Orellana’s Robots

Historian Ed Hart explained what happened next:

Orellana’s Robot

Having traveled 200 leagues (a league equates to 2.6 miles) down fast-flowing rivers through inhospitable country where food was scarce, in the end his party hadn’t the food, the capacity, the support or the means to alleviate Pizarro’s predicament. There was no way back. They were both in the same famished predicament only in different places.

By improvisation and his unique skills, especially in languages, Orellana and his men escaped being swallowed by the jungle, eaten by crocodiles or strung up on poles by headhunters, and managed to find their way across the uncharted continent to the Atlantic Ocean, where they navigated the coast to Venezuela and returned from there to Spain. To Emperor Carlos V, Orellana’s tale seemed fantastic and contrived, and so it was that Carvajal’s Jornadas languished four centuries on a dusty library shelf, unpublished.

In recent days we have seen ramped-up interest both in the terra preta soils, which, as Lovelock said, are essential to any plan to escape the juggernaut of rapid climate change, and in the history of ancient civilizations. All around the planet, LIDAR imaging has rolled back the forest cover and, in the Amazon, revealed vast city complexes, validating Carvajal’s account. While slow to understand what soil scientists like Sombroek, et al, were telling them, climate scientists are now connecting the dots and starting to glimpse how a terra preta therapy might heal our atmosphere and oceans. Read More

How Life Under Predatory Capitalism Traumatized a Nation

Predatory Capitalism

Here’s a fact that might shock and alarm you. People in Venezuela and Iraq feel less stressed than Americans. Venezuela — you know, the poster child of social collapse, and, war-torn Iraq. How can Venezuelans and Iraqis be less stressed than Americans? What the? Just think about that for a second.

I recently took a look at Gallup’s World Emotional Temperature thermometer. It’s a survey about how people feel, all over the world. Feel — not just how much they’re making, Instagramming, tweeting, etcetera — but what their lives really feel like. Gallup didn’t quite see it — or maybe didn’t want to talk about it — but the facts say…surprise, surprise: America’s the most stressed out, angriest, and worried country in the rich world — by a very long way. It’s more stressed than many middle income countries, and even poor ones (like El Salvador, Panama, and Guatemala).

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Hague climate change judgement could inspire a global civil movement

Hague climate change judgement

“You have been negotiating all my life”, cried out 21-year-old Anjali Appadurai from the lectern of a UN climate change conference four years ago. The activist, speaking on behalf of her nation’s youth, could have speaking for anyone who has taken a mild interest in more than two decades of international negotiations on climate change and stood aghast as world leaders have failed to protect the most basic of human rights – to exist.

But today, thanks to 886 Dutch citizens who decided to sue their government, all of that may change. We may not have to wait for the politicians to save us – the lawyers may step in instead. In the first successful case of its kind, a judge in the Hague has ruled that the Dutch government’s stance on climate change is illegal and has ordered them to take action to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a hefty 25% within five years. Read More

 

 

 

 

The Making Of Dystopian Societies: Swarms of drones, Piloted by Artificial Intelligence, May Soon Patrol European Borders

Imagine you’re hiking through the woods near a border. Suddenly, you hear a mechanical buzzing, like a gigantic bee. Two quadcopters have spotted you and swoop in for a closer look. Antennae on both drones and on a nearby autonomous ground vehicle pick up the radio frequencies coming from the cell phone in your pocket. They send the signals to a central server, which triangulates your exact location and feeds it back to the drones. The robots close in.

Autonomous Drone Swarms

Cameras and other sensors on the machines recognize you as human and try to ascertain your intentions. Are you a threat? Are you illegally crossing a border? Do you have a gun? Are you engaging in acts of terrorism or organized crime? The machines send video feeds to their human operator, a border guard in an office miles away, who checks the videos and decides that you are not a risk. The border guard pushes a button, and the robots disengage and continue on their patrol. Read More

Escaping Extinction through Paradigm Shift

The driving motor of this destruction is the ‘endless growth’ paradigm of our current global economy.

Paradigm Shift

We have been trained to believe that voting every once in a while in parliamentary systems suffices for effective democratic action that serves our legitimate interests. We now know that this is not enough. Our democracies are not just broken, beholden to special interests belonging to an interlocking network of energy, defense, agribusiness, biotechnological, communications and other industrial conglomerates dominated by a tiny minority.

Our democracies are in a state of collapse: incapable of addressing the systemic complexity of the crisis of civilization. As they fail, they are veering toward rejecting their own democratic ethos toward increasing authoritarianism — shoring up centralized state powers to ward off dangerous ‘Others’ and unruly citizens. And so it is only natural that we feel the most immediate response must be to react against this state of abject failure. Yet this response itself is a function of the same sensation of helplessness and paralysis induced by the system itself.

The problem is that liberal democracies in their current form are in a state of collapse for a reason: they are, indeed, incapable of addressing the systemic complexity of the crisis of civilization. No amount of nonviolent resistance will provide our existing political institutions with the capacity to address the crisis. Because the problem runs much, much deeper. Read More

The U.N. Report on Extinction vs. Mike Pompeo at the Arctic Council

It’s rare that you get to see, in sharp focus, opposite world views fighting for the planet’s future at the same time, but it happened on Monday. First came the summary findings of a fifteen-hundred-page United Nations report on biodiversity—that is, on everything that isn’t us. And it was as depressing a document as humans have ever produced. We find ourselves, the scientists who wrote it said, in the early days of an auto-da-fé that is consuming a staggering percentage of creation. Humans have destroyed many of the habitats on which the rest of nature depends and caused the temperature of the earth to rise; as a result, “around 1 million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken.” The report serves as a kind of pre-obituary for all of the creatures now on the way out—the current global rate of extinction is estimated as “already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years.”

 One would think that would be reason enough for us to act. The idea that a million chains of being could be snapped in our short time on Earth should, perhaps, hit us with at least the emotional force of the fire in the eaves of Notre-Dame. But the researchers who produced the U.N. report are (sensibly) unwilling to stake the fight on our morality; they appeal primarily to the self-interest of the one species in control, providing reminders that a diverse natural world makes our lives possible. From the pollinators and the organic matter in soil that helps crops grow to the mangrove swamps that shield us from storms, “nature’s contributions to people are vital for human existence,” the authors write, and these resources are being depleted. Read More