The Uninhabitable Earth

I stumbled across it quite accidentally, this link in the New York Mag. Well researched and well written, there is even a link to an annotated version for those scientifically inclined to check out the sources and investigate the claims.

It’s a bleak future we are getting painted. Large swathes around the equator could become uninhabitable. storms and extreme weather would be commonplace. Pests like malaria would move further north as the climate warms. The acidified seas could start emitting toxic hydrogen sulfide. And it could all happen in the millennial generation’s lifetime.

One part of me is deeply fascinated. Here is just another example of homoeostasis on a massive scale. In the last few centuries we have pushed the planet in one direction, and now, after a grace time where it adjusted to the changes, it is starting to push to get back to centre. There is nothing unnatural about these predictions, in fact, as the article also points out, scientists have actually been holding back their predictions. But no amount of climate change denial is going to make even conservative estimates less real.

I will probably live to see my Norway getting a climate more akin to the UK or the continent. It will get wilder, wetter and less stable. Who knows how climate refugees and increased aggression will destabilise borders and governments. It almost makes me hope that there will be a serious change in how money works, just so the extremely wealthy will be less able to buy their way out as usual. But that is pure wistful thinking. The wealthy and powerful always have a way of slipping out of both responsibility and consequence, even if they have more ability than most to do something about the status quo.

At the same time, I am not hateful or even apathetic about the prospects. What difference would that make? On the contrary, it makes me wish to fight for financial independence and self-sustainability all the sooner. Who knows how efforts to become more resilient will actually get us, but it makes me hopeful and keeps me going. Just yesterday, I discovered a new blog full of similar attitude. Pages like Frugalwoods and Mr. Money Moustace manage to balance happiness, frugality, resource efficiency and climate consciousness all at the same time. I might not be that far along yet, but the hope is there.

This month, we have bought nothing but groceries with the disposable income available after paying fixed expenses like rent and electricity. It was surprisingly easy, and surprisingly relaxing. Our groceries came to less than ~$150 for two adults, and we spent very little time shopping, leaving time for other activities like foraging and hiking nearby. We will probably have to spend a little more this month, as we dug quite heavily into the pantry and will need to replenish stores of flour and legumes. Still, it has been an interesting experiment. Our entertainment has been free as well. In addition to hikes, we’ve found free books for our kindles and listened to audiobooks from LibriVox, as well as arranging two board game nights with friends. I haven’t seen nor been to the city centre is several weeks, and I have certainly not missed it.

I do think that it will be increasingly important to relearn practical skill in the decades to come. Maybe I will be wrong, but at least I am lucky enough to be interested in these things at any rate.

The first article also inspired me to try to outline a story. I don’t know what sort of story it would be, only that it might take place several years from now, in a dystopian place were many of these predictions have come to pass, and my generation are grandparents or even great-grandparents. What would that look like?

Until then, at least the rocket in the windowsill is growing.


2 months in Trondheim

2 months in Trondheim

Long time, no blog post.

As usually happens when there are major changes in my life, it is often easier to just hang on for the ride, rather than trying to keep up with blogging and other updates.

I am in Trondheim, back in Norway, and have spent just over 2 months in my new position. My supervisor is a rocket of energy and enthusiasm. At times it seems that all I can do is to try my very best to just hang on and try to keep up. It has been great so far, but then again I started during the quiet summer season. In autumn there will be the added stress of teaching and courses. I am quite nervous about teaching the undergrads, but I suppose I’ll just have to do my best!

After living with my amazing doppelganger while looking for an apartment (I could easily have stayed there, we have so much fun!) we managed to find a roomy basement apartment that is only partly dug into the hill behind it. To the west, we have the most gorgeous view of the city through three large panorama windows. I look forward to spending many happy evenings looking at sunsets at night. Not to mention cradling a big cup of tea or hot chocolate while watching wind and storms howl by outside!

My view the very first night in the new apartment. 

Amazingly enough, this is the first time either of us have lived in an apartment that feels… homey. Previously it’s all been student housing and shared housing and living with friends and always with this overhanging knowledge that this is temporary.

Not so in this new place.  I have a personal hope that we will be able to stay and live in Trondheim for the foreseeable future. Certainly, in an ideal world, I would like us to stay here until we have saved up enough to buy a place of our own. Hopefully it is not too lofty a goal, as neither of us are envisioning huge mansions. It might sound dorky, but one of the things I am really looking forward to is finally being able to save up more than just a few nickles and pennies here and there. Enough for both a rainy-day fund and a house fund.

I know. Crazy, right?

For that we need to work though. Luckily (or should I say unluckily?) I now have one of those jobs where I could be working from pretty much anywhere, barring any teaching, meetings or other scheduled activities.

Did you, for instance, know that polar bears are suffering not just from loss of habitat, but also from anthropogenic sources of toxins? PFCs are found in many a waterproof tent, jacket, trouser or non-stick cookware, and a recent study has found that these chemicals are already at such a high level in polar bears that they are having a detrimental effect on their steroid hormones. Steroid hormones control a lot of sex-dependent behaviours, and could be one of the reasons the polar bear is reproducing even slower than normal, having fewer cubs, more cubs dying at an adolescent stage, and perhaps also one of the reasons fewer older females are observed (source).

PFCs have been targeted quite heavily by environmental activists like Greenpeace, and a phase-out has been promised. You can help by opting for PFC-free gear next time you need outdoor kit, or choosing stainless steel, cast iron or ceramic cookware.

Because I want to live in a world where polar bears are not just a history lesson.

So it begins

I’ve now been a week at NTNU, the institution where I will be trying to work and write and generally fight for my PhD. It has been a bit messy, as starting up at a new place so often is. I have been told the real work starts tomorrow. Right now I have an office space, a teacup and an internet connection.

My main supervisor, Dr. Alexandros Asimakopoulos, is an ambitious and driven man. He has high expectations of himself and those around him. It is the sort of infectious attitude that I hope can and will shoot us into the future on a cloud of hard work and passion. His passion for excellent science, and my passion for environmental protection.

I let him know straight away that my primary driving force is that of environmental protection. It is behind almost, if not all the choices I make and the priorities I set. To protect the environment we, of course, need excellent science and bullet-proof results, meaning our goals and priorities are highly complementary. Last but not least, we need to get loud.

Dr. Asimakopoulos has experience being loud and getting heard. He has been taught by some of the best in the industry, and I am in the fortunate position of getting taught by him in turn. His hard-working spirit is infectious and admirable. He may only be 3 years my senior, but in this field and in this climate, I think that may be an advantage.

I hope I can live up to his expectations and that we will spend the next four years doing excellent work. It is easy to see that here is an opportunity that does not come along too often, so long as I grab myself up by the collar, buckle down, do the work, and do my best to keep up with him. Having heard some stories about other people’s supervisors as well, it is also a comforting thought to know that right now, I feel confident that my supervisor has my back.

Who knows. Perhaps this will be the last positive and reflected PhD post? I hope not. I value the remaining scraps of my sanity and hope the next 4 years, although they will no doubt be intense, will still leave me with a little bit of time at the end of the day to breathe out, spend some time with friends, and generally breathe some life into my hobbies and social circles again.

I’m going to need it.