Eugene Linden
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Latest Musing

Diary of a Tree Stump

Something lighter:                                    

  “I would vote for a tree stump if it could beat Donald Trump”

   [Timothy Egan, in his Nov. 8, 201...

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Latest Book

Deep Past
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Articles by Category
endangered animals
rapid climate change
global deforestation
fragging

Books

Winds of Change
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Afterword to the softbound edition.


The Octopus and the Orangutan
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The Future In Plain Sight
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The Parrot's Lament
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Silent Partners
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Affluence and Discontent
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The Alms Race
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Apes, Men, & Language
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Don't Bother Me Honey, I'm Working!


Don't Bother Me Honey, I'm Working! by Eugene Linden It used to be so easy for a husband to justify his working life. He went off in the morning and then returned that evening. What he did during the day constituted "work." While wives, who took care of the house and family, might fairly ask who had the harder job, most arguments remained low in intensity so long as "work" paid the bills. The potential for conflict has risen in recent decades since many wives now work at jobs during the week and still do most of the housework. When the working wife is a lawyer, however, and the husband is a writer, the potential for conflict rises to infinity. To begin with lawyers are not known for shying from an argument, and then with a New York lawyer for a wife there is always the issue of how much money a writer's "work" brings in. As for the balance of power? In an argument about what constitutes a hard days work, a lawyer wife is the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and the writer is Costa Rica, which gave up its armed forces decades ago. Or so it would appear. May I humbly submit, however, that perception is not always reality. An outsider (or wife) observes a writer at work and sees a guy slumped in front of a screen for a few hours a day between long breaks for lunch, golf/tennis/windsurfing, and other activities more suited to the leisure class. This is an understandable misunderstanding, but the great preponderance of those activities that the lawyer wife sees as procrastination or outright laziness are actually vital parts of the writer's work. For instance: Lying in bed in the morning. To the lawyer wife the snoozing writer-husband appears to be nothing more than the embodiment of sloth, but for the writer this period between sleep and waking is the most precious part of the day and should be prolonged as much as possible. The virtues of the so-called "alpha state" between waking and consciousness have been well documented. During this period the barriers between the unconscious and conscious mind are porous, and the brain, which has been working throughout the writer's vital nine hours of sleep, presents metaphors, solutions to writing problems and other ideas as a gift to the new day. Try and use this valuable work time, however, when you have two babies and three cats marauding on the bed and the only other creature in the room who speaks English is your wife exhorting you to get up! The two hour lunch. Writing is a solitary profession, but it is critically dependent that the writer be in touch with mercurial shifts in the zeitgeist as well as be aware of the constant reshuffling of editors at publishing houses and magazines. The lawyer, grabbing a sandwich at her desk, might dismiss a writer's lunch as little more than gossip, griping, backbiting, and complaints about money, but initiates to the ritualized dialogue of publishing, recognize a rich tapestry of New Business Development, Forward Planning, Strategic Positioning, Marketing, and a host of other productive activities. No wonder the lunch takes a chunk out of the day! In a corporation, any one of these functions would require an entire department to fulfill, but the writer can adeptly dispense with all of them during the course of one meal. The break for tennis. Just because lawyers cannot bill time spent on the courts, they tend to look down upon those who take a couple of hours in the afternoon to clear their heads and restore their hearts. The British, a group who understand the vital importance of non-traditional work activities, have long recognized that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. Exercise stimulates blood flow to the brain, invigorating renewed creative activity, and, it bears mentioning, it also helps reduce the lingering effects of drinks imbibed during the earlier sessions of New Business Development, Forward Planning, and Marketing. The weekly poker game. Admittedly, the work aspects of poker are not intuitively obvious, but keep in mind that poker is as much as about wit and badinage as it is about winning (or perhaps losing) money. Poker thus serves to condition the writer's most important "muscle." I could go on but let me instead confront head-on the billable hours mentality that has so stigmatized writers and others who opt off the treadmill. Leisure, not necessity, is the mother of invention. Christophe Boesch, a Swiss field biologist who has studied chimpanzees in the Tai forest in the Ivory Coast, has argued that the most innovative groups of chimpanzees are the ones with the richest diet, and hence, the most free time. Freed from the constant search for food, they have the leisure to test new ape ideas, and the well-nourished Tai chimps have shown ingenuity in developing nut cracking and monkey hunting techniques. Applied to humans, this suggests a solution to the impasse over what constitutes work: lawyers should keep writers well-nourished so they can explore new directions, an arrangement that in essence leverages the optimum skills of both writer/husband and lawyer/wife.

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Short Take

THOUGHTS ON WHY THE EARLY IPCC ASSESSMENTS UNDERSTATED THE CLIMATE THREAT

 

An oped involves extreme compression, and so I thought I’d expand on why I think the initial IPCC reports so underestimated the threat. Make no mistake, the consensus in the summaries for policy makers in the first two assessments did underestimate the threat. The consensus was that permafrost would be stable for the next 100 years and also that the ice sheets would remain stable (there was even a strong sentiment at that time that the East Antarctic sheet would gain mass). Moreover, in 1990, the concept of rapid climate change was at the periphery of mainstream scientific opinion. All these things turned out to be wrong

Of course, there were scientists at that time who raised alarms about the possibility of rapid climate change, collapse of the ice sheets, and nightmare scenarios of melting permafrost, but, fairly or not, the IPCC summary for policy makers was and is taken to represent the consensus of scientific thinking.

In my opinion such documents will always take a more conservative (less dramatic) position than what scientists feel is justified. For one thing the IPCC included policy makers, most of whom were more incentivized to downplay the threats. For another, many of the national governments that were the customers for these assessments barely tolerated the exercise and gave strong signals that they didn’t want to see anything that called for dramatic action, and this being the UN, there was a strong push to present a document that as many governments as possible would accept.

And then there is the nature of science and the state of climate science at that point. There is an inherent structural lag built in to the nature of science. For instance, the 1980’s were marked by the rapid development of proxies to see past climate changes with ever more precision. By the mid-late 80’s the proxies and siting had been refined sufficiently that the GISP and GRIP projects could confidently get ice cores from Greenland that they felt represented a true climate record and by then they also had the proxies with the resolution to see the rapid changes that had taken place in the past. Given the nature of data collection, interpretation, peer-review and publishing, it wasn’t until 1993 that these results were published.

It took nearly another decade for this new, alarming, paradigm about how rapidly global climate can change to percolate through the scientific community, and, even today, much of the public is unaware that climate can change on a dime.

As for the ice sheets, when I was on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in 1996, there was talk about the acceleratio of  ice streams feeding the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers, but the notion that there might be a significant increase in runoff from the ice sheet over the next hundred years was still very much a fringe idea.

With permafrost, the problem was a sparsity of data in the 80s and early 90s and it is understandable that scientists didn’t want to venture beyond the data.

The problem for society as a whole was that the muted consensus on the scale of the threat diminished any sense of urgency about dealing with the problem. Perhaps the best example of this was the early work of William Nordhaus. Working from the IPCC best estimates in the early 1990s Nordhaus published one paper in which he predicted the hit to the US GDP from climate change in 2100 would be about ½ of 1%. Nobody is going to jump out of their chair and demand action if the hit to the economy was going to be 0.5% of GPD a hundred years laterLibertarians such as William Niskanen seized on this and testified before Congress that there was plenty of time to deal with global warming if it was a threat at all.  

And then there was the disinformation campaign of industry, particularly fossil fuel lobbyists, as well as pressure from unions (the UAW in particular) and the financial community. These highly motivated, deep-pocketed interests seized on scientific caution to suggest deep divisions among scientists and that the threat was overplayed. Little wonder then that the public failed to appreciate that this was a looming crisis that demanded immediate, concerted action.

 



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