A One-hour Message

In May of this year, I had the opportunity to give a talk to my department on the matters that concern me. What would I say? How could I pack 20 years of learning, Do the Math writing, and recent perspectives into a one-hour talk for my physics/astrophysics colleagues and for students just beginning their professional journeys? How could I have the biggest impact without coming off as being nuts?

As with many things we do in life, I have mixed feelings about the result: things I should have said; things I could have said differently/better; answers to questions that could have been less clumsy. But overall it seems to have worked. While people were not beating down my door to have further conversations, almost anyone I ran into from the department in the weeks that followed would bring it up—indicating that they had been ruminating on the content and expressing further curiosity. It helps that these are people who have known me for years in another context, but it was still a relief to not simply be dismissed as having veered from the one important path: physics research.

Below is a video capture of the event over a zoom channel. The slides are shown well, but the audio quality varies depending on my movements (could be worse). Questions from the audience are hard to make out. Zoom does amazing things for noise suppression, which also applies to audience reactions (applause, laughter). But hey, you get what you pay for.

The theme of the talk is very similar to that of the shorter video I shared recently. It is also reflected in an article featured in a special sustainability issue of The Physics Teacher in September (below is a PDF of the final paper). So I’m “making a lot of hay” out of this approach, of late.

It has been a while since I posted new written content to Do the Math. I have a backlog of ideas to share, so stay tuned—it’s on the way.

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Here We Are

I was asked some months ago by the Australian Foodweb Education organization to participate in their Here We Are project. The idea is to reflect on the statement: “Here we are, alive, at this moment, in this place, together.”

Over the course of several months, I occasionally tried a written-form response, which might later form the basis for a recording. But I was never quite happy with the result—in part because my viewpoint has been rapidly evolving, making it hard to be completely satisfied.

Finally, in April, I felt ready. So I sat on a grassy slope in La Jolla soaking in a chorus of frog song and jotted down bullet points in some semblance of order. I am not talented enough to read a script without it sounding like I’m reading a script, so kept it light. But when I got to my office to make a recording, I wrote the prompt on my whiteboard and realized I could dissect the sentence in a way that captured my perspectives pretty well. I was able to adapt most of the frog-inspired points into something that seems well designed, but in truth emerged rather rapidly.

For my zoom-recorded session background, I chose from the two or three stock images one that both reminds me of the grassy slope where I committed ideas to paper, and fittingly puts me in my place with respect to nature.

Okay—that’s enough backstory. Here is the video recording, and what follows is a relatively faithful transcript, removing a surprising number of “ums” and “you knows,” and patching up a few things with [insertions]. It’s not as polished as a written work, but it is what it is. I did take the liberty of inserting two bits that it pains me not to have included in the recording, which I represent in green font.

Continue reading

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Keeping Up On Appearances

Over the last year or so, a number of audio/video productions have accumulated in which I have had an opportunity to express my evolving thoughts. Being challenged in the art of self promotion (Do the Math is the closest I come to social media), I tend not to link to everything that comes along. Yet, I recognize that some readers may value pointers to these other formats. So this brief post is an aggregation of recent appearances, to put it all in one place, arranged by context. Still feels a little gross.

The first—and most recent—pair of links relates to the latest Do the Math post on The Simple Story of Civilization. This post started as one page on a bedside note pad, scribbled by coincidence the night before a scheduled podcast interview with Hart Hagan. Although I did not connect the two, I did mention the outline to Hart when we began the zoom session, in case he found it interesting. To my surprise, he launched the conversation with a rough run-through of the script. Here is the video chat:

Shortly after this recording, I wrote up and released the post—which inspired Nate Hagens to record a targeted “Frankly” that follows the thread of the post:

About a year prior to this, I dropped in on the Crazy Town podcast trio on a road trip, and recorded this episode with them (also can try this link). It was a fun discussion about physical limits and what features future success must have (I did link this previously on Do the Math). Update 2023.02.21: In the initial posting, I forgot to include this podcast episode (51) from Breaking Down: Collapse from September of 2021.

Early in 2022, Nate Hagens included me on his new podcast called The Great Simplification, as episode 18. I am pleased to be in such good company: the other guests on the podcast have been insightful and thought-provoking. In episode 18, Nate and I explore physical limits to growth—echoing some of the foundational posts of the Do the Math blog.

Update 2023.02.21: Hart Hagan recently did a second podcast interview with me:

The next video is a relatively high production-value interview by the UC San Diego Division of Physical Sciences about my free textbook. (I put this up before, but also include here for completeness.)

This next pair relates to my involvement in the formation of the Planetary Limits Academic Network (PLAN; see post about it here). First I’ll point to a radio interview of myself and PLAN co-founder Melody LeHew, in which we discuss the predicament, and what PLAN might do in this context. Next is a video interview for Scientists’ Warning along with PLAN instigator Ben McCall, in which we address the challenges associated with radical change in our academic trajectories:

So I think that’s all I want to point out here. Anyway, I hope at least some of these provide value.

Oh—here’s something else that came along after I made this posting: it’s a joint interview of myself and Ugo Bardi on the topic of collapse.

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Let's Put on a Video, Shall We?

Most of us have seen it happen. An exhausted school teacher, sometimes suffering from what we recognize in hindsight as a hangover, announces to the class that instead of the usual lesson plan, we’re all going to watch a video.

That’s what I’m doing today, in effect. Last week’s post about factors facilitating collapse was of beastly proportions. This week, I’m taking a breather and pointing you to a five-minute video and a write-up of an interview relating to my recent book.

The pieces were put together by the UC San Diego Division of Physical Sciences (Mario Aguilera and Sherry Seethaler coordinating the interview and Debbie Meyer constructing a quality video). I’m sporting the outgrown late-COVID haircut that lopped off my ponytail of 28 years (performed by my terrified wife). It also appears that I failed to prioritize shaving for the interview day, which was scheduled weeks in advance, so did not exactly catch me by surprise. Oh well. Appearances only count for so much.

And since this video is short, I would hate for you to feel ripped off. I might, therefore, recommend another recent video by Nate Hagens that has a slightly longer run time (approaching three hours; I suggest taking it in doses). In an approach somewhat similar to the collapse post, Nate has put together a long list of factors, cast as societal myths, that contribute to our collective miscalibration about how we might expect the future to go. Many of the themes will be familiar to and resonant with Do the Math readers, but from a usefully alternate angle.

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