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Dave Cohen
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Denial is not just a river in Egypt.
Interests: evolution, energy, the economy, climate, astrobiology, music, paleontology, culture
Recent Activity
“…As long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, people are going to keep burning them and going to find them, to dig them up wherever they can find them. …what we need to do is add a gradually rising fee to the fossil fuels, which you would collect from the fossil fuel companies at the source... And that money should be distributed to - all legal residents of the country. That way the person who does better than average in limiting his carbon footprint will make money, and it will be a big incentive for them to pay attention... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Decline of the Empire
Back in 1968 during the Vietnam War, long before many of those reading here were born, an AP reporter quoted an army officer to terrible and absurd effect. A famous quote from the Vietnam War was a statement attributed to an unnamed U.S. officer by AP correspondent Peter Arnett in his writing about Bến Tre city on 7 February 1968: "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it," a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong. Now... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Decline of the Empire
All the world's a stage ... and we've seen this drama several times before, always played by the same actors. ACT 1 Protagonist/Prophet of Doom — retired NASA climate scientist James Hansen often plays this role. True to form, he (along with 16 colleagues) has issued a new paper which claims (based mainly on Eemian/marine isotope stage 5e paleoclimate data) that we could see "potentially rapid sea level rise combined with more intense storm systems" in the next 50, 100 or 200 years. Hansen plays the leading role with gusto, concluding for example that sea level rise is “the big... Continue reading
Posted Jul 22, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
In an otherwise silly post at Collective Evolution called How Humanity Enslaved Itself, a graphic appeared which made my day. I wish I'd had that graphic when I wrote the Flatland essays. If you substitute "instincts, motivations, defenses, biases" for "belief system" in the above, you get a pretty fair description of how the human mind works. And, yes, it truly is unfortunate, so unfortunate. in fact, that there likely won't be anybody around to look at that graphic a few centuries from now. The author Andrew Barker quotes the confused "mystic" and cult leader "Osho" to make his point.... Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Believe it or not, the United States has some of the best managed fisheries on Earth. This surprising fact is entirely due to the so-called Magnuson-Stevens fisheries act passed back in 1976. The United States rightfully boasts many of the best-managed fisheries in the world thanks to a 1976 ocean fishery management law, which today is known as the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the statute, the primary law that governs fishing in U.S. ocean waters, emerged from an era that saw an awakening of environmental consciousness: The Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species... Continue reading
Posted Jul 18, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Bernie Sanders, presidential candidate and "self-described socialist" in every mainstream media report about him, has noticed that economic growth has no point if most of the gains make the rich richer (Washington Post, July 14, 2015). There are very few unspoken rules among major-party candidates for president, and Bernie Sanders is breaking one of them. Actually, there are boatloads of unspoken rules among presidential candidates, but let's ignore the Flatland bullshit. He’s saying that America’s leaders shouldn’t worry so much about economic growth if that growth serves to enrich only the wealthiest Americans. “Our economic goals have to be redistributing... Continue reading
Posted Jul 14, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
I see that Germany (among others) butt-fucked Tsipras and the Greek people. Surely this is a new low for the Eurozone, but that's not what got my attention today. It was this item that made my day Due to an unusually windy day, wind farms in Denmark managed to produce 140 per cent of the country's electricity needs. By Thursday evening [July 9], the Nordic nation's wind turbines were producing 116 per cent of Denmark's electricity needs, a figure that rose to 140 per cent in the early hours of the morning. As reported by The Guardian, 80 per cent... Continue reading
Posted Jul 13, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
This is a follow-up to Why Should We Protect Nature?, which I wrote earlier this week. The title quote occurs in a recent Huffington Post report called This Is How A Species Goes Extinct: More Than A Ton Of Frozen Pangolin Meat Seized In Indonesia. Pangolins are one of the planet's most unique and adorable species. The scaly, anteater-like creatures live in parts of Asia and Africa, and there's an entire task force dedicated to their protection. A popular Pokemon character, Sandslash, was even based on these "artichokes on legs." And yet, humans can't seem to stop killing them. Authorities... Continue reading
Posted Jul 10, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
The title question appears in Brad Plumer's What bees can teach us about the real value of protecting nature (Vox, July 6, 2015). Plumer's article is based on a study of wild bees which recently appeared in Nature Communications. Conservation biologists have two problems. The greater problem is that there isn't much conservation going on. After all, we are in the midst of a mass extinction. The lesser problem is deciding on what arguments to use to induce or persuade humans that other species are worth conserving. There are only two such arguments: (1) the moral argument—other species have intrinsic... Continue reading
Posted Jul 8, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Paul Krugman is hot and bothered about the situation in Greece, which is a strong signal for yours truly to run the other way. And that's my natural inclination in any case. It is however worth noting that somebody had better give the Greeks some cash this week to prevent a total collapse in the birthplace of democracy. Surprisingly, it seems that humans have turned a blind eye toward the extreme weather afflicting the world in 2015. It was a cool and wet June here in Pittsburgh, and that trend continues in July. But I didn't realize, though I should... Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
The Nereus Program, a joint venture of the Nippon Foundation and the University of British Columbia, issued a report yesterday called Predicting Future Oceans (pdf). I will re-print the press release which accompanied the release. A report entitled “Predicting Future Oceans: Climate Change, Oceans & Fisheries” newly released by the Nereus program, an international interdisciplinary research program aimed at predicting future oceans, suggests that future seafood supply in the world will be substantially altered by climate change, overfishing and habitat destruction if we do not take actions. In preparation to the COP21 in Paris in December this year where negotiation... Continue reading
Posted Jul 1, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Humans are a notoriously friendly and benevolent species. Altruistic, good-natured, compassionate, caring—these are the characteristics which define Homo sapiens. Cooperation, not competition, is the hallmark of our species. Cooperation always prevails, not only when one group of humans encounter a different group of humans, but also when humans encounter a non-human species. Not only are humans unselfish and generous, but they are infinitely clever, which has allowed them to dominate all life on Earth. All the other species, past and present, can only be grateful for the rise of their benevolent human overlords. Perhaps this doesn't strike you as an... Continue reading
Posted Jun 28, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
The title question was on Thomas B. Edsall's mind in his New York Times editorial of the same name. Why are today’s working poor so quiescent? I’m not the only one posing this question. “Why aren’t the poor storming the barricades?” asks The Economist. “Why don’t voters demand more redistribution?” wonders David Samuels, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota. The headline on an April 7 National Catholic Reporter article reads: “Why aren’t Americans doing more to protest inequality?” There are legitimate grounds for grievance. For those in the bottom quintile, household income in inflation-adjusted dollars has dropped sharply,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 25, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
The Pacific sardine fishery comes with some history (Monterey Country Weekly, January 1, 2014, emphasis added). You won’t find them on any veterans memorials, but sardines — by the billions — died to help us fight, and win, the Second World War. In 1939 alone, 460,000 tons of sardines were caught off Monterey’s coast, most of which were shipped to the front. That’s 980 million pounds, about 3 billion sardines. Sardines’ survival strategy is a function of those numbers — they form large schools that can swell into the millions. Then there are the real impressive numbers: Under the right... Continue reading
Posted Jun 23, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
This is the first of two posts on the collapse of Pacific sardine populations. I will finish up tomorrow. Back on April 16, 2015, National Public Radio reported on the closure of the Pacific sardines fishery (species Sardinops sagax). Life has suddenly gotten easier for the sardine. Federal regulators are not only closing the commercial sardine fishing season early in Oregon, Washington and California, but it will stay closed for more than a year. The decision to shut down the sardine harvest is an effort to build up depleted stocks of the small, oily fish. The conservation group, Oceana, says... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Today Pope Francis issued an encyclical on climate change and human responsibility for the poor and the environment. I'll quote from The Guardian's report on the document. Pope Francis has called on the world’s rich nations to begin paying their “grave social debt” to the poor and take concrete steps on climate change, saying failure to do so presents an undeniable risk to a “common home” that is beginning to resemble a “pile of filth”. The pope’s 180-page encyclical on the environment, released on Thursday, is at its core a moral call for action on phasing out the use of... Continue reading
Posted Jun 18, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
I try to avoid humans as best I can, especially when they are unknown to me or sometimes when they do become known to me. There are people I talk to, but those are the ones I have good reason to trust. It's a short list, the ones I trust, considering I've been on this planet for 62 years and I write this blog. Today I looked in my gmail Trash folder and found a bunch of shit like this (sender withheld). who are you and what are you trying to send me? On Sunday, June 14, 2015 7:35 AM,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
The global economy has entered a new phase which may go on for many years. The post-crash growth boom in the "developing" economies came to an end in 2014. A weaker global economy will slow the growth rate in carbon emissions going forward. As is often the case, the story starts in China (Financial Times, June 10, 2015). [Spencer Dale, BP’s chief economist] said the slowdown in demand for coal in China last year, much of it consumed in iron, steel and cement industries, had contributed to a welcome slowdown in world carbon emissions. Global carbon emissions rose by only... Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Is the Fed afraid to raise interest rates? That was the subject of Marketplace's interview with former Fed and ECB insider Athanasios Orphanides. It seems to me that this question bears a strong resemblance to other questions which answer themselves. Is the sky blue? Does a bear shit in the woods? Is the Pope catholic? The Fed is also afraid to unwind its 4.5 trillion dollar balance sheet. It is easy to forget here in the "new normal" just how abnormal things are in year 19 of the Bubble Era. The more interesting question is does Fed policy make wealth... Continue reading
Posted Jun 11, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
To say the human response to anthropogenic climate change has been "irrational" would put the case mildly. Climate change (among other self-created ecological disasters) poses an existential risk to humankind, and such threats, unless they are on our doorstep (here & now), are subject to cognitive filtering, as discussed in the original Flatland essay. In the second essay, I discussed the unconscious biases which inform the human response to climate change. In the third essay, I talked about the primacy of human sociality and the social roots of confirmation bias (i.e., the prevalence of bullshit, harmonizing, etc). All the above... Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
In this post's title, "Ray" refers to Ray Kurzweil, my favorite techno-optimist and certainly the craziest. Ray is a "futurist" at Google. The "singularity" is his most famous prediction about the future, but Ray's "unfettered" imagination is not constrained by reality in any way. Another wacko technophile, Peter Diamandis, lists some of Ray's more recent predictions about the next 25 years. By the late 2010s, glasses will beam images directly onto the retina. Ten terabytes of computing power (roughly the same as the human brain) will cost about $1,000. By the 2020s, most diseases will go away as nanobots become... Continue reading
Posted Jun 3, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Here's a reprint of Elizabeth Kolbert's Project Exodus — What's behind the dream of colonizing Mars? File under: Flatland fantasies, technophilia, animal abuse, low-earth orbit, stupid human tricks, no bucks, no Buck Rogers On March 27th, an American astronaut named Scott Kelly blasted off from Earth and, six hours later, clambered onto the International Space Station. He’s been there ever since. Each day, the I.S.S. orbits the planet fifteen and a half times, which means that after a month Kelly had completed more than four hundred and fifty circuits. By now, he’s made nearly a thousand. Kelly, who is fifty-one,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 1, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
I have written about the endangered saiga antelope before. See Teetering On The Brink But Still Cause For Hope (that's sarcasm in the title). And now there is Kazakhstan’s ecological mystery: Why have over 100,000 saiga antelopes died in just a few weeks? (Washington Post, May 29, 2015) As a species, saiga antelopes have endured a lot. They once roamed the Earth with Wooly Mammoths during the last Ice Age and but were almost driven to extinction by a loss of habitat and hunting during the late-20th century. Now the distinctive animals, easily distinguished by their large noses and prized... Continue reading
Posted May 29, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Let me tell you a story. At the end my personal "dark ages" (circa 2005-2009) when I wrote about peak oil for The Oil Drum and ASPO-USA, I had a running dispute with the leaders of ASPO-USA. I wanted them to put more of their limited budget toward the organization's website, where my weekly column appeared, in order to widen our reach. (I also wanted them to pay me more ) But that's not what those who led ASPO-USA wanted to do. Instead, each year they put as much as 80-90% of their precious budget into paying for a physical... Continue reading
Posted May 26, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Woody Allen once said "Eighty percent of success is showing up." Some versions say that 80% of life is showing up. I would amend Allen's observation. I think it's more like 95% I was listening to the TED Radio Hour when I heard Simon Sinek say the following: Trust is a feeling, a distinctly human experience. Simply doing everything that you promise you're going to do does not mean people will trust you. It just means you're reliable. And we all have friends who are total screw-ups, and yet, we still trust them. Trust comes from a sense of common... Continue reading
Posted May 22, 2015 at Decline of the Empire