How Old Do You Need To Be To Avoid Climate Change Disasters?

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, December 18, 2015

Using the Life Expectancy Calculator at the Social Security Administration website, here’s what they predict for me:

My life expectancy

If I live another twenty years it will be 2035. Many predictions about the future use the years 2020, 2025, 2030, 2050 and 2100 as landmarks. I doubt I’ll make it to 2050, when I’d turn 99. Most of the current political discussion about climate change suggest making fixes by 2030 or 2050, but scientists are saying that’s too late. More than likely, the rest of the 21st century will be filled with climate change disasters.

My friend Connell and I were wondering this morning if we will die before the shit hits the fan.

Do most climate change deniers feel they will just avoid the issue by dying sooner than the eco-apocalypse? Won’t most older people checkout before things get bad? But when will things get bad? If it’s in the 2020s, then you need to be well into your 70s to feel statistically safe. If it’s the 2030s, then you need to be like me, in your 60s. If it’s not until the 2050s, you can be in your 40s. If it’s not until 2100, then you have to start sticking your head in the sand at age 15.

Yesterday I read, “The Siege of Miami” by Elizabeth Kolbert, author of the influential book, The Sixth Extinction. Is Miami the next New Orleans? What would happen if Miami is the next eco-catastrophe and it happens before 2030? What if rising oceans destroys South Florida’s fresh water and millions of people have to move north? Of course, the wetter it gets in Miami, the wetter it will be in other coastal cities, like New York City.

At some point even the disciples of Donald Trump will have to admit that those pesky scientists were right about climate change. The choice then will be to do something heroic or immigrate. Will folks living on higher ground want to ban immigrants from coastal regions? If you think Syrians and Mexicans pose a problem, wait until climate change refuges start moving in.

If people secretly think climate change disasters won’t hit until the 22nd century, 21st century folk are willing to wait and do nothing. What I’m asking is: What if you’re too young to avoid the suffering? What if the ball drops where you live well before 2100, or even 2030.

Connell and I think we might avoid the start of terrible events by only living another twenty years. But what if you’re in your thirties and have two little kids? You aren’t old enough, and that’s not saying anything about your children.

Should old Republicans be allowed to make decisions about climate change? Their philosophy is, “I’ve got mine and I’m going to keep it.” If Republican leaders are allowed to ignore climate change, can they be held responsible if they are wrong? If you read the article about Miami, Florida politicians are going well beyond denying climate change, they want to legalize denial. And it’s obvious why. If they admit Florida has a problem, property values will sink long before Florida will. Who’d want to retire in a flooding state?

That’s why I believe if you’re a certain age, I’m wonder if your inaction is due to thinking you won’t live long enough to suffer. How ethical is it to make a mess and then die to avoid cleaning it up?

Essay #989 – Table of Contents

Defining Science Fiction by Analyzing NBC’s New Show Revolution

It’s very hard to define the term “science fiction,” a topic often discussed in my science fiction book club.  Searching the web reveals endless essays on the topic.  It’s not possible to come up with a one-size-fits all definition for science fiction.  I’m going to take another approach.  I’m going to analyze the new show Revolution point by point, and say which parts I think are science fiction and which I think are fantasy.


Revolution is about a family thrown into a dark world of a collapsed civilization.  The show begins 15 years after a worldwide blackout with a father dying, a son being kidnapped and the daughter seeking her long lost uncle Miles to help her rescue her brother.  The daughter, Charlie Matheson, played by Tracy Spiridakos is a kind of less hard, less savvy, Katniss Everdeen, so the story carries on the current vogue of girl action heroes.  Miles Matheson is played by Billy Burke and he’s your standard action guy.  This is why I loved Breaking Bad so much, none of the characters were cookie cutter clichés.

Strangely enough, the medium level bad guy in Revolution is Giancarlo Espositio playing Tom Neville, a ruthless, but sometimes coldly kind, captain of a militia, who previously played a ground breaking character in Breaking Bad, Gustavo “Gus” Fring, who was also ruthless with a strange tinge of cold kindness.  You’d think Espositio would have tipped the Revolution writers not to go for the obvious, and make him different.  I fear such a wonderful actor will get typecast.


Revolution pictures our world without electrical power or electronic gadgets – a powerful “What if…” scenario.  We’re all so depended on computers and electricity that it’s an intellectual adventure to pretend to live in a time of 18th century technology.   Revolution hints that some kind of force field is capable of dampening all electronics, and even electricity production.  Science knows solid state electronics are vulnerable to electromagnetic pulses (EMP) that are generated as a byproduct of nuclear explosions.  However, mechanical turbines should continue to work, and even old fashioned tube electronics might continue to work with EMP fields.

There is no science to suggest that such a energy dampening force field is possible.  It’s just a writer’s gimmick to advance the story.  Does that make Revolution a fantasy?  It’s a damn cool idea, but so is a school for wizards.  In other words, I have to say the premise of Revolution is fantasy.

In Revolution, there is a reason why and how the power got turned off. Revolution’s creators are holding that back as a mystery, like the mystery of the island in Lost. Mystery is one of the prime movers of fiction, so you can’t blame them for holding back, but I’m worried I’m going to be disappointed, like I did with Lost. Unless they come up with other mysteries, I doubt I’ll keep watching.  Bad Robot Productions, the company that made Lost, and produces Revolution, does have a track record for upping the mystery ante every week.

The mystery of who has killed off the power isn’t very science fictional to me. For it to be really science fictional, it has to be plausible, so we think, “Could this really happen?” When Jules Verne and H. G. Wells wrote stories about men traveling to the Moon, people did think, “Hey, that might be possible, what will it be like, and how will they do it?” That’s science fiction.

Contrast Revolution with The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi which is set in the 22nd century after fossil fuels have been used up, after global warming has changed every thing, and after crop monoculture and genetically modified agriculture has failed.  In The Windup Girl Bacigalupi develops kinetic energy machines using springs.  This same technology would work in the world of Revolution, but so far we haven’t seen any ideas like this, and I’m not sure the Bad Robot people think this way.

If the Bad Robot Production people had been truly creative, they would have taken the same scenario and come up with a totally new post apocalyptic society – one without electricity, but very creative.  They would have envisioned new forms of mechanical power, the return of sailing ships and dirigibles, funky new bicycles, rocket powered airships, and new forms of animal power.  They could have had computers like Babbage dreamed about, and new art forms not depended on digital media.  That’s what science fiction is about.  What they gave us is Mad Max Lite.

Post Apocalyptic World

Post apocalyptic fiction is one of my favorite sub-genres of science fiction, and for two reasons.  First, I love how an author imagines people surviving the collapse of civilization.  Second, thinking about how to rebuild civilization offers countless intellectual puzzles for my mind.  Now that’s some good clean science fictional fun.

Revolution is just a post apocalyptic fantasy that allows guys to fight with swords.  At least so far.  Why are guns rare but swords plentiful?  How did they gear up for sword production so fast?  I know I’ve only seen two episodes and the science fiction world building has been slight – mostly using stock after-the-collapse imagery.  In fact, they seem to have gotten most of their imagery from Life Without People.

Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction has a very long history which Revolution must be judged against.  When I saw the show announced this summer I had hoped for a television version of Earth Abides or The Day of the Triffids, or the British TV series SurvivorsRevolution is closer to The Postman by David Brin, more about adventure and less about the details of survival, or efforts to rebuild civilization.  Both feature a ruthless militia leader trying to start a post-civilization empire.

Now, this political subject is a honest science fictional topic.  Rebuilding our society after we’ve mined all the easily available resources is a scientific challenge worthy of much speculation.  However, in the first two episodes, Revolution hasn’t dealt with scarcity.  At one point Charlie’s Uncle Miles, tries to bribe someone with a small chunk of metal, which I assume we’re to think of as gold.  Gold nuggets are very rare, what gold we mine nowadays is molecules of gold processed from tons of ore.

What people use for money in Revolution’s apocalyptic world is a fascinating idea to explore, but so far the show ignores the issue, other than this one transaction with a tiny lump of yellow metal.  Good science fiction will explore all aspects of a possible future.  Revolution takes a Indiana Jones approach to the story, using slight of hand on facts, and diverting viewer’s mind with action and violence.

We have to ask ourselves:  Is a story science fiction if it’s set in a science fictional setting?  I don’t think so.  We are told Miles Matheson is a man who is good at killing people.  Miles’ abilities to fight are so unbelievable that they remind me of the recent Sylvester Stallone action flick, The Expendables 2.  That makes me think Revolution is more inspired by video games than science fiction books.  It’s appeal is to would-be first person shooters than folks who like to read speculative fiction about possible futures.

I wish Revolution’s level of violence was more like Breaking Bad’s, and it focused more on clever plots with interesting science fiction speculation.

Population Dying Off

If the power went off all over our world, how long could we support 7 billion people?  Revolution doesn’t even try to answer that question.  It skips 15 years immediately.  There’s some flashbacks, but no explanations.  The starting point of most collapse of civilization stories are a plague that kills off most of the population, or nuclear war that kills off most of the population, or aliens from space that kill off most of the people, or some kind of natural or cosmic calamity that kills off most everyone.  Revolution looks like the population took a major beating, but we’re not shown how.

I’m currently reading The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, another literary look at the end of the world, much like The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  Now this is real science fiction in my mind.  The Dog Stars is serious, philosophical, speculative, and worthy to be called science fiction in my book.  Revolution is decent fun without any real thinking involved.  That’s a shame.  For a story to kill off billions of people there should be more details.

In Revolution most of the population has disappeared and we don’t know why.  The writers obviously wanted a low population Earth for the story but hasn’t explained how everyone died.  In other words, after the collapse stories are so common in the mundane world that the producers don’t even feel the need to explain.  They are using a post apocalyptic world as a setting, just like Star Wars used a galactic empire as a setting.  There’s no science fiction speculation in either, so just accept the premise.  Revolution is an action adventure story set in a realistic but unscientific world.

Surviving the Collapse

I’m disappointed with Revolution because it makes no effort to show people surviving.  Everyone has plenty to eat, clean clothes without having to wash them, there’s no worry about diseases or bad water.  After 15 years, how good will clothes look?  There’s no effort to show how people make new clothes.  I don’t expect Mad Max fashions, but the show should speculate some, at least.

The plot is driven by Danny Matheson’s kidnapping.  Our characters don’t seemed challenged by any other problem.  The two episodes involved plots to set the stage so Miles can kill a bunch of people, and convince Charlie that killing is the way to operate.  The only survival going on is whether the audience won’t be killed off watching Billy Burke kill a dozen tough guys every episode.

Cliché Science Fiction

Whenever I read a new science fiction novel, or watch a new science fiction show I hope to discover a new idea or perspective. It’s hard to come up with a totally original idea nowadays. There just are too many fiction factories out there.  Barring originality I look for creative style – if you can’t deliver a new idea, at least present a mash-up old ideas in a new way.

Science fiction has become as formulaic as a murder mystery. I believe most SF fans find comfort by embracing their favorite sub-genres so writers cater to ever more baroque presentations of the same old ideas, creating Über-clichés. Revolution is merely the current incarnation of a long line of stories about the breakdown of civilization. Some reviewers call it dystopian, but I disagree. The original meaning of dystopia was an anti-utopia. In modern parlance dystopian has come to mean any unpleasant future. That’s a corruption of the original intent of the world. Nineteen Eighty-Four was a dystopian novel because the government of Big Brother was suppose to represent a view of communism, which before Stalin was seen by many intellectuals as a utopian ideal, but Orwell speculated communism would be hell instead of heaven.

Nineteen Eighty-Four was dystopian because it was anti-utopian. Revolution isn’t anti anything. Revolution uses a cliché science fictional setting to create an action adventure story. Collapsed civilizations are a good way to create a setting for rationalized violence, like westerns.  Post apocalyptic stories are good for creating situations where your character can kill a lot of people.  Audiences can’t seem to get enough of that kind of violence.

The proper categorization of Revolution is post-apocalyptic science fiction, which covers stories about the aftermath of collapse of our current civilization.  A common cliché within apocalyptic fiction is freemen versus brutal militias.   So Revolution is a sub-sub-genre.

To further complicate the problem all new fictional creations must compete with the most creative works at the moment. Taking on a new TV show for me, means finding something to watch that competes with my recent favorites, Breaking Bad, Friday Night Lights and Glee.

Watching the first episode of Revolution was a big letdown for me. Oh, it still has possibilities. But most great shows have fantastic first episodes, and Revolution’s was just ho-hum.  I did watch the 2nd episode and will watch the 3rd.  I have hope.  Revolution does have possibilities.

On the big screen they usually go for bigger and bigger action, usually involving saving the world. That’s an expensive proposition for a TV show, but Revolution has a very large scope.  There’s room for lots of action and speculation.  Let’s hope there is less of the former and more of the latter.

JWH – 9/25/12

Robot and Frank–The Best Science Fiction Film Since Gattaca

When I was growing up in the 1950s I was sure flying in a spaceship would be in my future.

Now that I’m getting old, I wondering if a robot will be my companion for my waning days of life.

Robot and Frank is a little movie about a man coming undone.  That’s what getting old and dying is all about, coming undone.  Whether we spend our last days in dementia is a matter of luck.  Frank, an ex-con and jewel thief, played by Frank Langella, is not so lucky.  His mind is unraveling too.  Frank lives alone and barely makes do.  Frank’s son, played by James Marsden, must drive ten hours to check up on Frank every weekend, neglecting his own family.  His solution?  Give Frank a robot.


Most science fiction fans will not think Robot and Frank much of a science fiction movie, there are no explosions, chases, superheroes or saving the world.  No one even saves Frank from dementia.  So why do I claim this is the best science fiction film since Gattaca?  This is a story Isaac Asimov could have written for Astounding Science Fiction in the 1940s.  As far as I can tell, this little robot, which is never given a name other than robot, follows all the three laws of robotics.

But Robot and Frank is more than a modern day Asimovian tale.  The film explores what it means to be a human losing his intelligence while a robot is gaining its awareness.  Robot and Frank is not sentimental, or even particularly cute.  This is an adult story.  I wonder if anyone under 50 will even understand it.  Unless you’ve experienced memory loss, unless you’ve cared for a dying parent, unless you have first hand experience of becoming helpless,  I doubt you’ll empathize much with Frank.  Robot and Frank is for an audience that has often said, “I’m having a senior moment.”

Oh, don’t worry, there’s enough of a story for a person of any age to enjoy this delightful movie, but I tend to think, only those of a certain age will feel deeply moved.  Middle age viewers might be horrified by the fear they will one day have to care for their aging parents, and I bet some of them might watch the film and think about opening a savings account to start collecting money to buy a robot.  I know I wondered if saving for a robot might be a better use of money than paying into nursing home insurance.  The Japanese are working full steam ahead on developing androids.

Robot and Frank is set only slightly in the future.  The closing credits shows clips of real robots being tested.  However, the mind of the robot in this film is very far from what we can create now.  That’s why the film is science fiction.  The robot is halfway to Data from Star Trek.  Somewhere between R2D2 and 3CPO.  I don’t know if we need to reach the Singularity to get this kind of intelligence in a helper bot, but I don’t think it’s in the near near future.  Maybe 2025?  I’ll turn 74 that year.

When you watch Robot and Frank, you’ll have to ask yourself, “Will I be happier with a robot or human caretaker?”  At first you think the son and daughter are shirking their duty but by the end of the film, you might change your mind.  Frank gets quite attached to robot, and spends a lot of time talking to it.  But who or what is he talking to?  But who or what is Frank talking to when his son or daughter is with him?  What is consciousness?  When we’re alone, and our days are dwindling, what kind of companion do we really want?  Are we wanting to listen, or are we wanting to be listened to?

Yes, what we want is a spouse we’ve spent our whole life with.  After that we want our children.  But what if we don’t have children, or a spouse?  Is a personal robot better than an impersonal nurse?  Robot is able to observe and understand Frank.  And isn’t that what we’ll want?  Someone to know where we’re at, no matter how Swiss cheesy our memory becomes?

I found Robot and Frank tremendously uplifting.  I left the theater feeling mentally accelerated and physically better than when I walked in.   We will all come undone.  We will all have to deal with it.  Suicide is one way to avoid the issue, but this movie doesn’t consider that path.  Frank’s mind keeps unraveling, but he lives for moments of being himself.  The movie suggests a robot might help find those moments.

JWH – 9/17/12

If you haven’t been to yet, please stop by and view the short video.  T. Boone Pickens, the big oil man has big plans for wind power.  This video should make you feel better about the current oil crisis.  Just the thinking is a step in the right direction.


Mr. Pickens’ plan is pretty straight forward and sounds both practical and doable.  It’s not a complete solution, but it would dramatically reduce the demand for oil and in a reasonable amount of time.  We need more billionaires out there thinking up ideas like this one.

What’s amazing is there is so many people coming up with great ideas that I wonder why people do not feel more positive about the future.  Just look at what the last two days of piddling good news has done for the stock market.  It only takes positive thinking to create a bull market.  Sure, we shouldn’t live in fantasy land and ignore our problems and failures.  I can’t see why the nightly news can’t present at least a 50-50 mix of good and bad news, instead of a long stream of negatives with a token upbeat story at the end.

If the middle of America could be made into a giant wind farm, why can’t the deserts be turned into giant solar energy farms?  I expect the next twenty-five years to be exciting and transformational.  If every oil billionaire comes up with a substitute for oil we should be energy independent in no time.


Beyond the iPod

Because the iPod and iTunes has had such a fantastic impact on the music industry, I have to wonder if another industry shaking revolution like it is possible?  I’m reading The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria, where he praises the U.S. for economic innovation, so I assume for us to stay ahead of the pack we’ll have to keep inventing new tech to market.  We’ve seen a lot of technological change in the last 50 years, but does that mean we’ll see constant growth in the next 50 years?

And will other emerging capitalistic markets start beating us at our own game?  Zakaria claims that America is not declining but the rest of the world is rising.  That means both new markets and new competitors.  But will anyone anywhere create another product like the MP3 player to change the marketing of music again?

I remember the days before video recorders – where few people saw the advent of the VHS revolution coming, but once it was underway it was very easy to accept a steady stream of new tech acronyms like CD, PC and DVD.   The MP3 was even more revolutionary and economically disturbing because music moved from physical objects to bits, bytes and electrons.  There was no need for any of these inventions other than convenience, which shoots down that old theory about necessity being the mother of invention.  We’re now into the HD and Blu-Ray upheavals.

I originally started collecting music by buying 45s and LPs.  Then I had to start over with CDs.  And for a short while a few years ago I had started moving to SACDs.  I’m hesitant to make another move, but I’ve finally committed to the MP3 format.  The question is, will I have buy my favorite songs all over again in another format in the future?

But back to my questions about iPods.  Assuming that the iPhone is really an iPod merged with two other revolutionary technologies, a cell phone and a computer, is there theoretically room for a new paradigm shifting music device?  If Steve Jobs sanctioned subscription music there would be a slight bump in the iPod road, but not much.  People would still be listening to music with white plastic buds in their ears.  Once you get rid of the physical media where is there room to invent?   Sure, we could talk science fiction and imagine ESP delivered music, but we have to stay somewhat realistic.

Maybe I’m not imaginative enough, but no matter how much I rack my brains I can’t imagine a new gadget for music.  I can imagine variations on the current iPod, lots of them in fact, but they’re all just improvements:  larger hard drive, larger flash memory, better sounding headphones, tiny built-in Hi-Fi speakers, SACD quality files, better filing systems, but nothing that offers drastic change.  I feel the same about personal computers and televisions.  Once you go beyond the physical medium of DVDs like DVRs, improvements are more of a matter of storage space and video quality.

Gadget junkies are going to need to look elsewhere for big society-changing technology.  Before long I think the geekiest of geeks will be buying home solar power generators.  If you can generate a significant portion of your own power, getting into a plug-in hybrid cars is the next gizmo that’s going to change society.  Now those two technologies are going to be huge game changers.  It will be like the iPod – you won’t need to buy that much gas to run your car – or at least not much compared to how things are now, and the secondary fuel may not even be gasoline.  See the trend – away from the physical.  Think 1950s movie science fiction where all the aliens did everything with glowing balls.

Mechanical evolution is moving towards fewer moving parts (hard drive to flash drive) and away from the physical (CD to MP3).   Electric cars have a lot fewer moving parts, and fewer parts in general.  Solar energy panels, LCD TVs, iPhones don’ have any moving parts.  If computers move to flash memory storage and became completely net oriented, they could even jettison the optical drive, and the only moving parts would be in the keyboard.

There’s a chance that Blu-Ray won’t even catch on because we’ve already gone beyond the physical with online movies and DVRs.  I would buy a Blu-Ray player now if it was $99.95 and get discs from Netflix, but if they don’t bring down the price soon they will have competing products that distribute HD video over the web, or cable companies will figure out a way to distribute HD programs on demand.  Cable companies are already teamed up with Rhapsody and other subscription music services to provide songs on demand.

My guess is the end is near for revolutionary gadgets for music, movies, television, audio books, e-books and other media that can be digitized.  What we will see is refinement in software.  Putting a cell phone, GPS, camera, computer into an iPod styled package isn’t revolutionary, just evolutionary.  What makes the new iPhone 3G so exciting is the software.  Now that the iPhone is opened up to developers it becomes very promising for endless speculation of what it could be, but it’s still the same old gadget.  That’s why Google saw the Android phone as such a big deal – open development – build it and they will come.

If a person could ask his iPod to play the ten most played songs on iPods in America during the last 24 hours, that would effect the music industry.  If she could ask for the top iPod songs from Russia, India or Dubai, that could have a new kind of impact too.  Or if you’re on a road trip and could ask your iPod to play the most popular songs of the towns you are passing, that would be another interesting variation.  The Zune song sharing feature is very cool and Apple and others should copy it.

All those features effect the distribution of music, making music more global and making it more social.  Sheet music was the technology for spreading music in the early days.  The first gadget to change the world of music was the phonograph.  Then came the radio, creating the mass audience.  To understand the impact of radio watch Ken Burn’s Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio, which you can buy from Amazon or rent from Netflix, but if you want even more details, track down the out-of-print book by the same title written by Tom Lewis.   The phonograph went through many refinements including the CD, but ultimately, the ethereal MP3 player replaced it.

At first the MP3 file technology, combined with technology to play the file set music free.  Bad for the industry.  The goal of the music industry is to sell music as widely as possible.  Illegally free MP3 music has a wide distribution, but it’s not necessarily the best way to promote music.  Kid’s pretty much stole what they already liked.  Radio has always been the best medium to educate people about new music, and it’s always been free too, because it came with programming and promotion.

What will be the next big revolution in the music industry won’t be a gadget but software.  The networked computer part of the iPhone and iPod Touch has the ability to promote music in ways never possible before.  Whether you buy songs 99 cents at a time, or subscribe to them at $15 a month, getting you to commit ear time to a song is the dream of all musical artists.  People have complained about the stale rotation of Top 40 music for decades, but with a world of hundreds of countries and thousands of cultures, and all their musical history, there’s a lot of music to discover and play.

Let’s say you want to get into music history, wouldn’t it be fun to tell your iPod to start with 1950 and begin playing the Top 100 Hits of that year and move forward in time, and then use your click wheel to rate the songs.  Or buy a future edition of “How to Listen to and Understand Great Music” from the Teaching Company and have it play full pieces while it instructs you about the history of music?  Or buy a special edition of Richie Unterberger‘s history of folk rock and whenever you hear the narrative mention a song, it pauses to play the song.

Just remember, it’s not about the iPod stupid, it’s about music.  What we want is great music.  What we want is for as many composers, performers, producers and publishers to become wealthy or at least make a good living as possible.  We want music to stimulate the economy.  We want it to be a driving force in culture and art.  Every decade needs their own Beatles, Springsteen, Madonna and Prince.  Modern pop music is produced like candy and not art.  It needs more new waves like Rap and Hip-Hop before they got tired like rock, jazz and country.

I’m willing to call it quits with the development of MP3 music technology.  I don’t need any more convenience.  What I miss is the excitement I got from music back in the 1960s when I was growing up.  What I love is discovering a new song that I’ll play over and over again for two weeks.  It’s been a long time since I’ve found such a song.  Susie and I are watching The Beatles Anthology, an eight part DVD documentary and it’s riveting.  I don’t need or want a new generation of iPods, what I want is the new Beatles.


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