Sunday, September 29, 2019

Testing Ground

Maura and I started the working part of our honeymoon yesterday, visiting one of three sites on Hawaii’s Big Island that WICO is using to integrate and test some of the technologies that will likely be deployed to rehabilitate land and water ecosystems as part of the global strategy. The site was one of WICO’s test communities until three months ago and has many of the original personnel still working there. I recognized several of the names from my brief time in Quality Assurance; and as their former boss, Maura was recognized by all of them.

“Invasives remain our biggest problem,” said Dan Rogan, the leader of the testing group, as he took us on a tour. “We’ve got robots out hunting the worst of them, most by air.” A small drone whirred past us, as if for emphasis. “They’re still a stopgap, of course, because those technologies have too high a footprint beyond about two years. You’re going to hate this, Maura, but we’ve been given a green light for biotech alternatives.” She stood stunned as he continued, “The effort is being led by a company that’s trying to get them to gorge on pollution and then safely decompose when it kills them.”

“Safely?” she asked. “How can something like that be safe? You’re not testing it now are you?”

“Two years,” I said as he shook his head, “Wouldn’t you need that long just for development?”

He shrugged. “I’m told that they’re fast-tracking it.”

“You don’t fast-track something like that!” Maura was as agitated as I’ve ever seen her.

“I heard the transition time might be cut in half. Maybe they don’t have a choice.”

“I doubt that will happen,” she said. “Nobody’s going to sign off on the resulting casualties.”

“We’ll be ready if they do,” he said optimistically. “Meanwhile, we’ve also got to deal with drought and typhoons. Some of the new portable building designs with attachable shielding and catchments are showing a lot of promise. As soon as they’re proven, the county will deploy them to vulnerable communities and safer areas that people can use as soon as possible.”

“What about volcano eruptions?” I asked while we walked to an area dominated by three demonstration structures that resembled lumpy yurts.

He explained that air pollution was the main issue after people got out of the way of lava. “In addition to portability, suitable filters and building materials are being designed into the buildings.” He then invited us to stay overnight in one of them.

Reality Check

The descriptions of the technologies are fictional and intended mostly as requirements.

Discussion of the timeline is based on multiple simulations related to the “C-low” scenario previously discussed. For example:

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Sally visited Maura and me at Colorado Holistic University yesterday, “wearing” one of three specially-fabricated robots so she can have a physical presence. Her essence is still distributed among a classified number of servers throughout the world, awaiting the development of a single multi-purpose body that she can fully inhabit when global computer technology is no longer available to support her. 

The purpose of her visit was to brief us and get feedback about a significant update to the global strategy being considered for roll-out before the end of the year. The update would use fixed annual rates for population change and per-capita consumption instead of the linear decrease in total consumption that drives the present strategy, resulting in about half the death rate which was found to be unacceptably high.

“There is a higher probability of success doing it this way,” she told us, “because the targets are simpler. Progress is easier to verify and therefore control. We have also eliminated the most controversial aspect of the current strategy, maintaining zero births, although the birth rate will be very low.”

Maura and I stood facing the history department’s conference table where Sally sat and the screen behind her that showed a set of charts for the projected year 2040. Total consumption was higher than the present target, which was particularly problematic for Maura. “The whole point of driving down consumption to give ecosystems a better chance of recovery and offsetting the impacts,” she said rhetorically. “Are you sure enough of the death rate savings to justify taking the extra risk?”

“Yes,” Sally said bluntly.

 One of the charts suggested another motivation. “The new end-state is pushing up against the peak phase at the high end,” I said to Maura. “Is that even sustainable?”

“It depends on the cause,” Maura replied.

“The cause is the trajectory,” Sally answered the implied question. “Continuing the population and per-capita consumption rates past 2040 will maintain the distribution of people across the phases, but…”

“But?” Maura and I asked simultaneously.

Sally frowned realistically, no doubt for our benefit. “After 2050 there will not be enough resources to avoid collapse. Increasingly unable to meet its needs, humanity will cease to exist after 2080.”

I did a quick mental calculation based on the last hope chart. “That’s 14 years more than we have now. I’d say that’s a reasonable tradeoff.”

“What’s the overall impact on the strategy?” Maura asked Sally. Her expression revealed that she already knew the answer.

“It is considerably simplified and more aggressive in reducing direct consumption. Because implementation has already been more aggressive than planned due to the creativity provisions that Will inspired, there will be little change to existing preparations.” Sally unnecessarily gestured to the screen, where the charts were replaced with an image of a bound book about half the thickness of the global strategy. “A draft is ready if you would like to read it.”

We spent most of the day reviewing the draft with Sally. She collected our comments and changes into a new draft that could be merged with feedback from others who I assumed she was meeting with simultaneously using her other forms. 

The existence of the draft update was announced by WICO while we were on our way home. In the news clip played on all radio stations, Ambassador Lazlo described it as “the result of lessons learned over a very productive two months that will radically improve our chance of survival.” Maura lurched the car slightly as she drove, a clear sign that she disagreed with the assessment, and at that moment I thought I saw a small aircraft fly over us. “Over the next few days, details about the update will leak out,” Lazlo continued. “I urge everyone to ignore any such details and wait for the release of the final version.”

“They’re getting ahead of themselves,” Maura said, focusing on the road, “and you,” referring to this blog post.

I glimpsed the reflection of the aircraft, which was probably a drone, just as it disappeared behind a hill. “Somebody wants those details to get out anyway,” I speculated. “Given the time constraints, they’d be irresponsible not to, creativity provisions notwithstanding.”

“You’re not easily complimented, are you?” she asked, turned to me, and smiled. “That’s a good thing.”

“I don’t like being played,” I said, as an old concern began to nag at me again. 

ABOVE: Maura, Sally, and Will.

Reality Check

The new scenario is described in the Idea Explorer blog post C-low. The related summary of global variables in the year 2040 is shown below.

For reference, projections for the current scenario are as follows for 2040:

Note in particular the difference in Total Consumption between the two scenarios that Maura highlighted, about 0.1 Earth.
The business-as-usual scenario for the Green simulation representing our world is shown below, with detail for mid-year 2019 that applies to all simulations:

For fiction backstory, see Will Jackson's Personal Log (patrons only).

Friday, September 6, 2019

Preparations and Phases

We heard today that the Extinction Response Unit is officially on schedule to begin decommissioning high-impact structures and technologies by the end of the year. That scared a lot of people in subregions like ours who hoped they would have more time to develop natural ways of meeting basic needs before the current means disappear. 

Meeting one of those needs, water, is particularly problematic because it must currently be pumped or imported to grow an adequate amount of food for all the people who rely on it. This is made even more difficult by the already-erratic climate that is making access unpredictable while noticeably turning our home into a desert. In addition, the water must be cleaned by natural ecosystems that are either not available or not healthy enough to adequately perform the task. Few of us have any doubt that a mass exodus to places with more resources will be necessary within the next five years, and indeed dynamic contingency plans are already being developed domestically and internationally.

As Maura anticipated, the phase nomenclature has been rapidly adopted by both planning agencies and the public to communicate about the complex issues involved in the transition. We are already seeing a convergence of names for each phase in social and professional use which tend to have an economic theme similar to a business supply chain. That theme is likely to change since the world economic system will be undergoing a major overhaul during the transition - mainly to limit private ownership of ecological resources so that Consumers (the currently popular name for people in Phase 1) and Marketers (in Phase 2) aren’t rewarded for destroying functioning ecosystems. As Phase 4 Processors (performing multiple functions) we will soon be cut off from Phase 5 Manufacturers and the Phase 6 Suppliers we and the Manufacturers depend on for raw materials. The world has only recently seen the future it’s trying to avoid in the Perishers of Phase 7 who as a result of our efforts might yet be saved from their doom.

Reality Check

Some major discoveries have resulted in a revamping of how global variables are distributed throughout the global population. One consequence is a better ability to characterize how phases correspond with the way people live their lives, especially on an economic basis. The world map shown below is one result, constructed from GDP data with an error margin of plus-or-minus 0.6 phase.

Following is an updated phase diagram for when the global strategy was executed: