The Event

“After I arrived, I was ushered into what I thought was the green room. But instead of being wired with a microphone or taken to a stage, I just sat there at a plain round table as my audience was brought to me: five super-wealthy guys – yes, all men – from the upper echelon of the hedge fund world. After a bit of small talk, I realized they had no interest in the information I had prepared about the future of technology. They had come with questions of their own. […]

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“Finally, the CEO of a brokerage house explained that he had nearly completed building his own underground bunker system and asked: “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the Event?”

“The Event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr Robot hack that takes everything down.

“This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers – if that technology could be developed in time.

“That’s when it hit me: at least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology. Taking their cue from Elon Musk colonizing Mars, Peter Thiel reversing the ageing process, or Sam Altman and Ray Kurzweil uploading their minds into supercomputers, they were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape…”

Text: Douglas Rushkoff,  How tech’s richest plan to save themselves after the apocalypse

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“Nothing you could really call a nuclear war…”

“No comets crashing, nothing you could really call a nuclear war. Just everything else, tangled in the changing climate: droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, diseases that were never quite the one big pandemic but big enough to be historic events in themselves. And all of it around people: how people were, how many of them there were, how they’d changed things just by being there.”

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Text: William Gibson, The Peripheral

Pic: Filip Hodas

Surface Trawls

“Publication of the garbage patch study coincided with a new report from Britain, Foresight Future of the Sea, that found plastic pollution in the ocean could triple by 2050 unless a “major response” is mounted to prevent plastic from reaching the ocean. The report declared plastic pollution to be one of the main environmental threats to the seas, along with sea-level rise and warming oceans.

“The study included two aerial surveys in October of 2016 that took 7,000 images, and 652 ocean surface trawls conducted in July, August, and September of 2015 by 18 vessels.

“The surface trawls also filled in the rest of the story.

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“Fifty plastic items collected had a readable production date: One from 1977, seven from the 1980s, 17 from the 1990s, 24 from the 2000s, and one from 2010. Researchers also found 386 objects with recognizable words or sentences in nine different languages.

“The writing on a third of the objects was Japanese and another third was Chinese. The country of production was readable on 41 objects, showing they were manufactured in 12 different nations.

“The study also concluded that plastic pollution is “increasing exponentially and at a faster rate than in surrounding waters.” Others are not as confident that the conclusion indicates a dramatic change in distribution of marine debris. Much of the world’s marine debris is believed to lie in the coastal regions, not in the middle of oceans.

“Leonard says he was impressed with the scope of the study. “It’s strong science,” he says. “But at the same time, in this field, the harder we look, the more plastic we find.”

Text: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Isn’t What You Think it Is, National Geographic

“That was kind of weird”

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“The harsh winter storm had passed. In its aftermath, parts of the airport were overloaded, jammed with planes that had been kept on the ground during the storm. But screens showed bright yellow airplane icons — incoming flights — approaching, with many more on the way.

“One by one they landed. Unused runways became parking lots, with planes waiting for gates.

“And still they kept coming. Hours and hours passed.

It was the failure to stop them, experts said, that turned a chaotic but manageable winter-storm episode into an airport delay for the ages.

“It was the international terminals that were hit hardest, forcing the Port Authority to finally shut down two of them to incoming flights until their occupants could undo the messy knot outside and within.

“A rolling cascade of emergencies brought about by human error and winter weather led to the nightmarish long weekend, as thousands of travelers from around the world found themselves trapped. And that was before frigid water from a burst pipe began raining from a ceiling in Terminal 4, pooling amid the luggage of the stranded.

“Virtually no foreign airline canceled any flights into J.F.K.” on Thursday, said Jason Rabinowitz, a freelance aviation blogger who tracked the cascading pileup as it played out. “They all launched their aircraft, but by the time they got halfway over the Atlantic, they found out they couldn’t land at J.F.K.”

“[…] Iberia Flight 6253,  got halfway to New York from Madrid before making a U-turn and going back to Spain: an eight-hour fight to nowhere. Norwegian Air Flight 7019 made a similar journey Thursday night en route to New York from France. “That was kind of weird,” said Mona Bismuth, 27, a passenger. “We turned around at the southern tip of Greenland.” A passenger on a different flight was sent back to Moscow — twice — because of what was happening in New York.

Inside Terminal 4, a line of hungry men, women and children like something from a Depression-era newsreel formed outside a Dunkin’ Donuts stand.

“There were queues and queues of people going nowhere,” said Mike Bedigan, 22, of Britain. “People didn’t know what it was they were queuing for.”

“Outside was no different, as arriving flights were forced to sit idle on the runways. “We were, like, in a weird little no-go zone,” said Ms. Bismuth, after her Norwegian flight from France eventually arrived in New York after having made a U-turn back to Paris. “The crew was exhausted. We were exhausted.”

“Another passenger, Eliott Ozeel, 25, landed at Kennedy from France at 10:30 p.m. on Friday. He fell asleep while his plane sat on the tarmac, only to wake with the dawn more than six hours later, still there…”

Text: At J.F.K. Airport, the Planes Just Wouldn’t Stop Coming, New York Times 

Pic: Warm Bodies, 2013.

“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.