GUARDIAN: I feel fine: fans of world-ending films ‘coping better with pandemic’ Researchers say apocalyptic movies prepare people for Covid-19 and make them more resilient

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Science editor
Published onWed 1 Jul 2020 19.05 BST

For those of you who whiled away hours on the sofa watching society crumble in the face of marauding zombies, deadly aliens and infectious diseases – it’s time to reap the rewards.

Psychologists have found evidence that fans of apocalyptic movies – where global order is upturned – may be more resilient and better prepared to deal with the coronavirus pandemic than the rest of us.

The bleak scenarios thrown up by films such as Contagion, from panic buying and isolation to fear of others and fake claims of miracle cures, appeared to help viewers take the outbreak in their stride and work out how best to handle the crisis.

“If it’s a good movie, it pulls you in and you take the perspective of the characters, so you are unintentionally rehearsing the scenarios,” said Coltan Scrivner, a psychologist who specialises in morbid curiosity at the University of Chicago. “We think people are learning vicariously. It’s like, with the exception of the toilet paper shortage, they pretty much knew what to buy.”

The researchers questioned 310 volunteers on their movie preferences and viewing histories before asking them how prepared they felt going into the pandemic and what levels of anxiety, depression, irritability and sleepless they had experienced.

LiveScience: Viking ‘treasure’ of rare artefacts revealed on a long-lost mountain trail

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Another dog to add to the big story-PtL

Mitten found at Lendbreen, made from different pieces of woven fabric. Radiocarbon-dated to the ninth century.

Mitten found at Lendbreen, made from different pieces of woven fabric. Radiocarbon-dated to the ninth century.
(Image: © Antiquity Publications Ltd/Photo: Johan Wildhagen, Palookaville)

Archaeologists recently documented a rare treasure trove of Viking Age objects littering a long-forgotten mountain pass, including the remains of a dog wearing its collar and leash.

As climate change melts Norway’s glaciers, pockets of history hidden for centuries or millennia are finally seeing the light of day. Melting along a high-altitude trail in the Lendbreen glacier has revealed hundreds of artifacts dating to the Viking Age, the Roman Iron Age and even the Bronze Age.

Remarkably well-preserved items littered the winding path, including clothing and shoes, a variety of tools and riding gear, and animal bones and dung. They offer clues about daily life, and hint at the challenges and importance of mountain travel in this region, according to a new study published online April 16 in the journal Antiquity.

“A lost mountain pass is a dream discovery for us glacial archaeologists,” lead study author Lars Pilø, co-director of the Glacier Archaeology Program (GAP), said in a statement. A collaboration between the Innlandet County Council and the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo in Norway, GAP recovers and identifies historical artifacts exposed by disappearing Norwegian glaciers.

The ice patch at the Lendbreen site extends from about 5,500 to 6,300 feet (1,690 to 1,920 meters) above sea level, and the mountain pass rises to nearly 6,500 feet (1,973 m) above sea level, researchers reported. Melt at Lendbreen in 2011 revealed the first evidence of the long-hidden trail, with cairns (human-made piles of stone) marking the route and a shelter at the highest point.

In the new study, scientists documented discoveries that appeared between 2011 and 2015, preserved by the dry, frozen climate and protected by layers of ice (before being exposed). Among the objects were shoes made of hide; a woven mitten and more than 50 pieces of fabric; a walking stick inscribed with runes; a wood-handled knife; horseshoes and sled pieces; and bones from pack horses.

“The preservation of the objects emerging from the ice is just stunning,” study co-author Espen Finstad, an archaeologist with the Department of Cultural Heritage in Lillehammer, Norway, said in the statement.

Wooden bit for goat kids or lambs to prevent them suckling their mother, as the milk was processed for human consumption. Found in the pass area at Lendbreen and made from juniper, this specimen is radiocarbon-dated to the 11th century A.D.

Wooden bit for goat kids or lambs to prevent them suckling their mother, as the milk was processed for human consumption. Found in the pass area at Lendbreen and made from juniper, this specimen is radiocarbon-dated to the 11th century A.D. (Image credit: Antiquity Publications Ltd/Photo: Espen Finstad,

Dead animals and broken tools were likely abandoned along the path by the travelers, while tools in good condition may have simply been lost, according to the study. The presence of usable clothing among the discarded objects is more puzzling, but these items may have been thrown away by people who were suffering from severe hypothermia, which can cause irrational behavior, the researchers wrote.

Carbon dating of approximately 60 objects indicated that the pass was actively used from around A.D. 300 to A.D. 1500. Some objects, such as a ski and an arrow, dated to the Bronze Age (1750 B.C. to 500 B.C.), and several artifacts were even older. But the items that were most abundant dated to around A.D. 1000 — the Viking Age — suggesting that the mountain pass was busiest during this period.

Related: Photos: Vikings accessorized with tiny metal dragons

Distaff — a stick for wool-spinning — from the pass at Lendbreen, made from birch and radiocarbon-dated to approximately A.D. 800. A similar distaff has been found in the Viking ship burial at the Oseberg farm in Norway.

Distaff — a stick for wool-spinning — from the pass at Lendbreen, made from birch and radiocarbon-dated to approximately A.D. 800. A similar distaff has been found in the Viking ship burial at the Oseberg farm in Norway. (Image credit: Antiquity Publications Ltd/Photo: Espen Finstad, )

Unlike many other ancient mountain passes that are known from the Alps and the Himalayas, this route was likely busiest when snow and ice were abundant, as the route would have been difficult for pack animals and sleds to navigate when rocks were bare, according to the study.

By sifting through the objects, scientists reconstructed how people used the path and how that changed over time. What was once a high-traffic roadway during the Viking Age waned in popularity and was all but abandoned by the 16th century, possibly due to climate change-related melting, economic upheaval and the arrival of pandemics from Europe, the researchers wrote.

Another substantial melt event at Lendbreen in 2019 revealed even more intriguing artifacts that are yet to be scientifically described, including the leashed dog remains, “and a wooden box with the lid still on,” Finstad said.

Nat Geographic: These charts show how coronavirus has ‘quieted’ the world

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These charts show how coronavirus has ‘quieted’ the world

see Link on image for the full set of charts.

As people stopped commuting and traveling, the Earth’s surface vibrated less—and seismologists tracked the change.


The sound of silence, around the globe

Lecocq initially analyzed data from stations in his home city of Brussels just to show his family and friends the seismic impacts of staying home. He posted the data on Twitter alongside others who noticed similar patterns. The charts sparked the interest of scientists around the world who began tracking noise reductions in numerous places, including cities of Switzerland, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, China, Nepal, the United States, New Zealand, and more.

“We keep it looooooow!!” a cheery Lecocq wrote on Twitter this week as the reduction in noise persisted in Brussels. He says the phenomenon may be unprecedented: “I think it’s the first time that such a thing happened at a global scale.”

Though scientists have noted a definite drop in human activity, it’s tough to draw conclusions about how well social distancing is working from seismic data alone, Lecocq says. The magnitude of the change depends on many factors, including population density and nearby industrial activity. Even the position of a seismometer within a city can influence the size of the lull. In Brussels, seismic activity since the advent of COVID-19 is about 30 to 50 percent lower than average—similar to declines during the Christmas holidays. In Nepal, the seismic plots of some cities show a stunning 80 percent drop.

Observations that began out of curiosity might prove valuable to seismology research in other ways. “Having a lower level of background noise is just like being in a quieter room,” says environmental seismologist Celeste Labedz, a PhD student at the California Institute of Technology. “We can hear more sounds.”

The heightened stillness during self-quarantine could allow seismologists to detect faint or distant earthquakes they previously could have missed. The quiet might also help scientists study the natural buzzes of our planet, such as the rush of river waters, that fall into a similar frequency band as human activity, Labedz says.

One team of scientists is examining the noise reduction itself, by studying seismic noise recorded on a fiber optic network underneath Palo Alto, California. Unlike the single point of measurement from a seismometer, a fiber optic network can measure noise in hundreds of locations, says seismologist Nate Lindsey of Stanford University, who is analyzing these changes.

One early conclusion of the analysis: Lindsey and colleagues found that even when freeway traffic abated, noise persisted near a local hospital. The fiber optic network data is so precise that researchers can spot individual cars passing by. Studying traffic at such a fine scale could help officials manage the movement of people in future crises, says Stanford seismologist Siyuan Yuan, who is collaborating with Lindsey.

On April 1, Lecocq put out a call to researchers to help assemble the masses of seismic data into a paper. Within just two days, he recruited 26 volunteers. The study will not address the efficiency of social distancing, but will give other scientists easy access to analyze the unprecedented global quieting.

For seismologists, the work serves as a welcome distraction from the uncertainty of the pandemic. “We all have something pretty big on our minds at the moment, so it’s nice that there’s something going on that’s in our expertise that we can do right now,” Labedz says. “It makes us feel busy in a positive and helpful way.”


the Guardian: Nightingales at risk due to shorter wings caused by climate crisis

a nightingale singing
The changing climate is affecting migratory birds such as nightingales. Photograph: FLPA/Michael Durham/Rex/Shutterstock


Migration to European breeding grounds from Africa is harder due to evolutionary changes

The nightingale was feted by John Keats as a “light-winged Dryad of the trees”. But the much-celebrated small bird with a beautiful song may be increasingly endangered because its wings are getting shorter.

The nightingale makes an epic journey from sub-Saharan Africa to breed in Europe each summer but there are barely 7,000 nesting pairs left in England.

Spanish researchers examining wing sizes of two nightingale populations in central Spain have found that the average wing length relative to their body size has fallen over the past two decades. Shorter-winged birds were found to be less likely to return to their breeding grounds after their first trip to Africa.

According to a new study published in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, natural selection driven by climate change is causing the birds to evolve with shorter wings.

In recent decades, the timing of spring has shifted in central Spain and summer droughts have become longer and more intense, leaving the nightingales a shorter window in which to raise their young.

Scientists believe that there is a suite of adaptations that make the nightingales effective migratory birds including a long wingspan, a larger clutch size and a shorter lifespan, which are controlled by a set of linked genes. This means that selective pressure on one trait also affects the other features.

If the pressure of drought is leading the most successful birds to lay smaller clutches of eggs, with fewer young to feed, then it could be causing these nightingales to also lose the other linked traits that make them such effective migrants. This is an example of “maladaptation” where species’ responses to cope with changing conditions end up causing them harm.

“There is much evidence that climate change is having an effect on migratory birds, changing their arrival and laying dates and their physical features over the last few decades,” said lead author Carolina Remacha of Complutense University of Madrid.

“If we are to fully understand how bird populations adapt to new environments in order to help them tackle the challenges of a rapidly changing world, it is important to call attention to the potential problems of maladaptive change.”

NYT: The Fires Are Out, but Australia’s Climate Disasters Aren’t Over

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Photographs by

RAINBOW FLAT, Australia — Standing in thick mud between burned trees and a concrete slab where his house had been, Peter Ruprecht admitted that he was not sure how or when to rebuild.

He was still dizzied by what Australia’s increasingly volatile climate had already delivered: first a drought, then a devastating bush fire, then a foot of rain from a tropical storm.

“It’s unstoppable,” said Mr. Ruprecht, a former dairy farmer. “We speak about the warmth of Mother Nature, but nature can also be vicious and wild and unforgiving.”

Australia’s hellish fire season has eased, but its people are facing more than a single crisis. With floods destroying homes not far from where infernos recently raged, they are confronting a cycle of what scientists call “compound extremes”: one climate disaster intensifying the next.

ImagePeter Ruprecht at a new dam on his property in Rainbow Flat, where fires destroyed his home. He and his wife dug two reservoirs to help protect them from future fires.

Warmer temperatures do more than just dry out the land. They also heat up the atmosphere, which means clouds hold more moisture for longer periods of time. So droughts get worse, giving way to fires, then to crushing rains that the land is too dry to absorb.

One result of that multiplier effect for Australia — a global bellwether for climate change’s effects — is that rebuilding after a disaster becomes far more complicated. Many Australians in disaster zones complain that their government, after dismissing climate change for years, has yet to outline recovery plans that are clear and that take future threats into account.

At the same time, the economic costs of a changing climate are skyrocketing. Philip Lowe, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, warned recently that Australia was already paying a price, and that it would only go up.

“Addressing climate change isn’t something that is any responsibility of the Reserve Bank of Australia, but what we do have a responsibility to do is to understand the economic and the financial implication of climate change,” he said. “The economic implications are profound.”


Tourism has already taken a major hit. In the longer term, Australia should expect agricultural output and property values to suffer, according to a recent study by the Climate Council, an independent advocacy group. It said property losses related to climate change could reach 571 billion Australian dollars ($384 billion) by 2030, and 770 billion ($510 billion) by 2100.


Black Head Beach on the coast of New South Wales north of Sydney, Australia, during a swell caused by a cyclone this month.

The insurance industry is already scrambling to adjust. The drenching storms of the past month led to a rush of damage claims and left tens of thousands of homes without electricity, prompting insurers to declare a catastrophe for the sixth time in five months. Such declarations, which speed up payouts, have become more frequent and more costly in recent decades.

Now, more disasters are threatening to overlap.

In Conjola Park south of Sydney, where fires over the New Year holiday destroyed 89 homes, the lake recently flooded, causing still more damage. Up and down Australia’s east coast, trees killed by drought, charred by flame and toppled by thunderstorms have crushed cars and homes.

Neither insurers nor residents are sure which disaster to blame. One thing that’s clear is that the stacking crises put people at risk and multiply their anxieties.

“I don’t like going anywhere,” said Karen Couzins, who lives in Nattai, about 95 miles southwest of Sydney. School has been canceled because of blocked roads, and simply getting groceries has become dangerous, she said.


Tim McNamara, a cattle farm owner,  with his dogs in Black Head. 


“The trees are just falling across roads all over the place,” Ms. Couzins said. “I’ve just come back from a drive on the road. I saw a car with the front end all damaged; a tree fell on their car.”

The extremes have been especially severe north of Sydney, where Mr. Ruprecht and his wife are living in a converted metal shed, for now.

First came the drought, which wore on for years, leaving farms and forests dusty, brown and brittle. When the fires arrived in October and November, before summer had even officially started, anyone with knowledge of the bush knew there would be months of pain and struggle.

“It was a bomb ready to go off,” said Ian McMullen, 56, a third-generation timber owner, who estimates that he lost a half-million Australian dollars to the fires.

He was sitting on a bench near the shore in Hallidays Point, talking to a friend from childhood, Tim McNamara, who owns a nearby cattle farm. They said they had been discussing climate change even before I arrived, because they could not help it.

In front of them, huge waves rose like muddy mountains, the usually clean water full of ash and debris from the fires. Cyclone Uesi had weakened before drifting so far south, but its mere appearance pointed to yet another climate trend: the drift of tropical weather into areas where it had not been before.


An area of Conjola Park badly affected by the New Year fire.

Up the road, in a shop for local artists, 63-year-old Jenny Dayment said, “Change is certainly happening all around us.” She cited little things, like rising humidity and shifts in the bird population.

After so many years of people praying for rain, the recent downpours have been bittersweet, Mrs. Dayment said. Even as they have turned the ground green again, they have brought the ominous crack of falling trees.

“Maybe we’ll get some normalcy back in our day-to-day routines,” she said. “But people are going to be wary for a very long time. I don’t think we can ever be the same.”

Her daughter’s house had burned to the ground, she said. She pulled up a photo of what was left: a fireplace surrounded by crumpled chaos. Her daughter was not sure what to do next; she and her husband were thinking about buying temporary container housing.


Riley Fletcher, 12, walking on the ruins of his family’s home in Conjola Park. He was wearing a mask to protect himself from asbestos.

The Ruprechts also cannot decide on the next step. Mr. Ruprecht said the biggest challenge had been “the absence of structure in government.”

“Most inhabitants of first-world countries view themselves as being quite resilient,” he said. “This has tested that.”


Continue reading the main story

Like many others in areas affected by climate-induced extremes, the Ruprechts have listened carefully to federal and local officials, but they hear mixed signals. Sometimes there are hints of “don’t rebuild, it’s too dangerous”; at other times, moving quickly and keeping the economy humming seems to be the priority.

“It’s really affected our confidence to rebuild,” Mr. Ruprecht said. “Without some sort of vision and leadership, we’re not quite sure what to do.”

Kangaroos at Lake Conjola on Feb 16. Extreme rainfall in recent weeks flooded the lake.

Scientists say Australia should have been better prepared, because what is happening has long been predicted.

In 2015, to take one example among many, the country’s Academy of Science declared that “for Australia, a warmer future will likely mean that extreme precipitation is more intense and more frequent, interspersed with longer dry spells.”

“We’ve been writing about climate change being a stress multiplier for many years,” said Lesley Hughes, a climate scientist at Macquarie University in Sydney. “It’s absolutely been foreseen that our climate is becoming more variable and more severe.”

Lucinda Fischer, 32, the Ruprechts’ daughter, said the government was “kind of the blind leading the blind.” The only way forward, she said, is for the public to get more involved, and for officials to step back and assess what went wrong, and what needs to happen next time.


Continue reading the main story

“It’s not a question of if we’re going to have another disaster,” she said. “It’s when, and how we’re going to deal with it then.”


Outside the Lake Conjola Community Center, where a meeting was held to help residents affected by the bush fire.

Artspace: 5 Times Nature Won Over Art: Natural Disasters and Culture

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By Artspace Editors

DEC. 19, 2019

Depending on who you talk to, the world’s environmental future runs the gamut from doomed to irrelevant, but one thing’s for sure: it is seldom poised to inspire anything less than rapturous anger in its discussants. Scientists say we have about a decade to turn this ship around, but Republican-inflected corporate interests and run-of-the-mill hubris seem fully prepared to sink us whole. It’s hard to focus on the preservation of art when the preservation of life itself seems so precarious, but it’s in our creative reflections of self that we embed life, fiery, punishing, and circuitous as it is. Art is as vital as it is deeply, deeply dumb.

The intersectional tectonics of politics and privilege have everything to do with how our cultural imprints are treated, protected, and lost. In her landmark 2019 text, A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, Dr. Kathryn Yusoff makes a case against the assumed neutrality of a colonized geophysics, stating that “a material and temporal solidarity exists between the inscription of race in the Anthropocene and the current descriptions of subjects that are caught between the hardening of geopolitical borders and the material destratification of territory.” This speculation on the effects of “geotrauma” buoys post-humanist studies to its most radical conclusion—prejudice is a function of the anthropocene’s hubris, not some incidental symptom. Human cruelty finds its own sedimentary foundation, then; our tabular bifurcations bloom forth from thingness, from mineral existence. As we glance over the precipice of imminent disaster, our idiomatic assignation of female pronouns to the natural world seems all the more fitting, really; the aforementioned “geotrauma” of our earth parallels the brutalities that have been enacted upon women for centuries. Geology is humanity. Humanity is deeply flawed.

It’s little wonder, then, that when cultural legacies bow to nature’s vengeance, or sickness, or both, erasure typically lives downstream of accessibility. We rescue or reconstruct what we believe is important, often to racist, imperialist ends. Classics scholars regularly remark on translation’s inherent gatekeeping problem. Were the caustic, petty poems of Catullus the only remnants of Latin poetry left, or just the texts monks deemed worthy? What went unrecovered?

Here are five times nature has won against art, itemized.

I. Venice Underwater

The Basilica via Yahoo

In November, the Venice Biennale was temporarily canceled as rainstorms pushed water levels to the second-highest points on record. The Instagram stories of the art elite mirrored the flooding they documented, an endless stream of tourists wading through the wreckage of a city that had already become a symbol of itself. The mayor declared the disaster a direct result of climate change, a statement that flew in the face of many high-profile deniers in power all over the world. While none of the contemporary fare was inextricably damaged, over 50 churches, including St. Mark’s Basilica and Santa Maria Assunta, were. There’s been a world-wide outpouring from nonprofits and private foundations alike, but the reality of Venice underwater was sobering nonetheless.

II. Cimabue’s Crucifix

Crucifix via Wikipedia

In 1966, the beautiful crucifix of Santa Croce in Florence, which had been installed at the end of the 13th century, was damaged to the point of unrecognizability when the Arno river burst and flooded Florence. The Crucifix lost 60% of its paint, and it took a team of restorers led by Umberto Baldini to bring the masterwork back to the brink of legibility. Working in a pointillist, painstaking manner, the restorers eventually created a working semblance of the original, and the Crucifix was placed back on view in 1976.

III. Colossus of Rhodes

Colossus illustration via Ancient Origins

The bronze Colossus, erected on the Greek island of Rhodes by Chares of Lindos in 280 BC, was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, standing at 108 feet high. It collapsed during the earthquake of 226 BC. After consulting their local oracle, the Rhodians did not build it again, although John Malalas implied, incorrectly, that Hadrian rebuilt it during his reign.

IV. Ribeira Palace

Terreiro do Paco’s Ribeira Palace via Lisbon Cruise

The stately Ribeira Palace in Lisbon, Portugal was home to the Kings of the country for around 250 years and housed one of the most beautiful and significant art collections in Europe at the time of its destruction in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. In its wake, King Jose I suffered an understandable hit to the system and chose to live out his life in a pavilion compound in the hills of Ajuda; as a result, the Palace was never rebuilt.

V. The Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince

 The rubble via Smithsonian 

The world did not respond quickly or thoughtfully to the 2010 earthquake that decimated Haiti, leading to death tolls in the 300,000s. The Holy Trinity Cathedral in its capital, founded by African-American abolitionist bishop James Theodore Holly in 1861, boasted a variety of brightly colored murals, painted by local artists on its walls between 1949 and 1951. Only three of the 14 powerful images were left intact, and Haitian conservators sprang into action within 24 hours of the initial disaster. This incredible gesture of resilience became a symbol of hope in the city. The Smithsonian-led Haiti Cultural Recovery Project arrived months later, rehabilitating roughly 25,000 artifacts over the course of 18 months and training 150 locals in the art of preservation and restoration in the process.

NYTimes: How Scientists Got Climate Change So Wrong

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Credit…Andrew Burton/Getty Images

How Scientists Got Climate Change So Wrong

Few thought it would arrive so quickly. Now we’re facing consequences once viewed as fringe scenarios.



Mr. Linden has written widely about climate change.

For decades, most scientists saw climate change as a distant prospect. We now know that thinking was wrong. This summer, for instance, a heat wave in Europe penetrated the Arctic, pushing temperatures into the 80s across much of the Far North and, according to the Belgian climate scientist Xavier Fettweis, melting some 40 billion tons of Greenland’s ice sheet.

Had a scientist in the early 1990s suggested that within 25 years a single heat wave would measurably raise sea levels, at an estimated two one-hundredths of an inch, bake the Arctic and produce Sahara-like temperatures in Paris and Berlin, the prediction would have been dismissed as alarmist. But many worst-case scenarios from that time are now realities.

Science is a process of discovery. It can move slowly as the pieces of a puzzle fall together and scientists refine their investigative tools. But in the case of climate, this deliberation has been accompanied by inertia born of bureaucratic caution and politics. A recent essay in Scientific American argued that scientists “tend to underestimate the severity of threats and the rapidity with which they might unfold” and said one of the reasons was “the perceived need for consensus.” This has had severe consequences, diluting what should have been a sense of urgency and vastly understating the looming costs of adaptation and dislocation as the planet continues to warm.

In 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group of thousands of scientists representing 195 countries, said in its first report that climate change would arrive at a stately pace, that the methane-laden Arctic permafrost was not in danger of thawing, and that the Antarctic ice sheets were stable.

NYTimes: It’s the End of California as We Know It

The fires and the blackouts are connected to a larger problem in this state: a failure to live sustainably.


Opinion Columnist

Credit…Jose Carlos Fajardo/San Jose Mercury News, via Associated Press

I have lived nearly all my life in California, and my love for this place and its people runs deep and true. There have been many times in the past few years when I’ve called myself a California nationalist: Sure, America seemed to be going crazy, but at least I lived in the Golden State, where things were still pretty chill.

But lately my affinity for my home state has soured. Maybe it’s the smoke and the blackouts, but a very un-Californian nihilism has been creeping into my thinking. I’m starting to suspect we’re over. It’s the end of California as we know it. I don’t feel fine.

It isn’t just the fires — although, my God, the fires. Is this what life in America’s most populous, most prosperous state is going to be like from now on? Every year, hundreds of thousands evacuating, millions losing power, hundreds losing property and lives? Last year, the air near where I live in Northern California — within driving distance of some of the largest and most powerful and advanced corporations in the history of the world — was more hazardous than the air in Beijing and New Delhi. There’s a good chance that will happen again this month, and that it will keep happening every year from now on. Is this really the best America can do?

Probably, because it’s only going to get worse. The fires and the blackouts aren’t like the earthquakes, a natural threat we’ve all chosen to ignore. They are more like California’s other problems, like housing affordability and homelessness and traffic — human-made catastrophes we’ve all chosen to ignore, connected to the larger dysfunction at the heart of our state’s rot: a failure to live sustainably.

Now choking under the smoke of a changing climate, California feels stuck. We are BlackBerry after the iPhone, Blockbuster after Netflix: We’ve got the wrong design, we bet on the wrong technologies, we’ve got the wrong incentives, and we’re saddled with the wrong culture. The founding idea of this place is infinitude — mile after endless mile of cute houses connected by freeways and uninsulated power lines stretching out far into the forested hills. Our whole way of life is built on a series of myths — the myth of endless space, endless fuel, endless water, endless optimism, endless outward reach and endless free parking.

Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

One by one, those myths are bursting into flame. We are running out of land, housing, water, road space and now electricity. Fixing all this requires systemic change, but we aren’t up to the task. We are hemmed in by a resentful national government and an uncaring national media, and we have never been able to prize sustainability and equality over quick-fix hacks and outsized prizes to the rich.

All of our instincts seem to make things worse. Our de facto solution to housing affordability has been forcing people to move farther and farther away from cities, so they commute longer, make traffic worse and increase the population of fire-prone areas. We “solved” the problem of poor urban transportation by inviting private companies like Uber and Lyft to take over our roads. To keep the fires at bay, we are now employing the oldest I.T. hack in the book: turning the power off and then turning it back on again. Meanwhile, the rich are getting by: When the fires come, they hire their own firefighters. (Their gardeners and housekeepers still had to go to work, though.)

Does all this sound overdramatic? You might point out that if it seems like dystopian apocalypse in California, it’s because it has always felt like dystopian apocalypse in California. The California of Joan Didion, Charles Manson and Ronald Reagan was no picnic; nor was the California of Pete Wilson, Rodney King or Arnold Schwarzenegger. California has always been a place that seems to be on the edge and running on empty, and maybe the best you can ever say about it is, hey, at least we’re not Florida.

But this time it’s different. The apocalypse now feels more elemental — as if the place is not working in a fundamental way, at the level of geography and climate. And everything we need to do to avoid the end goes against everything we’ve ever done.

The long-term solutions to many of our problems are obvious: To stave off fire and housing costs and so much else, the people of California should live together more densely. We should rely less on cars. And we should be more inclusive in the way we design infrastructure — transportation, the power grid, housing stock — aiming to design for the many rather than for the wealthy few.

If we redesigned our cities for the modern world, they’d be taller and less stretched out into the fire-prone far reaches — what scientists call the wildland-urban interface. Housing would be affordable because there’d be more of it. You’d be able to get around more cheaply because we’d ditch cars and turn to buses and trains and other ways we know how to move around a lot of people at high speeds, for low prices. It wouldn’t be the end of the California dream, but a reconceptualization — not as many endless blocks of backyards and swimming pools, but perhaps a new kind of more livable, more accessible life for all.

But who wants to do all this? Not the people of this state. Sure, we’ll ban plastic bags and try to increase gas-mileage standards (until the federal government tries to stops us, which of course it can, because our 40 million people get the same voting power in the Senate as Wyoming’s 600,000).

But the big things still seem impossible here. In a state where 40 years ago, homeowners passed a constitutional amendment enshrining their demands for low property taxes forever, where every initiative at increasing density still seems to fail, where vital resources like electricity are managed by unscrupulous corporations and where cars are still far and away the most beloved way to get around, it’s hard to imagine systemic change happening anytime soon.

And so we muddle on toward the end. All the leaves are burned and the sky is gray. California, as it’s currently designed, will not survive the coming climate. Either we alter how we live here, or many of us won’t live here anymore.

the Guardian: Naomi Klein: ‘We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism’

The No Logo author talks about solutions to the climate crisis, Greta Thunberg, birth strikes and how she finds hope

Read an extract from her new book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal here

Naomi Klein: ‘We are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption.’
Naomi Klein: ‘We are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption.’ Photograph: Adrienne Grunwald/The Guardian

Why are you publishing this book now?
I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.

The book collects essays from the last decade, have you changed your mind about anything?
When I look back, I don’t think I placed enough emphasis on the challenge climate change poses to the left. It’s more obvious the way the climate crisis challenges a rightwing dominant worldview, and the cult of serious centrism that never wants to do anything big, that’s always looking to split the difference. But this is also a challenge to a left worldview that is essentially only interested in redistributing the spoils of extractivism [the process of extracting natural resources from the earth] and not reckoning with the limits of endless consumption.

What’s stopping the left doing this?
In a North American context, it’s the greatest taboo of all to actually admit that there are going to be limits. You see that in the way Fox News has gone after the Green New Deal – they are coming after your hamburgers! It cuts to the heart of the American dream – every generation gets more than the last, there is always a new frontier to expand to, the whole idea of settler colonial nations like ours. When somebody comes along and says, actually, there are limits, we’ve got some tough decisions, we need to figure out how to manage what’s left, we’ve got to share equitably – it is a psychic attack. And so the response [on the left] has been to avoid, and say no, no, we’re not coming to take away your stuff, there are going to be all kinds of benefits. And there aregoing to be benefits: we’ll have more livable cities, we’ll have less polluted air, we’ll spend less time stuck in traffic, we can design happier, richer lives in so many ways. But we are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption side.


BBC: Pompeii archaeologists uncover ‘sorcerer’s treasure trove’

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Archaeologists working in the buried Roman city of Pompeii say they have uncovered a “sorcerer’s treasure trove” of artefacts, including good-luck charms, mirrors and glass beads.

Most of the items would have belonged to women, said Massimo Osanna, director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii.

A room with the bodies of 10 victims, including women and children, was excavated in the same house.

Pompeii was engulfed by a volcanic eruption from Mt Vesuvius in AD 79.

The fatal eruption froze the city and its residents in time, making it a rich source for archaeologists.

The trove was found in what remained of a wooden box. The wood itself had decomposed and only the bronze hinges remained, preserved by the volcanic material which hardened over it.

In it were crystals, ceramic, amethysts and amber. Scarabs (beetle-shaped amulets) from the Middle East were identified, along with various gems, including a carnelian with a craftsman figure and a glass bead engraved with the head of Dionysus, the Roman god of wine, fertility and ritual madness.

Stones, bones and other artefacts on display in Pompeii (12 August)Image copyrightEPA
Image captionThe chest contained many valuable items, but no gold
Artefacts from a chest found in Region V of the Pompeii Archaeological ParkImage copyrightEPA
Image captionThe objects in the trunk were for use in rituals, archaeologists think

It was more likely the objects belonged to a servant or a slave, rather than the owner of the house, Mr Osanna told the Italian news agency Ansa. None of the artefacts was made of gold, much favoured by the wealthy of Pompeii.

They are objects of everyday life in the female world and are extraordinary because they tell micro-stories, biographies of the inhabitants of the city who tried to escape the eruption,” Mr Osanna said.

Archaeologists are now trying to establish kinship ties between the bodies found in the house via DNA analysis.

“Perhaps the precious box belonged to one of these victims,” Mr Osanna speculated. The items in the box may have been worn during rituals as charms against bad luck, rather than as ornamentation, he said.

The chest was uncovered in the House of the Garden in Region V of the archaeological park – the same area where an inscription was discovered last year, indicating that the eruption may have taken place in October 79, two months later than previously thought.

The house itself would have belonged to a man of high status, confirmed by the quality of the amber and glass beads found in the trove, archaeologists say.

Most people in Pompeii were not killed by slow-moving molten lava, but by a vast cloud of hot gas and fragments, called a pyroclastic flow. The cloud surged over the city, killing its residents wherever they were, and burying them in ash, preserving their final moments.