closed thanks to a confluence of technologies that came together faster than anyone in the oil and gas industry had ever seen. It’s hard to blame them — the transformation of the transportation sector over the last several years has been the biggest, fastest change in the history of human civilization, causing the bankruptcy of blue chip companies like Exxon Mobil and General Motors, and directly impacting over $10 trillion in economic output.

“And blame for it can be traced to a beguilingly simple, yet fatal problem: the internal combustion engine has too many moving parts.”

Text: Seth Miller, This Is How Big Oil Will Die, NewCo Shift.

Pic: Simon Stalenhag, The Mascot, from Electric State.