This week → Vehicles of extraction ⊗ Imagination infrastructuring for real and virtual worlds ⊗ Rethinking political innovation (and maintenance) ⊗ Let me recruit AI teammates into Figma
A year ago → A favourite in issue No.194 was The slab and the permacomputer by Robin Sloan.
Vehicles of Extraction ⊕ Source
Excellent piece by Paris Marx on the transition from combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles. It’s an extremely important point, and one that can be/will be made for various other fields, I’m sure. Although cars are a massive piece of this puzzle. One overused metaphor for the climate crisis is that we are driving headlong into a wall, had we started earlier, we could have slowed down progressively, now we have to slam the breaks and change direction completely.
Many governments (and car manufacturers, and mining companies)—in the US in his piece, but also elsewhere—are putting a lot of emphasis on just switching to EVs without always matching that with other transitions. Just replacing internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEV) with EVs is not a solution, it just moves extraction from pumping fossil fuels to mining for materials, and pollution from carbon out the exhaust to chemicals in mining sites and piles of dead batteries. To go back to that strained metaphor, just switching to EVs is like tapping the breaks to get our collective car drifting into another lane of the same highway. We might miss the wall, but we’re still in trouble. In that scenario we are still following the preferences of massive industries, still over-extracting from the planet, still polluting and abusing the south for the north, still being jerks (to put it mildly) to everyone else, basically.
Marx doesn’t tackle those parts in his article, but generating that amount of electricity will also be a challenge, and renewables have some of the same issues as electric vehicles regarding the sheer volume and diversity of materials that need to be mined somewhere. Some argue that there just isn’t enough of those materials to go around, especially not if they need to be extracted at the speed a ‘no lifestyle change’ transition would require. We in the rich north need to change our lifestyles a lot, not just change engines.
EVs may not need to be filled with gas, but that doesn’t mean they’re clean, green driving machines. Their batteries are highly resource-intensive, requiring minerals from all over the world, and rising demand for EVs will produce a rush to increase extraction. Vehicle batteries account for much of the growth in mineral demand, and it won’t be extracted without serious consequences. […]
The automotive industry was at the forefront of this effort, but so were its suppliers (most notably the oil industry) and the new businesses that relied on the automobile. Meanwhile, suburban expansion served real estate developers, and the construction industry prospered with all the homes, roads, and highways that needed to be built. […]
The International Energy Agency estimates that the demand for minerals used in batteries will soar by 2040, including by up to 1,900 percent for nickel, 2,100 percent for cobalt, and 4,200 percent for lithium. […]
The governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Mexico are seeking to secure national control over their lithium supplies so that revenues may be used to improve living conditions for their citizens, rather than just padding the bottom lines of multinational mining companies. Unsurprisingly, global capitalist forces, which have long reaped the rewards, are mobilizing to secure their interests.
More → All the Metals We Mined in 2021: Visualized. ⊗ Great talk by Aurore Stéphant on some impossibilities and repercussions of all the minerals needed for an energy transition (in French but the CC seems good): The Mining Gold Rush of the 21st Century, how Far will we Push past the Limits? ⊗ Ezra Klein’s The Single Best Guide to Decarbonization I’ve Heard, where he talks with Jesse Jenkins, explains a lot about the magnitude of change for electricity generation and transportation.
Imagination Infrastructuring for Real and Virtual Worlds ⊕ Source
For e-flux, Joost Vervoort wonders “[w]ho gets to imagine these futures? Who feels safe and supported enough, economically, politically and socially, to be involved? Who gets excluded from imaginative processes? How do or will they impact daily life, policies, and action in the present? What about the futures of non-human species?” To try and answer these questions, he comes up with an interesting mélange of topics. Starting from Cassie Robinson and her work on “imagination infrastructuring” (“re-shaping the structures, organizations, educational programs, and resources that allow and restrict the public imagination of better futures”), and he then considers his own work and how games in general, and the gaming industry, are imagination engines and could be used to break the barriers between fictional spaces and real-life action.
Games can therefore be understood as imagination infrastructures—engines for imaginative engagement. There are so many games out there these days, endless virtual worlds, that the utopian potential of this medium to break far beyond the limited possibilities for collective imagination in “normal” society also seems endless. […]
What does it look like when games move beyond their own virtual settings to become an engine of imagination connected to real world action? […]
Existing, mainstream games such as Animal Crossing (2020) were used to organize virtual protests. Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds (2017), a multiplayer first person shooter, was used to practice how to avoid police charges. And a number of games were created specifically to simulate protests, draw attention to them, and even to help instruct protesters. […]
There is a real need for the game sector to become more aware of what is even possible in terms of imagined futures, and for others involved in societal action to understand what games might be capable of in the first place.
Rethinking Political Innovation (and Maintenance) ⊕ Source
On it’s own, the basic topic of this article by Dave Karpf (MoveOn ten years later and the demise of the New Organizing Institute) is not something I’m widely interested in. However, it’s an excellent read in the angle he uses, that of innovation vs maintenance. Excellent because of the points he brings, but also as a parallel for other fields where innovation becomes what everyone chases, to the detriment of maintenance. Briefly; innovation is not always so supremely valuable as some think, and it’s important to remember that the goal is to make an organization evolve, if you discard previous innovations as soon as they are not new anymore—in other words if you don’t maintain them—then you’ve wasted most of the time invested in developing that innovation in the first place.
What I’ve become convinced of, a decade later, is that there is an opportunity cost to focusing on innovation in politics. The celebratory focus on innovation has come at the cost of deferred and abandoned organizational maintenance. Things fall into disrepair, institutions fall apart, all while powerful actors prioritize locating and funding the next-big-thing. […]
That all changed after Obama’s reelection. By 2013, NOI was no longer the political cutting edge. It had been around for too many election cycles. It had become established, well-known, mainstream. It had become political infrastructure. And so the big funders with an interest in finding and funding the cutting edge started to turn their attention elsewhere. NOI was infrastructure. Infrastructure requires maintenance. Funders lost interest in sticking around to help with maintenance. […]
These “innovation edges” have limited duration, because your targets and your competitors learn and adapt. But I figured there was a first-mover advantage of sorts for the organizations that mastered new technologies to either amplify their existing tactics or develop completely new tactics.)
Let me recruit AI teammates into Figma → in the members’ Discord, we had a quick chat about the use of prompts as AI interfaces, Matt Webb goes a step further. “[I]f, in our Google Doc, our AI editor can appear as a “non-player character,” using all the regular features that humans do (presence, suggest changes, comments for clarifications etc), then there’s no need for extra UI – it’s just another specialist teammate. Ditto in Github, ditto in Figma, ditto in Zoom for video AIs. Humans and non-humans working together. This is why the multiplayer web is important: it’s a runtime for AIs.”
Futures, foresights, forecasts & fabulations → Grow magazine’s The Futures Issue looks excellent! “The Futures Issue does not predict The Future. Instead, it is our attempt to demystify how the idea of The Future is constructed—a toolkit for building our own alternative paths forward.” ⊗ Tobias Revell lets us have a look around his (Miro) brain, which includes lots of futury bits and is something some of you will want to replicate (I know I do). ⊗ A Hole in the Light. “Annalee Newitz brings us an astounding new world wrapped around a stellar story of grief and growth.”
- 🤞🏼 🌳 Hope amid climate chaos: ‘We are in a race between Armageddon and awesome’. “[T]he situation is far from hopeless. From the exponential growth of green solutions to the power of protest, experts say there is a clear path to limiting the damage. The question is how fast we can travel along it.”
- 🤩 📚 🖼 👩🏾🏫 Alma Thomas Was the Godmother of Afrofuturism. “Alma Thomas was a radical Afrofuturist who imagined worlds for herself and the children she taught.”
- 🚄 💪🏼 🇪🇺 Green travel: the low-cost rail firms taking on Europe’s airlines. “‘Not only have we attracted passengers to cleaner transport, we have noticed that other [rail] operators have also increased their market share,’ Lumo’s MD Martijn Gilbert told Positive News. ‘Together we have convinced the public that the convenience, price and environmental impact of rail is well worth it.’”
- 🔋 ⚡️ 🎥 The future of high energy density batteries. “Lithium-ion batteries are the gold standard, but there is much progress to be made. For example, one improvement would be to create solid-state batteries in order to eliminate the need for the flammable electrolyte that is inside lithium-ion batteries.”
- 🤔 ☀️ 🇺🇸 Blocking the sun. “By studying geoengineering now, the US will be able to base any future decisions on sound science — and maybe save countless lives.”
- 🤔 ☀️ ⛵️ This New Hydrogen-Powered Sailing Catamaran Cruises Emissions Free While Generating Its Own Fuel. “The 80-footer will also feature Sunreef’s patented “solar skin”— which will see the world’s lightest solar cells fully integrated into the bodywork.”
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