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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
The Lima climate talks ended last weekend. Those talks were meant to set the stage for the Big Event, which will be held in Paris next year. Predictably, the Lima Call For Action is just what is says—a call for action. A call for action is not action. A call for action is more abject failure in what has now become a long tradition of failure. We are told that there was progress of sorts. Let's look at that. By establishing a new structure in which all countries will state (over the next six months) their contributions to emissions mitigation,... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Decline of the Empire
We're deep into the Holiday Season now, and Congress made sure they did their bit. The bill which funds the government for another year will be the "gift that keeps on giving" for big donors to political parties and the Big Banks for many years to come. Fighter jets the Pentagon didn't ask for will be funded, and "food insecure" infants and children will be further challenged. Ho! Ho! Ho! Rectal rehydration of the American people took various forms. Josh Silver of wrote up a nice summary at The Huffington Post. Here's 5 of the most awful [provisions attached... Continue reading
Posted Dec 12, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
This morning the Senate torture report was all over the news. The Huffington Post had an article on Jon Stewart's take on the report. There's the torture, which we all knew was happening, and then there's Stewart making a living reacting to the torture on the Comedy Channel. And there's all those people laughing about his reaction to the torture. HA-HA-HA-HA-HA... You see, I'm so far gone with respect to this Human Condition shit that my reaction to the torture and my reaction to a stooge like Stewart is pretty much the same: is there some other planet where I... Continue reading
Posted Dec 10, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
Do you wanna change the world? Naomi Klein does. Elizabeth Kolbert is becoming more and more convinced that it can't be done. I'll have more on that below. If you wanna change the world, the first step is remarkably but deceptively easy. Just ask yourself this question: Do we humans have the capacity to address our big self-created problems? * * the climate, the oceans, extinctions, disappearing top soil, melting ice sheets, etc. When you ask yourself this question, and take the question seriously, really ponder it, you may not change the world, but you will certainly change yourself. I... Continue reading
Posted Dec 8, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
I now regret writing those posts on The Newsroom clip, as I regret all my interactions with the Flatland public. But rather than take those posts down, I will simply finish the job. The word in the title refers to the scientific finding back in May that the loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) appears to be inevitable and irreversible. The EPA guy in Sorkin's TV show cited sea level rise as the reason he had lost hope, so it will be of some interest that loss of the WAIS will add 4 meters (about 13 feet) to... Continue reading
Posted Dec 3, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
In the five days after I posted "The Newsroom" Tackles Climate Change, that post came up first if you ran the Google query the newsroom + climate (with private results "off"). I ran that query again tonight to see who else is writing on the same subject. Imagine my surprise when I saw a Grist post by Dave Roberts called Aaron Sorkin tackles climate change on “The Newsroom” and … oy (published today). Roberts' title sure does look a lot like the title I used five days ago. What a coincidence! And maybe it is a coincidence, although it would... Continue reading
Posted Nov 30, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
When I first saw "The Newsroom" clip, after I stopped laughing, I thought I would dust off my science chops to get to the bottom of that sea level question. It wasn't too hard—it took about an hour and a half to get confident about the current state of the science, which is based on paleoclimate proxy data. Years ago, when I still thought there was a point to things, I used to read paleoclimate stuff all the time. I see that Aaron Sorkin's "end of the world" video (the one I linked to) has gotten up to 6,963 views,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 26, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
Unfortunately, I can not embed The Newsroom video in which Aaron Sorkin tackles climate change (episode 3, season 3). I suggest you watch it and then return here for the analysis. Here's the relevant part of the transcript. McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is the anchor of the fictional news network. Westbrook (Paul Lieberstein) is the climate expert being interviewed (emphasis added). McAVOY: Okay. Tell us about the findings in the report that was just released. WESTBROOK: The latest measurements taken at Mauna Loa in Hawaii indicate a CO2 level of 400 parts per million. McAVOY: Just so we know what we're... Continue reading
Posted Nov 25, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
Having finished Part III, and as I contemplate Part IV, which will be short, I ran across another instructive example of what Flatland is all about. I am referring to yet another book about the human prospect called Adventures in the Anthropocence by science journalist Gaia Vince. I will quote from the Salon interview. Here is Lindsay Abrams' introduction to that give & take. The Anthropocene: Don’t worry about trying to pronounce it. Don’t even worry about whether or not geologists decide we've officially entered it. This is the Age of Man: the epoch of mass extinction, of rapidly acidifying... Continue reading
Posted Nov 17, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
This is the third of four essays summarizng my work on DOTE. The last part will be short, covering one more topic (social stratification) I didn't get to here. Comments are open but moderated. Here are links to Part I and Part II — Dave This third chapter of Adventures In Flatland deals with human sociality. The most striking characteristic of Homo sapiens is our sociality. Social relationships pervade every aspect of human life and these relationships are far more extensive, complex, and diverse (within and across societies) than those of any other species. And for survival and reproduction we... Continue reading
Posted Nov 12, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
I'm in a posting mood. This mood won't last, so I'm striking while the iron is hot. Anyway, as I was looking around the intertubes this morning, I ran across this item at Zerohedge, which is not a favorite website of mine because the anonymous posters over there are doomer attention whores who rarely document their stories. Zerohedge is the Huffington Post for pessimists. But this article made some good points and had a few working links to outside sources. Mostly the article had internal links to other Zerohedge crap, like this broken one to the WSJ "source" of the... Continue reading
Posted Nov 10, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
Let's finish off this brutal week on an entertaining note, shall we? I will quote from a recent interview with Elizabeth Kolbert, whose book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History came out earlier this year. I love this shit. Q: Is there any chance that evolution will save the day? That the world will adapt and adjust to us? A: I think there are two time frames in which to answer that. The first is, if you have very elevated extinction rates, evolution is just not fast enough. You would not assume that because things are dying out faster than... Continue reading
Posted Nov 7, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
There is no education in the second kick of a mule — attributed to Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn When it was clear that the Republicans had taken the Senate, and upped their majority in the House, the stock market celebrated like there's no tomorrow. As soon as the market opened Wednesday morning, the Dow leaped to a new all-time high. The indexed finished the day up 101 points to close at 17,484.52. Not to be outdone, the S&P 500 also set a new record close of 2,023.56. A few days before Election Day, CNN anticipated the party to... Continue reading
Posted Nov 6, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
Another meaningless election was held yesterday. Well, OK, it was meaningless for regular folks. As Andy Borowitz reminds us, it wasn't meaningless for those hoping to prosper from the result. WASHINGTON —Congressional seats are on pace to fetch a whopping four billion dollars on Tuesday night, a record-smashing sales figure that has exceeded the expectations of even the most optimistic insiders. The seats, which include four hundred and thirty-five in the House of Representatives and thirty-six in the Senate, have attracted buyers from a broad spectrum of industries, including investment banking, energy, pharmaceutical, and gun. “With all of the uncertainty... Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
As I mentioned, I've been taking my time with Part III of Adventures In Flatland. But I have completed the first section of that essay. It wasn't easy to write because of the subject matter. I was trying to explain the Flatland perspective on bullshit. How do we define bullshit? What motivates it? And so on. Anyway, that was the easy part. The hard part was taking humans seriously. Consider Paul Krugman's recent Rolling Stone article In Defense of Obama. By the way, Krugman does not appear in Part III. I said to myself, "Why are you writing this? Virtually... Continue reading
Posted Oct 27, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
Normally I wouldn't say anything, but stuff like New Technique Offers Faster, More Accurate Way to Count Brain Cells compels me to respond (Wall Street Journal, October 10, 2014). Such stories seduce me. I am weak. Counting brain cells helps scientists explain how humans differ from other animals, but until recently, enumerating billions of cells by species was too onerous a task to tackle. That changed with the work of a Brazilian researcher who pioneered a technique that is both fast and accurate. We’re looking at the most basic properties of brain tissue,” said Suzana Herculano-Houzel, who developed the approach.... Continue reading
Posted Oct 20, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
I've got time on my hands and haven't mentioned the U.S. economy in a while. Some stuff is too good to pass up. I'll quote from Bloomberg's The $11 Trillion Advantage That Shields U.S. From Turmoil. Call it America’s $11 trillion advantage: Consumer spending is likely to steer the U.S. economy safely through the shoals of deteriorating global growth and turbulent financial markets. The combination of more jobs, falling gasoline prices and low borrowing costs will help lift household purchases. Such tailwinds probably matter more than Europe’s struggles or the slackening in emerging markets that caused the Dow Jones Industrial... Continue reading
Posted Oct 15, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
In a post called Slow Steaming and the Supposed Limits to Growth, Paul Krugman doubled down on the delusional optimism he recently expressed in Could Fighting Climate Change be Cheap and Free? The Conscience of a Liberal was responding to a Bloomberg View piece by Mark Buchanan, who is an actual physicist. Buchanan's editorial was called Economists Are Blind to the Limits To Growth. Allow me to explain why I am one of those scientists who are preoccupied with the physical. Economists are correct in saying that growth doesn't necessarily require more pollution, more carbon pumped into the atmosphere or... Continue reading
Posted Oct 9, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
When I woke up this morning, nursing a hangover, you can't blame me for thinking I was dreaming when I turned the radio on and heard NPR talking about "regulatory capture" at the Federal Reserve. In the six years that have passed since the Financial Crisis, I never once heard NPR discuss corruption in the United States. I later confirmed that I was wide awake when I read Michael Lewis' The Secret Goldman Sachs Tapes (Bloomberg View, September 26, 2014). Now that I think about it, I don't think I've ever heard NPR talk about corruption in the United States.... Continue reading
Posted Sep 26, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
I am aware that some of the concepts introduced in Part II are difficult. Species extinctions driven by human actions are easy to understand, but thermodynamic models relating energy and the global economy are very hard to understand. I want to point out that humans, especially orthodox economists, are just as deluded as I said they are, a point which becomes easier to make when we consider Paul Krugman's Could Fighting Global Warming Be Cheap and Free? (hat tip, reader Reed). This just in: Saving the planet would be cheap; it might even be free. But will anyone believe the... Continue reading
Posted Sep 22, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
This is Part II of my essay Adventures In Flatland. These essays are an attempt to summarize my work on Decline Of The Empire (DOTE). There will be a part III. This essay comes to about 26 printed pages. You can comment, but if you're just another optimist, you'd better know what you're talking about — Dave The Human Relationship To The Natural World Perhaps the destiny of man is to have a short but exciting life. — Nicolas Georgescu-Roegen In "Consume, Screw, Kill," a review of Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction, Daniel Smith sums up the human relationship to... Continue reading
Posted Sep 19, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
I've been know to go off sometimes, but where rants are concerned, I can't hold a candle to Umair Haque. And everything Umair says is True. Also, this reminds me that I always regretted that so few young people (under 35) read DOTE. So, without permission and further ado, here's Umair's Ode to a F**cked Generation. Hi!! Smile!! This generation is fucked. Not just minor-league mini-fucked. Not a little bit cutesy aww Pikachu feels sad levels of fucked. This generation is full on holy bazoly did that really just happen ZOMG WTF kthxbye degrees of fucked. Here’s what you already... Continue reading
Posted Sep 5, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
This is Part I of a three-part essay summarizing my work on DOTE. The second part will be published in the 2nd half of September. The third part will appear sometime in October. This essay is closed to comments. I know that's not the "spirit" of the internet, but that's my preference. My e-mail is included at the end if you want to contact me — Dave How Goes Life Among the Humans? Imagine if you can a wise, compassionate, and reasonable species quite unlike the one you belong to. This other species does not wage war or destroy its... Continue reading
Posted Aug 31, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
More sharing... The journal Science has published a special issue called Vanishing Fauna (aka. The Sixth Extinction). You can read the introduction to the issue here. Let's look at some of the abstracts. This first one gives a succinct statemate of the problem. An animal-rich future (Joshua Tewksbury and Haldre Rogers) The rate at which animals are vanishing from this planet is one of the signatures of this age, as sure a sign of human dominance as our impact on Earth's nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon cycles. This disappearance of animals from the world's ecosystems is generally a by-product of human... Continue reading
Posted Jul 25, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
I thought I'd take a look at The Daily Ticker, Yahoo Finance's blog. It was gone. Shut down, presumably by Chairman Marissa or one of her toadying Silicon Valley underlings. Some of you may remember that I used to quote that blog and embed their videos. That was 3 or 4 years ago now, when the 2008 meltdown was still fresh in people's minds. Henry Blodget and Aaron Task were running the show then, and they had some good things to say about this god-awful mess called the United States. But no more. Yahoo watered the blog down, and then... Continue reading
Posted Jul 19, 2014 at Decline of the Empire