Jamais Cascio on Evolving our Society to Survive

Posted by on March 30th, 2011

This is a long, dense piece.. it’s Jamais Cascio’s speech to his Institute For The Future colleagues at their recent annual Ten Year Forecast event. It’s written in their native Futurist vernacular, but I’ve largely cut that in choosing the parts I’ve quoted here. I trust you’ll agree from this though that it’s well worth taking the time to digest and absorb it all:

..Now, I said a moment ago that this “unstable instability” is likely to last for at least another decade. I’m sure we could all spend the next hour coming up with reasons why that might be so, but one that I want to focus on for a bit is climate disruption. In many respects, climate disruption is the ultimate unstable instability system.

Climate disruption is something that comes up in nearly all of our gatherings these days, and I don’t think I need to reiterate to this audience the challenges to health, prosperity, and peace that it creates.

We’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last few Ten Year Forecasts looking at different ways we might mitigate or stall global warming. Last year, we talked about carbon economies; the year before that, social innovation through “superstructures.” In 2008, geoengineering. This year, I want to take yet another approach. I want to talk about climate adaptation.

I say that with some trepidation. Adaptation is a concept that many climate change specialists have been hesitant to talk about, because it seems to imply that we can or will do nothing to prevent worsening climate disruption, and instead should just get ready for it. But the fact of the matter is that our global efforts at mitigation have been far too slow and too hesitant to have a near-term impact, and we will see more substantial climate disruptions in the years to come no matter how hard we try to reduce carbon emissions. This doesn’t mean we should stop trying to cut carbon; what it does mean is that cutting carbon won’t be enough.

But adaptation won’t be easy. It’s going to require us to make both large and small changes to our economy and society in order to endure climate disruption more readily. That said, simply running down a checklist of possible adaptation methods wouldn’t really illuminate just how big of a deal adaptation would be. We decided instead that it would be more useful to think through a systematic framework for adaptation.

Our first cut was to think about adaptations in terms of whether they simplify systems – reducing dependencies and thereby hopefully reducing system “brittleness” – or make systems more complex, introducing new dependencies but hopefully increasing system capacity.

Simplified systems, on the whole, tend to be fairly local in scale. But reducing dependencies can also reduce influence. Simplification asks us to sacrifice some measure of capability in order to gain a greater degree of robustness. It’s a popular strategy for dealing with climate disruption and energy uncertainty; the environmental mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” is a celebration of adaptive simplification.

Adaption through complexity creates or alters interconnected systems to better fit a changing environment. This usually requires operating at a regional or global scale, in order to take advantage of diverse material and intellectual resources. Complex systems may have increased dependencies, and therefore increased vulnerabilities, but they will be able to do things that simpler systems cannot.

So that’s the first pass: when we think about adaptation, are we thinking about changes that make our systems simpler, or more complex?

But here’s the twist: the effectiveness of these adaptive changes and the forms that they take will really depend upon the broader conditions under which they’re applied. We have to understand the context.

Adaptation can take multiple forms, but more importantly, the value of an adaptation depends upon the conditions in which it is tried. Just because an adaptive process worked in the past doesn’t mean that it will be just as effective next time. But there are larger patterns at work, too. If you can see them early enough, you can shape your adaptive strategies in ways that take advantage of conditions, rather than struggle against them.

But here’s the crucial element: it looks very likely that we’re in a period where the large patterns we’ve seen before aren’t working right.

Instead, we’re in an environment that will force swift and sometimes frightening evolution. Businesses, communities, social institutions of all kinds, will find themselves facing a need to simultaneously experiment rapidly and keep hold of a longer-term perspective. You simply can’t expect that the world to which you’ve become adapted will look in any way the same – economically, environmentally, politically – in another decade.

As a result, you simply can’t expect that you will look in any way the same, either.

The asteroid strikes. The era of evolution is upon us. It’s now time to watch the dinosaurs take flight.

We’ve seen the writing on the wall for decades, but the Powers That Be have done little to stop it. Carbon trading won’t save us, no framing of it as a purely economic problem will. The sooner we start radically adapting our societies to face this new reality, the more hope we have. To use the terms in my recent essay, it’s past time for the Rescue Mission to begin.

Owning the Weather

Posted by on August 29th, 2010

“What if we could have altered the track of Katrina?”


Owning the Weather” is a documentary about geo-engineering by Robert Greene. It’s about whether or not we should engineer the weather and the different impacts that this has. And not only because we can, but also because actually we are already doing so.

Words and video via Next Nature.

See also:

Nine Strategies of Geo-engineering

Posted by on February 19th, 2010

From nextnature.net.

Jamais Cascio – Hacking the Earth

Posted by on May 20th, 2009

Jamais Cascio has put up the slides from his recent Futuresonic keynote.

It’s a provocative call that I must admit is swaying me in favour of geo-engineering.

Especially as I watch one part of my country go from drought stricken to flooded and learn that the river system the supplies our food bowl is more deeply screwed then previously thought.

As one of his slides says, “It’s a choice between unintended consequences and unprecedented catastrophe”.

Growing a Wall

Posted by on April 30th, 2009

DUNE: Arenaceous Anti-Desertification Architecture

Mangus Larsson wants to change the world.

Specificaly, he wants to grow a wall, 6,000km long stretching east to west across the Sahara Desert.  The wall would be multipurpose; providing shelter for refugees as well as slowing the desert’s own outward spread.  And yes, he wants to grow it, not build it.

Larsson’s project deservedly won first prize last fall at the Holcim Foundation’s Awards for Sustainable Construction held in Marrakech, Morocco.
One of the most interesting aspects of the project, I think, is that this solidified dunescape is created through a particularly novel form of “sustainable construction” – that is, through a kind of infection of the earth.
In other words, Larsson has proposed using bacillus pasteurii, a “microorganism, readily available in marshes and wetlands, [that] solidifies loose sand into sandstone,” he explains.

Clarifying the biochemical process through which his project could be realized, Larsson explained in a series of emails that his “structure is made straight from the dunescape by flushing a particular bacteria through the loose sand… which causes a biological reaction whereby the sand turns into sandstone; the initial reactions are finished within 24 hours, though it would take about a week to saturate the sand enough to make the structure habitable.”
The project – a kind of bio-architectural test-landscape – would thus “go from a balloon-like pneumatic structure filled with bacillus pasteurii, which would then be released into the sand and allowed to solidify the same into a permacultural architecture.”

While there are many potential pitfalls to this kind of world-hacking, any archtectural project that requires you to infect the Earth is pretty sexy in my book.

Head to BLDGBLOG for more details and more sexy pictures.

Russian space-viewable graffiti

Posted by on February 17th, 2009

Thirty eight years ago, in 1970 there was a hundred year anniversary of Vladimir Lenin, the guy who inspired Russian people to overthrow the previous Tsar government in Russia in 1917… Siberian town some woodcutters decided to celebrate this anniversary by cutting all the trees on a big field leaving only those that would form a really huge message “100 Years to Lenin”

Now you can see it yourself via Google Maps.

More stunning examples over on English Russia.

via Futurismic

Hacking the Earth

Posted by on February 10th, 2009

Jamais Cascio‘s new book Hacking the Earth is now available.  

What do we do if our best efforts to limit the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere fall short? According to a growing number of environmental scientists, we may be forced to try an experiment in global climate management: geoengineering. Geoengineering would be risky, likely to provoke international tension, and certain to have unexpected consequences. It may also be inevitable. Environmental futurist Jamais Cascio explores the implications of geoengineering in this collection of thought-provoking essays. Is our civilization ready to take on the task of re-engineering the planet?

I haven’t had a chance to read it, but Cascio rarely disappoints and is always willing to tackle the big topics… like, well, world hacking.  

Global Catastrophic Risks Talks Online

Posted by on February 3rd, 2009

On November 14th, 2008, the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology and the Lifeboat Foundation hosted the “GLOBAL CATASTROPHIC RISKS: Building a Resilient Civilization” seminar in Sillicon Valley’s Computer History Museum.     The speakers list was a who’s who of transhumanists and futurists and now the talks are all available on IEET’s website.

I haven’t worked my way through the list, yet, but they’re definately worth checking out – and they’re available in video and mp3 formats.



TIME delivers Vertical Farming design pr0n

Posted by on December 16th, 2008

Do I have to rant again about how much sense it makes to grow your food in the city you’re supplying? K, cool.

Check out this beautiful concept art, cherry picked from TIME’s slideshow on Urban Farming:





This one is my favourite though:


And yes, they’d all look much better on Mars. But we have to practice here first.

via MAKE

“Any Tool is a Weapon if You Hold it Right”

Posted by on November 18th, 2008

I love people. I firmly believe people are smarter, more resilient, more adaptable and downright more awesome than even most people give themselves credit for.

But sometimes, people really piss me off.

That said? Let’s talk about Ontological Violence. For instance, the word on the street is that the ability of homosexuals to marry and gain the same legal and religious protections and rights as heterosexual couples actually damages the status of heterosexual marriage. According to ProtectMarriage.com, all California’s recently successfully passed Proposition 8 did was to “simply restore the meaning of marriage and protects it as an essential institution that has benefited mankind since the beginning of time.”  Search for the documentation backing other recently-enacted anti-gay marriage (or gay adoption) bills and amendments, you’ll find similar statements that make a very fuzzy distinction about where the line is drawn between defending our religious freedoms and impinging on the civil rights of others.

I don’t want to get bogged down here, debating the morality of gay marriage; there are plenty of other pundits who will tell you one version or another of their moral truth. What I’m more interested in is how the very idea of homosexual marriage and homosexuality in general is a threat. I want to talk about how progressive ideas of all stripes – be they subcultures, religions, sexuality, different loves or different goals are transformed in the media and in the hearts and minds of millions into a threat. How has love become a weapon in a war that, according to Protect Marriage,  has been going on since “the beginning of time?”  How has love become a thing that inherently does violence to – if polls are to be believed – a majority of the people in the United States?

Most importantly, however, since this isn’t a piece for Feministing or Feministe, I want to talk about what this means for Grinding, for transhumanism and for the people reading this site.

That people have a tendency to “Other” the people who are not them is not a strange new development. It’s the fodder for a thousand Philosophy 201 classes around the world every year. You can cite Buber, you can cite Heidegger, you could – if you wanted – discuss the tendency for Cartesian thought to make “Self” or “Not Other” the axis upon which existence spins. But on a practical level this does us no good. The entities immersed in the system we call the world (whom I like to refer to as “People”) still display an amazing ability to separate the world into dualities, most notably “Self” and Other.” And if something threatens that sense of Self – and really, anything that is Not-Self threatens Self by its very existence – many people are quick to interpret that Not-Self’s inherient existence as an act of violence.

Whoever you are reading this, there is something about you about what you think, feel, love, hate, fear or represent that makes you – in the eyes of someone else – a bomb. In a world where the media assures us there is a Culture War, we have moved past the point where “Everything is Political.” The politicization of your every action or inaction is now taken for granted. If there is a Culture War - and so many people tell me it’s real - then you, no matter your lifestyle, are not just political, you are weaponized. It only makes sense that in a world where information flows faster and faster between corners of the globe and the people living across it that ideas – especially “progressive ideas” – acquire the high velocity of a bullet. And in this world, there’s never just one bullet, but a hail of them. I grew up in a small community in which I literally did not know that homosexuals existed. Now they are my friends and lovers.  The world opens broader and brighter every day.

Here on Grinding, we talk about bodymods and cyborging and hacks and the bits of science that can push us that much farther beyond the narrow envelope of what is human. When our voices grow loud enough, when it stops being “the guy in the Olympics”, or “that girl with the forked tongue”, or “that kid who can feel your arphid chips in your wallet” – our collective voices will echo like a barrage of gunfire to someone. Given enough velocity, any idea threatening the envelopes of “Self” or “Human” Sounds like the crack of gunfire. Transhumanist voices will sound like violence. Just like queer voices or feminist voices or voices of colour, there will be those (there ARE those, look at Stem Cell research or the nascent anti-longevity movement) who interpret our ideas as a violence done to them.

Why? It’s beyond me. I have my theories, and I tend to point people back to Terence McKenna, Alastair Crowley, Grant Morrison, Robert Anton Wilson, Judith Butler, or maybe Emmanuel Levinas for my beliefs on why we shape our internal worlds like we do. But given this is Grinding and I’ve always got an eye towards practicality here – I want to talk about the stakes. In a world where the spaces between things and people shrink because of the power of interconnective technology what is conceivably on the line when – through the mere act of existing – groups perform violence on each other?

I’m going to take a page from our friends over at Project Marriage and take this back “to the beginning of time”. Well, I’m going to take this back before there were Christian marriages, which is apparently the same goddamned thing.  I’m going to take this little anthropological time machine all the way back to the time of the cave men.

Now I’m many things, but I’m not an Evolutionary Biologist. I’m also not an Anthropologist, but I think Mohinder from Heroes is supposed to be both of those things and if he can manage it, then it can’t be too hard. (Actually he’s a genetics professor apparently, but the joke stands.) However, I do want to talk about our former friends and neighbors, the Neanderthals. Now, we don’t know for certain what happened to the Neanderthrals. What  know they were wiped out. We are here gazing intently into our interweb-reading devices and they are religated to museums, crude graves, buried under rocks and in doomed to Geico commercials. We can construct a lot of narratives as to what happened to our genetically similar, broad-browed cousins, but the specifics, sadly are the domain of the past and as such are ever mutable. We can only ever add detail to the narratives of their passing, we can’t say for certain what made them pass. (Although I’m going to offer a few of my favourite ideas in a bit.)

Bottom line is that we (and by we, I mean Homo sapiens) won and they (and by they, I of course mean Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, and let’s throw in Homo heidelbergensis, and Homo erectus just to get the point across) lost. They lost the whole ball of wax in a game where the stakes are infinite and the play was cutthroat. But how did that happen? For about one hundred and fifty to two-hundred thousand years, they were the biggest game in town. The Neandrethals were everywhere in Eurasia and while their population numbers possibly peaked at somewhere around thirty-five to fifteen thousand, they were still the star players in town, assuming the name of the game was “build intelligent bipeds”. Then, you get a period of co-existence where our heroes the Neanderthals were sharing bits of land with the newest Human upstarts on the block – Humans, fresh, if the story is to be believed, out of Africa.

The Neanderthals may not have been as un-like us as high-school biology textbooks have led us to believe. In fact, researchers at the Max Plank Institute estimate that there’s somewhere in the neighborhood of a 99.9% similarity between them and us. They used tools, and while those tools never reached the sophistication of Eurasian human tools, they theoretically weren’t too far off the “state of the art” at the time. They had fire. There is even evidence they may have had language: They had the pre-requisite musculature necessary for  human-like speech and they carry the exact same FOXP2 gene that we do – a gene tied to  the development of language skills. Prof. Steven Mithen even makes the claim that Neanderthals had a musical language that never bifurcated into two different tracks of cognition – one for language and one for music. Hell, according to some controversial findings, they may have even had musical instruments.

So what did we Humans have going for us? If the margin of survival between our two closely related groups was that narrow, what made the difference? Well, obviously weather had a lot to do with it. The weather in a lot of the areas the Neanderthals called home sucked and was not really conducive to a hunting-based society. But one serious advantage the Humans had in areas where we overlapped in harsh climes was that Humans had a “cultural cache:”  In other words we did more than hunt. We had a back-up plan. Plan B came in the form of rudimentary agriculture, whereas as best as we can tell, our Neanderthal buddies were strict hunters and carnivores. (And possibly cannibals, to boot.)

Our human ancestors also seem to have had larger social groups. While Neanderthals appear to have had small tight-knit family units, the proto-humans were forming things recognizable as communities. This of course, would have created greater social and linguistic sophistication. And as linguistic sophistication grows so does cognitive function. The Humans, by existing in larger communal structures would have been exposed to a greater range of ideas and variations. The Neanderthal would have had tradition and an extremely isolated small family unit, not facing the cognitive and social challenges that an increasingly networked proto-culture faced.

Perhaps they were simply unable to deal with the climate change of the ice age. Or perhaps when thrust into contact with our ancestors they had a sexy party and interbred (although recent studies show a great deal of doubt that there was ever an appreciable amount of interbreeding between the two competing species). There are a lot of theories on why we won out in the evolutionary sweepstakes, although perhaps the most believable (to me at least) is the one put forth by authors like Jared Diamond and Howard Bloom:  When and where these two vastly similar but very different cultures met they did what we all feel the reaction to do when encountering a perversion of “self” – they fought.

The proto-humans, being faster and having projectile weapons that the Neanderthals’ material culture never developed and – according to Bloom at least – harboring an instinctual and genetic drive to win – wiped out the Neandterthals wholesale.

Honestly, it was probably a mix of all of these things:  Climate change, differing community structures, different material cultures, outright naked aggression, scarcity of food. Me? I still leave a lot of room for the humans gaining the upper hand through the use of psychedelics, but I’ll leave “The Stoned Ape” to its own devices for now. What human culture shows in almost all of these scenarios is an ability to adapt faster than their opponents. More to the point, as author Bruce Sterling points out in his book Shaping Things, they appear to have possessed the ability to make mistakes and learn from them with a greater speed; a necessary skill for a successful culture.

The things that saw Humans win that race were not big things, really. Certainly  they were game-changing  ideas at the time: change how families work, orginize the old family units into tribes, divide labor tasks in case the present state changes so we’d have something to fall back on.  Our forebears were able to – and were forced to - try new things in case the old things stop working. These are lesions we should have learned from cavemen. Theirs was a live-or-die situation, certainly but how is now really any different?   

Look at the news, look at the polls. Over fifty percent of the people in this country (not even getting into other cultural and geopolitical morasses, here) do not have the ability to suspend their fear of the Other long enough, to embrace real change, to make mistakes at high velocity, to have a sense of self that is porous enough to allow other kinds of people to live their lives, to let love be not a weapon.

But here’s the part that keeps me up at night:  I love people.  If I didn’t, I think I’d be in a different line of work.  My fear is that the roots of Ontological Violence stem from way back in the day.  Back when two like species met each other on the world’s dusty plains and only one walked away. And the one that didn’t walk away? It had beauty, it had art, it was so much like us… but it didn’t adapt. It didn’t have the little ideas to enable a species to make it through the long haul.  Because of their inability or unwillingness to incorporate little ideas that by the light of the cities look like the simplest fucking things, they  wasted away, or we might have killed them. Who knows?  There’s no one left to tell their tales.

I still love people.

I think we’re capable of wonderful things. I think we’re capable of anything if we let go of our fear and our prejudices and the dogma that stops us from being able to learn and persevere and make new and exciting mistakes.

But I see people preaching hate on the street-corners, defending their god, their religion, and most of all their fears with hate, anger and bile. I can’t help but look at those people who see my Self as a violence against them, and wonder if they can adapt and survive and change. In those hate-filled faces I see for just a moment – despite my better nature – a big-nosed shaggy-headed singing Neanderthal watching in terror as people it cannot understand crest over the ridge with their cunning weapons and dangerous ideas. I can’t help but wonder if we freaks and queers and Others do, in fact, commit a violence against them. Because all of us - The outsiders, the pagans, the Grinders, the subculture kids, the futurists, the cyborgs, the freaks, the fags – all of us mutants and monsters?

If there’s one thing we know how to do, it’s adapt and try new ideas.

Maybe there is a Culture War. And maybe history is just repeating itself.

Esozone Reminder

Posted by on October 8th, 2008

From the Origonian’s coverage of Esozone:

They call “Esozone: the other tomorrow” a festival, but don’t expect corn dogs and Ferris wheels. Fringe thinkers, visionary artists and occult musicians from around the world will gather at Watershed, a rambling, ramshackle building near Sellwood for a weekend of … well … the inexplicable.

Noah Mickens, who will take part in the festivities, defines it this way: “Esozone is an exhibition of scientists, philosophers, magicians and performance artists, gathered together by a subculture of young radicals who don’t recognize the distinction between the four.”

    Esozone: the Other Tomorrow opens Friday in Portland, Oregon.   Where else can you participate in a “show and tell” of Mad Science and Occult Technology  one day and discuss 2012 or hear Hecate perform the next?  It promises to be an interesting event.

    Also:  I note because people keep asking me, I won’t be there to cover the event, sadly.   But I’m sure there will be at least a few of our readers there.   

Doctorow and Steffen present: The Outquisition

Posted by on July 16th, 2008

freakangels gank

The Outquisition, it’s the alterna-post-apocalypse:

Because if the ruins of the unsustainable are the new frontier, and if, as is already happening, the various economic and environmental transitions we face will leave many people unmoored from their familiar assumptions at the very least and, at the worst, cut loose from their jobs or driven from their homes, a huge number of people are going to need help forging new ways of life.

Even if we do a pretty decent job of hugging the curve, and bright green innovation brings prosperity and security to a lot of people in many regions, some others will still suffer from ecological shifts, political abandonment, economic collapse or some combination of all three. Unless things change dramatically, we have not seen our last Dust Bowl, our last New Orleans, our last Detroit. What do the people who are left trapped in degrading places, who don’t get the green collar jobs, do?

And we got on this riff about heroes who got the paradox of the moment: that abandoned people and places are sometimes the ones who most need radical innovation; that, these days, new tools and models are practically scattered all over the ground, just waiting for people to pick them up; but that those who most need them are those who least know how to find them.

What would it be like, we wondered, if folks who knew tools and innovation left the comfy bright green cities and traveled to the dead mall suburban slums, rustbelt browntowns and climate-smacked farm communities and started helping the locals get the tools they needed. We imagined that it would need an almost missionary fervor, something like the Inquisition (which largely destroyed knowledge) in reverse, a crusade of open sharing, or as Cory promptly dubbed it, the Outquisition.

Am I the only one that gets a vision of these emergent posthumans wandering the Earth: helping set up clean water, spread knowledge, settle disputes, trade tech and then vanishing once things are stabilized? Terraforming the Earth as practice for Mars?

Or dial it back a bit – and flash on Gibson’s notion of everting (from Spook Country), as the internet continues to swallow the “real world”. People start doing, instead of (mostly) just talking about it. New communities form, and blogs become ways for them to share their results, as they attempt to brute force the problem space of climate change.


LILYPAD: the return of floating cities

Posted by on June 29th, 2008

I am possibly the only person that enjoyed the film Waterworld.

Post-human mutations, floating cities… what is not to like?

Thus, I get very excited when I read large scale design pr0n like Vincent Callebaut’s LILYPAD:

It is a true amphibian half aquatic and half terrestrial city, able to accommodate 50,000 inhabitants and inviting the biodiversity to develop its fauna and flora around a central lagoon of soft water collecting and purifying the rain waters. This artificial lagoon is entirely immersed ballasting thus the city. It enables to live in the heart of the subaquatic depths. The multifunctional programming is based on three marinas and three mountains dedicated respectively to the work, the shops and the entertainments. The whole set is covered by a stratum of planted housing in suspended gardens and crossed by a network of streets and alleyways with organic outline. The goal is to create a harmonious coexistence of the couple Human / Nature and to explore new modes of living the sea by building with fluidity collective spaces in proximity, overwhelming spaces of social inclusion suitable to the meeting of all the inhabitants – denizen or foreign-born, recent or old, young or aged people.

And it would make good practice for any future Space Colonies, yes?

via Posthuman Blues

Synanthropic Species and Hacking Our Relationship to Nature

Posted by on May 15th, 2008

Or: Joshua Klein talks about Corvids, intelligence, adaptation and avian vending machines.

Hacker and writer Joshua Klein is fascinated by crows. (Notice the gleam of intelligence in their little black eyes?) After a long amateur study of corvid behavior, he’s come up with an elegant machine that may form a new bond between animal and human.

When not talking about birds, Klein is also working (with Dr. Stephen Mascaro ) on developing fingernail sensors for a machine interface.

Ready to enter a parallel universe?

Posted by on March 30th, 2008

Personally, I’m really enthused about the Large Hadron Collider at CERN getting switched on, but that enthusiasm isn’t shared by Luis Sancho and Walter Wagner, who have filed a lawsuit claiming that the device could create particles that would destroy the Earth, such as “killer strangelets“; or that a micro black hole might be generated, which would suck the planet in to a parallel universe.

The lawsuit’s claims are “complete nonsense”, James Gillies, a spokesman for CERN, told New Scientist, adding the quote of the week:

What we want to do is get this machine up and running.  We’ll show people that the world is not going to disappear.

NS also explains a bit about these theoretical risks:

Strangelets are hypothetical blobs of matter containing “strange” quarks, as well as the usual “up” and “down” types that make up ordinary matter.  If a strangelet were stable and negatively charged, it might begin eating the nuclei of ordinary matter, converting them into strange matter. Eventually the menacing chain reaction could assimilate our entire planet and everyone on it.

A 2003 safety review for the LHC found “no basis for any conceivable threat”. It acknowledged that there’s a small chance the accelerator could create short-lived, mini black holes or exotic “magnetic monopoles” that destroy protons in ordinary atoms. But it concluded that neither scenario could lead to disaster.

Returning to Gehenna

Posted by on March 25th, 2008

This is a location in Turkmenistan called “The Door to Hell”, near a town called Darvaza.

Most sites (including Fogonazos) date it to the 1970s, when it was created by geologists who found an underground cavern filled with gas – and they ignited it. Oh dear. Since then, it’s been burning for 35 years.  Some sites date it to the 50s.

YouTube Preview Image

Google Map

via EnglishRussia

Hack the Earth (as explained by Geoff Manaugh)

Posted by on February 19th, 2008

Over at the delovely io9, a feature has been produced by Geoff Manaugh (the brain behind BLDGBLOG) . The opening paragraph fairly ripped my brain away from half naked pictures of men dressed in latex Darth Vader outfits and really did make me think devilish things about our planet…

If we can hack Wiis and iPods and old Segas, make garage door openers into mobile phones and cause elevators to run backwards — or turn upside-down, or do whatever it is that elevator hacks are supposed to do — then could we also hack the surface of the earth? Could we hack geology? Could we use plate tectonics to re-direct whole island chains, color rocks, print cities out of magma, and build mountains where mountains have no right to be?

Hack geology, you say? Manaugh goes on to talk about tectonic warfare (using ‘A View To Kill‘ as inspiration). What would happen if we chose a nicely smouldering and lurking volcano (in this case, Mt St Helens, USA)…

Then we made some acquaintances with helicopters and bombed the volcano? To see what parts of the Earth it would change, of course. For science! Would we get a new valley or just flat plains, soon to be fertile enough to rebuild on? What kind of horrible beauty could we create?

There’s also the idea that we could control magma…

Inkjet printers require small, spongy reservoirs of liquid ink to operate. But there are alternatives to ink.
There is magma. A magma chamber is a “reservoir of molten rock material beneath the earth’s surface.” It “is connected to the earth’s surface by a vent.” So what if we took control of the vent? What if we could print new landforms, selectively directing and solidifying liquid rock where we want? Could we attach a kind of igneous printhead, guiding magma into new forms? I’m thinking here of the concrete-printing machines of Behrokh Khoshnevis, or even just 3D printing. In other words, could we rapid-prototype experimental mountain forms, attaching igneous printheads to reservoirs of liquid rock and printing landscapes on the earth above?

Magma graffiti anyone?

And for those of us who like to tease things out mercilessly, without care for personal gratification but eyes on the prize of the betterment of future there is slow hacking.

Huge sedimentary stones… each carefully prepared: shafts drilled precisely, caustic agents dripped in, for a slight and so-slow dissolution of rock in exact planes, so that over years of weathering, slabs would fall in layers, coming off with the rain, and at very last disclosing their long-planned shapes. Slow-sculptors never disclosed what they had prepared, and their art revealed itself only long after their deaths.

Sure, it’s from a novel, but it’s not impossible at all.

So while some of us will now think back to the days of childhood, where bending nature to your will using the world’s own weapons was par for the course, perhaps the more ingenious of our number will now think towards this end, but on a much grander scale.