Eugene Linden
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Latest Musing

A Nobel Prize in Economics a Climate Change Denier Might Love

It has been a scary month in climate science. Hurricane Michael and a frightening report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underlined the potential costs of human-caused global warming. Then to add insult to injury, William Nordhaus won the economics Nobel Prize.

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Latest Book

The Ragged Edge of the World
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endangered animals
rapid climate change
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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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parrotslament

Buy The Parrot's Lament at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense. The Parrot's Lament : And Other True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity From reviews: The New York Times Book Review, Sara Ivry His incisive, informal prose turns even these nonhuman scoundrels into endearing subjects. From Kirkus Reviews Empathetic stories of animals displaying intelligence and fellow-feeling, with some references to controlled experiments to help put the acts in context, from journalist Linden, the author of several books on animal cognition as well as other subjects. This ``decidedly unscientific' collection of animal tales, wherein the beasts ``tried or succeeded in outsmarting, beguiling, or otherwise astonishing the humans in their lives,' is written simply to knock on our intuitive doors and get us to appreciate the lives of animals and whatever consciousness they possess. Linden keeps the anecdotes short and sweet, and, thankfully, taps into those untold rather than recycling the same stories about apes saving human toddlers and elephants enjoying sunsets. There are chimps and parrots that specialize in devilry and pranksterism, and a marvelous sampling of deceit, from the disingenuous use of body language by dolphins to a white-winged shrike tanager abusing its sentinel duties ``by occasionally making the alarm call when no hawk is around. As its feathered colleagues head for cover, it wolfs down all the food in sight.' There are great escapes from zoos and parks, which for orangutans is ``a singular obsession'they shape tools, conceal their intentions, and choose the best opportunity to make their move. The acts of heroism, trust, and loyalty may sound familiar, though the odd friendships are a delight: the tale of wolf and the goat feels too biblical, but the one about the horse and the turkey couldn't be better. Linden closes with an enviable ramble through back-of-beyond central Africa, where the animals reacted to humans with inquisitiveness rather than fear, for a single, very good reason: they had never encountered us before. Most of all, these stories suggest a range of possibilities in animal awareness and feeling that signal the caring respect to be awarded any creature. Animals are an indicator species, Linden suggests, so take a look: how we treat them reflects how we treat everything else. -- Copyright 1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. Amazon.com ...as a passionate and accomplished student of animal intelligence since the '70s, Linden--of course--couldn't resist comparing Sofia's reasoning to that of an ape, puzzling over the cognitive cusp upon which she teetered. And it's this affectionate but knowledgeable analysis, the gentle transition from rutabagas to metacognition and emergent symbolic ability, that makes The Parrot's Lament so satisfying, sentimental but still scientifically solid. The science of consciousness and animal intelligence is contentious, but many in the field--Linden included--deeply suspect that animals know more than we can verify. Linden lays down the science with clarity and good humor, but he leaves it to his animal coauthors, the amorous dolphins, escape-artist orangs, enigmatic cats, and lying hyenas that populate the book's scores of anecdotes, to make his argument. --Paul Hughes Buy The Parrot's Lament at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense.

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Short Take

GOP Scare Stories Point to the Real National Emergency

A couple of months ago, in the days before President Trump declared a national emergency to try and circumvent Congress and fund his Wall, a number of Republicans scrambled to articulate sufficiently horrifying examples of how others might misuse those powers. Florida Congressman Matt Goetz offered a nightmare scenario in which a Democratic President forcing elementary schools across the country to build transgender bathrooms. Florida senator Marco Rubio went on CNBC and asserted that the true nightmare was that, “Tomorrow, the national emergency might be, you know, climate change…” Permit me to rephrase this: for Rubio, the problem with Trump using emergency powers was not that he was using a phony emergency as a pretext, but that in the future Democrats might use those powers to try to deal with an actual emergency.

That’s what’s truly scary. Rubio’s example reveals his assumption that Congress can block action on climate change going forward, forcing a President to assume emergency powers. The Wall Street Journal editorial page also chimed in, warning that Trump invoking a national emergency might embolden a future president to use these powers to deal with rising carbon emissions, again implying that other means of dealing with rising emissions could be blocked.

OK, let’s go with this. Imagine the circumstances in which some future President thought it necessary to use a declaration of national emergency to deal with climate change. Maybe it would be a collapse in the housing market as sea level rise, super storms, and wildfires made trillions of dollars in property uninsurable, and thus ineligible for mortgages. Or perhaps it would be the banking and financial crisis attendant to these developments.

It would also imply that the public was not yet concerned enough to elect a Congress that would take action to contain the threat. It’s true that there has been a rapid uptick in concern about climate change as determined by polling, but a recent study by the Energy Policy Institute found that while 57% of those polled people thought climate change was sufficiently threatening that they would spend $1 a month to avert it, most would still balk at $10 a month. 

To put this in perspective, the amount the U.S. spent on defense and intelligence last year equates to roughly $650 a month per household and that figure does not include spending at the state and local level for police. The amount the U.S. spent last year just to fight ISIS amounted to $40 a month per household. Is ISIS, which has never successfully mounted a mass attack on U.S. soil, really 40 times the threat that climate change poses?

Part of the problem is that the threat of climate change remains something that is still treated as a matter of belief; i.e. whether one “believes” in global warming (and recent polling reported that even today, only 52% of Republicans agree that global warming is happening). Given that climate change is staring (most of) us in the face, we should be past that point, but we’re not. This cognitive dissonance will ultimately resolve itself, however, because whether you “believe” in climate change becomes irrelevant if sea level rise and storms render your house unsaleable.

Still, the Trump administration continues to fight a rear-guard action, pushing back on its own agencies that have warned about the threat.  The White House wants to convene a 12-member panel to review whether climate change is a national security threat – despite the assertions that it does threaten national security that come from intelligence agencies and defense departments around the world in the form of reports as recent as the Department of Defense report on its vulnerability to climate change this January and dating back to the 1990s. 

The real purpose of the panel becomes apparent from its membership. One of the leaders will be William Happer, who serves on the National Security Council and who has argued publicly that climate isn’t changing and that additional CO2 in the atmosphere will be beneficial rather than harmful. If this panel attaches the prestige of the White House to a report pooh-poohing global warming it could sew further confusion in the public and reduce any sense of urgency. More likely though, it will backfire as so many Trump initiatives do. Rather than undermining a sense of urgency, a clown car convention of fossil fuel apologists could undermine the prestige of the White House.

 Now, the Trump administration has also targeted the climate assessments produced by its own agencies. As assessments of the future impacts of climate change have become ever-more dire, the administration’s response is to cut off any forecasts beyond 2040. Because of the lags in the climate system, this would eliminate many of the worst scenarios as many impacts accelerate in the second half of this century. As the global scientific community will not go along with this willful blindness, this initiative will only further underscore the impression that the White House is more interested in propaganda than science.

As for the rest of us, those of us who see the changes that that climate is working in the world around us, we can only hope that some future President has the guts to declare a national emergency if things worsen and Congress continues to abnegate its responsibilities.



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