Ants rescue their injured
Some Australian birds of prey may use fire as a tool when hunting.
20% of trees in the modern Amazon rain forest appear to be the result of human domestication.
There are (vertical!) windmills in Nashtifan, Iran that were built over a thousand years ago, and are still used to grind grain today. The windmills have been maintained by generations of custodians, but the last custodian has been unable to find an apprentice, leaving the future of the windmills in doubt.
The New Yorker reviews a suite of new books that suggests that question the benefits of modern agriculture and ask if we can recapture the egalitarian spirit that seems to allow some cultures to live a life of “affluence without abundance”. The answer is a tentative “yes”, but suggests that doing this would require a significant social shift in how we construct hierarchies. But perhaps we are already seeing the beginnings of such a change?
Two barn-burner pieces on social media and the attention economy this week. The Globe and Mail begins by exploring recent research and revelations around the extent that social media companies manipulate our behavior and some of the consequences of the decisions on our behavior. It’s a good piece, albeit one that indulges in the strain of alarmist neo-luddism that is increasingly (and, I think, counter-productively) linked to critical perspectives towards technology. Fortunately, Zeynep Tufekci is having none of it, pointing out that the social failings of smart phones and social media are the result of choices we have made to exploit aspects of human behavior, not intrinsic features of these technologies. It is possible, as a society, to choose differently.
Of course, absent the sort of market correctives that Tufekci advocates, it’s not surprising that social media’s attempts to self-regulate might actually make the situation worse.
Meanwhile, terms like “fake news” have now been weaponized to such an extent that continuing to use them may be counter-productive. The way that “fake news” has come to mean “something that conflicts with my tribal loyalty” probably signals an acceleration in the process by which modern political parties are being hollowed out.
As our ability to automate common tasks increases, one option we could take as a society is to work less. Several Swedish towns have been experimenting with this, but unfortunately (and unsurprisingly) it turns out to not be a cost-saving move. There are still significant, albeit more personal, benefits though.
The New York Times ponders, “Can You Have a Good Life if You Don’t Have a Good Job?” It’s a good overview of the current state of thinking about how to make sure people have access to the “benefits” we typically associate with work, and why it’s so difficult in the U.S. to move things like healthcare from being provided by employers to being provided by the government. But by focusing on our biological needs (food, shelter, healthcare), the piece misses the larger question of what it means to have a good life - feeling needed. How can we construct a society that lets people feel engaged and needed if they can’t find a steady job?
Apparently the World Bank has been down-ranking countries just because of lefty politics.
This profile of Rod Dreher and his new book, “The Benedict Option”, is fascinating.
Iceland is working to restore its lost forests.
The “worst-case” IPCC scenarios for global warming look increasingly like the most likely case.
All of the interesting futures live between the unsustainable business-as-usual and utter doom.
A throwback to the second issue ever of Five Futures: A deep sea Greenland shark may be over 512 years old. As I noted then, repairing the Earth’s ecosystems is a job that will be measured in millennia, not centuries. It is the largest engineering project our species has ever attempted.
A city becomes poetry.