Category “Nature & Environment”

What Darwin Got Wrong

Jerry Fodor & Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini (2010)

Brace yourself for a more extensive summary than usual.

Boisterous diatribe to the contrary, ‘science’ is far from free of taboos. Nietzsche remains right about that. Examples: questioning the potential merits of astrology, or links between ‘race’ (however ill-defined) and particular traits. First off, kudos to J&M for having the cajones to put this work out, under such a provocative title. It is hard, even for established intellectuals, to criticise the theory of Darwinian evolution and escape ostracism. And as it turned out, J&M did not escape their un/fair (?) share of ostracization.

J&M think that the Theory of Natural Selection (‘TNS’) is flawed. They come at it with a dual-barreled attack, and the two barrels can be quite cleanly divided. » Continue reading “What Darwin Got Wrong”

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The New Wild

Fred Pearce (2015)

fredpearce_thenewwild “Here we face a central paradox of conservation in the 21st century and beyond. Traditional wild lands – the old-growth forests and other historic habitats – will in future be the places most dependent on human intervention for their survival. In a world of climate change, where the old wild is hemmed in by human activity, these ecosystem islands will increasingly resemble museum pieces, time capsules and experimental labs for scientists. They will not be ‘wild’ in any true sense. On the other hand, the novel ecosystems, the make-do-and-mend places, will be the ones able to stand on their own two feet. They will be the new wild.”

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The Klamath Knot

David Rains Wallace (1983)

davidrainswallace_klamathknot_

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The Carbon Crunch

Dieter Helm (2012)

DieterHelm_TheCarbonCrunch A case for gas as a bridging fuel to a renewable future.

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Natural Capital

Dieter Helm (2015)

DieterHelm_NaturalCapital Thin. Very thin.

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Hyperobjects

Timothy Morton (2013)

TimothyMorton_Hyperobjects

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Carbon Democracy

Timothy Mitchell (2011)

TimothyMitchell_CarbonDemocracy Buried amongst sometimes somewhat haughty paragraphs of Mitchell’s book are two fairly radical propositions. The first is that ‘[d]emocratisation has generally depended on engineering […] forms of vulnerability’, and this vulnerability arises because particular manufacturing processes ‘can render the technical processes of producing concentrations of wealth dependent on the well-being of large numbers of people’. What Mitchell means to say is that certain vital processes – to do with energy, as it happens – become vulnerable due to structural bottlenecks, and that leveraging these vulnerabilities has enabled the process of ‘democratisation’. The two examples he covers are those of coal and oil. Coal mines tended to be distal from urban centres and susceptible to strikes by coal miners, which would spread downstream along the supply chain to railways, etc. This allowed coal workers to press for democratic concessions.

The story to do with the structural vulnerabilities around oil is more complicated, and I am not convinced Mitchell’s story is entirely self-consistent. Here we find the – to me – second radical proposition: that oil companies throughout history have been far more concerned with constricting the supply of oil, rather than expanding it.

The net result is that most of Mitchell’s book reads like a whirlwind tour of the 20th Century oil-bearing regions, with Western oil companies and their government cronies in a constant tussle with governments desperately looking for ways to get their national fossil fuel endowment to market.

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Climate Economics

Richard Tol (2014)

RichardTol_ClimateEconomics One of the first attempts at a textbook on Climate Economics. Probably the best overview of neoclassical climate economics in a single volume. For a critical non-neoclassical review, read  Chalmers & Shackley’s (2014) review of the book.

One point: as a neo-classicist, Tol has a deeply instilled ‘equilbrium view’ and brings this epistemic perspective to his view of how the ‘natural world’ works.  His is a view of climate change as a continuous secular process that amounts (‘merely’) to a x-degreeC-per-year change in temperature. What ‘equilibrium thinkers’ need to understand is that the Earth system is currently not in equilibrium; most of the mounting costs aren’t to do with the (more predictable) secular changes in average temperatures and precipitation: they are to do, rather, with the increased variability and (associated) decreased predictability of ‘weather’.  Note that I am not speaking here about the uncertainty to do with future (average) temperature trends.

I think this is important, because people trained in economics (and more especially finance) should at least have an strong intuition for the costs (‘premium’) associated with decreased predictability / increased variability – although to date little work has been done in tying this into climate change economics.

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A Perfect Moral Storm

Stephen Gardiner (2011)

StephenGardiner_APerfectMoralStorm An opening salvo towards an ‘Ethics of Climate Change’.

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Man and the Natural World: Changing attitudes in England 1500–1800

Keith Thomas (1983)

KeithThomas_ManAndTheNaturalWorld _

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