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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. Nordhaus wa...

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The Ragged Edge of the World
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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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Buy The Future in Plain Sight at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense. THE FUTURE IN PLAIN SIGHT The Rise of the ‘True Believers’ And Other Clues to the Coming Instability Eugene Linden With a New Afterword by the Author for the Plume Edition In THE FUTURE IN PLAIN SIGHT: The Rise of the ‘True Believers’ and Other Clues to the Coming Instability (A Plume Book; On-Sale: February 5, 2002), veteran journalist and social critic Eugene Linden offers a provocative way of thinking about the future. “We will know much,” writes Linden, “...if we can answer one question: Will life in the next century be less stable than it is now.” Linden argues that the remarkable stability and economic growth since World War II gave baby boomers a false sense of security, and, more importantly, camouflaged deep forces that will likely plunge the world into a protracted period of economic and social upheaval. Since September 11, Linden’s argument has taken on new urgency as some of these forces have been violently thrust before the public. By outlining the nine clues that will play the greatest roles in shaping our future and examining the potential effects each of them will have on society, Linden presents a clear picture of the challenges that need to be addressed, and the pitfalls of not heeding these warnings. In the chapter entitled “The Rise of the ‘True Believers’” Linden describes how radicals and religious fanatics are both a product of instability in the world today and a likely indicator of greater instability to come. As recent events have proven, any of the clues to the coming instability can have momentous effect; taken as a whole, the nine clues outlined in THE FUTURE IN PLAIN SIGHT could reshape the known world, and in as little as 50 years. Since the dawn of history, prophets, seers and marketing gurus have sought to answer what the future holds, almost to always find their predictions humbled by the whims of fate. In Linden’s case, however, what was published in 1998 as a look at the future looks more and more like a description of the present. Prescient sections of the book examine the destabilizing aspects of religious fanaticism and infectious disease, and describe as well as how they might transform the way we live. For those people wondering whether the world is at the point of a major transition, Linden offers a clear and useful way of looking at the future by taking a fresh look at the landscape of the present. The book deciphers the larger meanings of the wage gap, recurring currency crises in the developing world, changing climate, migration, shriveling supplies of water and other clues to future instability. Then, in a series of scenarios set in such places as New York (where Linden describes a future that Americans can now more easily imagine), London, Northern California, Mexico and the Congo, the author shows the various and often surprising ways in which people react to instability. Some will welcome stronger family ties and the end of youth culture, but an unstable world also may see less innovation and investment. Finally, Linden describes how the potential for instability lies in the very nature of the consumer society itself, and how the world might side step the pitfalls of instability. In a new afterword Linden updates the book to address events, including the attacks on September 11, 2001, that have occurred since initial publication in 1998. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Eugene Linden is an award-winning writer on science, nature, and the environment, whose articles have appeared in many publications, including Time magazine, National Geographic, and The New York Times. In recent years he has consulted for the U.S. State department and the United Nations Development Program, and he is a widely traveled speaker and lecturer. In 2001, Yale University named Linden a Poynter Fellow in recognition of his writing on the environment. Linden is also the author of The Parrot’s Lament (available in a Plume edition), as well as five other books. His newest book, The Octopus and the Orangutan: More True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity, will be published by Dutton in August 2002. Linden lives in Nyack, New York. Visit Plume Books on the web at www.penguinputnam.com Buy The Future in Plain Sight at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense.

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Short Take

In Memorium: Koko the Gorilla

Koko the gorilla died on June 19. She and a female chimpanzee named Washoe (who died in 2007) played an outsized role in changing how we view animal intelligence. Their accomplishments inaugurated deep soul-searching among us humans about the moral basis of our relationship with nature. Koko and Washoe have made it much more difficult for us to treat animals as commodities, in any way we wish.

I knew the two great apes when I was young and they were young, and I”ve closely followed the scientific, philosophical and moral upheavals they precipitated over the last five decades. In the 1960s and ’70s, they learned to use American sign language, and they came to understand that words could be combined to convey new meanings. It threw the scientific world into a tizzy, implying that sentience and languagewere not ours alone, that there was a continuum in higher mental abilities that linked animals and humans.

The problem for science remains unresolved: 3,000 years into the investigation of signal human attributes and we still don’t have rigorous ways to define language and intelligence that are agreed on and can be empirically tested. There remain a number of scientists who don’t think Koko and Washoe accomplished anything at all. Even if a scientist accepts one of the definitions of language that do exist, it’s nearly impossible to test it in animals because what is being examined is inherently subjective, and science demands objective, verifiable results.

Consider how hard it is to prove a lie beyond a reasonable doubt in court. Then consider trying to prove lying in an animal in accord with the much stricter standards of science.

As difficult as proving it may be, examples of apes lying abound. When Koko was 5, I was playing a chase game with her. When I caught her, she gave me a small bite. Penny Patterson, Koko’s lifelong foster parent and teacher, was there, and, in sign language, demanded, “What did you do?”

Koko signed, “Not teeth.”

Penny wasn’t buying it: “Koko, you lied.”

“Bad again Koko bad again,” Koko admitted.

“Koko, you lied.” But what was Koko’s intent — a central issue when it comes to proving a lie. What was actually going on in her head when she made the gestures for “not teeth?” As if that weren’t inscrutable enough, one of the guiding principles of scientific investigations of animal intelligence is what’s known as Morgan’s Canon: Scientists must not impute a higher mental ability if a behavior can be explained by something more primitive, for example, simple error.

Analogously, about 50 years ago, on a pond in Oklahoma, Washoe saw a swan and made the signs for “water” and “bird.” Was she simply noting a bird and water, or was she combining two of the signs she knew to describe an animal for which she had no specific word? The debate continued for decades and was unresolved when she died.

Since Washoe made those signs, there have been many more instances of apes combining words to describe something, but these examples still don’t prove they can combine words to arrive at a novel term, even if it seems obvious that they can. Faced with these ambiguities, many scientists have moved to studying whether animals can accomplish specific cognitive tasks, and a welter of credible findings show sophisticated abilities in animals ranging from crows to elephants.

Although science struggles with questions of general intelligence, language and intent, the public is in the “it’s obvious” camp, readily accepting evidence of animal sentience. The latest objects of fascination are the octopus — a relative of the clam! — and fish. Stories of cephalopod escape and problem-solving regularly go viral, and to the consternation of sushi lovers , John Balcomb’s book, “What a Fish Knows,” provides copious evidence that fish know a lot.

We tend to see animals as either personalities or commodities, or sometimes, both. When I wrote about octopus intelligence, I was amused by one octopus-oriented website that divided its space between stories of smart octopuses and recipes for cooking them. Perhaps the most extraordinary example of our schizophrenic view of animals occurred some years back when a chimp colony that included sign-language-using apes was disbanded and many of these onetime celebrities were shipped to a medical research lab to be used in Hepatitis B and AIDS drug testing.

I knew these chimps too, and visited them in their new environment. They were desperate to communicate with their human captors, but the staff didn’t know sign language. So insistent were Booee and Bruno with their signing that one handler put up a poster outside the cages showing some basic signs to help the humans respond. When I was there, three days after Booee had arrived, he was signing agitatedly for food and drink. But what I think he really wanted was reassurance: If the humans would respond to “gimme drink,” things were going to be OK.

Teaching Koko, Washoe and other animals some level of human and invented languages promised experimenters insight into the animal mind. But the animals seemed to seize on these languages as a way to make their wishes — and thoughts — known to their strange, bipedal wardens, who had no ability or interest in learning the animals’ communication system. For Koko, I believe, sign language was a way to make the best of a truly unnatural situation, and so she signed.

Science doesn’t know if great apes can invent terms or if they tell lies. And the tension between whether we view and treat animals as personalities or as commodities lives on. The truth is, Koko, Washoe and many other animals who have had two-way conversations with the people around them shatter the moral justification for the latter.



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