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There are few gambles in the tech world as big as spending billions to build a new computer processor from scratch. Former AMD board member Robert Palmer supposedly compared it to Russian roulette: “You put a gun to your head, pull the trigger, and find out four years later if you blew your brains out.” Six years ago AMD loaded the gun and pulled the trigger, dramatically restructuring itself internally in a mad bid to escape a disaster of its own making. Now we’ve seen the results and instead of dying, AMD has a savvy new CPU microarchitecture, Zen, that’s the foundation of the shockingly good new series of Ryzen processors. They’re so good, in fact, that they could pose a real challenge to Intel’s incumbent dominance and change what the computer market looks for the next few years.
“I think Intel kind of woke up and said ‘hey you know we’re in a battle all of a sudden,’” Linley Gwenapp, an analyst, and editor of the Microprocessor Report, an industry magazine, told Gizmodo. “So they’re not going to just stand by and let AMD storm into the market.”
To Lubarsky, a number cruncher-turned-housing activist, Wallingford’s architectural jewels, with their grand front porches and exquisite topiary, are emblematic of this city’s potentially fatal flaw: a housing market so expensive it’s throttling one of America’s biggest urban success stories. Decades ago, these tidy homes were cheap enough for schoolteachers and firefighters. Today, most cost at least a million dollars, and what was once a proudly middle-class neighborhood has morphed into a financially gated community.
Part of the problem, Lubarsky admits, is people like himself: Seattle’s red-hot tech economy, led by companies such as Amazon and Groupon (where Lubarsky works), has filled the city with an army of well-paid workers bidding up the price of housing. But that tech-fueled demand has tended to overshadow the other driver: insufficient supply. Since the end of the financial crisis, Lubarsky says, Seattle has added roughly 100,000 jobs, but barely 32,000 new homes and apartment units. “We’ve underbuilt every year since 2010,” he adds. And a big part of that deficit, Lubarsky says, is due to neighborhoods like Wallingford, where zoning laws make it almost impossible to build anything other than a single-family house.
That’s why Lubarsky wants to radically reconceive the way Seattle lives. For several years, he and fellow activists have waged a data-driven campaign to change the city’s zoning to allow more “density” in single-family neighborhoods, which account for more than half of the city’s land. If this pro-density campaign succeeds, neighborhoods like Wallingford could be transformed by a wave of new construction that would gradually replace single-family homes with duplexes, town homes, apartments and other multifamily housing types. And that would go some of the way toward solving a paradox that threatens many of America’s most successful cities: the younger workers needed to maintain that urban success can no longer afford to live there.
“The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so.”
Hillman, an 86-year-old social scientist and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute, does say so. His bleak forecast of the consequence of runaway climate change, he says without fanfare, is his “last will and testament”. His last intervention in public life. “I’m not going to write anymore because there’s nothing more that can be said,” he says when I first hear him speak to a stunned audience at the University of East Anglia late last year.
From Malthus to the Millennium Bug, apocalyptic thinking has a poor track record. But when it issues from Hillman, it may be worth paying attention. Over nearly 60 years, his research has used factual data to challenge policymakers’ conventional wisdom. In 1972, he criticised out-of-town shopping centres more than 20 years before the government changed planning rules to stop their spread. In 1980, he recommended halting the closure of branch line railways – only now are some closed lines reopening. In 1984, he proposed energy ratings for houses – finally adopted as government policy in 2007. And, more than 40 years ago, he presciently challenged society’s pursuit of economic growth.
In the months leading up to our meeting, Chouinard and Patagonia had seen a few disasters. The Thomas wildfire, the largest in California history, torched the hills around the company's Ventura headquarters. Five employees lost their homes, and then came the mudslides. All of which took place while Patagonia dealt with a crisis back east: a decision by President Trump, the great un-doer, to shrink some of his predecessor's national monuments. The pledge was a first for an American president; limiting the size of monuments like Bears Ears in Utah would mean the largest reduction of protected land in U.S. history. Which is what led Patagonia, in early
December, to change its home page to a stark message: “The President Stole Your Land.”
In response, the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources sent out an e-mail with the subject line “Patagonia: don't buy it.” This wasn't just Trump whining on Twitter that Nordstrom wasn't supporting his daughter's fashion line. The federal government, run by allegedly pro-business Republicans, basically called for the boycott of a privately held company—provoking a former director of the Office of Government Ethics to label the action “a bizarre and dangerous departure from civic norms.”
Chouinard has been known to be a prickly contrarian. He doesn't do e-mail. His cell phone goes largely untouched. But he's adept at delivering powerful sound bites. In December, Chouinard went on CNN—wearing what looked to be the same flannel shirt from the day we met—and said, “I think the only thing this administration understands is lawsuits. We're losing this planet. We have an evil government.… And I'm not going to stand back and just let evil win.”