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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 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 10 hours ago 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 3 days ago 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 6 days ago 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
I'll get right into it: I don't belong to any human social world, so I can pretty much say anything I like. I don't come with all the heavy Flatland baggage which human sociality brings with it, so what I say stands or falls on its own merits or deficiencies. I don't have to kiss anybody's ass. I'm not harmonizing with other humans. My own self-interest is not involved. In fact, writing the stuff I do goes against my own self-interest. (I should be kissing somebody's ass! For money!) In this way, I can bring a certain objectivity to the... Continue reading
Posted May 20, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Although nothing I see concerning climate issues surprises me from a Flatland point of view, I do find it very disconcerting to actually observe it day in and day out. I have always found it disconcerting. Talk about feeling alienated and helpless! Wow. Let's review the craziness, shall we? This post was spurred, in part, by the unsurprising revelation that Obama's Interior Department will permit Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Chuchki Sea off the north coast of Alaska. Those of you who have been around for awhile will remember a post I wrote called JFC! (you know what... Continue reading
Posted May 14, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Here's some news — there's a brouhaha concerning that Ecomodernist Manifesto. Everybody should calm down. Nothing those ecomodernists and their critics say matters at all. I can sum up the manifesto in 3 statements (well, OK, 4 statements if you count the "and" in the 2nd one). Industrial civilization is a nice thing to have! (Who could disagree?) We need to preserve and expand that civilization (have our cake) and decouple it from the natural world (and eat it too). Human ingenuity (more & better technology) allows us to have our cake and eat it too. And I say, with... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
You can think of this as an open thread. Feel free to say anything about anything. UPDATE — This is an open thread, so I thought I'd throw in this little goodie because I will use it to make some points in the 4th Flatland essay (i.e., I will make a mockery of it). An Ecomodernist Manifesto And check out the authors too. They should have called it The Flatland Manifesto. For example, the prefix technolog {y,ies} occurs — wait for it! — 51 times in 23 printed pages. It is still early in 2015 but the media is already... Continue reading
Posted May 5, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
John Angelos is the Chief Operating Officer for the Baltimore Orioles. His recent statement about the riots in Baltimore appeared on The Atlantic Magazine affiliate on April 28, 2015. I've reprinted the introduction and the statement below. The Baltimore Orioles played a game in an empty stadium (Camden Yards) the next day. The Orioles beat the Chicago White Sox, 8-2. Here's the Quartz introduction. On Apr. 19, Baltimore, Maryland resident Freddie Gray died from spinal injuries while in police custody, sparking a series of protests against police brutality, some of which have turned violent. On Apr. 22, leading area... Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
I continue to work on the 4th Flatland essay, which focuses on the self, consciousness and free will. I ran across this short essay from cognitive psychologist Bruce Hood at Hood believes we should abandon our naive concept of a "self" operating freely (without constraint) in the world. So do I, but of course that is impossible, so it will never happen. The Self It seems almost redundant to call for the retirement of the free willing self as the idea is neither scientific nor is this the first time that the concept has been dismissed for lacking empirical... Continue reading
Posted Apr 27, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
From a purely objective point of view—there is no such thing—the dolorous fact that human beings are very fucked-up is nothing to get angry about. After all, it's not their fault. Homo sapiens is merely one outcome at the bottom of an enormous evolutionary tree. That outcome is Kurt Vonnegut's "crock of shit." It looks like that leaf node (technical term) will be pruned sometime in the next few centuries, thus the hominin branch will become a dead end. It seems to me that on "Earth Day" one should not even try to be objective. Why would one try to... Continue reading
Posted Apr 22, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Some good laughs in this one. God knows we need a sense of humor on this planet. Enjoy. Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
When I asked a reader to give me scientific paper supporting doomer fears of a rapid meltdown (on the human time scale) of methane hydrates in the Arctic, he gave me a reference to Michael Bender's Paleoclimate, part of the series Princeton Primers in Climate. That's a fucking textbook. The most up-to-date overview on the subject, Paleoclimate provides an ideal introduction to undergraduates, nonspecialist scientists, and general readers with a scientific background. I was reading books like that 20 years ago, and since then I've kept up with the subject (e.g. here). Regarding these methane hydrate doomers, you now know... Continue reading
Posted Apr 13, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
I am finally writing the fourth Flatland essay, so posting will be sparse. For your amusement, I present the thoughts of Lewis Gilbert, who is Managing Director and Chief Operations Officer of the Institute on the Environment at University of Minnesota. His article appears at The Conversation, and is called To manage Earth in the Anthropocene, we need to focus on systems change. I've added a few notes. Enjoy. He starts with the usual Anthropocene blah blah blah. The higher levels of heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels are one feature of what many call the Anthropocene, a new geological... Continue reading
Posted Apr 8, 2015 at Decline of the Empire