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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
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 keep up with the subject (e.g. here). Regarding these methane hydrate doomers, you now know... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago 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
I have been procrastinating lately. I don't want to write that 4th Flatland essay because once I've written it, as far as I'm concerned, there will be little left to say about the human condition and the fate of our species. All that will be left to do is watch what happens in future, or, as Iain Banks said in one of his great Culture books, watch humans fuck-up. And this is so because the 4th essay is about the nature of our consciousness, or our sense of self, and its relationship to the (for all intents and purposes) fully... Continue reading
Posted Apr 2, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Today's example of Big Brains gone haywire is far more subtle than the two previous examples. It involves behavioral economics and the cognitive bias known as loss aversion, which also plays a significant role in behavioral economics. Behavioral economics has enjoyed a renaissance ever since millions of Big Brains all over the world went haywire during the Housing Bubble in the United States. You may recall that this craziness caused a meltdown of the global financial system and economy. I only say that now in 2015 because it seems that nearly everybody on Earth has already forgotten it. The Wall... Continue reading
Posted Mar 31, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Today I will reprint NPR's story Understanding The Dark Side Of Enlightenment On 'Diamond Mountain'. Here's the audio. Although the story speaks for itself, I have added some helpful emphasis in the text. Transcript (as it appears on the NPR website, with a few clarifying edits) In 2012, Ian Thorson was found dead in a cave in Arizona. He and his wife had been kicked out of a silent Buddhist retreat that was supposed to last three years, but they decided to finish out the time alone in the desert — and that extreme quest for spiritual enlightenment eventually killed... Continue reading
Posted Mar 29, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Humans are desperately seeking an explanation as to why a 27-year-old German pilot "intentionally" crashed the plane he was co-piloting, killing the other 149 people on-board. I put the word 'intentionally' in quotes here because it really is very, very hard to make sense of what humans mean when they use that word in this context. Germanwings Co-Pilot Andreas Lubitz Hid Illness From Airline, Says Prosecutor Evidence collected at apartment didn’t include suicide note or indication of motive The Germanwings co-pilot who appeared to intentionally crash an airliner into a French mountainside, killing himself and 149 passengers and crew, received... Continue reading
Posted Mar 27, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
In 2015 the Bad News keeps pouring in. The latest in a series of ominous reports is the early weakening of the AMOC, as Stephen Rahmstorf reports in What's going in the North Atlantic? at Real Climate. Look at that article to get the context for this quote. It happens to be just that area for which climate models predict a cooling when the Gulf Stream System weakens (experts speak of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation or AMOC, as part of the global thermohaline circulation). That this might happen as a result of global warming is discussed in the scientific... Continue reading
Posted Mar 25, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
We're not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we're losing the creek too — Jay Famiglietti For many years now I have come across the same theme over and over again — Climate change: the poor will suffer most. (The Guardian, March 30, 2014). ... But [the UN report found that] those who did the least to cause climate change would be the first in the line of fire: the poor and the weak, and communities that were subjected to discrimination, the report found. Scientists went to great lengths in the report to single out people and... Continue reading
Posted Mar 21, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
You know, you might get the impression reading this blog that the Human Condition is fucked up beyond all repair. And if you look at things from a Flatland perspective, that's no doubt true. But, really, just LISTEN to this tune. Is the Human Condition TOTALLY fucked up? I think not. Continue reading
Posted Mar 18, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
I will quote the opening of Brad Plumer's The big climate question: Can we sever the link between CO2 and economic growth? (Vox, March 16, 2015). Historically, there's been a tight relationship between economic growth and the carbon dioxide emissions driving climate change. As the world's economy expands, we've built more power plants and factories and driven more cars and trucks. That's long meant burning more coal, gas, and oil. If we ever hope to stop global warming, we'll have to sever that relationship — and figure out how to have economic growth while reducing emissions. (Alternatively, we could halt... Continue reading
Posted Mar 18, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Regarding yesterday's post, watch the video below. This video was uploaded to youtube a few weeks ago. A young person asks UMass economist Robert Pollin— Can underdeveloped countries reduce emissions and still grow their economies? Good question! The "flatland moment" occurs just after the 2:25 mark, but you must watch the video from the beginning to get the full effect Continue reading
Posted Mar 16, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
The International Energy Agency dropped a bombshell on Friday, announcing that— Data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicate that global emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy sector stalled in 2014, marking the first time in 40 years in which there was a halt or reduction in emissions of the greenhouse gas that was not tied to an economic downturn. "This gives me even more hope that humankind will be able to work together to combat climate change, the most important threat facing us today," said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, recently named to take over from Maria van... Continue reading
Posted Mar 14, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Many aspects of Flatland show up in We must reclaim the climate change debate from the political extremes, an article by Mark Lynas published in The Guardian's environment section. In so far as I am a hopeless pedant, I saw fit to reprint it here on DOTE with some short but very enlightening commentary. This was fun to do, so I hope you find it as entertaining to read as I did to write. First, we note that Lynas starts off with a common fallacy, more formally called the argument to moderation (Latin, argumentum ad temperantiam). Climate change is real,... Continue reading
Posted Mar 12, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
I just watched a video called The Science of Survival. The discussion features Elizabeth Kolbert, agricultural scientist John Williams and a host whose name I couldn't find. The discussion took place in Australia back in November, 2014. At the 21:37 mark, I heard the amazing exchange below. John Williams — The profound effect [of humanity] on the planet is there for all to see. The human capacity to do that is in our very genes, and our human condition. But my hope and belief is that in that same human condition, is the capacity to be aware of what we've... Continue reading
Posted Mar 10, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
As I observe the Flatland landscape, I am rarely rendered speechless, for I have taken it upon myself to explain much of this human craziness. But when I read John Cassidy's Why The Fed Needs Defending, which appeared yesterday at The New Yorker, I realized that mere words are useless, much like the situation when we try to console those who have lost a loved one. You must read it yourself to see what I mean (begins below the fold). I confess to not having read all eighteen hundred of the transcript pages released on Wednesday, by the Federal Reserve,... Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
We got another "solid" jobs report today, so this is a good time to reprint Jim Clifton's The Big Lie. Clifton is the chairman and CEO of Gallup. Here's something that many Americans — including some of the smartest and most educated among us — don't know: the official unemployment rate, as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor, is extremely misleading. Right now, we're hearing much celebrating from the media, the White House and Wall Street about how unemployment is "down" to 5.6%. The cheerleading for this number is deafening. The media loves a comeback story, the White House... Continue reading
Posted Mar 6, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Some years ago now I wrote a post called Democracies Always Fail. That post turned out to be one of the most popular things I've ever written. Today I would write that article very differently than I did at the time, but any such post would need to capture the insights of Dave Meslin in the Ted talk below. Of course it is true that Meslin can not live with his own appraisal of why democracy has failed in Canada, so you will note the change of tone at the 6-minute mark when he says "now I'm not trying to... Continue reading
Posted Mar 4, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Following the Copenhagen fiasco, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Yvo de Boer of the Netherlands, resigned in frustration. He had, he said in a 2013 interview with Bloomberg Business, lost his faith in climate diplomacy. "The only way that a 2015 agreement can achieve a 2-degree goal is to shut down the whole global economy," he said. — quote from Der Spiegel Der Spiegel has published a long article called Is Capitalism Destroying Our Planet? (Naomi Klein's book is just now getting published in Germany.) There are two answers to that question —... Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Here is another source for my next Flatland essay, should I ever get around to writing it. I want my readers to see the primary/secondary sources I'm using before they read that essay. Below I've reprinted a good review of William Hirstein's 2006 book Brain Fiction. Hirstein's work was featured in the New Scientist article I published here. Spin Central "Know thyself," urged the inscription over the entrance to the temple of Apollo at Delphi, setting a goal for Western philosophy and many of the sciences it would ultimately spawn. Although nobody claims that self-knowledge is easy, certain basic facts... Continue reading
Posted Feb 25, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Below I've embedded a video of the philosopher John Searle talking about the problem of free will. Please watch it, and as you do so, think about what Searle is saying in light of the of the following questions: The scientific evidence is overwhelming that humans are altering the Earth's biosphere in a very a destructive way (global warming, marine ecosystems, deforestation, the Sixth Extinction, etc.). And yet humans (at the species/population levels) are doing nothing to slow the destruction of their own habitat. In fact, humans are behaving (or always striving to behave) in exactly the same ways which... Continue reading
Posted Feb 19, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Following up on my Michael Gazzaniga post, here is the conclusion of Everyday Fairytales (New Scientist, October 7, 2006). I am posting some of the sources I'm using for a planned (but not written!) Flatland essay on our subjective sense of self, free will, storytelling, and sources of human delusion in the brain. Just an illusion There is certainly plenty of evidence that much of what we do is the result of unconscious brain processing, and that our consciousness seems to be interpreting what has happened, rather than driving it. For example, experiments in 1985 by Benjamin Libet of the... Continue reading
Posted Feb 18, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
I have almost completely lost the urge to write on this blog. I guess I'm writing this easy post to keep busy, as Arthur Schopenhauer recommended. So those of you waiting for updates to the Flatland series may be waiting for some while. We'll see. My motivation has disappeared, which may betoken my acceptance (at last!) of this crock of shit called the Human Condition. There is a new series on PBS called EARTH: A New Wild. The "new wild" is new because there is no wild. There is no wild because "people are everywhere" (video below). The series was... Continue reading
Posted Feb 13, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Today I ran across a number of articles discussing the death of blogging (hat tip, Naked Capitalism). All this hand-wringing was prompted by Andrew Sullivan giving up his blog. Now I know who Andrew Sullivan is! Is blogging dead? I'll get right to the point—sure it is! Deceased! A dead parrot! There is lots of analysis, including the obvious point that blogs no longer matter because of the existence of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. (e.g., see Kevin Drum here, and Ben Thompson here). Blogging is always seen as an individual endeavor, but that is never true. Like all things human,... Continue reading
Posted Feb 10, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
In Part III of Adventures In Flatland, I wrote the following— We can think of bullshit, or, in contemporary usage, spin, as the other side of the filtering coin discussed in Part I. Filtering and bullshit are the yin and yang of the human flight from reality—humans unconsciously filter what they can't acknowledge, and then generate all sorts of bullshit to cover up, justify or rationalize what is unconsciously unacceptable to them. Human cognition is thus consistently out of kilter with reality nearly all of the time. In important matters, reality basically counts for nothing. This seems like a good... Continue reading
Posted Feb 2, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
I've been doing some thinking over the last few weeks, and I've decided a few things—I am exercising whatever free will have First, I am no longer interested in describing this predictable human atrocity or that one. I have done that lately out of feelings of overwhelming disgust, a typical human emotion. Political corruption? Destruction of the biosphere? Grotesque income and wealth inequality everywhere? Grinding, hopeless poverty in the "wealthy nations" (United States and Europe)? Partying Davos elites planning our future? We all know about these ongoing human-caused catastrophes, and, predictably, they are all getting worse in what is now... Continue reading
Posted Jan 29, 2015 at Decline of the Empire