Warning: medley ahead. This is a blog post about anarchist-anthropologist David Graeber, documentary-maker Adam Curtis, children’s TV creator Mister Rogers, comic-strip writer Seth Tobocman, trade union newspapers, Switzerland and alternative economics. It all made sense to me when I sat down to write. It will contain some “square words” (=swear words), as my son and his friends adorably put it when they were in nursery. Let’s see how we get on.

The Swiss franc, human rights and ecocide

Last Sunday was voting day in Switzerland. I’m Swiss, and it’s one of my favourite things about being Swiss: we vote on everything and anything, several times a year…

If I were into clickbait, I’d call this a story about cancel culture vs. a culture of cancellation, but I’m not. Also, to be honest, I am writing this while insomniac, stressed and exhausted. I am going to make sweeping oversimplifications (“left” and “right” being the most egregious, perhaps). I hope you find some nuggets of wisdom here to inform your thinking nonetheless.

This is a barely structured collection of notes about people and institutions, about good and evil, about the messy processes of progress and harm reduction, and about navigating our way through.

Eve Tempted by the Serpent, by William Blake.

A flawed greater good

The Guardian newspaper & media institution

This is less of a blog post, and more of a howl.

The planetary climate clock, in human time

Let’s start by some human and planetary timescales. I don’t know why we don’t learn them in grade school (I never learned them at all). But they matter. And let’s represent them visually, in a stark, plain way.

King Canute and Queen Aelfgifu, date circa 1020, from the register of Hyde Abbey, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“_” : this is our unit of time, and it’s 1000 years long.

_ is 10 long human lifespans, 40 generations, the time separating us from the first millennium and the Middle Ages in European history, when Canute of Denmark ruled Britain, before Marco Polo traveled the Silk Road. …

You should always at least try to meet your heroes, especially when they are as immense as Kirk Smith, so when I attended a conference in Berkeley in 2011 (one of my last long-haul work flights), I wrote to him to see if we could meet. Characteristically generously, he said yes, and we made a date for a pizzeria near the University. I went, but couldn’t find him: I wandered around, staring into the faces of strange men, but none were him. Finally I just sat down and had a lovely meal with a total stranger who had been amused…

Rich white dudes (here Voltaire, D’Alembert, Diderot & Co.) used to be able to sit together and talk about stuff, but we have to use the internet now because of a global pandemic. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This is less of a blog post and more of a collection of essential readings at this time. I’ll be adding to it (especially if you send me links, hint hint). There are books in here: please consider ordering them from your local bricks & mortar bookstore.

[Update March 21st, 2020: adding new contributions, but this is obviously going to get a bit long, so starting to categorize. Also it occurs to me that this collection is VERY male-centric, and mostly white. This is because dudes are socialized to be overconfident and women are socialized to be overcautious. Contributions by…

You who build these altars now,
To sacrifice these children,
You must not do it anymore.

-Leonard Cohen

The word sacrifice is bandied about by both sides of the debate on climate action. Shall we unpack this loaded shuttlecock?

The Sacrifice of Isaac by Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Raising the spectre of sacrifice is the all the vogue in current climate denier and delayer circles: it is representative of our current moment in time. Having comprehensively been routed on the denial of science, the minions of fossil fuel lobbies have moved on to delay the onset and diminish the scope of action. “Sacrifice” is one of their preferred bogeymen…

How do we start from imperfect places and end up somewhere better? This is a basic question which can apply just as well to a messy room as it does to our fossil-fueled economies, or to popular movement which wants to represent many people, but whose membership and decision-making structures don’t center diversity or intersectionality.

The wrong target

So now you know what I’m talking about: the decision, by one Extinction Rebellion affinity group, to disrupt morning public transportation in East London.

Many people commented on this event, some noting the violence was itself a sign of a frayed society. One crucial…

This is not an easy blog, a single story, or a simple point. It’s simply the three intertwined threads of yet another sleepless night.

First strand: saying goodbye to my father and his century

It’s our last day in Geneva. Yesterday evening, my 98 year-old father shared a glimmer of his old self. “So, Julia!” he exclaimed, smiling at me. A simple shared moment of humor and affection, a reminder of times past. Leaving means that this may have been the last of such moments. Thinking about this robs me of sleep, but it is not the only thought.

“Story Time (Portrait Of The Artist`s Father And Daughter)” 19th century by Ekvall Knut (CC 2.0, source here).

Being a person who thinks in these times means being tangled…

Teaching climate science & action can seem daunting: for university-level lecturers, teaching to younger children can be quite intimidating. For primary-level teachers, the science and scope can seem too vast and fast changing to cover. For everyone, the content can be overwhelming. As adults, how do we present this topic to children: give them the information they need without crushing them?

I decided to face the challenge, and over the course of one rather sleepless night, put together some materials for my 6 year-old son’s class. This post summarizes and communicates that experience, in the hope that others can take…

Failing to learn from past mistakes is the only truly unforgivable mistake in science. And on climate change, the scientific community (by and large) has been criminally negligent when it comes to observing — and especially learning from — its own track record. This blog post is a postmortem in 4 acts: an anatomy of failure, so that we can hopefully learn, act and change. Fast.

Dubious anatomical science: Zodiac Man from Fasciculo di medicina by Johannes de Ketham, 1495 CE (via Moxham & Plaisant, 2014).

Act 1: Science as success

Let’s get one thing out of the way, shall we? The physical science of climate change has been a resounding, phenomenal, triumphant success. As a colleague from the University of Leeds recently put it…

Julia Steinberger

Immigrant, Swiss-American ecological economist at the University of Leeds. Research focus on living well within planetary limits. Opinions my own.

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