Category Archives: Nature

Arboreality – A Review

The book cover of Arboreality. The title is written in gold font on a hunter green background. This looks like an old leather book cover with a burnt bottom right half revealing botanical drawings and "by Rebecca Campbell" on the "first page" underneath the cover.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Arboreality, but Campbell really pulled off multiple perspectives in a short book, which is no small feat. I was anxious about how well head hopping across time would work without something the length of a Sandersonesque tome, but by keeping the geographic scope limited and the characters within a few degrees of separation of each other, the narrative stays tight enough to stay invested in the outcome.

This book also does a good job of walking the line between climate apocalypse and everything was fine because of some hand wavy solution. Things are pretty rough throughout the book, but it does feel like things are slowly getting better. Wildfires, future pandemics, and sea level rise are just some of the issues facing our protagonists.

What I really appreciated is that there is no one hero to save us from climate change. The characters can’t save the world on their own. What they can do is plant seeds, both literal and figurative, for the next generation. That’s what spoke to me in this book. It really brought the concept of being a good ancestor to life, something my own ancestors might have thought of as “cathedral thinking.”

At this point, a certain amount of warming is baked into the climate system and I’m not going to see things return to “normal.” If you and I each do our own part to make the world a little better than we left it though, maybe my kid will see a stable climate or the next generation after them. I really puts all the struggles we’ve faced in the climate movement into perspective and makes them feel worth fighting even though they often don’t feel like enough.

If you even have the slightest care for future generations, do yourself a favor and read this book!

Thanks to Stelliform Press for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review.


If you’d like to support the blog, please use the affiliate link to the book above, or consider supporting us on Comradery, a cooperatively-owned patronage platform.

Weird Fishes – A Review

Weird Fishes by Rae Mariz was a wonderful journey that reminded me of how I felt the first time I read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a kid. This book is definitely going on my recommendations list for tidalpunk literature, as it very deftly addresses climate change and its effects on the ocean without feeling preachy.

The story is an interesting take on the buddy genre, pairing a sheltered octopod scientist with an emotionally-vibrant and well-traveled mermaid. Amusing and profound interactions between the two characters help them grow as individuals while they investigate the cause and solution to slowing ocean currents.

Mariz’s prose is beautiful and evokes a true feeling of wonder and connectedness to the ocean. Clever twists on common turns of phrase remind you that the main characters aren’t human, and the interplay of the many different species of the ocean gives hints at the biodiversity teeming below the surface. There’s even a cameo by 52 Blue, the “world’s loneliest whale.”

This book helps you remember that we came from the sea and that it still exerts an emotional pull on us like the tide. One of my favorite lines from the book is “People carry the ocean inside them. On an upright fishbone spine sits the soul of an octopus.” Not every line in the book is that poetic, but I feel that encapsulates my feelings when I read this book.

While I wholeheartedly enjoyed this book, it isn’t for everyone. The book doesn’t shy away from the real world consequences of microplastics, commercial fishing, and warming oceans. Many creatures die, often in graphic, but not prolonged, ways. This book also has a content warning for sexual assault.

If you’re looking for a tidalpunk read that rekindles your love for the ocean, I can’t recommend Weird Fishes enough. If you’ve read any good tidalpunk books lately, let us know down below! I just started The Deep by Rivers Solomon and hope to report back on it soon!


Thanks to Stelliform Press for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

If you’d like to support the blog, please use the affiliate link to the book above, or consider supporting us on Comradery, a cooperatively-owned patronage platform.

Revisiting Offshore Wind

A large wind farm consisting of many large, three-bladed wind turbines sits in the ocean. The waves are a choppy dark blue and black while the sky is a light blue.
Windmills in the Ocean

Offshore wind is going to be a big part of our clean energy future, and if you like podcasts, you’ll really want to listen to Windfall, a mini series from Outside/In. Windfall follows the development of the US offshore wind energy from the ill-fated Cape Wind project up through the approval of Vineyard Wind. This is a great explainer for why the US is so far behind Europe and China in the offshore wind space.

One thing I really appreciated about the podcast was its nuanced take on some of the drawbacks of offshore wind while still showing it as an important climate solution. The ocean is a big place, but siting an offshore wind project in a way that promotes a just transition is no easy feat. Some areas contain indigenous cultural heritage (Cape Wind) while others impact fisherfolk who’ve been plying their trade for centuries (Vineyard Wind). Now that oil companies are fronting as clean energy pioneers, are we going to let them repeat the same injustices with a shiny green wrapper? The podcast stops short of offering answers.

I’ve mentioned before that offshore wind has the potential to be a great resource in a tidalpunk future, but that I wasn’t sure how to fit the billion dollar megaprojects into a *punk framework. Just after listening to Windfall, I found out that Denmark, one of the leaders in the offshore wind space, actually requires 20% of any new wind project to be community owned, and the Middelgrunden installation is actually 50% cooperatively owned. Scotland is another place where community ownership of renewables, including offshore wind, is revitalizing communities that had been in decline for decades.

Offshore wind will generate cheap, renewable energy a lot more consistently than land-based turbines, but we need to hold those building these facilities accountable so we don’t see a repeat of the injustices baked into our current energy system.

Do you know of other solutions to deploy renewables while avoiding handouts to the same old energy companies we love to hate? Share with us in the comments below!

House of Drought – A review

The House of Drought is a WEIRD novella. I don’t typically read horror, so this is from the perspective of a fantasy/scifi reader. To that end, I really loved the folklore aspects of this story. Seeing what elements of stories are common and different across cultures is always facinating to me, and this story definitely delivers there. There aren’t any concrete explanations of what’s going on, and the multiple names and explanations for any given phenomena by different people bring the folklore to life. Knowing nothing of Sri Lankan folklore, I’m led to believe the author did this part justice.

Since the story hops around between several characters and timelines in the space of a novella, I never really felt a strong connection to any one character. I think that this is where the story would’ve benefitted from being fleshed out into a full length novel or cutting the number of viewpoints if it needed to stay a novella. I really want to give this story four stars since the setting was so interesting, but the lack of engaging characters drops it down to a three for me.

Speaking of multiple timelines, if you really need your books to be linear, this isn’t the story for you. There are frequent time jumps within a chapter, although they do follow a pattern once you realize what’s happening. It’s an interesting approach, but I don’t think it was really necessary to the story.

This is one of the first times I’ve seen a piece of fiction really try to connect colonialism and climate change and how imperialism has wounded the natural world. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish without getting preachy, but the author managed to weave it into the story without it feeling too heavy-handed. The tension between the House of Drought and the surrounding forest becomes an analogue for the tension between colonialism/capitalism and nature. I wouldn’t call it subtle, but by these forces being more animate setting than viewpoint character, it feels like an innate truth suffusing the story and not something the author slows down to explain in a pedantic manner.

This novella had me turning pages to find out what happened, but, like I said, the lack of any compelling characters makes it hard for me to give it more than three stars. I’m very interested to see what Mombauer can do with a full length novel though, since I think the rest of this story is pretty solid.

I’d like to thank Stelliform for providing an ARC in return for this honest review.

Tidalpunk Energy – Offshore Wind in the US

Greater Gabbard Wind Farm in the UK – photo by SSE via a CC BY-ND 2.0 license

Offshore wind is gearing up in the United States. The federal government has announced a goal of 30GW of offshore wind generation by 2030 and 110GW by 2050. For reference, the current largest wind turbine available generates 15MW, so it would take 2,000 of these turbines to reach the 2030 goal if that were the only turbine type used.

One bottleneck for getting these projects started is Wind Turbine Installation Vessels (WTIVs). The first European offshore wind installations started in the 90s, but existing European ships can’t be used because of the Jones Act which stipulates that vessels operating in US seas must be built, owned, and operated by US citizens or corporations. Dominion Energy’s Charybdis WTIV is under construction in New Orleans and should be operational in 2023.

Charybdis will first get to work here in Virginia building the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project. Hampton Roads, Virginia has been billing itself as a hub for the offshore wind turbine industry. There’s a long history of maritime industry on the Virginia coast, so it’s great to see these communities able to transition with the winds of change.

The Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project isn’t the only offshore wind farm to be in development here in the US. After the failure of the Cape Wind Project in Massachussetts, offshore wind’s future was murky in the US. However, Maine appears to be the only state explicitly rejecting offshore wind, with new projects being planned on both coasts including New Jersey and California.

A pile of one dollar bills spread across the frame.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As mentioned previously, one problem I see with a lot of developments in tidalpunk-related tech is that so much of it is big money, high technology equipment that is difficult to build and procure without large governments and corporations. For instance, Dominion Energy has had a stranglehold on the state legislature in Virginia for decades due to their shady business and political practices. Offshore wind offers a big opportunity for cutting carbon emissions in the grid, but I’m wary of the lack of community control over these generation resources.

As I live in the US, this blog tends toward developments here. Do you have offshore wind in your area? Let us know about it in the comments!


This is Part 3 in our feature on tidalpunk for August. See Part 1: Can Maritime Shipping Go Tidalpunk?, Part 2: Tidalpunk Food – Fishing and Farming the Sea, and Part 4: Plastics – A Tidalpunk Antagonist.

Tidalpunk Food – Fishing and Farming the Sea

The camera looks up at a school of fish from below. They appear to be swimming in a circle around the center of the image.
Photo by Harrison Haines on Pexels.com

Dr. Sylvia Earl says we need to stop commercial fishing if we want to keep our oceans healthy. Over-fishing and pollution are driving many species to the brink, not to mention the harm of increased ocean temperatures and acidity brought on by climate change. For those of us not in societies where fishing provides subsistence, is there a better way to get our fix of fish?

On the horizon, and already on some store shelves, plant-based seafood could prove to be a way to get that taste of the sea without the environmental and human toll. This is good news since beyond the environmental toll, industrial seafood also has more than its share of human rights abuses. Current faux fish focuses on staples that are more about what you do with them than the underlying flavor of the meat. Crab cakes, shrimp, and canned tuna substitutes are the leaders of the pack here. While lab-grown seafood is getting a lot of investment, it is still nascent at best like lab-grown meats. Unsurprisingly, it takes a lot of work to grow cells outside of a living organism.

A diagram showing a boat on the surface of the ocean over seaweed on a line and oyster, mussel, scallop, and clam cages.

The image describes the advantages of this "polyculture farming system:"
-High yields of shellfish and seaweed
-Small footprint
-Low barrier to entry
-20 acres, a boat, and $20-50k
-Carbon and nitrogen sink
-Zero inputs: no fresh water, fertilizers, or feed
-Storm surge protection
-Rebuilds marine ecosystems
GreenWave’s Aquacultural Model

The real rock star when it comes to aquaculture and sustainability is seaweed. Able to sequester carbon, serve as a protein source, reduce emissions from cattle, and provide oil for biofuels, kelp is truly the wonder algae. One of the best primers on the potential of seaweed to help in the climate fight is the two-part podcast on kelp farming from “How To Save a Planet.” These episodes center on the efforts of GreenWave, a non-profit developing a 3D “polyculture” system for growing kelp and shellfish in the ocean. Since kelp and shellfish don’t require agricultural inputs (fertilizer, fresh water, etc.), this form of aquaculture is both eco-friendly and economical. Plus, with all the co-benefits to shoreline and marine communities, this is a great example of multi-solving.

Unfortunately, a lot of the ocean-related technologies being developed right now are from big governments or big corporations. GreenWave is focused on building a network of small holding ocean farms instead of replicating terrestrial agriculture’s industrial model though. They’re putting the punk in tidalpunk!

If you have ideas on how to bring these emerging technologies into the commons, let us know below!


This is Part 2 in our feature on tidalpunk for August. See Part 1: Can Maritime Shipping Go Tidalpunk?, Part 3: Tidalpunk Energy – Offshore Wind in the US, and Part 4: Plastics – A Tidalpunk Antagonist.

Can Maritime Shipping Go Tidalpunk?

A cargo ship sails down a channel next to a tug boat. A series of cranes dot the sides and background.
Photo by Martin Damboldt on Pexels.com

Since summertime is beach time here in Virginia, this month we’ll be taking a look at some developments toward our tidalpunk future. Today, we’ll be looking at how the maritime shipping industry is working to clean up its act.

While at sea, the majority of cargo ships use high sulfur fuel oil, the most polluting fuel in use today. With a global target to reduce maritime shipping emissions by half by 2050, however, the shipping industry is looking at its biggest change since switching from coal to diesel 100 years ago. While diesel won’t be going away soon, a mix of new and old technologies are receiving interest to replace fossil fuels in shipping.

The most exciting development in my mind, is the interest in bringing back sailing vessels for cargo transport. While a handful of clippers are still operating as cargo vessels, new ships in development like the EcoClipper500 could pave the way for a retro-futuristic tidalpunk future. As we’ve discussed before, the best way to clean up shipping emissions would be to exercise the first R and reduce the amount of stuff being shipped around the world in the first place. A combination of sailing vessels and distributed manufacturing of goods could make a big difference in carbon emissions and material waste.

A sailing ship with a white hull sails along a mountainous background. It has three large masts that are only partially rigged, presumably to keep speeds low for maneuverability.
Photo by Inge Wallumru00f8d on Pexels.com

In port, those diesel fumes can add up to some gnarly local air pollution for these communities. Oslo, Norway intends to be the world’s first zero emission port by investing in electrification of ferries and installing shore power so visiting boats can cut their engines while docked. Cleaning up the air is good for humans and wildlife that live near these industrial hubs, so cleaning up ports is an important piece of environmental justice work. Other ports are cleaning up their acts around the world including Los Angeles, Auckland, and Valencia showing this trend isn’t isolated to Scandinavia.

Despite their questionable environmental cred, cargo ships can still be a less carbon intensive option for long passenger journeys when compared to flying. According to Will Vibert, a cargo ship passenger, they can also feel surprisingly luxurious. “As I soon came to understand, the luxury of being at sea is not about fine food or a plush mattress; rather, life at sea itself – the tranquil pace and intoxicating sense of adventure – is the true luxury.” Later in the article they relate a similar luxury in the time-consuming, but languid process of North American train travel as I have experienced myself.

Do you have any thoughts regarding the maritime shipping industry and tidalpunk? Have you seen any cool initiatives at a port near you? Let us know in the comments below!


This is Part 1 in our feature on tidalpunk for August. See Part 2: Tidalpunk Food – Fishing and Farming the Sea, Part 3: Tidalpunk Energy – Offshore Wind in the US, and Part 4: Plastics – A Tidalpunk Antagonist.

Why Solarpunk Matters

A flag with split diagonally between green on the upper left and black on the lower right. An 8-rayed sun symbol is overlayed at the center with a black upper left and green lower right.
One of many solarpunk flags

As we enter a new decade, it can be hard to remain upbeat about the future. While I previously addressed some of the things I think define solarpunk, I think the most crucial piece is hope. I won’t get into the distinctions between hopepunk, solarpunk, and their related subgenres (tidalpunk, lunarpunk, etc.), but suffice it to say, in the face of the acceleration of the climate crisis, the pandemic, and decades of dystopian stories in fiction, it’s time for some positive possible futures.

Dystopias have their place in fiction warning against the perils of certain trends in society or potentially dangerous technologies. They can be great foils to techno-optimism, but when all you get are dystopias, it can become difficult to imagine your way out of a crisis. This is no more apparent than what is happening with the current climate crisis.

After decades of dismissal or denial, people are waking up to the fact that the carbon has hit the fan and we don’t have a lot of time left to act if we want to avoid the worst effects of global warming. We’re at a decision point, and after only hearing depressing news from the media and watching movies based on dystopian futures like the Hunger Games or Handmaid’s Tale, it’s no wonder that many are ready to just give up trying to fight what feels like an inexorable foe.

Now, more than ever, we need stories that paint a positive future. People have been bludgeoned to numbness by threats of rising sea levels, increasingly unpredictable weather, and the extinction of many of the other species on the planet. We need to show people that there is hope for the future and that we can still beat this thing. Is it too late for some species? Yes. We’re not going to come out of this unscathed, but if we don’t start acting now we might not come out of the other side at all.

Positive news about efforts in various parts of the world that are actually moving the needle on carbon emissions and other environmental issues is critical. Stories that show how the future could be so much better with clean energy and equitable distribution of materials is a much easier sell than saying certain behaviors or items should be banned. “Theft of Enjoyment” featured as the boogeyman when Republicans incorrectly claimed that the Green New Deal would make hamburgers illegal. As icky as advertising can be, only fitness companies make money by telling people what they shouldn’t have. Showing how much better our possible futures could be will have people running toward something instead of fighting tooth and nail to preserve what they already have, even if it isn’t good for them.

Cover of the Sunvault solarpunk anthology. The full title says SUNVAULT: Stories of solarpunk and eco-speculation and it is set on a colorful picture of a city with a river and lots of vegetation.
Sunvault – A solarpunk anthology

As the near future foil to cyberpunk, solarpunk is here to show us the world we want to have, not the one we’re afraid is coming. Does that mean that solarpunk is free of conflict or struggle? No. Solarpunk isn’t a perfect world, but it is a better, more equitable one. Solarpunk is giving people something worth fighting for which is much more powerful than asking for people to fight against something. In the face of the climate emergency, it can be easy to get overwhelmed, but solarpunk is what keeps me from giving up in the face of imposing odds. As Miguel de Cervantes said, “Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!

How do you maintain your mental health in the face of climate catastrophe? Has solarpunk helped you weather the storm to your psyche as it has me? Let us know below.


Solarpunk News Roundup – October 2020

Photo by Rodolfo Clix on Pexels.com

As we’re closing out October, I thought I’d try a new feature, a monthly news roundup of interesting articles I found on the internet. These might be actual news from the month or just articles that were new to me about environmental justice, energy, or other solarpunk themes.

This is an older article, and I’ve referenced in before, but it bears repeating here. Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson wrote in June about how “Racism derails our attempts to save the planet.” It’s an excellent explanation of how confronting racism is a necessary component of fighting climate change.

Vanessa Nakate, a Ugandan climate activist, was interviewed by euronews and discussed how “the global south is not on the front page, but it is on the front line” of climate change. It’s a good look at climate activism from a different lens than the US or eurocentric viewpoint.

Brand new research has resulted in the world’s first room temperature superconductor! Before you jump for joy though, it requires extremely high pressures to make and operate the material. It is a promising step forward toward lossless electrical transmission and storage, however.

A new fusion plant design has been announced by AL_A and General Fusion. It looks to use a hydraulic hammer to compress hydrogen plasma inside a sphere of molten metal to initiate the fusion process.

Vox’s David Robert’s continues his in-depth coverage of the energy sector with a deep dive on geothermal power and its potential as an always-on baseload for renewable power. While I think we should keep our current nuclear plants running as long as possible to keep carbon emissions down, transitioning baseload power to geothermal makes so much sense.

Grist has put together a list of no regrets changes the US could make to change it from a climate laggard to a climate leader. These include electrifying everything, building more robust public transit, and investing in climate resilience programs.

As a damper on clean energy progress, Investigate West and Grist have recently uncovered suppression of research from the US Department of Energy by the current administration. If we want to move forward on climate action, we can’t be ignoring or silencing researchers. I realize y’all already know this, but it’s still some impressive reporting and I thought you might find it interesting.

A new study shows that Just 10% of Covid Recovery Funds could be enough to meet the Paris Climate Accord goals. This is a promising rebuttal to the common refrain that climate action costs too much.

New research indicates the “Great Dying,” the biggest extinction event in Earth’s history, was caused by an increase in atmospheric CO2 from volcanic activity. Ocean acidification, the bane of tidalpunks, and global warming resulted in the death of most of the life on Earth at the time. It is of note that there was more CO2 generated by the volcanic activity, a Siberian supervolcano, than that from anthropogenic causes in our current time. It does provide a sobering reminder that our levels of CO2 must be carefully managed.

The Harvard Business Review has and article from 2018 discussing the advantages of a six hour workday vs the eight hour day that is now common in the United States.

Have you seen any interesting articles related to solarpunk lately? Let us know below!

Rest

A trail in Pen Park (Charlottesville, VA)

So, it’s been a bit since I’ve posted. With everything going on in the world, I really needed to give my brain some space to stretch. So, if you were looking for a sign to take a break yourself, this is it.

Even if it’s only for ten minutes, let your mind unwind and take a breather. Whatever work or troubles you have will still be there when you get back, but giving yourself a break can help put things in a new light. Maybe you’ll see a solution you didn’t before.

The world wants us to be going full throttle all the time, but humans didn’t evolve that way. Give yourself some space and time; have some compassion for yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in self-deprecation and thinking you’re not good enough, particularly if you suffer from depression like me.

I want you to know that it’s OK to take a little break to catch your breath. When you’re done, you’ll be able to tackle whatever your troubles are with renewed energy. There’s no denying that there’s a lot going wrong in the world right now, but we’ll get through it together.

I was fortunate enough to go on a walk on some nature trails here in town recently. What are some of the best ways for you to take a mental break? Do you like to hike or meditate? Let us know in the comments!