Nicolas Magand on the internet

Comments about tech, media, nature, &c.

My name is Nicolas Magand and I live in Paris, France. I work as a social media and engagement editor at the Global Editors Network, a non-profit aimed at promoting innovation and sustainability in the news industry. Here I blog mostly about tech and media, but many other topics can face my enthusiasm.

Filtering by Category: Science and environment

In the Mojave Desert, the dream city that was never built

Diana Budds, on Curbed, telling the story of California City, a small town which was originally planned to be the pinnacle of urbanism in the seventies, now a strange, arid, and hollow place:

Mendelsohn—a Czech emigre, a sociologist who studied the structure of towns and villages, and a Columbia University professor—was eager to get in on the postwar development boom. In 1958, he bought 82,000 acres of land—about 125 square miles—in the Mojave Desert and dreamed of transforming it into a thriving city composed of neighborhoods for medicine, commerce, industry, and academia.

And it was meant to be a place where families could thrive: A three-bedroom house, purchased on spec, started at $8,700 and Mendelsohn built amenities to sweeten the deal, like a golf course, a 20-acre lake, a swimming pool, and recreation fields. He also carved out a street grid and installed water and power infrastructure, readying the land for buildings that never came.

This article reads like the pitch for a new TV show, I just wish it featured a lot more pictures of the town. 1 

Like Budds writes, the city "speaks to an enduring and elusive ambition: the search for a perfect place."


  1. Beautiful photographs from Chang Kim, who has more on a dedicated website.↩︎

When politicians try to sell you congestion and traffic as part of your identity

Arthur Neslen, on The Guardian:

Madrid may be about to become the first European city to scrap a major urban low-emissions zone after regional polls left a rightwing politician who views 3am traffic jams as part of the city’s cultural identity on the cusp of power.

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who is expected to become the new Popular party (PP) president of the Madrid region, believes night-time congestion makes the city special and has pledged to reverse a project known as Madrid Central, which has dramatically cut urban pollution.

This has to be one of the most ridiculous excuses ever given by a politician, and that's a pretty high bar to reach.

Saying a problem is part of your city's identity as a way to earn votes from unhappy car drivers is not only hypocritical, but imagine if the same reasoning was applied to the London situation in the 20th century : "The London fog is part of our identity. Yes, it is mostly toxic smokes and poisonous gas causing thousands of deaths but is also part of our identity so we shall keep using coal and save the Smog."

Sidenote, still from the same article:

An estimated 30,000 Spaniards die each year due to air pollution, according to the European Environment Agency.

Whatever you think about low-emissions zone, I would think that politicians in favour of scrapping them can find better ways to justify it, like "We want to put all the money possible into social services, " or even "Traffic is the best way to convince the new generations not to buy a car in Madrid."

Moving a whole city a few kilometres away in order to keep it alive

A fascinating story by Chris Michael, on the fate of the northern Swedish city of Kiruna, which is threatened by the collapse of the iron ore mines underneath it. By law, the mining company has to keep the city from being swallowed into the ground, since it is responsible for this unusual situation. In that case, it means moving the city a few kilometres away.

The scale of the project is unprecedented. Several dozen buildings will be moved by a specially assembled team of experts who have become so good at their jobs that Cars claims it’s now usually cheaper to move a home than to demolish and rebuild. The huge wooden church will be hoisted and moved; other buildings, such as the current city hall and the railway station, will be stripped of aesthetic elements, including lampposts and iron railings, to be incorporated into new structures.

Piece of cake.

The imminent climate change catastrophe, if not already started

Fiona Harvey, writing on The Guardian, about a newly published provisional statement on climate change, from the World Meteorological Organisation:

Global temperatures have continued to rise in the past 10 months, with 2018 expected to be the fourth warmest year on record.

Average temperatures around the world so far this year were nearly 1 ℃ above pre-industrial levels. Extreme weather has affected all continents, while the melting of sea ice and glaciers and rises in sea levels continue. The past four years have been the hottest on record, and the 20 warmest have occurred in the past 22 years.

The warming trend is unmistakeable and shows we are running out of time to tackle climate change […] On current trends, warming could reach 3 ℃ to 5 ℃ by the end of this century.

Another day, another worrisome report about climate. I'm afraid the great K.C. Green's Gunshow drawing – the origin of one of the strongest memes – will stay trendy for a while.

A few climate change realities

In a perplexing, worthwhile, but quite long, article on The New Yorker, Bill McKibben describes the reality of the world's situation towards climate change. If the second half tends to go nowhere as interesting as the title promises, they are some good bits to be shared here. A quick selection:

Late in 2017, a United Nations agency announced that the number of chronically malnourished people in the world, after a decade of decline, had started to grow again—by thirty-eight million, to a total of eight hundred and fifteen million," largely due to the proliferation of violent conflicts and climate-related shocks."

Then this one:

Two centuries ago, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was two hundred and seventy-five parts per million; it has now topped four hundred parts per million and is rising more than two parts per million each year. The extra heat that we trap near the planet every day is equivalent to the heat from four hundred thousand bombs the size of the one that was dropped on Hiroshima.

An old classic:

Nine of the ten deadliest heat waves in human history have occurred since 2000.

This:

By 2070, tropical regions that now get one day of truly oppressive humid heat a year can expect between a hundred and two hundred and fifty days, if the current levels of greenhouse-gas emissions continue.

And this:

By 2050, if temperatures rise by two degrees a quarter of the earth will experience serious drought and desertification. The early signs are clear: São Paulo came within days of running out of water last year, as did Cape Town this spring. In the fall, a record drought in Germany lowered the level of the Elbe to below twenty inches and reduced the corn harvest by forty per cent.

My favourite:

Alex Steffen, an environmental writer, coined the term “predatory delay” to describe “the blocking or slowing of needed change, in order to make money off unsustainable, unjust systems in the meantime.” The behavior of the oil companies, which have pulled off perhaps the most consequential deception in mankind’s history, is a prime example.

And the kicker:

This past May, a team of scientists from the University of Illinois reported that there was a thirty-five-per-cent chance that, because of unexpectedly high economic growth rates, the U.N.’s “worst-case scenario” for global warming was too optimistic. “We are now truly in uncharted territory.

Worrisome to say the least.