Issue 14: living in the interregnum

Geothermal breakout, nuclear ban, military AI, second wave and constitutional disarray

Dear reader,

Welcome to this week’s issue of the Anti-Apocalyptus newsletter. Each week I send you five links about some of the most important challenges of our time: climate change, weapons of mass destruction, emerging technologies, mass causes of death and great power wars. If you haven’t done so yet, feel free to subscribe at the button below, hit the heart button or share this email with anyone who could be interested.

The US presidential election is now only a week and a half away, planned for Tuesday November 3. The results are still uncertain, even though Biden leads the polls. And any election result might cause instability or even political violence in what is supposed to be the world hegemon. That all mixes with the pandemic we’re living through, and the institutional mishandling of the disease throughout most of the West (including Europe). But this moment of crisis also offers some possibilities, or as science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson said in a (great) recent interview:

“the moment we’re living through now is a kind of interregnum, the space between two moments with their respective structures of feeling. The in-between can be acutely uncomfortable but also a space of freedom as old habits have ended but new ones not yet been settled.”

1. Climate change

Vox - Geothermal energy is poised for a big breakout

Great profile on geothermal energy, where we would use underground heating phenomena to generate power. Geothermal hasn’t really taken off the same way wind and solar have, yet in theory it could offer an attractive, constant, clean energy source. It might even use oil companies’ drilling expertise. Until recently, however, technical challenges remained, this article claims we’re now moving past them.

2. Weapons of mass destruction

The Guardian - Treaty to ban nuclear weapons made official with 50th UN signatory

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has entered into force after Honduras signed it. This international treaty bans the use, stockpiling and production of nuclear weapons. Predictably none of the nuclear countries or their allies signed the treaty. Yet because enough other countries signed it, it will now enter into international law. Hopefully that provides a symbolic barrier for the spread and use of nuclear weapons.

3. Emerging technologies

The Guardian - ‘Machines set loose to slaughter’: the dangerous rise of military AI

AI researcher Frank Pasquale has a new book out, and now published this essay about military AI. It tells a familiar story, yet also includes a number of great nuggets, such as how to regulate these technologies, why killer robots won’t humanise warfare and how DARPA emulates Soviet science-fiction.

4. Mass causes of death

Vox - Europe’s new Covid-19 wave, explained

Good explainer of Europe’s second wave of COVID-19. Europe managed to get the pandemic under control faster than the US by imposing a strong lockdown earlier this year, but afterwards most European countries failed to implement well-working test and trace systems, besides other preventive measures. Now we’re seeing the results of this in most European countries, outside of exceptions like Germany.

5. Great power war

Financial Times - Will America tear itself apart?

The FT discusses how constitutional inertia in the US might cause instability and even secession in the world hegemon. The US has always had an ossified legal structure, with its constitution an almost religious symbol of reverence. Yet fundamentally democracy relies on the different political factions seeing the legal order as legitimate, and, crucially, a good tool for power transfer. Republican Supreme Court packing and the electoral court turning back the popular vote, have undermined that feeling of legitimacy. Instability in turn is a plausible scenario, that could have deep global impacts.

I hope you enjoyed this newsletter. Feel free to send me comments or remarks by responding to this email. If you haven’t done so yet, please subscribe at the link below, hit the heart button or forward this email to anyone who could be interested.