Warsaw, Climate Care, and Pierogi

I love October.

Sure, the days are getting shorter, but that makes you appreciate every ray of the sun so much more. Every warm-ish (by that, I mean 13 degrees celsius) weekend feels like the last day of summer prompting you to use it well. Soft light and falling leaves add a romantic appeal to even the most mundane street that happened to have a plant. Or maybe my sentiment comes from the fact that I was born in October. Who am I to know.

Warsaw is great

As part of my Solarpunk research bender, I joined an online InterIntellect salon about planning livable, sustainable, and inspiring cities. (“Inter Intellect is like a remote Parisian cafe where you can meet smart people and chat about complex things. But bring-your-own-coffee.”)

We had a strong representation (including some urban planning professionals) of Londoners and San-Franciscans interested in transportation, food availability, supply chain management, cycling, density, and green space availability. We had a great chat, but I was surprised to leave the call blown away by how fantastic Warsaw scored on those dimensions. For example, on the topic of reducing food waste, we came to an interesting point:

Cantine-style bars would be more sustainable than cooking because they can optimize for seasonal or abundant produce, and benefit from the economies of scale. Restricted choice, but flexibility in portion sizes will result in less food waste than at restaurants, or even your own kitchen (RIP multiple celeries that we didn’t use up in time. We have failed you). Plus, by eating together, you get to create a sense of community.

People from around the world have reinvented Polish “Milk Bar” in front of my eyes. From Eater’s article accurately titled “Your First Stop in Poland Should Be a Milk Bar”:

Warsaw’s traditional, dairy-focused cafeterias dole out nostalgic charm and plump pierogies in equal measure (…) When Communist rule took root in Poland and inexpensive food for the masses became a must, these accessible eateries flourished. Though the Iron Curtain has long since fallen, the traditions and tastes of these often government-subsidized eateries remains

I never thought I’d live long enough to hear people from San Francisco and London dream of what I took for granted in my hometown. I know the grass is always greener, etc, etc, but Warsaw is becoming quite a hidden gem. Founder of Nomadlist compares it to Berlin. We have some way to go, but it’s genuinely cool here.

The Climate Care Industry

In The Climate Care Industry I propose a new term for all activity aimed at helping the climate:

An entire industry is sprouting around mitigating effects of the climate change, capturing CO2, and creating sustainable technology. We need a term that will help establish these efforts as their own domain to help them succeed. I propose we start referring to this industry as Climate Care, similar to Healthcare.

Current phrasing is either combative (“fighting the climate change”), confusing (“negative emissions” vs “climate-positive”) or easy to argue against. You can read more about the climate care industry here.

The need for maintenance

Stewart Brand is an inspiring citizen of the Internet. His The Clock of the Long Now remains one of my favorite books, blaming our short-term orientation for landing us in trouble repeatedly. Currently, Stewart is writing a book about maintenance, and the need for an honest conversation about it.

The first chapter is on Audible, and tells a story of the first race to sail solo non-stop around the world, and how maintenance played a crucial part in the success, failure, and death of its participants. Stories like these should be mandatory for everybody working with the software. Other disciplines have millennia of experience dealing with stuff breaking, but we just shrug it away. We are so proud of our cleverness and layers of abstractions, but we almost always over-prepare for the problems we’re familiar with and under prepare for anything else.

Old systems break in familiar ways. New systems break in unexpected ways

In my 15 years of software development, I learned the hard way, that maintenance has to be a part of the design, not an afterthought:

  • Always choose simplicity
  • Don’t try to impress your engineer friends
  • Plan your maintenance if you want your stuff to work.

What is complicated will always lead to problems

Would you like some adulthood with that order?

We have built a culture of permanent adolescence, with nobody really steering the ship. Inability to perform basic human maintenance is sometimes celebrated (“LOL, adulting is hard”).

My wife will be hosting an Inter Intellect salon (that Parisian cafe with your own coffee), where you can meet interesting folk debating rites of passage, visions of adulthood learned from our parents or school, and the secrets of successful adults.

The usual badges of adulthood are either out of reach or completely lost their appeal. We don’t know what else could be put in their place. Without a shared narrative that explains what is even the point of growing up, or experienced elders who could guide the candidates through this process, a lot of us don’t feel like proper adults even in our 30s.

Go get your ticket here.

The Climate Care Industry

An entire industry is sprouting around mitigating the effects of climate change, capturing CO2, and creating sustainable technology. We need a term that will help establish these efforts as their own domain to help them succeed. I propose we start referring to this industry as Climate Care, similar to Healthcare.

Why do we need a new term?

There is little argument about the importance of the Healthcare industry. It’s a natural process that our bodies break down. They need maintenance and mending to work according to our needs, wants, and hopes.

The Planet’s Climate needs similar care if humanity is to continue thriving on its surface. Earth was, is, and will be fine without our intervention, but the conditions suitable to our survival need upkeep and maintenance, regardless of whoever is to blame.

Current language referring to climate-related efforts is combative, divisive, and unwieldy. Phrases like “battling the effects of the climate change”, “averting the climate crisis”, “dealing with climate emergency” are wordy, negative (both in grammar and valence), and all are easy to argue against with a simple “calm down”.

The process of creating a sustainable future needs itself to be sustainable. We are just starting, and already we have an entire generation exhausted by “Apocalypse Fatigue” and “DoomScrolling” (Notice how the negative terms are so catchy?). 

We need tales to inspire, not tales to condemn.

What is The Climate Care Industry?

We also have a generation of people willing to devote their careers to mitigating the problem. As The Guardian reported, Gen Z members are flocking to climate-related careers. Chris Sacca (@sacca) has created Lower Carbon Capital, a venture capital firm devoted solely to funding startups in the Climate Care Industry. The payments giant Stripe has created Stripe Climate, an arm targeting and funding early technologies of negative emissions.

Efforts in The Climate Care Industry can take many forms:

  • Working on a new technology of capturing CO2
  • Writing about new developments of sustainable technology
  • Inspiring people through art and writing to hope for a better future
  • Funding companies helping the climate
  • Passing legislation regulating our use of resources
  • Anything else that helps regulate the climate

Like Healthcare, Manufacturing, Finance, etc. – Climate Care deserves its own industry phrased in peaceful terms. It will help people build careers and plan their futures of helping our planet and ourselves.

Alexander von Humboldt: the first Solarpunk

Alexander von Humboldt served as a role model for Goethe’s Faust and helped Thomas Jefferson build the agricultural power of the United States. He inspired Charles Darwin to hop on the beagle to follow in his steps, Thoreau to seek close connection to nature at the Walden Pond, and Muir to create the national park system.

He has sown the seeds for the environmental movement of today, but he was not enthusiastic about the prospects:

“The human species could turn even those distant stars ‘barren’ and leave them ‘ravaged’”, Humboldt wrote as early as 1801, just as they were already doing with earth.

Andrea Wulf, the Invention of Nature

Humboldt was captivated by lush nature but loved humanity and the new technological developments. He believed that if we understand Nature and the laws governing her, we can create a sustainable future. He was the first Solarpunk and here are his ideas:

#1: Everything is Connected

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

John Muir wrote, summarizing Alexander von Humboldt’s ideas.

The idea of interconnectedness is central to Alexander von Humboldt’s intellectual pursuits. His relentless curiosity drove him to explore the messy reality of nature. Before Humboldt’s time, the role of the scientist was like one of the librarian – classify, label, and shelve facts. The most recent breakthrough of the natural sciences was the binomial classification – a system of grouping species originating from counting how many teeth or hooves they may have. Humboldt quite prophetically was opposed to such one-dimensional treatment of Nature and relegating science to forever slicing up the world into smaller pieces so they can neatly fit on a bookshelf.

Probably his most influential concept was the Naturgemalde: A vision, painting, and a scene illustrating how different parts of the ecosystem influence each other.

Humboldt’s Naturgemalde: the cross-section of Chimborazo volcano with the entire ecosystem explained.

Naturgemalde was not only a new way to showcase facts and figures like the altitude, vegetation, and snow cover of the Chimborazo volcano but the first piece of art illustrating the influence of these facts over each other. It was during the assembly of Naturgemalde that Humboldt first introduced the idea of vegetation zones – the altitude and temperature range suitable for certain species of plants, creating similar ecosystems in similar places around the globe. 

The evocative nature of the painting has inspired a generation of artists to seek unity and deepen our understanding of Nature instead of resigning ourselves to classify it.

#2: What speaks to the soul escapes our measurements

“What speaks to the soul escapes our measurements.”

Alexander von Humboldt, from the Invention of Nature

Humboldt was a scientist through and through. But as Leonardo Da Vinci before him and Richard Feynman two centuries later, he found beauty in discovering the truth about the world. Nature was a value in itself for Humboldt, not just a means to an end or something to conquer.

It is that emotional bond with the world that let him create the Naturgemalde.

“Nature every where speaks to man in a voice familiar to his soul.”

Alexander von Humboldt, from the Invention of Nature

Poets and authors like Coleridge, Goethe, Thoreau, and Verne were deeply moved by Humboldt’s descriptions of the natural world and paid him homages in their own art. Goethe based Doctor Faust on his dear friend Humboldt, and Julius Verne made sure that Nautilus contained “the complete works of Humboldt”, as Captain Nemo was a great fan.

#3 Humanity has to work WITH nature.

During his travels, Humboldt saw the ruthlessness with which humans treated nature.

Humboldt wrote about the destruction of forests and of humankind’s long-term changes to the environment. When he listed the three ways in which the human species was affecting the climate, he named deforestation, ruthless irrigation, and, perhaps most prophetically, the ‘great masses of steam and gas’ produced in the industrial centres.

The Invention of Nature

Humboldt understood the connections between different parts of the ecosystem and it was clear that short-sighted exploitation of nature will not only destroy habitats but also have dire consequences for humanity. He wasn’t opposed to technology (in fact, he was very excited by the advancements of the 19th century), but he advocated for a nuanced approach towards nature rather than plantations of cash crops.

Solarpunk

252 years after the birth of Alexander von Humboldt birth, the world hasn’t changed much. His prophetic warnings about Humanity’s devastating impact on the natural world have unfortunately came to pass, and we are still trying to find our way out of this mess. I believe that way is the Solarpunk – a trend focusing on inspiring a sustainable future through art, and finding a way for modern technology to coexist with lush nature.

Solarpunks believe that this way is through Art and Technology. Humboldt believed in the power of art to capture and express more than formulas ever could and to inspire others to appreciate the complexity of Nature. Solarpunks believe that this Art can also inspire technologists to create sustainable solutions and policymakers to implement them. Humboldt believed that technology not only can, but has to coexist with Nature:

Humboldt, however, warned that humankind needed to understand how the forces of nature worked, how those different threads were all connected. Humans could not just change the natural world at their will and to their advantage. ‘Man can only act upon nature, and appropriate her forces to his use,’ Humboldt would later write, ‘by comprehending her laws.’

Andrea Wulf, the Invention of Nature

Solarpunks believe that technology coexisting with nature is the only way out of our climate predicament. Alexander von Humboldt was the first member of the Solarpunk movement.

One more thing: I am helping to fund a Solarpunk Art Contest and we are waiting for your Naturgemalde.