Selective Ignorance

Do you ever avoid reading a book because you don’t want it to pollute your thinking? Have a new idea and don’t want to read the “best in the industry” perspective, but want to read the basics to nurture your own seedling of an opinion without it getting obscured by better polished and refined thinkers?

I’ve been learning about climate change for the past year. There are already so many “big” opinions and “big” writers on climate change. Everyone “knows” what climate change is, how could I possibly have something different to say? There are times when I wonder if reading everything that’s out there is really the best path. My brain is soft and I risk parroting others ideas and squelching my own voice. So I try to stick to the basics. My friend Dan Walsh suggests reading tangential books instead. For example, if you’re interested in carbon markets, read a book about hedge funds and Wall Street, but NOT the book by an expert in carbon markets or the book with “Carbon Markets” in the title.

You can always go back and read those “expert” books any time. Give yourself space to form your own idea initially. Do you have books you avoid reading because of “selective ignorance”?

“selective ignorance” coined by Dan Walsh of Super Spark Media

No One Gives a Fuck About Climate Change

Why is the #1 Image on Google for “Climate Change Chart” a Cartoon?

Screenshot 2017-06-05 13.16.40

That’s right, the #1 image result for ‘climate change chart’ is “Earth Temperature Timeline” from XKCD, which though awesome and accurate, nonetheless, is a cartoon:

So where do I go to track CO2 levels in our atmosphere? I wanted to find out. What I found out is: no one gives a fuck about climate change. How do I know this? Because if people gave a fuck, there would be nice websites tracking the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The results of my search were abysmal. Take Google’s #1 result for “co2 tracker”,

Screenshot 2017-06-05 12.37.25

Google’s #1 result for “CO2 tracker”

NASA: "Last Measurement April 2017"

NASA CO2 Chart: “Last Measurement April 2017”

HAHAHAHA, are you freaking KIDDING ME??? Am I browsing Alta Vista on an Apple II in 1995?

But at least it’s updated every day or two…

The #1 result for “climate change chart” is from NASA. NASA’s “Latest Measurement” is freaking 2 months old…April 2017…WHAT? Barely interactive, a little widget squeezed into a corner.

The Winner:

Screenshot 2017-06-05 13.38.41

@Keeling_Curve on Twitter is the best place to track CO2 right now

The best I found was @Keeling_Curve on Twitter, piping fresh hot data right out of scientific measurement spots atop Mauna Loa in Hawaii. @Keeling_Curve’s profile references a data page from Scripps that scientists scramble to update within about 24 hours, though Scripps’ data looks embedded in a machine-unreadable PNG format :\

These charts are all pretty sad.

Compare to Bitcoin Charts

While atmospheric CO2 has been measured since 1956, Bitcoin has been around for only 8 years. But Google has bitcoin charts for dayyyyyyyss. They’re beautiful, they’re useful, they’re interesting:

Coinbase, gorgeous!

Screenshot 2017-06-05 12.29.25

Bitcoin eye candy from Coinbase tags historic events! showcases beautiful visualizations of daily price ranges.

Climate Change Needs a Beautiful Chart and Tracker

In conclusion, no one really gives a fuck about climate change. If they did, there would be a reasonable tracker, charter, and map of historic events that was easily discoverable with a simple Google Search.

So it’s your opportunity to give a fuck…even for someone with just some basic HTML and CSS skills. Seize this opportunity!

Who will build the world’s first Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide tracker to:

  • #1 on Google for “climate change chart”
  • updated daily
  • visualize intra-day minute-by-minute data
  • call out interesting historical data points
  • bootstrap-powered / beautiful

Hit me up in the comments if you want to work together on building this.

Join Us

Join 3 8 of us working on github making this real!! Join in!

About this post:

Katie Patrick has an awesome online course on “How to Save the World” on how to apply data, behavior change and game design techniques to your cause for the epic win. Katie says to “make sure to include the concept of disclosure, which is that just making measurement data public naturally catalyzes change without requiring heavy handed legislation. The numbers just naturally effect us to move in the right direction”.

The wonderful Matthew Eshed is co-founder of Impossible Labs and we have lots of conversations like these.

Any good, smart, level headed parts of this post are 100% thanks to Katie and Matthew. All fucks  attributed to me.

Journey to Mars (2030): Lessons from the Mayflower’s Voyage (1620)

I just took a 15 hour flight to Portugal on Friday. It got me thinking about a voyage to Mars, what would it be like?

Will it be like climbing aboard a regular ole airplane? Plunking my butt down for not 15 hours but 270+ days? I have lots of questions about what it’s like to go to Mars, and beyond that what it’s like to colonize Mars.

The first voyage I understand. It’s
proving it can be done. It’s ego and structure. There’s a captain and everyone is paid to be there.

The second voyage, the third voyage is more interesting. It’s a symbol of colonizing. It’s a symbol of “We’re not the first, but we’re here to stay.”

My questions are: How long is the voyage to Mars, what is the population like, why do people go, what are the facilities, what issues pop up, and how do people pass the time?

Flying to Lisbon, Portugal got me thinking about Christopher Columbus, who lived in Lisbon for a decade. From the European perspective, Christopher Columbus was kind of like the “first voyager” to Mars. And a century later, the Mayflower was the first to send colonists over from Europe. (Even though they thought they were sailing to Asia!)

So I thought I’d answer these questions by writing what happened on the Mayflower, and then asking what might happen on a Mars ship.

Who makes decisions?
On the Mayflower: The captain was in charge. The crew carried out his orders. The passengers were along for the ride. If there was a problem, it was the captain’s job to solve it. It was their job to protect the ship, the cargo, the crew, and the passengers (probably in that order, since the captain owned 1/4th of the ship).

To Mars: Have there been 15 month experiments in isolated governance? I can imagine something like this aboard a submarine, though as a military vessel everyone is crew. Or perhaps some lessons from temporary societies like Burning Man are relevant? Love to hear your thoughts on this.

How long is the voyage?
Mayflower: 2 months (60 days)
Mars: 9 months (260 days)

Side note: colonization might take awhile after the first voyage. Columbus hits America – 1462; Mayflower hits America 142 years later – 1620

What’s the population like?
Mayflower: 130 people, 100 passengers and 30 crews. A lot of these were families or single men. The captain and crew ran the ship and in case of emergency, for example once when the mast broke, the passengers helped out to fix it.

To Mars: I imagine passengers are going to need to be handy. I think there’s going to be people who are smart and able to help in tough spots. Maybe it will all be crew, but given the idea of colonization you don’t need massive crews, there can be a lot of people who hang out, artists, poets, photographers.

Why do people go?
Mayflower: The main reasons behind the Mayflower were Religious persecution or to make money/needed to make money as endentured servants. “I’m going to this new area farm, make money, grow crops that are profitable.”

Mars: What people would consider themselves so persecuted that they need to go to another planet? I’d be curious to hear about any of those groups on Earth right now. There are a lot of views that aren’t accepted on Earth. Might be very attractive to someone who wants to leave and start something new.

The flip side is servants. Is it more like a job? Are Mars colonists kind of like Deadliest Catch where I can clear $1,000,000 a year as a salary to send back to Earth? There are a lot of people who find that worth considering.

What else is on the ship?
Mayflower: Cargo, tools, food, no latrine, people fend for themselves.

Mars ship: I imagine it kind of like a plane. No guns (no such thing as space pirates, yet, but seems like an obvious emergent property when you have vulnerable ships floating about). Cargo, lots of food. (The Mayflower got caught without enough food and that was hard.)

What are unexpected emergencies while on board?
Mayflower: The biggest killer was disease. In the first winter the Mayflower got hit hard. Killed half of the crew and half of the passengers, 50 passengers and 15 crew.

Another issue is when the mast broke and the passengers had to pitch in to help repair the ship.

Mars ship: Disease and food aren’t well understood, and they can wreak havoc. Think about where bioengineering is relative to mechanical engineering or agriculture. We need fundamental biotech advances to get to where we need to be.

A lot of people get sick when they’re on a plane for awhile, the dry air, the recirculating particles of gunk. Maybe this has been studied aboard submarines, so there are solutions.

Food is important. Things get really hard when you don’t have any food (luckily AirFrance kept me well fed). I hope the Mars ship has excess food.

What do people do to pass the time?
Mayflower: Reading, playing cards, cooking their own food

Mars: Mayflower sounds familiar. I’d read, play cards, watch Twitch, chat with my buddies, make my own food or buy it at the ship’s food court, work from my laptop (with a delay in my internet connection up to 4 minutes)

I think this is an interesting framework for thinking about what going to Mars might be like and what if it were like the Mayflower. Similar to ocean travel in the age of the Mayflower, space travel is a technology we understand, but not perfectly, in terms of ship building, ship captaining. Some are crew, some are passengers. A big journey requires a big commitment. Religious persecution or making money. People end up doing pretty ordinary things like reading playing cards.

I found this fun to think through. Thanks for reading!

Climate Change 2.0: How to Hack Your Way Into The Climate Change Revolution

I read a great question from acabal on HackerNews today:

Does anyone have ideas on how a mid-career software developer can switch gears into the clean energy/climate change industry, to do something to help?

To help answer acabal’s question, I found 9 technology ideas on Quora that sparked my own curiosity.

Climate Change is at a tipping point. Climate Change 2.0 is an opportunistic, solutions-driven, civilization-scale approach to climate change. Heroes, this is a call to adventure!

Let’s get curious and dream big about climate change!

9 Thought-Provoking Climate Change 2.0 Ideas

1. What is the cost per square kilometer to turn a desert into an area with full tree/vegetation cover? And how long does it take?

2. What are the best strategies for sequestering atmospheric carbon?

3. If all the used cardboard boxes were folded flat and simply buried, how much carbon would be captured and sequestrated?

4. Is a “space sunshade” a feasible solution to global warming

5. Why don’t people use the new ways to combat global warming like green algae, artificial icebergs, carbon filters, etc.?

6. Why can’t carbon emissions of diesel cars be filtered out?

7. What if we make solid blocks of CO2 and dump them into space? Will that decrease the greenhouse effect?

8. What is the difficulty of technologically using the CO2 in our air for practical use?

9. Why don’t we genetically modify crops and trees to collect more carbon and reverse climate change?

I also wrote “A Biohacker’s Guide to Climate Change” with curiosity in mind. It starts with my 5 favorite books and articles on tech opportunities in climate change.

Interested in meeting other like-minded people working on climate tech solutions?

Join the new Google group: Climate Change 2.0: A Call to Adventure

Question to you: Do you know of any active Reddit communities talking about climate change as an opportunity? Would love to find one!

Let me know if you liked this or have suggestions. Collaborators welcome, this is a planetary adventure!

Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air: Food and Agriculture (by David MacKay)

Chapter 13 Food and farming

Figure 13.1. A salad Niçoise.

Figure 13.1. A salad Niçoise.

Modern agriculture is the use of land to convert petroleum into food.- Albert Bartlett

We’ve already discussed in Chapter 6 how much sustainable power could be produced through greenery; in this chapter we discuss how much power is currently consumed in giving us our daily bread. A moderately active person with a weight of 65 kg consumes food with a chemical energy content of about 2600 “Calories” per day. A “Calorie,” in food circles, is actually 1000 chemist’s calories (1 kcal). 2600 “Calories” per day is about 3 kWh per day. Most of this energy eventually escapes from the body as heat, so one function of a typical person is to act as a space heater with an output of a little over 100 W, a medium-power lightbulb. Put 10 people in a small cold room, and you can switch off the 1 kW convection heater.

Figure 13.2. Minimum energy requirement of one person.

Figure 13.2. Minimum energy requirement of one person.

How much energy do we actually consume in order to get our 3 kWh per day? If we enlarge our viewpoint to include the inevitable upstream costs of food production, then we may find that our energy footprint is substantially bigger. It depends if we are vegan, vegetarian or carnivore. The vegan has the smallest inevitable footprint: 3 kWh per day of energy from the plants he eats.

The energy cost of drinking milk

I love milk. If I drinka-pinta-milka-day, what energy does that require? A typical dairy cow produces 16 litres of milk per day. So my one pint per day (half a litre per day) requires that I employ 1/32 of a cow. Oh, hang on – I love cheese too. And to make 1 kg of Irish Cheddar takes about 9 kg of milk. So consuming 50 g of cheese per day requires the production of an extra 450 g of milk. OK: my milk and cheese habit requires that I employ 1/16 of a cow. And how much power does it take to run a cow? Well, if a cow weighing 450 kg has similar energy requirements per kilogram to a human (whose 65 kg burns 3 kWh per day) then the cow must be using about 21 kWh/d. Does this extrapolation from human to cow make you uneasy? Let’s check these numbers: says that a suckling cow of weight 450 kg needs 85 MJ/d, which is 24 kWh/d.

Figure 13.3. Milk and cheese.

Figure 13.3. Milk and cheese.

Great, our guess wasn’t far off! So my 1/16 share of a cow has an energy consumption of about 1.5 kWh per day. This figure ignores other energy costs involved in persuading the cow to make milk and the milk to turn to
cheese, and of getting the milk and cheese to travel from her to me. We’ll cover some of these costs when we discuss freight and supermarkets in Chapter 15.


Figure 13.4. Two eggs per day.

Figure 13.4. Two eggs per day.

A “layer” (a chicken that lays eggs) eats about 110 g of chicken feed per day. Assuming that chicken feed has a metabolizable energy content of 3.3 kWh per kg, that’s a power consumption of 0.4 kWh per day per chicken. Layers yield on average 290 eggs per year. So eating two eggs a day requires a power of 1 kWh per day. Each egg itself contains 80 kcal, which is about 0.1 kWh. So from an energy point of view, egg production is 20% efficient.

The energy cost of eating meat

Let’s say an enthusiastic meat-eater eats about half a pound a day (227 g). (This is the average meat consumption of Americans.) To work out the power required to maintain the meat-eater’s animals as they mature and wait for the chop, we need to know for how long the animals are around, consuming energy.

Figure 13.5. Eating meat requires extra power because we have to feed the queue of animals lining up to be eaten by the human.

Figure 13.5. Eating meat requires extra power because we have to feed the queue of animals lining up to be eaten by the human.

Chicken, pork, or beef?

  • Chicken, sir? Every chicken you eat was clucking around being a chicken for roughly 50 days. So the steady consumption of half a pound a day of chicken requires about 25 pounds of chicken to be alive, preparing
    to be eaten. And those 25 pounds of chicken consume energy.
  • Pork, madam? Pigs are around for longer – maybe 400 days from birth to bacon – so the steady consumption of half a pound a day of pork requires about 200 pounds of pork to be alive, preparing to be eaten.
  • Cow? Beef production involves the longest lead times. It takes about 1000 days of cow-time to create a steak. So the steady consumption of half a pound a day of beef requires about 500 pounds of beef to be alive, preparing to be eaten.

To condense all these ideas down to a single number, let’s assume you eat half a pound (227 g) per day of meat, made up of equal quantities of chicken, pork, and beef. This meat habit requires the perpetual sustenance of 8 pounds of chicken meat, 70 pounds of pork meat, and 170 pounds of cow meat. That’s a total of 110 kg of meat, or 170 kg of animal (since about two thirds of the animal gets turned into meat). And if the 170 kg of animal has similar power requirements to a human (whose 65 kg burns 3 kWh/d) then the power required to fuel the meat habit is

170kg × 3 kWh/d per 65 kg ≈ 8 kWh/d

I’ve again taken the physiological liberty of assuming “animals are like humans;” a more accurate estimate of the energy to make chicken is in this chapter’s endnotes. No matter, I only want a ballpark estimate, and here it is. The power required to make the food for a typical consumer of vegetables, dairy, eggs, and meat is 1.5 + 1.5 + 1 + 8 = 12 kWh per day. (The daily calorific balance of this rough diet is 1.5 kWh from vegetables; 0.7 kWh from dairy; 0.2 kWh from eggs; and 0.5 kWh from meat – a total of 2.9 kWh per day.)

This number does not include any of the power costs associated with farming, fertilizing, processing, refrigerating, and transporting the food. We’ll estimate some of those costs below, and some in Chapter 15.

Figure 13.6. Will harvest energy crops for food.

Figure 13.6. Will harvest energy crops for food.

Do these calculations give an argument in favour of vegetarianism, on the grounds of lower energy consumption? It depends on where the animals feed. Take the steep hills and mountains of Wales, for example. Could the land be used for anything other than grazing? Either these rocky pasturelands are used to sustain sheep, or they are not used to help feed humans. You can think of these natural green slopes as maintenance-free biofuel plantations, and the sheep as automated self-replicating biofuel-harvesting machines. The energy losses between sunlight and mutton are substantial, but there is probably no better way of capturing solar power in such places. (I’m not sure whether this argument for sheep-farming in Wales actually adds up: during the worst weather, Welsh sheep are moved to lower fields where their diet is supplemented with soya feed and other food grown with the help of energy-intensive fertilizers; what’s the true energy cost? I don’t know.) Similar arguments can be made in favour of carnivory for places such as the scrublands of Africa and the grasslands of
Australia; and in favour of dairy consumption in India, where millions of cows are fed on by-products of rice and maize farming. On the other hand, where animals are reared in cages and fed grain that humans could have eaten, there’s no question that it would be more energy-efficient to cut out the middlehen or middlesow, and feed the grain directly to humans.

Fertilizer and other energy costs in farming

The embodied energy in Europe’s fertilizers is about 2 kWh per day per person. According to a report to DEFRA by the University of Warwick, farming in the UK in 2005 used an energy of 0.9 kWh per day per person
for farm vehicles, machinery, heating (especially greenhouses), lighting, ventilation, and refrigeration.

The energy cost of Tiddles, Fido, and Shadowfax

Figure 13.7. The power required for animal companions’ food.

Figure 13.7. The power required for animal companions’ food.

Animal companions! Are you the servant of a dog, a cat, or a horse? There are perhaps 8 million cats in Britain. Let’s assume you look after one of them. The energy cost of Tiddles? If she eats 50 g of meat per day (chicken, pork, and beef), then the last section’s calculation says that the power required to make Tiddles’ food is just shy of 2 kWh per day. A vegetarian cat would require less.

Similarly if your dog Fido eats 200 g of meat per day, and carbohydrates amounting to 1 kWh per day, then the power required to make his food is about 9 kWh per day. Shadowfax the horse weighs about 400 kg and consumes 17 kWh per  day.


I heard that the energy footprint of food is so big that “it’s better to drive than to walk.” Whether this is true depends on your diet. It’s certainly possible to find food whose fossil-fuel energy footprint is bigger than the energy delivered to the human. A bag of crisps, for example, has an embodied energy of 1.4 kWh of fossil fuel per kWh of chemical energy eaten. The embodied energy of meat is higher. According to a study from the University of Exeter, the typical diet has an embodied energy of roughly 6 kWh per kWh eaten. To figure out whether driving a car or walking uses less energy, we need to know the transport efficiency of each mode. For the typical car of Chapter 3, the energy cost was 80 kWh per 100 km. Walking uses a net energy of 3.6 kWh per 100 km – 22 times less. So if you live entirely on food whose footprint is greater than 22 kWh per kWh then, yes, the energy
cost of getting you from A to B in a fossil-fuel-powered vehicle is less than if you go under your own steam. But if you have a typical diet (6 kWh per kWh) then “it’s better to drive than to walk” is a myth. Walking uses one quarter as much energy.

Note to reader:
This is an experiment in formatting and Creative Commons publishing. The original text is written by the wonderful David McKay, ‘Sustainable Energy without the hot air’. The book is released under a Creative Commons license. The original site’s HTML is formatted for the early 2000’s, so I wanted to try bringing one short chapter into modern “Medium – like” formatting. It took me about 45 minutes start to finish to edit this (on iPad Pro). My next thought would be improving the images, theyy are low resolution and could use an update. The original text (and a whole book) is available her for free and on Amazon in print:

A Biohacker’s Guide to Climate Change

Climate Change: let’s dream about it, let’s have fun with it, let’s make it a cool adventure.

On that, here’s my 5 favorite articles and books that merge climate change and technology. These are the pieces I’ve found myself referencing over the past year when I meet hackers and geeks curious about climate change.

1. What Can a Technologist do About Climate Change? – Bret Victor

I like this because it’s so popular  in Silicon Valley. It’s been independently re-posted to Hackernews 6 times over the past year. Paul Hawken, famous environmentalist and author of Project Drawdown, cited it as proof of Silicon Valley’s curiousity about climate during the launch of his new book, a plan for reducing carbon dioxide. When I say “climate change plus tech” it’s the most common reference people here reply with.

So I love it, it’s written by a big name in the tech scene and it has some great perspectives. It’s the best place to start if you’re a hacker interested in climate change.

2. The Whole Earth Discipline – Stewart Brand

Now this kind of veers in the serious thought-provoking direction, because it’s by Stewart Brand, and he’s got great points and perspective. He says nuclear power is good, GMOs are good, geoengineering is good. He’s an environmental pioneer and in tech circles is known for his early work designing the WELL, an early computer BBS in Berkeley in 1985. And the book is shocking to me because there’s this mea culpa along the lines of ‘look sorry about that, when we environmentalists said nuclear power was bad, and GMOs were bad, yea we screwed up. My bad. Let’s make a better path and tech paves the way’. He writes “We are as gods and we must get good at it.” Nuff said.

3. Red Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson

For me, this is basically biohacker bedtime stories. Three part story, terraforming mars and building the first Martian colony there. Tons of stuff about geoengineering, power sources, autonomous vehicles. Basically how would a planet run in the future. It’s a great book and if you like the first one there are 3 in the series.

4. Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air – David MacKay

This one’s math-tastic. Not so opinionated as the Whole Earth Discipline, and it’s not fantasy like Red Mars. It’s numbers and fun calculations. It doesn’t have anything to do with politics or human nature. The guy who wrote opened with ‘look I’m trying to write a climate book that has nothing to do with politics’. So he sidestepped all the carbon crap and said let’s just talk about energy, let’s talk about electrons. I found it really cool to start thinking about that most fossil fuels are locked up solar energy. Not that I think fossil fuels are ok suddenly, but I think it is a good way to look at the energy balance of the earth.

100% of our energy comes from either the sun, the moon, geothermal, or nuclear power. Nuclear power is from the beginning of the universe, geothermal is from the center of the earth, tidal power and waves comes from the moon, and everything else comes from the sun – biofuels, fossil fuels, wind power (hot air). Anyway I thought it was cool to play with math. This was the first climate-y book I read and afterwards I saw climate change like Neo at the end of the Matrix. It’s just numbers, brah.

5. Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan – Elon Musk

Super cool, he rattles it out. Great piece to see the truth: climate change is an opportunity, let’s build some awesome new systems and technologies on top of it.

Have another favorite to add? Let’s get this list to 11!

On anxiety

I’m sitting on the porch at home on the Big Island of Hawaii. Our six black cats laze around in the yard. Birds are chirping, the sky is turquoise, and I can see the sapphire ocean through my neighbor’s palm trees.

The cats seem skinny. One is eating a lizard it caught. We really should feed them more than table scraps. I’ll pick up a giant bag of Meow Mix at Costco and then everything will be OK. Will the cats run off to join our neighbors if they’re not fed enough? What happens when they eat all the lizards?

I stand up. I’ve suddenly realized my ultimate destiny. I’m going to overthink and whittle away every idea and experience I ever have. I am a Nimitz-class nuclear battleship and anxiety is my uranium core.

If I’m going to chew the inside of my cheeks for eternity like some Promethean snack, why not think about something bigger than 6 black cats. Like I don’t know, work on climate change or run for president or something?

This was about a year ago, and I look back on the experience with a feeling of relief, purpose, and perspective. Are you lucky enough to have 6 black cats in your life?

(wonderful photo of one of the cats thanks to Shova Ale Magar)

It’s just green paint

Tito Klondor here, alien visitor from Planet Targus 9 with a report on city infrastructure in San Francisco. My interests are in roads, telephone poles, and skyscrapers.

My job is looking over the fence at a construction site and asking what keeps a new skyscraper from falling over? Where is the cable that brings Internet into this building? How do all the yellow lines in the road get made?

I often wonder if the humans are aware how simple their infrastructure really is.

For the past week, a construction crew has been building a new bike lane on 7th Street. Now on Targus 9 of course, if you asked me how a Targan bike lane gets made I could show you the fancy machine that comes in and paints a really wide lane, and spits out symbols and plastic barriers as it rolls.

On Earth it turns out it’s just a guy with a bucket of green paint and a roller…and green-ed shoes.

And the “biker” symbol? It’s made with a giant 8 foot long metal stencil they drag out and spray paint.

(I neglected to take a photo of the stencil, but you can see the chalk line at the bottom where they position the stencil, and a spot to the lower right where they over sprayed.)

Over and out.