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…in the geopolitical, economic, and climate chaos involved I expect we’ll tragically lose a few billion people.

- The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding, p. 53

Up until March 20th of this year, I hadn’t ever lost a grandparent. When I heard the news of Grandpa Mike’s death, I was in my quiet apartment a thousand miles away and in the middle of eating dinner, so the immediate emotional impact was somewhat blunted. I did fly to Los Angeles for his memorial service a few days later, but I didn’t cry, or express much emotion of any kind, until much later.

I started reading The Great Disruption on April 21st, and ran into the quote above while eating dinner that evening. It hit me like a ton of bricks, despite Gilding’s lack of supporting evidence for that specific assertion. Two nights after reading those words, while lying in bed, I cried for those billions of hypothetical deaths that haven’t happened yet. So perhaps believing in Gilding’s version of inevitable catastrophe was my way of accessing the grief for Grandpa Mike that I had been trying and failing to feel.

Something in human nature seems fascinated by the end of all things. Is it simply an extension of the smaller death each of us faces? Or perhaps a streak of egotism is involved, for out of countless human generations, it would surely mark ours as unique to be the last.

- “Whose Millennium?” by David Brin, pp. 188-189 in his collection of stories and essays called Otherness

It’s not as if my preemptive grief for a still-thriving civilization is terribly unusual. As I mentioned in my recent entry about movies, belief in impending doom seems to be part of the spirit of the times – an amplification of a perennial human tendency, triggered partly by the recent turn of the millennium, and further reinforced by the dire warnings of climate scientists and the Club of Rome. Most activists resist this tendency, of course, noting that belief in the imminent end of the world leads to a lack of concern for long-term social, economic, and environmental problems. But maybe it will turn out that my career as an activist died with my grandfather, and just hasn’t stopped twitching yet.

“If you go to an audition and don’t really try, if you’re not really prepared, if you didn’t work as hard as you could have and you don’t win, you have an excuse. . . . Nothing is harder than saying, ‘I gave it my all and it wasn’t good enough.’”

- Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violin prodigy, as quoted in Mindset by Carol S. Dweck (previously quoted in this blog entry)

All else being equal, helping to save the world appears to be a rather poor fit for my innate pessimism, modesty, and the low energy that comes with my limited-exercise lifestyle. If it weren’t so important to do my part, I’d much rather focus on more entertaining pursuits, like amateur music composition or sci-fi fan art. So maybe the intersection of my existing personality mismatch, my grandfather’s death, and Gilding’s book has pushed me over the edge into assuming that I no longer have a duty to lead the stressful and unrewarding life of an activist. All I have to do, as demonstrated in my first post about Gilding’s book, is wholeheartedly embrace the first half of his thesis while flatly rejecting the second half. This seemingly self-contradictory position feels like a possible betrayal of my deeply held belief in honesty, which may account for my continuing attendance at activist meetings and events.

This line of thought is interesting because it suggests a number of countervailing actions I could take: exercising more, working on my self-confidence (which my manager at work wants me to do anyway), and looking for opportunities to apply my artistic skills and sci-fi ideas toward some activist cause, like my friend Saab does. But the most important question here is still whether I can honestly be certain enough of the inevitable doom I see as implied by Gilding’s arguments to justify what would otherwise be a nearly unforgivable dereliction of duty. So in my next entry, I’ll delve deeper into the question of just how persuasive Paul Gilding really is.

 

P.S. My first and possibly only experience with The Work That Reconnects was almost completely unhelpful. Naturally enough, if you get a bunch of people in a room to express their shared feelings of despair to each other, it tends to validate and reinforce that despair. How this is supposed to lead to a feeling of empowerment, particularly in the sense of our capacity to work on behalf of a world we believe to be inevitably doomed, is something I still don’t understand.

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As my friend Lion pointed out to me recently, a lot of movies these days are pushing a very bleak view of the future, essentially advising audiences to prepare for inevitable doom. My mother’s reaction to this observation is that I should avoid that kind of movie, particularly in my present state, and she may be right. But Joe McHugh argues otherwise in his presentation, “Slaying the Gorgon,” which I attended at the Seattle Bioneers satellite conference in 2009. He says that when faced with realities too terrible to face directly, we should seek to understand them using the “mirrored shield of myth” (analogous to the strategy Perseus uses to kill Medusa, hence the name of the talk). So lately I’ve been looking at movies through that lens, and what follows are the results of my recent research into the modern mythology of the apocalypse. (Note: all four reviews have spoilers.)

 

The Croods )

 

Oblivion )

 

Iron Man 3 )

 

Star Trek Into Darkness )

Okay, so those last two didn't fit the theme very well, but luckily this year’s upcoming releases will provide plenty more fodder for this investigation. After Earth comes out next week, Man of Steel (which starts out with the destruction of the planet Krypton) is less than a month away, and Elysium (which is more of a dystopia, but still raises the question of how it got that way) comes out in early August. I might skip After Earth if the reviews are terrible (which seems likely given M. Night Shyamalan’s recent track record), and I’m very likely to skip Pacific Rim, the invasion-of-the-giant-lizards movie that comes out in July. But that still leaves plenty of apocalyptic sci-fi madness to experience and study, even though my mom says I shouldn’t.

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As a passionate environmentalist, science-fiction fan, and computer graphics aficionado who's also mildly obsessed with flying creatures of all kinds, I couldn't help but enjoy the movie Avatar.  Outside the theater I can reflect on its lame dialogue, stereotyped characters, and a plot that seems like a cross between Pocahontas, FernGully: The Last Rainforest, and Star Wars (with giant alien birds standing in for X-Wing fighters).  But these intellectual critiques barely impinged on my consciousness while immersed in the visually spectacular world James Cameron's team so painstakingly crafted, and the journey of the man who has to save it.  And the movie's record-breaking box-office success attests to the breadth of this emotional appeal, which clearly affects many people with much more typical interests than mine.

An Obama speech such as Wednesday's State of the Union address can have a similar effect, the finely-crafted words allowing you to forget for awhile the ugly, messy realities of American politics, and imagine in its place a world where all our legislators could put aside their petty differences and work together in pursuit of goals anyone can agree on.  For instance, to hear Obama tell it, you'd think that anyone interested in fighting global warming, creating jobs, or restoring America's global economic dominance would support passage of a strong clean-energy bill (though one that will likely include nuclear power, "clean coal," and offshore oil drilling, as he mentioned in passing).  And who could possibly object to a health-care reform bill that will reduce costs for struggling families in a recession?

I imagine that during the speech, even some Republican Congresspeople were drawn in by the President's smooth rhetoric and briefly imagined reshaping their positions to match his vision.  But after stepping outside that chamber, it probably took them mere moments to shake their heads and reassure themselves that they didn't believe a word of it.  Just as the "hero" character in Avatar betrays his own species and its economic interests for the sake of some sexy aliens and their beautiful wilderness, they might have thought, so cooperating with the Obama agenda for the sake of bipartisanship and "progress" would mean betraying America.  Or at least betraying the GOP.


P.S. Amusing factoid: What does Avatar have in common with the movie Titanic, other than James Cameron and broken records for both production cost and box-office returns?  Sappy theme songs with almost the same opening lines:

Titanic: "Every night in my dreams, I see you, I feel you..."
Avatar: "Walking through a dream, I see you..."

My advice: Don't look up the rest of the lyrics if you value your brain cells.
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"If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm."
        - Dr. James Hansen, NASA

"While agreeing unabated emissions pose serious risks, some prominent scientists and economists focusing on climate policy said the 350 target was so unrealistic the campaign risked not being taken seriously — or could convey the wrong message. 'Three-fifty is so impossible to achieve that to make it the goal risks the reaction that if we are already over the cliff, then let's just enjoy the ride until it's over,' said John Reilly, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology."
        - Andrew C. Revkin and Nick Perry, "Worldwide Demonstrations Advocate '350' Carbon Limit," The Seattle Times October 25, 2009

"Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done."
        - Paul Hawken, commencement address at the University of Portland, May 3, 2009

The 350.org Global Day of Climate Action, almost certainly the biggest single political event in history, happened three weeks ago yesterday, and I haven't posted about it until now. Why? Because I didn't know what to think after attending an event, listed on the 350.org website but actually part of an unrelated Seattle Town Hall lecture series, in which Professor David Battisti of the University of Washington provided the climate science endorsement of that John Reilly quote above. His graph of climate futures, taken from the IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios, defines stabilizing CO2 levels at just over 500 ppm by the year 2100 as a "utopian" scenario in which environmentalists achieve everything they can reasonably hope for.

In a way, I realized after calming down for a week or so, this didn't say anything I hadn't already been aware of. Politics is about compromise, global politics doubly so, and so it stands to reason that however urgent the need for drastic action, chances are it simply won't happen unless the threat is imminent. And since the climate has actually cooled a bit since 2005 (a blip in the overall warming trend, of course), the idea that the climate crisis is already in progress and spiraling toward global catastrophe is currently not believable enough to spur strong action at the global climate negotiations in Copenhagen next month.

In a personal communication, Professor Battisti admitted that the 350 movement has a use, to serve as a high enough upper bound to possibly achieve a semi-decent commitment to action after the inevitable compromises are made. But now it looks like even that may be a pipe dream. Despite the pressure of those 5200 events occurring in 181 countries on October 24th,

". . . depressingly, all predictions point to a big, fat non-event. The pundits, and even the lead negotiators, tell us that we can’t expect that 'FAB' (fair, ambitious and binding) treaty we’ve all been working for to extend the work of the Kyoto agreement. There are just too many disagreements and unresolved issues, they say, between 'developed' and 'developing' countries over issues ranging from targets for reducing global warming pollution to investments in clean energy technology and the adaptation funds needed to transition away from a quickly warming world.

"And so, we squabble as the world burns."
        - 1Sky Campaign Director Gillian Caldwell, "What's a grrrl to do when everyone predicts disaster?" on the Care2 Global Warming Blog

In search of an answer to the question posed in that article title (or a more gender-neutral version thereof), I wrote a sort of fable to try and convince myself that an inspiring future could exist in which civilization heroically survives and prospers in a hot, damaged world. Please read it and tell me what you think.

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I finally decided I couldn't wait any longer--I had to get rid of that boring "Thoughts on the Environmental Crisis" title, which virtually guarantees me a permanently small readership.  I needed something short and catchy, like Technozoic.  But since I couldn't think of anything clever and original offhand, and had reluctantly decided that trying to become "The SolSeed Eco-Blog" put too many constraints on what I could say, I decided to use Brian "Space4Commerce" Dunbar and his sometime nemesis, Bruce "Space4Peace" Gagnon, as a model.  (There must be an alternate timeline where they're allies; after all, as far as we're presently aware, the commercialization of space is the alternative to its dominance by the military.)

But wait, I thought--while I'm very interested in space colonization and growing new biospheres, that's a pretty small fraction of what I write about on this blog.  So Space4Life isn't really a good enough title.  Making it OpenSpace opens up at least four possible interpretations:
  • The outer-space aspect, of course: if Open is a verb, the title clearly refers to the opening of the Final Frontier for colonization by the seeds of Gaia.  Which is fine, as long as we don't repeat the evils of the first colonial era by landing on already-living worlds and overexploiting/exterminating their inhabitants.
     
  • The classic environmentalist stand for Open Spaces: the preservation of natural landscapes, both as habitat and for the enjoyment of hikers, campers, and sometimes even hunters.  It's a good time to be promoting this ideal, with the release of acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns's new film, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," coming out next month on PBS.
     
  • As an abstract metaphor, with "Life" referring to the process of living, usually in an exclusively human sense.  This would cover, albeit obscurely, the political and economic issues I discuss: for example, America needs to maintain public space for free and open dialog, rather than surveilling the heck out of us and pouncing on whoever trips a computer search algorithm looking for words that might be related to terrorist activity.
     
  • On a similar note, there's the reference to Open Space Technology, which was used to organize the first two SolSeed events and is very Web 2.0: the conveners just provide a space and an open wall where any participant can tape up agenda items.
As long as I was changing the title, I decided a facelift for the site's appearance was also a good idea, allowing for a subtitle and more horizontal space for my entries.  Let me know what you think!
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"Take me where I am supposed to be,
To comprehend the things that I can't see."
- Melissa Etheridge, "I Need To Wake Up"

Bad poetry )

I was moved to write a really bad imitation of Martin Niemöller's famous poetic statement by an image I encountered less than two hours ago, and wish I could have photographed: a small child peering out the window of the laundry room in my building, looking at the fire truck whose ladder was extended to the roof, while his parent/guardian, totally unconcerned, worked on transferring some clothes to the dryer.  The firemen (and one firewoman) hadn't forced them or anyone else to evacuate, apparently, because they were pretty sure that the building wasn't really on fire.  There was no smoke visible from outside, and all the smoke detectors were found to be untriggered, meaning the cause of the alarm wasn't even a typical stovetop flare-up, just some fault in the alarm system.  But I talked to the guy operating the ladder, noting that some people had been wandering back into the building for awhile, and he basically said they should have been stopped because "pretty sure" simply isn't good enough.

The lesson here is that even climate skeptics should acknowlege that they might be wrong, and it might be a good idea to do something about that just in case.  But on the other hand, it's all too understandable that we're reluctant to take action when we can't see that any given possibly-climate-related disaster affects us in any significant way.
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“Global humanity, for example, resembles a pioneer species colonizing a new niche; to achieve the global equivalent of successional maturity--to last in the biospheric long run--we will have to increase our connections with other species, and recycle our materials more adeptly through global biosystems of greater diversity and complexity.”

- Eric D. Schneider, “Gaia: Toward a Thermodynamics of Life,” in Scientists Debate Gaia: The Next Century


The Rare Earth hypothesis claims that planets with complex life (i.e. anything bigger than a bacterium) are probably exceedingly rare, which makes them indescribably precious. This is the premise used by Klaatu in the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still to justify destroying humanity. Which might make sense, if we were an actual threat to the existence of complex life on Earth. The quote above, along with the fact that Earth has weathered five previous mass extinction events in which a large percentage of all species died out (around 90% in one case), strongly suggests otherwise.

It's not all life on Earth that's in danger--just the relative environmental stability that makes our current technological civilization possible. If Klaatu just waits a few more decades and we continue to damage that stability, the problem will resolve itself--and of course, if we instead figure out how to become a more ecologically mature species using new technologies, Klaatu will likewise no longer have to worry.

Now, maybe twenty years from now we'll invent some superweapon capable of sterilizing the whole planet, and maybe that's what Klaatu's masters were predicting. But without making that explicit, the premise of the movie just looks stupid. (Unfortunately, with that addition, the whole thing would spiral dangerously close to imitating the plot of Plan 9 from Outer Space, widely regarded as one of the worst movies of all time.)

Spoilers )

All in all, this movie was unhelpful, and quite possibly harmful, to the environmental movement.

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Okay, this one's fairly nonpolitical: Go see WALL-E. it's not just a funny movie about a cute little robot who gets to go into space--it's also a devastating satire about the effects of unchecked consumerism, especially on the global environment. (You'd never realize this from looking at the official movie website, but the film itself is very unsubtle.) WALL-E essentially lives on Earth-that-Was, the planet we used up and abandoned, and spends his days building skyscrapers out of all the junk that has piled up everywhere, turning the world into a toxic wasteland nearly devoid of life. His best friend is a cockroach, a member of the multicellular species rated "most likely to survive the Apocalypse without batting an eye." (Verbiage shamelessly copied from a comment by [livejournal.com profile] firelizard5.)

After several misadventures involving another robot and a large rocket, WALL-E finally meets some humans, living permanently aboard a gigantic interstellar city-ship--which is pretty cool, but they don't really appreciate it because they spend most of their time staring at screens (yeah, just like me). They're also all morbidly obese because they never use their legs; instead, they're carried around in mobile lounge chairs. The company responsible for the evacuation, Buy n Large (which has its own fake website), appears to have been a de facto world government; their CEO, played by Fred Willard in a couple of short live-action segments, addresses us from a parody of the White House press room, complete with a "World CEO" presidential seal.

The film's outlook is far from bleak, however. Although unevenly written, the love story between the two robots is passably amusing and heartwarming, and I'll admit that the dramatic happy ending (which continues into the credits) brought tears to my eyes. As always, Pixar provided brilliant visuals, including innovative atmospheric effects for desolate Earth, which is swept by dust storms much like those we've seen on Mars. Oh yeah, and the malfunctioning robots that accidentally get freed and go on a deranged rampage through the bowels of the starship? They're good guys.


Speaking of consumerism, if you're looking for ways to raise awareness about the climate crisis, maybe don't buy a plush polar bear as a mascot just yet. According to the New York Times environment blog, the species has weathered one or two very warm periods in the past, eras when there was little Arctic sea ice, and the current threats to polar bears' survival are mostly due to direct human impacts on the oceans where they hunt.
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Note to Philip Pullman fans: Quibble all you like about the strange rearranging of the plot in the new Golden Compass movie, or the unnecessary renaming of the polar-bear king from Iofur to Ragnar--but please don't complain so much about the lack of overt religious references. Rest assured: in this movie, religion is still the bad guy. It's a thinly-veiled allegory instead of a direct statement, yes, but if that counts as "taking the heart out of it, losing the point of it, castrating it" (as claimed by the National Secular Society), then the makers of the most recent Chronicles of Narnia incarnation must have done the same to their source material by failing to say outright that Aslan is actually a parallel-universe Jesus.

The key to decoding The Golden Compass movie's Magisterium/Authority is the use of the word "heresy," which as everyone knows is most commonly used in a religious context. Given this clue, it becomes easy to recognize the cathedral-style architecture of the Magisterium HQ and the cross that's clearly visible in the Magisterium sigil. The more clever members of the audience will see straight through the awkwardly-phrased line about how "some of our ancestors disobeyed the Authority, thus bringing the evil Dust into the world." And anyone who wants clinching proof need only spend a moment on the Internet to find out what the word "Magisterium" actually means. With that last bit of information in hand, the fact that the script takes pains to avoid saying the word "church" starts to look just plain silly.

Anyway...how about environmental themes in the movie? Well, it does include plenty of free publicity for polar bears, but "Iorek is drowning" doesn't really work as an anti-global-warming slogan. I mean, the guy lives in a parallel universe where, if anything, the problem seems to be too much cold. But how about the idea of daemons, which in my opinion is the coolest thing about the whole story? Doesn't watching all those little critters scampering and flitting around the human characters make you want to live in a green-built community that attracts wildlife rather than repels it? ...Okay, maybe not, but I had to try.
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It's been months and months since I saw the movie, but I always meant to write something about it. What finally forced me to stop putting it off was the third-to-last sentence in Cradle to Cradle (see previous entry for the full book report): "What would it mean to become, once again, native to this place, the Earth--the home of all our relations?" To some extent, Happy Feet shares McDonough and Braungart's pessimistic view that all our unnatural technology has made humanity alien to its own world.

But that theme doesn't edge its way into the movie until after the opening act, so let's start with first impressions: the filmmakers seemed determined to introduce us to the world of the Antarctic by recreating the highlights of the documentary March of the Penguins in CG. Intriguingly, the entire visual style of the film follows from this initial documentary realism: talking animals in animated films are usually anthropomorphic caricatures, but here they are photorealistic down to the last detail, with the exception of more flexible beaks or jaws and more expressive eyes. This seems oddly appropriate to a film whose characters refer to humans as "aliens."

The method imposes some limitations on the filmmakers. Like Bambi, the birds and marine mammals in Happy Feet have no hands, which means that their exaggerated intelligence can't be matched by a full range of humanlike activities. But that's okay because, as you'll recall from the trailers, the film's focus is squarely on voices and, well, feet.

And this is where the filmmakers don't go nearly far enough. By itself, I would accept the conceit of symbolizing the real Emperor Penguin pair-bonding ritual, in which mates* can identify each other's calls amid a sea of thousands, by letting the animated characters sing like humans. But if humans are barely-heard-of alien creatures from beyond the edges of the known world, then why do the penguins' "heart songs" turn out to be well-known American pop songs? Even this could be almost reasonable if not for one scene in which the characters actually rattle off the names of the singers! And in two other painful scenes, the main character, Mumble, is ridiculed for his tone-deafness because when he tries to sing, what comes out is the actual cry of the Emperor Penguin, a two-tone descending call that has its own haunting beauty.

After the filmmakers have exhausted the potential of their main, crowd-pleasing premise (singing and tap-dancing penguins could only fill the space of a music video, not a motion picture), they find themselves an environmentalist purpose. Mumble, played by Elijah Wood, gets to go off on a quest to save his world from destruction--specifically, from the danger of running out of fish to eat. Apparently, the fishing fleets of the world have descended on the Antarctic Ocean and, as usual, have brought the area's fishable species to the brink of collapse. (In real life, this and other threats have not been sufficient to move the Emperors even one notch down the ladder toward endangerment, though Wikipedia says this may change soon.)

So instead of tossing a magic ring into a volcano, Mumble has to win the hearts and minds of the "aliens" by--bizarrely--breaching the boundaries between the symbolic and the realistic that the filmmakers have set up. He teaches his colony to tap-dance, and they do it while humans are watching. This nonsensical display turns the real-looking penguins into nothing more than CG mascots advertising their own survival, proving once again that in Hollywood's opinion, getting people to respect and cherish nature for its own sake is a lost cause.

* Contrary to the movie's heavy implications (the use of the phrase "soul mates," etc.), Emperor Penguins do not mate for life. Each pairing lasts only a year.
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My video response to Chris Dodd's efforts aimed at reversing the dangerous trend toward the loss of civil liberties embodied in the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

My entry in a global warming ad contest aimed at influencing the 2008 presidential candidates.

My entry for the YouTube Presidential Debate Question contest, asking pointed questions about the thorny issue of overpopulation. Post positive comments please!

And finally, check out the Church of Gaia/Earthseed main page for some recent updates.
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Environmentalists almost always value the natural over the artificial. They say that humanity is on an inherently perilous path, with accelerating technological "progress" motivated by short-term economic interests rather than real human welfare or long-term sustainability; and that by contrast, the global biosphere, a system that has balanced itself over the course of countless millions of years, is fundamentally much safer. This is more or less true; however, it doesn't mean that technology is fundamentally evil. Fatalism to the contrary, it is possible to slow down and to think harder about the consequences of our actions. It's also true that however dismal their success rate, most human societies do have an explicit mission to reduce suffering and increase happiness and prosperity. Very few natural systems even behave as if they had such a goal.

To put it more poetically:

The works of Nature are great and beautiful,
and also terrible.
The works of Humanity are great and terrible,
and also wonderful.
There is great beauty and great suffering on both sides,
and in all the lands between.

Look up at a great tree,
and feel wonder and awe at the power of natural forces.
Look up at a great skyscraper,
and feel wonder and pride at the power of human hands and minds,
as well as sadness that our power is so ill-guided,
creating mighty weeds that grow out of control.

Realize that we know what harmony is,
and that we can learn to pursue it.
We are like any new species finding a new niche,
gobbling up all the possibilities we find without stopping to think.
But we are unlike any other species,
because we can stop to think
about the global impact of our species
and decide to change our ways.
We can drive the world deep into chaos and death
in an eyeblink of ecological time.
In that same eyeblink, we can learn from our mistakes,
and find ways to live in harmony with each other
and with our world.
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"Seeds of Gaia" is a short but extremely complex piece of animation with bits of live-action thrown in. I created it for the "clone project" in a Digital Cinema course. It's a music video about a possible future in which Earth is dying, but with the help of some rogue colonists, other worlds are coming to life. It goes by really fast, for two reasons: animation is hard work, and the timing has to be roughly in line with the music track, which is less than a minute long.

"World of the Ninja" isn't really mine. I helped make it, but it was written and directed by Diego Bustamante, a member of the Really Ambitious Filmmaking Team, which I founded. It's a parody of National Geographic specials, and apart from that, the title speaks for itself.
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Well, I've graduated now and figured I should finally get around to posting some stuff I wrote for class that's also relevant to this LiveJournal. Here's the first entry, an autobiographical essay I wrote for a class called Classic Environmental Readings.

Read the essay )
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"The Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars," says religious leader Lauren Olamina in Octavia Butler's novel, Parable of the Sower. It's an old idea in science fiction: by carrying life to other worlds, humans can serve as the seeds, the reproductive mechanism, of Earth's biosphere. Some take this literally, referring to the hypothetical planetary superorganism called Gaia; for others it's merely a useful analogy.

But there is another important reason to establish space colonies, also alluded to in Parable of the Sower: "It's a destiny we'd better pursue if we hope to be anything other than smooth-skinned dinosaurs." To be a bit poetic about the analogy, we need to evolve into what a Star Trek fan might call "the Great Bird of the Galaxy" (which was actually a nickname for Gene Roddenberry).

More prosaically: at this point, we have to acknowledge that terrible things may happen to Mother Earth no matter how hard we try to prevent them, and while a catastrophe that kills off the whole human species is unlikely, it's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. As SF authors also like to say, "humanity has all its eggs in one basket," but we can change that if we choose. Ecologists may see this as a misguided attempt to escape the natural cycle of species birth and death, even though humans will probably continue to evolve wherever we may be. But coupled with the first rationale, I think there is a very compelling ecological argument for human expansion into space.

March 2015

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