Recipes from a post-fish world? Our peculiar image of the week was created by Nathalie Faber & Matthijs Immink.
Recipes from a post-fish world? Our peculiar image of the week was created by Nathalie Faber & Matthijs Immink.
While the Pacific garbage patch is often characterized as a dense, Texas-sized island of plastic, in reality it’s an area of 2,736 square km scattered with tiny, floating bits of plastic. Popular conception holds that the worst effect of this junk is that it strangles animals, or accumulates in their stomachs, leading to slow, painful deaths either way.
In reality, it’s much harder to suss out plastic’s impact on oceanic organisms. Fish and birds do eat plastic, and in large quantities. Bottle shards and cigarette lighters were found in the bellies of dead albatross chicks. However, it may be that for most animals, nurdles more or less harmlessly pass through their digestive systems. Scientists just don’t know. On the flip side of the plastic coin are ocean-faring creatures that are clearly thriving thanks to this novel material.
Peak oil, the point when petroleum extraction is at its maximum, may have already occurred sometime in the last few years. Not only affecting whether we drive a Humvee or not, engineer Debbia Chachra reminds us that peak oil also means peak plastic.
Not limited to water bottles and cheap toys, plastic is vital to medicine, industry, agriculture, and transportation. From the soles of your shoes to the carpeting in your house, it’s harder to find an object that doesn’t incorporate petrochemicals than one that does. “Plastic,” Chachra writes, “is so ubiquitous that it’s almost invisible.”
Plastic’s durability means that it winds up everywhere, welcome or not: In the bellies of albatross, in giant trash vortexes in the pacific, on beaches and in our blood. Although certain microbes may eventually evolve to eat plastic, the truth is that most of our plastic waste is going to stick around for thousands of years.
This resistance to degradation, Chachra argues, is a hidden asset. Millions of tons of petroplastic are buried in landfills, waiting for the day when the cost of excavating them becomes less than the cost of squeezing the last drops oil from the ground. Although we may develop workable alternatives, petroplastic’s killer combo of persistence, moldability, and sterilizability will make it valuable for centuries to come.
Chachra envisions a future where “cool, slick petroplastics will become a repository of warm nostalgia. I like to imagine the Brooklyn-hipsters-of-the-future, on their rooftops, using vodka and bitter almond oil to make artisanal polyethylene.”
Via Warren Ellis.
The uncanny valley, a phrase coined by Japanese robotic researcher Masahiro Mori nearly three decades ago, describes the uncanny feeling that occurs when people look at representations designed to be as human-like as possible – whether computer animations or androids – but somehow fall short. It turns out monkeys have that too.
In an attempt to answer deeper questions about the evolutionary basis of communication, Princeton University researchers have found that macaque monkeys also fall into the uncanny valley, exhibiting this reaction when looking at computer-generated images of monkeys that are close but less than perfect representations.
In this essay, anti-civilization, anarchist philosopher John Zerzan critiques the concept of ‘next nature.’ He argues that rather than freeing us, our self-domestication through technology has created a disconnected, depressed and over-medicated population. Phenomena from global warming to workplace shootings are all symptoms of global human “progress” gone totally awry. If we abandon ‘technology’ in favor of ‘tools’, what are the next steps for humanity?
BY JOHN ZERZAN
Next Nature “refers to the nature produced by humans and their technology.” The prevailing attitude of Next Nature is “techno-optimism.”
What is the nature of this “nature” and what are the grounds for the optimism?
I’ll start by citing some recent technological phenomena and what they seem to indicate about the nature and direction of our technoculture. We’re already increasingly inhabitants of a technosphere, so let’s look at some of its actual offerings.
A virtual French-kissing machine was unveiled in 2011. The Japanese device somehow connects tongues via a plastic apparatus. There is also a type of vest with sensors that transmits virtual “hugs.” From the Senseg Corporation in Finland comes “E-Sense” technology, which replicates the feeling of texture. Simulating touch itself! Are we not losing our grounding as physical beings as these developments advance?
In some nursing homes now, the elderly are bathed in coffin-shaped washing machines. No human touch required. And as to the mourning process, it is now argued that online grieving is a better mode. Less intrusive, no need to be physically present for the bereaved! There is an iPhone application now available called the “baby cry app.” For those who wire their baby’s room to be alerted when she stirs, this invention tells parents what the baby’s cry means: hungry, wet, etc. (there are five choices). Just think, after about two million years of human parenting, at last we have a machine to tell us why our child is crying. Isn’t this all rather horrific?
Plastic is a part of the earth’s ecosystem, but it’s a part that no one wants. At Harvard, scientists are looking to replace single-use plastic bottles, plates, and cups with packaging that not only biodegrades, but tastes great. These so-called Wikicells are made up of liquid or solid food contained within an organic membrane that’s held together by electrostatic forces – the same forces that cause cling wrap to cling. In the wonderful world of Wikicells, the wrap around a cut of in-vitro beef could contain the sauce, or an ice cream cone could be made from actual cream. If the scientists get it right, we may soon have an edible way to stop using plastic bags and bottles that take 500 to 1,000 years to degrade.
Photo via The Way We See the World.
Protei is a sailing robot that’s designed to clean up oil spills without human assistance. After sailing upwind, the bot drifts downwind, zigg-zagging across the surface to absorb oil in its long, tail-like boom. Since Protei is self-righting, it will be able to operate even under hurricane conditions, keeping human crews out of danger from both high winds and toxic chemicals. The robots can be operated by remote control, or can be programmed to work together as an autonomous swarm.
Though it’s currently only a prototype, the eco-friendly, open-source Protei may some day radically change how we clean up the ocean. Though it was originally designed to sop up future Deepwater Horizons, modified Protei could possibly be used to gather plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
More photos after the jump.
Clothing giant H&M no longer uses real humans in its online catalog. The company has admitted that it pastes real models’ heads on computer-generated bodies. At least there’s a “racially diverse” example thrown in with the caucasian cyborgs. CGI humanity: For when even Photoshop can’t invent a perfect body.
Thanks to Stefan. Story and image via Jezebel.
A ‘treasure in the trees’ reveals the exchange of materials between man and animal. This beautiful house finch nest, made of natural resources and manmade garbage, demonstrates how ‘bird architecture’ is able to make use of materials which are useless to us. For some people it might be art, but from another perspective this nest is a pure representation of how humans contribute to nature’s development. Certain bird species use their nests to compete for mates. High-tech-garbage, which contains materials like plastics, textiles or wires, might take their mating rituals to the next level (and to the next nature).
Image from Sharon Beal’s Nests: Fifty Nests and the Birds that Built Them.
Behold the heroic journey of one of the most illustrious creatures on our planet.
Created by the good people of Healthebay.org.
Intentionality separates culture from nature. A dog is intentional, a fox is not; a park is intentional, a forest is not. Since trash, ruined buildings, and automated computer programs are unintentional, they are also a type of nature. Nature provides human society with valuable ‘ecosystem services’ such as water purification or erosion control. Next nature provides ecosystem services of its own, although they might not be what we expect.
BY BAS HARING
2010 was the International Year of Biodiversity. The United Nations introduced the concept as a way to draw attention to the decline of nature. Advocating on nature’s behalf, a relatively new argument emerged, ‘ecosystem services’: useful things nature does, unbeknownst to us. Forests filter dust from the air, scrub prevents erosion, and insects pollinate our crops. Incidentally, nature provides us with services that would otherwise have cost a fortune. Leaving aside the question of where they could be purchased. Is it conceivable that one day there will be next nature services, delivered in passing and unintentionally by new, future ecologies?
Earth has had a geosphere, atmosphere and biosphere for a few billion years. Only within the last several thousand years has earth gained a global noosphere, the intangible ‘sphere’ of human thought and communication on earth. Now, anthropologist Félix Pharand has mapped an even newer addition to the Anthropocene’s profusion of next natural spheres.
The utilisphere consists of the planet’s utilities and transportation networks: highways, railroads, pipelines and fiber optic cables. By making his animation without labels or city names, Pharand invites us to view the spiderweb shape of the utilisphere as something more organic, approaching the freshwater hydrosphere in complexity.
Looking for a new kitchen counter-top, but can’t decide between a natural or an artificial material? Soon you might be getting both.
Designer Hironori Yoshida is pioneering hybrids of wood and plastic – to be used in interior, furniture and product design. His ‘woodplastic’ is created by scanning & laser-cutting the grain patterns in a piece of wood to subsequently replace the gaps with a polyester resin. The result is a marriage of the made & the born.
Sometimes new technology has to bio-mimic old nature to be accepted. In the late 1960s and early 70s, Uniroyal Engineered Products invented the ‘nauga’ a beast that gives its name to naugahyde. The nauga is fictional; it breathes as much as polyvinyl fabric does. Since the new, cheap material could be perceived as off-putting and artificial, the critter was presented as friendly and cuddly. The species is a vegan dream, willingly shedding their hides several times a year. The last of the naugas live free-range on a ranch in Wisconsin. Though the nauga isn’t real, we can still rest assured that chocolate milk comes from chocolate cows.
We normally think of polluted water as the source of disease, not the cure for it. The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, affectionately known as the Super Fun Superfund, is one of the most polluted bodies of water in America. Most of the water is too low in oxygen to support plant or animal life. Worse still is the toxic mud at the bottom of the canal, rich in lead, dioxins, and mercury from decades of unchecked dumping from heavy industry.
We tend to think of plastic as a cheap, inferior and ugly material used to make children’s toys, garden furniture and throwaway bottles. But as an experiment, imagine for a moment a world in which plastic was extremely rare, like gold or platinum, and plastic objects were devastatingly expensive to produce. One would encounter plastic objects only at special occasions; one would see and touch very few plastic objects throughout one’s lifetime. I know it’s a challenge, but try to imagine, for the sake of our experiment, that plastic was scarce, available only to the happy few, and the masses lived in a world of wood, pottery and metals. Ready?
By KOERT VAN MENSVOORT
Now look around you and grab the first plastic object in your surroundings. Look at the object. Study the object. It doesn’t matter whether it is a coffee cup, a cigarette lighter, a pen or a plastic bag. This is a special moment. You are now holding one of the few, delicate pieces of plastic you will ever get to touch. Feel how durable it is. Feel how light it is considering its volume. Feel how strong and rigid it is, or how very flexible. Get a sense of how easy it must have been to mold. Understand that it could be molded into something else again. If plastic weren’t such an omnipresent material, we would realize that it is beautiful. We would realize what a disgrace it is that we throw away so much of it.
Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation first discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – an endless floating waste of plastic trash. Now he’s drawing attention to the growing, choking problem of plastic debris in our seas.
Fakeness is traditionally associated with inferiority; cheap Rolexes that break in two weeks, plastic Christmas trees, leaking silicone breasts, imitation caviar… However, in a society in which everything is a copy of a copy, the ‘fake’ seems to gain a certain authenticity.
Can you imagine anything more classy and luxurious than these anonymous, brand less, recognizable ‘throw away’ bags re-created in durable, high quality leather by Femke de Vries? Better than the real thing!