Categories
Be Better Musings Society

Finding the Happy

I am an unreasonably lucky man. I’ve never won the lottery, I didn’t buy Bitcoin when it was <$100 a coin (though I know a number of people who did), and it seems like every time I play cards or dice I lose my ass, but I deeply feel that where it really counted, I was as lucky as they come.

I was born in the United States of America. I was born to a pair of people who didn’t have much to their name, but who loved one another and their children fiercely, and believed that hard work and grit could build a better future. Through nothing more than universal good fortune, I grew up in the one place on Earth where I could be and do anything in the scope of human ability, with parents who put blood, sweat, and tears into making sure I had the opportunity to thrive.

Talk about luck.

There are millions of us, something like 330 million at the time of this writing, and if nearly all of us are among the top 5 or 10% of the wealthiest people on the globe, then why the hell are we so angry all the time?

I did some research for this post and found hundreds of articles and posts about anger from COVID lockdowns, being dissatisfied with race relations, or livid with politicians who ignore their constituents’ needs, but that isn’t really what I’m talking about. I believe that those things are symptoms, and the real problem lies deeper.

I think that modern Americans are fundamentally unhappy because contemporary cultural influencers have redefined what happiness means in order to improve their bottom lines. Many entities thrive on discontent, including commercial interests, social media personalities, and politicians. It’s to their benefit to keep people discontent.

“Okay, wise guy, what do you suggest?”

Well, I’m glad you asked.

Stop Comparing Joy

The number one ruiner of happiness is comparing yours to theirs. If everyone looked more at what they had and less at what their neighbor seemed to have, we would all love our lives a whole lot more. Top of the list of most prolific serial killers of joy is social media.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. all take snapshots of peoples’ lives and put them on display. Very few people put up random candid pics and posts from their day. They curate what they show, and that gives a biased view of their lives and their satisfaction therein. Instagram models have even started renting planes, cars, and friends in order to make their followers believe they enjoy a certain lifestyle. Your friends on Facebook you haven’t talked to since high school probably aren’t out there ‘living their best life’ nearly as well as they want you to believe.

They’re showing what they want others to see, so they can keep up.

Even if that weren’t the case, even if there are millions of people out there with more things, more love, and more peace than you, that doesn’t make the things, love, and peace you have worth any less. The only person who can diminish your joy is you. Stop letting some dick nose on Twitter or Insta make you feel like what you have is lesser.

I’m certainly no world traveler. I’ve only been to a couple of foreign countries, and I haven’t even been to all of the lower 48 states. I have, however, seen poverty and the impoverished. I’ve seen those who don’t know for sure where their next meal will come from, and who are thankful for a sliver of shelter floor to share with others. I have seen those people smile from ear-to-ear and heard them laugh deeply. They find happiness in their lives and experiences, despite having next to nothing to call their own.

How can that be?

Perhaps we’ve been sold a bill of goods. Perhaps we’ve allowed advertisers, marketing gurus, and Instagram models to convince us that we need fancy cars, big TVs, and the latest iPhones to be happy, when what we really need is a good hobby, good relationships, and freedom to pursue our passions.

Stop Blaming Other People

Here’s where I will lose people. By and large, especially in the United States and western Europe, it is en vogue to blame The Man or The System for our shortcomings and failures.

Despite what people/media/government/social justice warriors/haters want you to think, your circumstances are your responsibility. The sooner you acknowledge this truth, the sooner you can take this weight on your shoulders, and the sooner you can take control of your situation.

There are tons of self-help books that hammer on this point, all of them written by people who are far more commercially successful than me. I’m not a big self-help book person, but I’ve read a number of books that have helped me grow as a person. A couple that I really liked: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willing and Leif Babin, and Fortitude by Dan Crenshaw. Both of those books focus heavily on the mindset of taking responsibility for your shortcomings, fighting to overcome them, and finding ways to make the most of bad situations.

Yes, some people get a head start by virtue of being born into affluence. Yes, some people have an easier time getting a leg up because they know someone, have a more winning smile, or a better personality. Yes, some people have it harder due to biases in perception from people in positions of power.

So. Fucking. What.

Put your shit kicking boots on and wade through it. Fight hard and fight smart. Whatever field you are striving for success in, make yourself undeniable and you will achieve your goals.

Seek Out Suffering

I truly believe that constant comfort leads to long-term unhappiness. At any given moment across the first world, there are thousands of people smashing the keys on their phone, tablet, or computer to complain. Most of them do this complaining while sitting in a cushy chair or couch, eating a hot meal with high calorie content, and enjoying reasonably-good health. Maybe their hair is still damp from the long hot shower they just took. From a place of such comfort it is easy to feel every prod, poke, or itch, to dwell on each pang of hunger or aching joint.

Each of those small (or huge) conveniences is easy to take for granted. Why not step outside of them for a weekend (or more) and enjoy some time outside of the house and in the wide world where the only running water is between two banks and the closest thing to air conditioning is a cold front? Out there, where our ancestors lived their entire lives, hunger, thirst, and slight exhaustion are constant companions.

Maybe the outdoors really isn’t your thing. You can choose another type of suffering. Go for a run. Lift weights. Take a cold shower. Talk to Chatty Charles at the water cooler who talks incessantly about his world-view that you completely disagree with. Each of those things have benefits beyond making you uncomfortable: Running helps your heart and lungs; Lifting weights strengthens muscles, bones, and connective tissue; Chatty Charles might teach you something you didn’t know, and at the very least you will have a better understanding of another human being, which has its own inherent value.

Voluntary suffering makes you appreciate the simple comforts you might have forgotten about, comforts that other people don’t have, and that appreciation is requisite for happiness.

Find a Partner

Humans are social creatures. We crave companionship. If you want to improve your happiness, find someone to share happiness with. I call this person a partner, which can carry romantic connotations, but it doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship. A partner can be a husband or wife or a close friend or a sibling. This partner is a person who will be present with you, invested in your success, and provide an outlet for your investment to ensure their success as well.

Happiness shared is happiness doubled. Troubles shared are troubles halved.

I know this topic causes intense unhappiness for some people. “Oh sure, just find The One and be happy. Thanks a lot, asshole.” And to an extent, yeah, something like that, but also, no it’s not like that at all. I’m not telling you to find The One, settle down, and live happily ever after. I’m telling you to find like-minded people, cultivate meaningful relationships with them, and revel in the shared joy and reduced pain that comes from a strongly-tied community. From that will come relationships of all kinds, probably even the romantic kind.

I don’t give relationship advice because different things work for different people. If you need to hear more than ‘be open, be honest, and demand the same from those around you,’ then I can’t really help. That’s not your failing, it’s mine. I’m just pointing out my limitation.

Corollary: cut shitty people out of your life

Very few things will kill joy like an asshole. If you have a person (or people) in your life that does not give you the same openness, honesty, support, and respect that you give them, then throw them out like a rancid steak. You don’t need that shit hanging around.

Don’t, however, mistake someone’s honest opinions or criticisms as disrespect. A person with different opinions or experiences can be invaluable. Be careful not to cut someone out just because you don’t like what they have to say. It could be an insight that could change your life for the better.

The Wrap Up

I figure I better make a big bold header to show people where they can jump to get a TLDR.

To wrap up, the biggest thing to do for your happiness is to stop comparing your shit to other people’s shit. Social media is a strong offender in this regard. Stop blaming other people for the things that go wrong in your life. Take responsibility and quit being a bitch. Eschew (why yes, that is a great word) comforts from time to time to better appreciate what you have. Seek out opportunities for voluntary suffering. You’ll feel better after feeling worse. Build real relationships. Find a partner. Share the good and the bad. Cut out the blood suckers and assholes and keep close the no-bullshit friends who are willing to tell you hard truths.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

Stay ready. Stay safe. Stay free.

-Hodo

Categories
Computers Society

Vote Tampering

I’m a vulnerability researcher by trade. Many people refer to this as ‘white hat’ hacking. What this means is that people pay me to try to compromise their computer systems through whatever channels they’re concerned about. It also means that I am pretty familiar with the ways to break into computer systems, networks, applications, and embedded systems.

This has led to a number of conversations lately around the topic of voter fraud, election tampering, and compromising voting systems. I can sum up my beliefs pretty succinctly:

I don’t believe there is such a thing as a secure computer system.

Within the last few weeks, lots of people have been talking about Dominion and how they were used in the Venezuela election, and how that election was grossly manipulated. Within the last few days, people have alleged that they were able to gain access to voting machines in Georgia, and are present on the systems and actuating 2-way comms while voting is taking place. In 2019, DefCon hosted a hack the vote event, and those machines fell over like my cardboard fort from pre-k.

In an age of cyber espionage and nation states warring silently over the interwebs, I’m not confident at all in our nation’s ability to host a secure and reliable election via any connected electronic means. If a system has the hardware to connect to a network, someone can control it, manipulate it, and exfiltrate data from it.

A Thought Experiment

I will perform a thought experiment. This will begin with a handful of assumptions:

  1. An electronic vote tallying machine exists
  2. The vote tallying machine uses software to tabulate votes
  3. The software can be accessed via a user interface
  4. The software is periodically managed by the manufacturer or user
  5. The manufacturer uses the internet
  6. A nation state exists that wants to compromise these machines

All of these are pretty reasonable assumptions, and I would speculate that all of these (and more that actually make the job easier) are true for every voting machine in use. Given these things, let’s discuss how someone could subvert this machine.

If an electronic machine exists that runs software, a dedicated individual or group can obtain that software. Ideally, they would be able to break into the company itself and steal its source code. This isn’t nearly as hard as you might think if the company uses the internet. From here there are generally two paths:

  1. Compromise the supply chain
  2. Compromise the software/firmware/hardware

Compromise the Supply Chain

If the manufacturer maintains their software/firmware/hardware, then they keep that information somewhere. If they use the internet, then that information can almost certainly be accessed through any number of avenues from anywhere in the world. I’ve linked to several examples earlier in this piece, but here are a few more. The easiest method here would be to exfiltrate the source code, add in whatever new features you want the software to have, and then replace the production/distribution version on the manufacturer’s servers.

The hard parts here are the initial compromise of the target network, and getting around any kind of certification/signing system the company has in place. Once the first one is established, the second kind of falls in your lap. The first one can happen with an email that says “Please review these account numbers” and has a malicious Excel spreadsheet attached. Boom, compromised.

From there, you move laterally through the network until you find what you’re looking for. Sometimes that’s hard, sometimes it’s easy, but it’s basically never impossible. People become multi-millionaires on tools and techniques to accomplish this. It’s a big business.

Find the code, change the code, compile and sign the code from inside their own development environment.

When the time comes to update the machines, your software will be installed instead of the one the manufacturer intended, and votes will be randomly given to Mickey Mouse and Peter Pan instead of Biden or Trump.

Game Over.

Compromise the Component

This one is harder. This one assumes you can’t get to the manufacturer’s supply chain for one reason or another. Let’s say that the manufacturer doesn’t keep their software on an internet facing server. Let’s say that you don’t want to leave behind evidence on their servers. Let’s say that the manufacturer doesn’t perform regular updates anymore. Lets say that the manufacturer went out of business.

No problem. We’re a nation state. We can do this.

One of our assumptions was that at least one extra machine exists. This doesn’t even mean that the machine isn’t going to be missed if it disappears. This just means that there’s one sitting around unused, like a spare in case one breaks. Every major government in the world has an intelligence service that specializes in gaining access to systems like this. They pay someone to turn their back, or maybe one of them falls off a truck somewhere. However it happens, someone who is well-informed and well-prepared can pull the entire contents of a hard drive or flash storage in a matter of minutes, even from something that doesn’t look like a computer. All they need is a little time and nobody paying too much attention.

This path means a little bit of extra work reverse engineering the binary data on the machine, but for someone dedicated to undermining the validity of democracy, that’s not that big of a deal. There are tons of people who do that kind of thing for a living, and many are willing to sell their services to the highest bidder. Finding 0-days, also known as Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE), is what they live for.

Once a vulnerability is found (and it will be found, there are thousands of 0-days found in trusted software every year), they will create a piece of malware to exploit that vuln.

Please note that none of our assumptions actually include network connection or the ability to have 2-way communications with the device. This isn’t really necessary. There are plenty of pieces of software out there that do everything they need to do and never connect to the internet.

“But how in the world will you manage to get your malware onto that voting machine?” you might ask. “Social engineering” would be my go-to answer. That’s the way pretty much all malware gets onto a system (aside from remote exploitation, but that requires network connectivity). One of these ways would be to pay a legitimate employee to install a compromised update to the system. Or perhaps the nation state in question manages to get an operative hired on at the company and that operative installs the malware as they go about their normal maintenance tasks. Both of these scenarios happen often enough to have a term in the business: “Insider threat,” a la Edward Snowden. Or, since we know there’s a user interface to the voting machine (because you have to, you know, cast a vote) perhaps an operative compromises the system through that interface while in the booth.

Finding a vulnerability in a simple user interface is all-too-common. If there’s a place for a user to input data, there’s a possible attack surface. Once that’s found, it’s lights out.

Concluding Thoughts

I say all of that in order to say this:

Don’t trust anything that happens in a computer, especially if it’s important. It is so much harder to fake physical ballots than electronic ones. At least physical ballots have to exist to be counted, which means there’s some measure of accountability and a requirement for evidence.

The most recent SolarWinds breaches, which include dozens of governmental departments, should be a clear warning. Oh yeah, did I mention that Dominion used SolarWinds?

We’re making it too easy for them.

Stay ready. Stay safe. Stay free.

-Hodo

Categories
Musings Society

Rona

Most people will agree that COVID-19 and our response to it has been something of a cluster fuck. A goat rope. A monkey fucking a football. Most people will also agree that any response from a true leader (or organization dedicated to leading people) must be measured, reasoned, and based on facts.

Yeah… right.

Instead we have a bunch of thumb suckers running around like their assholes are on fire, screaming to the ceilings, pointing fingers and throwing shit at each other while they argue incessantly about whose fault it is that people are dead, while our economy spirals down the toilet, all in the name of garnering a few more votes through disinformation and oneupsmanship.

One day we’ll elect an actual leader instead of having to choose between a reality TV actor slash real estate mogul who speaking style makes your stomach roil or your great great great grandpa’s weird pervy neighbor in the retirement home who uses his unreasonable lust for his sassy black nurse as proof that he isn’t racist. But, that’s a path for a different Ramble.

It’s my position that we should have gone with the administration’s first plan; the plan where we recognized that there was a disease running around, and that people were going to get sick, but that life still has to go on. It was the plan that was going to be used before Trump et al. caved to the pressures of a populace stricken with uninformed panic and a handful of medical professionals who saw the chance for political gain and pop culture stardom.

People Are Dumb

In the words of Steve Perry, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.” We have, as a race (the human race, not the modern anti-racism racist definition of race), allowed hyperbole and fear to pull aside our reason, and governments the world over have given in to societal panic. COVID-19 presents in the vast majority of its patients as a cold, and a mild version at that. There is a percentage of people, varying by age group, that have a truly severe reaction to the disease. Something like 90% of hospitalizations from COVID are from people with aggravating conditions like hypertension (there’s a link between COVID and ACE receptors), obesity (lots of health impacts, typically including hypertension), chronic lung disease (you know… where COVID likes to attack ACE receptors), diabetes (which impacts your immune health), and heart disease (typically the result of an unhealthy lifestyle).

We see from the numbers (and we were seeing this back in March and April) that the virus strongly impacts the elderly, with something like a 5% mortality rate and a pretty staggering 20% hospitalization rate. There were places reporting numbers like 70% hospitalization rates for the elderly but those were very early on and we weren’t testing nearly as widely as we have been since then. We discovered that the number of mild and asymptomatic cases was much higher than we initially suspected, meaning that the total number of cases was higher, and therefore the proportion requiring interventional treatment was much lower. The real numbers seem to have settled somewhere around 15% average for those over 65. Keep in mind, that that’s hospitalization, not mortality and not even severity. That’s just the number who are admitted to hospital, even for observation.

We also see from the numbers that people under 20 are shrugging this virus off like a fly buzzing around a cow’s ass. The hospitalization and mortality rates for school-age children are virtually 0. That climbs steadily until around 50, where there is a jump, and then again at 65+.

So for a disease that strongly impacts a very specific demographic (65+), and has flu-like impact on the vast vast vast majority of people (99.5%), we decided to just roll with it and protect the vulnerable populations like we do every flu season, right? Oh wait… no, we decided it was best to SHUT EVERYTHING DOWN and let the economy atrophy until small businesses (you remember that whole American Dream thing, right?) all had to close and leave their owners destitute and dependent on stimulus checks.

It is my personal opinion that this was a mistake.

Unintended Consequences

Now, I’m no supergenius, but even I could look ahead from March and see that locking everyone up in their homes for long periods of time would have all kinds of negative impacts. For me, personally, it has been a net positive: it forced my employer to allow remote work (which was something we always said was a reasonable measure, but management and customers weren’t fans of the idea), let me spend way more time with my family, and helped me build better relationships with my kids and wife. I recognized early on that I was one of the lucky ones. Imagine being single with no kids; you’re alone all day, every day, and every time you leave the house you have to abstain from any kind of physical interactions. That kind of isolation is absolutely devastating to a social being, like humans. Even extremely introverted people crave interaction with people they know and love.

This doesn’t even mention the emotional strain caused by people having sick and dying relatives that they can’t visit because of draconian COVID-fearing visitation policies in hospitals and care centers. Can you imagine not being able to gather around your mother on her death bed and be there to comfort her as she passes from this world? No chance to tell her one last time how much you love her? No way to feel her hand in yours one last time?

Take this kind of isolation and trauma and combine it with the superficial and unfulfilling relationships that people develop through social media and add in the absolute societal insanity that 2020 has brought along with it, and you have an emotional wrecking ball on your hands. Not having the relief of interpersonal interaction means that people aren’t able to level out between stressors, so it should be no surprise to anyone that suicides have skyrocketed during the quarantine.

Aside from these direct consequences, there are studies being conducted right now that are focusing on the indirect deaths resulting from COVID. These would include deaths as a result of hospitals/urgent care not being willing to treat patients who show up with non-COVID symptoms because they are trying to save space for critically ill Rona victims. Alternatively, people are choosing not to seek health care until they are critically ill, because they are afraid of catching COVID if they venture from their homes. Both categories of people then worsen under their own care until they are finally admitted to the hospital but it’s too late.

So what we’re seeing is a dramatic increase in overall mortality in the United States that far exceeds the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19, and I believe that can be directly attributed to the implementation of a panic-driven strategy for containment, as opposed to a reasoned plan for cautious continuation of every-day life.

“Okay, wise guy, what’s your brilliant fucking plan then?”

My plan is to put kids back in school. There’s virtually no risk to them from Rona, but there are lots of risks (mental, emotional, and physical) to them staying isolated from one another and away from a consistent education.

Open businesses up and let people who can work do so. Those among us who want to stay in business and meet with our friends and relatives should be free to do so, at our own risk. After all, if people can gather for political protests, I can gather for a birthday celebration.

Keep the elderly protected under voluntary quarantine and don’t send COVID-positive people back into the most vulnerable populations in the country.. Spread the word that this shit will fucking wreck them if they get it, and then trust them to make their own decisions.

Most Fucking Importantly: STOP MAKING A HUGE FUCKING DEAL ABOUT NEW CASES

Nobody should care about the rising number of cases of COVID-19. It’s a God. Damn. Virus. A highly-contagious virus. People are going to get it. There’s not much we can do about that. What the media should be reporting on, and what the government should be basing their decisions on, is the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and interventional treatments.

Who gives a rat’s ass how many people test positive without symptoms? Who fucking cares how many people get the sniffles? Tell the people in charge how many people are seriously impacted so they can know when stricter measures are actually necessary. The only context in which total number of cases matters is when we need to calculate the percentage of cases that end up badly. Even then, there are so many factors at play with the human body, that total numbers like that are nearly meaningless.

We should have done 15 days to flatten the curve. That was okay. What should have happened was 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off, on, off, etc. responding to the total number of interventional cases in the local populace, until we reached herd immunity. Instead, we fucked our economy, bankrupted thousands of small business owners and their families, and led a non-trivial number of people to suicide and you know what? People still fucking got sick. People are still dying.

The difference is we’re killing our prosperity at the same time.

Stay ready. Stay safe. Stay free.

-Hodo

Categories
Musings Society

Free Speech and Social Media

I’ve seen a lot of talk about social media and free speech, so I figured I’d weigh in because my opinion is better and should be considered more valid than everyone else’s.

The main thrust of the argument I’m hearing is that the government should regulate Twitter, Facebook, and Google like utilities because they are such prevalent entities that stand between the populace and access to information and communication. I’m going to be frank, well actually I’ll be Martin, but I will be blunt: I think that stance is a crock. I don’t think any individual social media platform has the responsibility to ensure any kind of free speech on their platform. I don’t think Google has that responsibility either.

I don’t think any individual social media platform has the responsibility to ensure any kind of free speech on their platform.

“But First Amendment,” you might say. “But monopoly,” you might say. “Curating information,” you might say.

“First Amendment is protection against the government, not the individual,” I would reply. “Free enterprise,” I would reply. “Use a different platform,” I would reply.

The First Amendment argument, in my view, is moot. “Congress shall make no law …abridging the freedom of speech…” So, it protects you from Congress making laws and enacting policies, but there is no guarantee under the First Amendment that a business owner has to allow you to walk into their property and say whatever the hell you want to say. The First Amendment is a guarantee that the government can’t curtail your right to the free expression of ideas. Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc. are not (yet) the government. Therefore, the First Amendment does not apply.

For the monopoly argument: believe it or not, there are alternatives to Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, just like there are alternatives to CNN, New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal. We don’t go out and insist that the government regulate newspapers or the 24-hour cable news cycle. What they do and what Google or any social media platform do are basically the same thing: they curate information and present it to you. The real difference is in customization and scale.

What I mean by that is that you can’t walk up to a news anchor and be like “What’s the story with Benghazi?” and expect an answer. Google will give you a whole bunch of stories about Benghazi and if you’re super lucky you’ll find an answer like “On September 11, 2012 two US government buildings in Benghazi, Libya were overrun by an insurgent force in a premeditated attack. Repeated requests from local security forces to the US State Department went unheeded, allowing the recklessly lax security to be overwhelmed, resulting in the deaths of four Americans: Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods. These men were let down by their government and left to die unnecessarily.”

Right… back on track here…There are alternatives to these platforms and if you don’t want them to have control over what you see, then–and I know this is a whacko crazy thought–STOP FUCKING USING THEM. Switch from Google search engine to Duck Duck Go (my search engine of choice), or Yahoo, or even Bing for Christ’s sake… I take it back. Don’t use Bing. Never use Bing. Use Vimeo instead of Youtube. Use any of a thousand cloud storage solutions instead of Drive. Use protonmail for email instead gmail.

Proton is doing amazing things with privacy and security, by the way. They have FREE end-to-end encrypted email and offer FREE VPN services that keep no logs.

If you want to do social media for news but don’t want Twitter or FB curating what you see, create an RSS feed from your favorite sources (and a few of the ones you hate too because a balance of ideas is critical to avoiding an echo chamber).

If you want to talk with your friends, then get them all on a different platform, like Parler. Or you can just start using a chat app. I have a bunch of friends on Keybase and Slack and Mattermost (and IRC, but we don’t talk about IRC) and we have different channels dedicated to memes of varying levels of crudeness and offensiveness. The more offensive channels are the best channels.

The point of all of this is to try and make you aware that things like Google and Facebook and Twitter and all these other things are services with viable alternatives. They aren’t forcing out any of the market, USERS are forcing out other markets. And what’s more, these aren’t services that are required for the function of the modern world. They are conveniences. Google is convenient, but the internet existed before it was the most popular search engine in the world. Twitter and Facebook are convenient ways to communicate with your friends and check up on some current events, but there are other ways to get your friend fix and check the news.

The point is that invoking something as dangerous as governmental intervention in private business, and setting more precedents about when it’s acceptable, is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It should be the last of last resorts. We shouldn’t be considering it as a necessity in a scenario where the market still has plenty of ability to make decisions on where they “spend their money,” or in this case, spend their clicks. Clicks to Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. all mean money from ad revenue.

Choose wisely which corporations you choose to support with your traffic. Do some research and see if there are alternatives that you would rather see succeed. If there are, then try to use them more and get the word out to your friends and family to push that platform.

Use Duck Duck Go to find me on Parler.

Stay ready. Stay safe. Stay free.

-Hodo

Categories
Musings Review Society

How Sir David Attenborough Might Save the World

I couldn’t sleep the other night and decided it would be cool to watch a Netflix documentary. Oops.

I’ve always been a conservative leaning guy when it comes to the Constitution and federal vs state governments. I’ve been more of a liberally-minded guy on individual rights–let people do whatever they want, so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else–and I’m a nature-lover. I grew up in the Texas Hill Country, and it’s just goddamn gorgeous out there, but from a young age I recognized that there was less and less of it. The more I rode in the car with my parents, the fewer hills and trees I saw, and the more houses or businesses or quarries or industrial plants I saw.

Texas Hill Country

It always broke my heart a little.

So, I’m a bit of a green dude. I’ve tried to avoid supporting companies that use loads of pesticides, but I don’t typically insist on organic. I curse under my breath when I get packages with tons of plastic packaging. I worry about how many plastic grocery bags are piling up in my garage. I see first-hand that we’re eating up more natural resources than we can replenish, and I have always felt that there’s no way we can sustain our “advancement” as a society.

And then I watched Sir David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet and it fucked me up. Attenborough does such an amazing job of intertwining the timeline of his career and everything he’s seen with the rise of population, carbon levels, and reduction of environmentally-stabilizing wilderness. He ties industrialization with wilderness reduction, but where he really got me was his ability to tie that reduction to real and tangible harm.

When discussing the impact of fossil fuels and general non-renewable resources, he says something along the lines of “humanity has released the carbon from thousands of years worth of animals in 200 years.” If you consider that the refinement and combustion of a hydrocarbon is chemically similar to the original creature that hydrocarbon originates from going through decomposition on the surface, it’s a comparison that really hits home. We’ve released a few millennia worth of gasses in the short period of the industrial era.

His lifetime of experience, combined with existent scientific research, presented with the passionate desperation of a man who sees his mortality and believes this film to be his last opportunity to save not only ourselves, but also every wild species on the planet, is deeply impactful. By framing the problem from multiple angles, and tying each of those angles to a single causality, he makes a strong case for impending catastrophe.

His lifetime of experience, combined with existent scientific research, presented with the passionate desperation of a man who sees his mortality and believes this film to be his last opportunity to save not only ourselves, but also every wild species on the planet, is deeply impactful.

Basically, he’s made me a climate change believer in a way that nobody else has managed to do.

Now, that might not in itself seem like enough to send me into something of an existential spiral, but it sure as hell did. It wasn’t the assertion that we’ve managed to reduce the wilderness coverage of the globe from 2/3 to 1/3 in less than a hundred years, which I personally believe is likely to be accurate (maybe even an underestimate). It wasn’t that swaths of reefs in the oceans are dying because the pH of the water has shifted beyond what they can sustain, which I personally believe is true (and is probably our fault). It wasn’t that we’ve transitioned to this reality where the ability to sustain a practice for long-term success isn’t a consideration for profit-driven enterprises. It wasn’t even that we’re reaching a point where we won’t be able to grow enough food to feed humanity, which seems ever more apparent as we’re being forced to use crazy carcinogenic pesticides and engineered fertilizers to help our overworked farmers make a living.

It was that I knew there was nothing that I could do to stop it.

Who am I to do anything? I’m just a guy trying to raise a family and make ends meet. Nobody knows me. I don’t have a following of any kind. I don’t have a reputation as a scientist that will leverage folks to see the errors of our ways and make changes. But I’m trying anyway, because I feel like I must.

As a logician and scientist, I’ve analyzed this problem before. I’ve read the research and dismissed many of the conclusions as representing some poor data practices and playing into confirmation biases. What I’ve learned from the places that I found credible is that the biggest offenders, by a huge margin, are not individuals but commercial and governmental entities. It’s such a large gap that even if we managed to reduce our individual footprints to nothing, we’d barely make a scratch. For example, if you look at the data coming out about the impact to carbon emissions from the quarantine, which was a worldwide reduction of travel by a huge percentage, the numbers look promising at first saying that there was a 17% reduction during peak months, but in the end, the impact is only going to be a 4-7% reduction for the year. So, if we all stay home and our cars are only having a 17% impact (averaged out to 7% when we return to normal living) where the heck are the other 83% coming from?

Industry and infrastructure.

Infrastructure is controlled (or at least regulated) by the government. That means we have to convince our leaders that the only way to truly “Keep America Great” is to ensure that we replenish our resources as we use them so that they will be there for future generations of Americans. I would have thought that this would be a no-brainer, but with lobbyists making our politicians rich to help keep their investors rich, we’ve seen virtually nothing in the way of legitimate efforts to increase our infrastructure sustainability.

Some day (hopefully very soon) we will be able to convince the political apparatus that renewable resources and sustainable processes are the only way to ensure the long-term survival of our species and pretty much any other.

That brings us to Industry. I firmly believe that industry will not change until their consumers and/or government regulators force them to. They are making far too much money to consider the possibility of really making lasting and impactful changes. If they don’t stay competitive, they will lose money and go out of business and then their competitor will rise and wreak the same havoc they did before. They do this for profit and they won’t stop until it’s no longer profitable. How do we make it more profitable for them to work sustainably?

I don’t really know, but I do know that corporations only listen to dollars, so we have to begin showing them that the long-term implications of unsustainable operations and what that looks like to their bottom dollar. They have to see that harvesting without allowing regrowth will only serve as a self-limiting mode of operation. They will run out of supply and then they will run out of business.

What I can say with some certainty is that humans have a history of adapting and overcoming through innovation and technology. Sometimes that tech ends up failing in spectacularly unanticipated ways, but other times it succeeds and carries us forward. It is my sincere hope that this documentary turns the tide and Sir David Attenborough’s final witness has the impact he desires.

Stay ready. Stay safe. Stay free.

-Hodo