Future Tense Newsletter: Speeding Up the Web and Slowing Down Pollution

Despite this week’s good news about greenhouse gasses, we’re nowhere near off the hook.

Photo by Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images

Greetings, Future Tensers,

It’s not every week that Future Tense gets to share some good news about climate change, but this week we’re leading with the revelation that global greenhouse gas emissions appear to have dropped this year for the first time since 2000. Though he’s described that discovery as “among the most important news of the decade,” Eric Holthaus still stresses that the most vulnerable countries are more at risk than ever, meaning that we still have a lot of work ahead. Apart from continuing to cut emissions, one strategy may be to directly pull carbon dioxide out of the air with emerging geoengineering technologies.

On a different technological front—and with a different kind of good news—we may soon see the widescale adoption of protocols that would ensure a faster and more secure Web. Keep in mind, though, that more secure doesn’t exactly mean secure. Even children’s toy are hackable, and civil government agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission are advocating for reforms that would let them access cloud-based emails without a warrant. Privacy concerns are also circulating in anti-terrorism debates where some have called on Facebook and its kin to report suspicious activity. At least we have (Slate contributor) Judge Richard Posner, who’s still smacking down moralistic attempts to limit free speech online.

Here are some of the other stories that had us raging on (and about) our Twitter timelines:

  • Statecraft: Algorithms are playing an increasingly large role in international relations, a development that raises some red flags for Miranda Bogen.
  • Falconry!: In what may be the coolest use of drones on record, hobbyists are employing their unmanned airships to train birds. Your move, Amazon.
  • Water wars: When we imagine climate crises, it’s tempting to think about armed conflict over scarce resources, but those fictions only distract our attention from real issues of water governance.
  • Nonsense: I wrote about the dangerous myth of “Wi-Fi allergies” and “electromagnetic sensitivity,” invented conditions that may be making it harder to treat depression.


  • Algorithms are learning more and more about us while we seem to understand them less and less. Join Future Tense for a lunch discussion on “The Tyranny of Algorithms” in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Dec. 10. Visit the New America website to learn more and RSVP.

Resetting my passwords,

Jacob Brogan

for Future Tense

p.s. Slate has a new iPad app! Check it out here.