Is Climate-Sensitive Space Flight Possible?

The optimism of the coming Space Age 2 – with its tourism, mineral mining, colonization and endless derivative benefits – may be short-lived if we kill ourselves faster back on Earth from the carbon cost of accelerating such an era. The footprint of a routine space launch is around 100 times larger than a long airplane flight, already substantial. Furthermore, launches release large amounts of soot, hurting both the stratosphere and the ozone layer. As Rebecca Heilweil at Vox reports, “a study from 2010 found that the soot released by 1,000 space tourism flights could warm Antarctica by nearly 1 degree Celsius.” That’s why the scientists interviewed for Heilweil’s article make clear that they do not think space tourism and the like come close to justifying their wider environmental costs. 

So: is climate-sensitive space travel possible? That’s a difficult argument to answer. At present, researchers are testing a variety of green fuel fixes that could change the risk assessment considerably. All of these solutions presuppose that enough shareholders and stakeholders will demand that the fuels be prioritized even if they cost more in the short term, and that governments will incentivize or mandate the transition. If that were to happen, we could likely mitigate the carbon impact of launches, although the technology may not be carbon neutral as carbon would be a necessary ingredient in the manufacturing of the technology itself. 

Importantly, this green technology already exists. The challenge, however, lies in scaling and adapting. While it is possible that rockets could become smaller in some cases, ultimately we will have to eliminate carbon from the process, or at least use a much smaller amount that’s offset elsewhere. 

“Green hydrogen” is “produced using water electrolysis (using electricity to extract the naturally occurring hydrogen from water) and renewable energy sources.” The BBC reports that it’s both completely carbon neutral and currently very expensive. The same BBC article discusses a second option, bio-fuels, which are “produced from organic material” or biomass like plants, animal waste, food waste, that kind of thing. At the center of any discussion, however, is the recognition of whether or not we have the political will to develop something or take a certain action. In many ways, the development of biofuels epitomizes this: it proves both that the harnessing of alternative and widely available energy sources is possible, and also that their role in transitions are not inevitable. 

One source of optimism is that entrepreneurs themselves talk a good game and, in doing so, make themselves publicly accountable if they drag their feet later. For example, the Los Angeles Times reports that the chief of executive of British rocket developer Orbex openly says climate change is real and that making the emissions problems a thing of the past is imperative. Orbex “uses bio-propane that it says can cut CO2 emissions by 90% compared with traditional launch fuel,” which is huge if true. Similarly, a German satellite maker has developed a “mini-launcher,” a very small rocket with an environmentally-friendly propellant, which has the potential to become a model for light-load tourist launches. Stefan Brieschenk, the chief engineer at Rocket Factory Augsburg, the German satellite maker, shared an interesting observation with Reuters: He is only 34 years old, and his colleagues not only at RFA but throughout the industry are mostly young like him. As such, they understand there is a climatic responsibility that’s been placed on their shoulders and they accept their consideration of climate change in their work is a necessity.

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that if we create permanent bases, colonies, and off-Earth construction and industrial operations, we likely will no longer need to burn anything near the amount of fuel required to leave Earth. That being said, we must simultaneously be committed to preserving the living systems on Earth, regardless of where we are in the universe; and the elimination of carbon from space flight, especially if/as it becomes more common, is both a moral and ecological imperative.

7 Reasons Why Outer Space Development Should Be Common Not Private

In the coming decades, we’ll likely see unprecedented private space technology and exploration. This may hasten and help the overall development of the space industry and travel in several specific ways, but not necessarily in ways that help us. We need to keep making the case for a “socialized” space – a space commons where global cooperation and public projects eclipse private ventures and man-boy fantasies. 

To outline the arguments enumerated below, I’ve relied on three well-argued posts taking on some of the central assumptions of the privatization crowd: Spencer Roberts’ article last September titled “We Need a Socialist Vision for Space Exploration,” Nick Levine’s “Democratize the Universe” post at Jacobin six years ago, and George Zarkadakis’s post on the risks of space privatization published last August.

1. The “true ethos” argument: Space is the backdrop of universal science, discovery, and education. Juxtaposing space with earth – and the “overview effect” so many talk about – is ultimately about coming together as humanity. “Peering into the void of space,” Roberts writes, “inspires the deepest questions facing humanity: Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? While a space program catering to the science fiction fantasies of billionaires is decidedly dystopian, conceptualizing space exploration as an educational mission to remotely probe the depths of the galaxy can help animate a more equitable vision of futurism.”

2. The “haves and have nots” argument: The privatization of space creates hierarchies that undermine democracy and humanity, Zarkadakis points out. He writes, “if left to become a ‘winner-takes-all’ race between powerful private conglomerates,” space exploration “may result in humanity splitting in a ‘space-abled’ minority who would be traveling in space and enjoying massive financial and scientific dividends, and a ‘space-disabled’ majority stuck on Earth. Such a divide would be detrimental to the survival of democracies and, indeed, to humanity itself.” 

3. The efficiency argument: Capitalism isn’t always efficient. Public checks against private fantasies are important. Private interests are not the gateway to efficiency or prudence in development. They often reflect the hubris of the financial giants that fund the work. Take the exploration of Mars, for example, which is a severely inefficient use of our resources. As Roberts points out, Mars “has very little carbon dioxide, and no amount of terraforming will reinstate the magnetic dynamo that once deflected the solar winds now stripping away its depleted atmosphere.”

4. The “exclusion must be defended with force” argument: Private assets, territorial assets and even nation-state-exclusive assets, all imply the exclusion of other actors, which will require more of the military outposts, weapons and other military and institutionally violent infrastructure that already suck up huge amounts of public spending. 

5. The “consider the satellites!” argument: Socialization of space development transforms satellites and their use from private, commercial interests to public goods. As Roberts writes, “Satellites can serve many other public interests, such as facilitating research that helps scientists monitor problems like climate change, deforestation, and forced labor,” and also provide utilities like “free global broadband coverage with minimal infrastructure.”

6. The “models exist” argument: Sovereign wealth funds like that used by Alaska, or other dividend policies, can give everyone “shares” of the economic benefits of common resource use. “As an international commons, outer space offers an opportunity to experiment with such redistributive mechanisms beyond the traditional confines of the nation-state,” Levine writes, calling it a “Galactic Wealth Fund.”

7. The “it depends on who the stakeholders are” argument: The Gil Scott-Heron “Whitey on the Moon” scenario presupposed unjust (and inefficient) use of resources in the first place – the context, not the consequence of space development. If we insist that the fruits of this development be available to everyone, it might slow and re-shape development, but it wouldn’t stop it. In fact, if the right political movement was in place, it might even accelerate it. 

These are not the only arguments for making space development a common good, but they do provide a good introduction to the concept. Importantly, as in all cases of development, the question of space development is explicitly political, and places the interests of the majority of humanity at odds with the desires of a small investor and boss class. As Levine explains, “Whether the aims of providing for all and developing outer space are mutually exclusive depends on the political forces on the ground.”

Lefty Games Roundup

There are tons of games, gaming guilds, companies and collectives that fall into this category, and I may get roasted for not including even most of them. But the goal of this post is not a comprehensive list; rather, I want to give a very brief overview for those who may not be aware of the extent and depth of left-activist games, left options in every kind of game. This post mentions RPGs, video games, and physical tabletop/board/card games; and readers can always dive in further if they’d like to know more. 

RPGs (role-playing games): My friends and I wanted to design some of our own lefty modules for D & D, and possibly for other retro games like Boot Hill (imagine a cowboy-early labor movement adventure) or Gamma World (the post-apocalypse is a natural setting for your ecofeminist critique, just don’t get bitten by a radioactive plant). But Dungeons and Dragons, as the template RPG, makes the most sense as a starting point. Eat the Rich is a collection of D & D adventure games at a really low price (they even have bargains for zero-to-a-few-bucks). The first volume, for example, has 17 adventures and is just about $20. Titles include: “Before we’re bled dry,” “Escape from Prosperity Hill,” and “Is Dryad Property Theft?” 

There’s a lot of solidarity-building potential in RPGs, both because cooperation works as a strategy and also because of the performative nature of the games. It’s like Brechtian political/educational theater, or the theater of the oppressed envisioned by Augusto Boal — especially given its participatory nature. In well-managed RPGs, everyone has a say, everyone makes the story happen. It’s narrative socialism, and DMs/GMs (dungeon masters/game masters) can easily incentivize cooperation over competition among players, leaving the greed and amorality to NPCs. D & D modules also offer the opportunity to problem solve in interactive and complex ways. Breaking from the gameboard and going into roleplay mode allows the exploration of nuances and ambiguities, which is important in developing good praxis. 

Videogames: Many games have leftist themes, but Means TV, “the world’s first worker-owned, post-capitalist streaming service,” has now produced with its videogame branch. At The Leveller, Ashton Starr reviews Tonight We Riot, which “feels like it could have been released in the early 1990s, as it displays 8-bit pixelated graphics, blasts retro synth-pop, and boasts gameplay in the style of the era’s popular beat ’em up genre.” But it’s no Street Fighter. In Tonight We Riot, revolutionaries take to the streets and factories and buildings to liberate workers, fight cops and white power groups, and eventually take on a final boss who is a technocratic Bezosian billionaire.


Tabletop & Card Games: My personal favorites are the collective and cooperative games created by TESA Collective. Among others, the Collective has made Space Cats Fight Fascism, STRIKE! The Game of Worker Rebellion, Rise Up and the word game Loud and Proud. These comrades are doing it right, in my opinion: their games are games, but they are also seamlessly political in all the right ways. They like to do a variety of game forms, from cards to word and logic games to boardgames. The Collective’s latest effort is a team-up with Beautiful Trouble, a strategy resource organization that makes cards for activist education. At our commune, we played Space Cats Fight Fascism, a really f***ing hard game that’s difficult in all the ways that activism, particularly anti-capitalist activism, is. The fascists in the game are relentless. As a team, we felt stretched thin, needing to devote a lot of mental energy to stretching out resources and remaining life force. The fascists can use anti-cat propaganda and distracting laser pointers to turn the public against cats, or distract activists from militancy. I’m not joking or exaggerating when I say it’s an educational resource in a struggle that is happening right now and right here.

Weird Tech Roundup

Technology is typically weird or uncanny; but weird tech goes a step beyond. Weird tech reveals something unexpected about designers’ perceptions of our needs. It surprises us with its audacity and innovation. It might make us crack a smile, say “WTF?” or shake our heads in disbelief. An automated teller machine isn’t weird tech, even though it’s weird that we need to take papers out of machines to pay for things (and indeed, soon we probably won’t ever again). But a device allowing your dog to call you up and videochat you? Weird. 

Dog tech is by definition good tech. That’s right: some Glasgow scientists and their dogs have invented DogPhone, the prototype of which lets a dog shake a ball with an accelerometer that connects to a computer that video calls the pet’s owner. Purportedly designed to address separation anxiety, it might also be good for dogs who want to order lunch. Some suggest it should be socialized technology, made available to all doggo lovers. 

Creating imaginary creatures is perfectly normal. Stanford University researchers have created a program to generate “endless variet[ies] of virtual creatures” that interact with one another in an effort to improve AI research by studying how intelligence is tied to “body design” and how abilities can be developed (yes, the creatures can evolve). Kind of like the Tamagotchi virtual pet, these critters have lives, needs, and drama. Those struggles can serve as models that will eventually aid in the development of “general-purpose intelligence in machines.” Do you think that different researchers favor different creatures, and that researchers might take sides and assemble those creatures into virtual armies and then do battle with other researchers’ virtual armies and bet money on the outcome and then get fired from their jobs? No? I don’t think so either. 

Magnetic Fields, the keyboard not the band. Will Judd over at Digital Foundry has a regular series called Will vs Weird Tech. A post there recently featured a keyboard design replacing the collapsing spring key model with a “Hall effect sensor, which can detect the strength of a magnetic field” that then interacts with the actual key mechanisms and types the character. The difference is that this method allows the detection of key presses to happen faster, creating entirely new and much faster and more intuitive time- and touch-fields for typing or pressing keys. Gamers will obviously love it, but think of its implication for writers: Stephen King could have written twice as many books using this method. 


Some gadgets are too weird to begin with. At Gizmodo, always a great clearinghouse of information on strange technology, they’ve compiled a list of 15 gadgets that were so weird, they couldn’t really gain any traction on the market when they were released. The list includes rolling wireless speakers that didn’t really move around enough to justify their existence. It includes robot dogs, which any dog lover will tell you is too weird for dog lovers. The list also includes a mouse-to-phone, which suggests other “transformer” tech possibilities: for example, maybe a  mouse-to-shoulder-massager, or mouse-to-watergun to spray at your co-workers. Now that would be a weirdness worth designing a prototype.

The Zero-G Aesthetic: Shooting Movies in Space

The premise seems uncannily realistic: cosmonaut gets sick in space, too sick for re-entry, so the only option (other than to let them die) is to operate on them in space. But until now, all movies and teleplays with scenes taking place “in space” have had a kind of subtle flatness to them, certainly not fatal, but limiting in terms of perspective: everyone knows they aren’t really in space. Enter the makers of the Russian movie “Challenge,” which has begun filming at the International Space Station based on that plot premise. It will be the first feature film shot in space. Some may see this as a cheap (though not financially cheap) gimmick, but I’m falling for it like a lovesick child. I love it. I love that there’s a producer and actor in space right now doing this — and that surely more film crews will become space crews. 

Actor Yulia Peresild and film producer Klim Shipenko of “Challenge” narrowly edged out Tom Cruise and Elon Musk, who are reportedly working on a project with NASA to shoot an action-adventure film in space. It’s easy to make fun of both of those men, of course, but it’s also hard not to take Musk’s appearance on the scene as an indication not only of the inevitability of space movies in space, but also the emerging normalcy of living and working in space. This is only underlined by Space-X entering the marketplace of something as gratuitous as pure entertainment. 

But I’m also interested in the aesthetics of space, because we know space can be beautiful and perspectivally huge! Dialogue, fights, sex scenes — all in zero gravity. Actual space out the window as a backdrop. Spacewalks being choreographed into scenes. Characters interacting with the Earth as the actual backdrop. If it’s true (and of course it is) that the scenery and location weave their way into the way the actors act and the crew produces the content, it will be truly exciting to see how space weaves its way into the entire enterprise of filmmaking. It will fundamentally change filmmaking. 

Six years ago, Charles Matthau wrote in Wired about the impact of digital technology on film, from shooting to editing to distribution and even storage costs. He called digital film a game-changer, and I think filming in space will also be a game-changer — including for earthbound filming — because film will become conscious of being earthbound or spacefaring. 

One thing I’m specifically thinking about is how we’re going to see space scenes through a new lens, and not the utilitarian NASA video feeds or older archived films of space flight and moon walks. It will be fascinating and probably mind-blowing to see what top-level cinematographers, editors and directors do beyond the mesosphere. 

And a final thing I’m thinking about is film workers in space: about how much Elon Musk hates unions and how studio elites exploit people working in the film industry already. Organized labor needs to follow the expansion of industrial and artistic enterprises in space. This is a timely and vital issue, especially after the recent accidental killing of a crew member by a prop gun, all while film crews organize a strike over their terrible working conditions. One can easily see an obsessive director asking a film crew to set up something dangerous, or asking crew members to risk their own lives and bodies to increase the effectiveness of a shot, or the thrill factor of a scene. When that happens (and it will) we need to be ready to fight back. 

But in the meantime, let’s see what space movies will look like.

The Depraved Humanity Thesis in Dystopian Science Fiction

In The Walking Dead — the comic book series created by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard and, later, the TV series developed by Frank Darabont — groups of characters, both organized and not, wander through the near-future zombie apocalypse. They fight (and many are killed by) “walkers” or the animated dead; as the series develops, however, they spend more time and energy fighting each other, and the threat of gruesome death-by-zombie recedes into the background, remaining a constant source of tension but no longer the center of either the comic’s or tv show’s plot. 

In Michael Crichton’s (and others’) Westworld, a dystopian sci-fi series based on the celebrated 1973 film of the same name, an amusement park with sophisticated android-sim technology welcomes wealthy guests eager to play out cowboy fantasies. The androids develop consciousness, however, and so instead of wontanly fighting, robbing banks with, and having sex with the characters populating the park, many guests find themselves running from and being taken down by the extremely uncanny robotic hosts. 

Both series play out the axiom of what I like to call the Depraved Humanity Thesis. While a more detailed exploration out of this axiom is beyond this the goal of this post, it is important to identify that both series are often gratuitously violent, problematize the distinction between heroes and villains, routinely break viewers’ hearts by having their most beloved characters die violent deaths and, most importantly, double down on an assumption that cooperation is fundamentally impossible — that forging alliances based on solidarity is ultimately futile. Betrayal is everywhere, deception of both self and other abounds. Characters raised in innocence lose that innocence to trauma, transforming into versions of that which they’d been fighting; sometimes, they even see this transition with perverse pleasure. The stories and trajectories of Rick Grimes, Dolores Abernathy, Carl Grimes, and William each exhibit good people turning “bad” — and there are few examples of characters developing in the opposite direction.

Interestingly, both The Walking Dead and Westworld have been referred to as neo-Western. Although they are Western-esque in different ways (Rick Grimes as a sheriff archetype often makes the case for TWD as a western; Westworld intentionally builds from and plays with a universe of cowboy movie stereotypes), such a designation also reaffirms that these series rely upon a principle of depraved humanity. The western, as a genre, has long been characterised by such a principle: for example, the equation of lawlessness and the frontier with violence rather than cooperation has fueled most, if not all, conventional western movies. Some of those have attempted to paint the “white hats” as saviors, but a fair number, especially from the second half of the 20th century, problematize the distinction between the white hats and the black hats — just like TWD and Westworld. 

I don’t have any good explanations about why people like dystopian fiction and buy into the Depraved Humanity Thesis. It’s especially weird that we do this considering so much of our existence at this moment is directly compared to how we imagine the apocalypse will be: isn’t what we see happening outside our windows — or in American or global politics — enough to satisfy our disaster-porn urge? In fact, I couldn’t disagree more with John Malouff, who last year wrote a piece trying to explain our attraction to dystopian fiction. Whereas he argued that dystopian stories “help us feel better about our existing society which, even if imperfect, is far better,” I don’t feel confident that assertion is true. Malouff also suggests that “we identify with the heroes in the stories, who usually are brave and capable.” This may sometimes be the case, but these same heroes become hardened, traumatized villains or unstable vigilantes who don’t really improve the human condition. 

But that being said, what do I actually know? I, myself, watch dystopian fiction all the time — even given what’s happening in the real world.

Weird Planets in Science Fiction and Science Fact

Earth is (obviously) not the only planet; there are many both out there in real space and in the space described in speculative literature. And, in many ways, they’re as weird in reality as they are in science fiction. The first story we know of involving (or at least self-consciously involving) travel from earth to another world was The Man in the Moone, a 1638 novel by Francis Godwin, a bishop in the Church of England. Not too long after, in 1666, Margaret Cavendish wrote The Blazing World, the first sci-fi work acknowledged to have been written by a woman. In that story, explorers could reach another planet, a bizarre utopia, by means of interstitial, rather than interstellar travel. In other words, extra-dimensional travel occurred “between the spaces” of existing 3 dimensional objects. That’s rather quantum for the 17th century. 

The number of science fiction stories about alien planets proliferated in the early 20th century with serial movies and TV, and later with teleplays, movies and eventually TV shows. Special interest bloggers have made many lists of best and worst weird planets, with some planets (like the Dune planet) appearing on both best and worst lists. One list of the “worst” in the sense of terrible to visit or live on includes LV-426 from the movie Aliens, “inhospitable, lifeless and deadly” (poor, nasty, brutish and short, even) at first glance, even before the xenomorph began attacking the reluctant workers at the nearby atmospheric processing plant. This same “worst” list includes Mustafar, the planet with the lava-saturated surface in Revenge of the Sith, and Planet Number Two in the film Pitch Black, which is characterized by continuous daylight. A list at Discovery with the “best” creatively conceived and written planets includes Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris — from the novel of the same name, eventually turned into one of the best science fiction movies ever made (1972 Soviet classic, not the mediocre 2002 American remake). 

Some critics have detailed arguments for why particular fictional planets are good or bad. For example, a critique in Screen Rant argues that Ego, the Living Planet, from Guardians of the Galaxy 2, is particularly irritating because the character/planet makes no sense. Why does Ego stay where he is, when he could go anywhere in the infinite universe? Why does he take the form of a human when humans are weak and unimpressive? Why would he take Mantis as a ward when she’s so needy? These are questions creators and writers should ask themselves before we have to. 

But if science fiction planets appear strange, wait till you learn about some of the actual planets that have been identified. Humanity’s ability to spot extrasolar planets and speculate descriptions of them has massively grown over the past several years, and we’ve accumulated a catalogue of actually existing weirdness. There’s Tres 2B, the “darkest planet” reflecting less than 1% of all light that hits it (because it has light-absorbent gasses!) while emitting massive amounts of internal heat. And there’s 55 Cancri e, a third of which is made of solid diamond. And don’t forget GJ 1214b, a planet covered entirely with water, with a small gravity-compressed ice core. Any of these would be just as wild to visit as fictional planets, and just as ripe for speculative scenarios about rival colonies, mining outposts, or the conferral of planetary consciousness. 
Ultimately, “science fiction is no more written for scientists than ghost stories are written for ghosts,” author Brian Aldiss once wrote. Elsewhere, Aldiss has written that science fiction is the search for a definition of humanity. The existence of so many unique worlds both problematizes and redefines humanity.

Giant Hole in the Ozone Layer Isn’t Strictly Terrible News

Heat map of the Earth on a black background with a large blue area over Antarctica which represents a hole in the ozone layer.

Way back in 1893, President Grover Cleveland told Congress that we should pursue international agreements even if they are not enforceable in the same ways national or local laws are. “The law of nations,” Cleveland said, “is founded upon reason and justice . . . that obedience to its commands practically depends upon good faith instead of upon the mandate of a superior tribunal only give additional sanction to the law itself and brand any deliberate infraction of it not merely as a wrong but as a disgrace.” This hasn’t always been true, of course, but the times when it has been true are good case studies; the Montreal Protocol is the most outstanding example. Because of it, we’re less hot, and our ozone layer will eventually restore itself, even if things look bad up there now.

Rarely do the United Nations and other organizations have good news about the environment, which is why the most recent update on the ozone layer is so exceptional. Although there is much more to do, there is good news: the hole in the ozone layer could be completely repaired in about 40 years if we stay on track with (and perhaps improve upon) the Montreal Protocol

Mass awareness of the hole in the ozone layer was ushered in by a now-immortalized 1985 Nature article. Discovery of the hole, somewhat serendipitously identified by three British Antarctic Survey scientists, launched one of the world’s first international regulatory campaigns to combat the effects of emissions on the atmosphere. In many ways, this campaign — which culminated in the Montreal Protocol — was a template for the later (and more complicated) emissions agreements which we’re still struggling to effectively author and implement. 

What set this scientific concern apart and sparked the regulatory movement was the fact that one cause of ozone depletion was the use of “chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs for short) used in refrigeration, air conditioning, and foam packaging.” Eventually, in 1987, 46 countries would sign the treaty, known as the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The agreement phased out the chemicals. It mandated research to find safe substitutes for them. And, there was almost immediately a “sharp decline in the use of CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances worldwide.”

In fact, the Montreal Protocol did more than just protect the planet from UV radiation. It also prevented an additional source of global warming. A recent Lancaster University study “revealed that had the ozone depletion continued unmitigated, we would have been facing an alarming rise in temperature by an additional 0.5 to 1°C by the end of this century.”

Now it appears we may need even more Montreal-sized action, because although that late 1980s agreement stopped ozone depletion from spiraling out of control, we’ve still lost ozone and the repair process is slow. The European Union has reported for two years straight that the hole is the size of the entire continent of Antarctica. It will take its time rebuilding itself, and will rebuild itself only if we focus hard on improving and implementing Montreal. At the very least, we’re going to need to strengthen the Protocol, something that we ought to be able to do, since we’ve recently amended it to phase out other gasses besides CFCs. 

In his address to Congress quoted above, President Grover Cleveland held the U.S. to a higher standard than we often hold ourselves. He said that “the United States, in aiming to maintain itself as one of the most enlightened nations, would do its citizens gross injustice if it applied to its international relations any other than a high standard of honor and morality.” While we wish this sentiment were always the case, the environment is a good place to insist it be. 

Automated Luxury Updates

“Not that the vision is a new one. John Maynard Keynes’s famous essay “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren” imagines a world with far less work and far more leisure; Shulamith Firestone wrote about “cybernetic communism.” Yet the most complete picture of FALC or FALGSC might come not from radical leftists or academic economists, but from Star Trek. In that imagined universe, replicators produce physical goods and artificial intelligence takes care of services. There is no need for money, no need for work, and no problems with resource competition. People do what they want.” (Annie Lowrey, 2019)

Call it cybernetic social democracy, care ethics, whatever you want, but technology doesn’t just make life easier for people with disabilities — it has the potential to re-shape material reality and make it more accessible for everyone. If that sounds optimistic in a way that invokes Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism memes, hold up and hear me out. Aaron Bastani’s larger iteration of the meme, namely his book Fully Automated Luxury Communism, examines the potential to create a world of post-scarcity. Everyone should have what they need and even what they want. 

Overcoming Phone Ableism

Let’s walk a step further with Bastini: everyone should have access to everything — and access means more than just overcoming resource scarcity: What if we also demanded the development of technology to de-normalize certain forms of ability while providing access to all variations of ability?

Marx believed capitalism creates a lot of this technological possibility before finally giving way to socialism. Google may be the maker of the rope to hang capitalist ableism: “Google offers a powerful API that lets developers create tools for people with disabilities . . . “Camera Switches” essentially lets you use face gestures to complete a number of actions . . . the update lets you map around six face gestures to over a dozen phone controls. These can also be tweaked based on gesture size to prevent the app from constantly initiating actions.” This is rough around the edges and doesn’t seem to do enough now, but we’ve seen functionality rapidly increase for analogous advances in the past. 

The Energy Internet of Things

3D printing is very cool: it has the ability to work with a multiplicity of materials and forms in the same print. That makes for better 3D printed houses or appliances, but it also now works in the field of energy. Lithium-ion batteries, which power smartphones, laptops, electric vehicles, watches and more, are still pretty inefficient. A “solid-state” battery is in the works, however — a “lighter weight, more energy dense, and ideally safer than today’s champion technology. The next frontier, they say, is the solid-state battery — and perhaps 3D-printed ones, at that.” Multiple materials can be deposited onto the matter that constitutes the printer’s “ink”. Anything extraneous to the performance of the batter is eliminated. In addition to the ability to reach far greater portions of the world and make power universally available, 3D printed materials are designed to have less “stuff” in them, which suggests that an unintended good outcome of a 3D-printed material economy is efficiency of resource use and materials, cutting down on extraction, associated exploitation of labourers and other burdens. 

The Amazing Catnip Disk and Why Pets and Humans Should Share Products

Pet toys are typically fun for the pets (at least we think they are) but maybe less so for humans. But Nerf’s taking on the pet toy market may bode well: Nerf’s pet toys are appropriately marketed to a generation of pet owners who grew up shooting or throwing or otherwise playing with nerf guns and other toys. The new products include tennis balls shooting 50 feet, and a “blaster” with a “spring-loaded mechanism [which] launches . . .  flying catnip discs about 10 feet.” And before you say this technology isn’t on par with 3D printed energy and face-guided phones, people who have fun with their pets probably live longer than those who don’t. All people and pets are entitled to better toys. 

Artist Cooperatives Are the Future

Musicians have long known the benefits of music cooperatives. In 2013 in the United Kingdom, as streaming services were making musicians’ income increasingly precarious, “the Musicians’ Union joined Co-operatives UK, the national trade body that supports co-ops across the country.” Similar efforts have been underway in many other countries, including the United States. Particularly over the last year, in response to Covid-19, musicians scrambled to find new ways—often cooperatively—to maintain their income streams, consolidate expenses, take on accessible and meaningful projects, and wait the pandemic out. These efforts have shown that working together can achieve greater results than working apart. The same is true of all artist co-ops. 

We need to go big on funding a new economy, because the old one truly is not working. The United States federal government should fund a variety of worker-owned (and other kinds of) cooperative initiatives. In a more rational world there would be a New Deal-style WPA of cooperatives, with streams of funding for converting entire sectors of the economy into cooperatives, from energy to agriculture to tech to the arts. 

Let us focus on the last one, for a moment: the arts. Writing about the benefits of both worker and studio co-ops, Nina Berman at Fractured Atlas says that studio co-ops “let you own a space without taking on the entire financial burden or burden of upkeep.” Berman points out that the landlord model pervades even many shared studio spaces. Even if people share the space, the property itself is “still in the hands of a single organizer or a single landlord who is ultimately responsible for that space.” And while a landlord supposedly will take care of maintenance and repairs, it’s also true that “if the landlord decides that the rent will increase by $200 per month or that the space is all of a sudden going to shut down or change directions completely, studio members have no formal say or power to shape the future of the space.” Studio cooperatives on the other hand, just like housing cooperatives, provide artists the benefit of ownership with evenly distributed risk and financial burden.  

In other words, co-ops don’t provide a financial and resource-sharing advantage in the market.  They also create a cooperative atmosphere among co-workers that is competitive in the market but which, fundamentally, builds skills around cooperation. Why is that important? For artists it’s significant because art itself is always a collective endeavor, even in the case of artists who are very iconoclastic. Being in community and connection with other artists encourages collaborative work, but also makes non-collaborative work easier.

Furthermore, cooperatives, as Richard Wolff extensively discusses, provide a model of non-capitalist commerce and labor. They are one of a small handful of alternative business models and institutions (including public banks, which can lend to cooperatives) that “redirect the economic, political, and cultural behaviors of enterprises, individuals, and governments” away from extraction and exploitation. Such a less-damaging world would be good for the arts — another reason for artists to seek cooperative models of sustaining their trades. 

Artists are also taking advantage of cooperative platforms as alternatives to Patreon, enabling them to keep more of their donations and encouraging a culture of sharing the wealth.

We may not be able to give every musician his own Abbey Road Studios-equivalent or arrange for her to display her paintings at the Louvre, but cooperative management of artistic enterprise is still the way of the future. I suspect it will not only solve many problems for artists on the financial edges, but also change the nature, content, form, and presentation of art itself.