Author Archive | Kurt Cobb

Can we create a durable future?

It is hard to imagine anyone today building something as durable as the Roman Colosseum. Most of the damage we see to the 2,000 year-old stadium comes from two earthquakes and the persistent looting of its marble, stone and brass infrastructure by humans using them for other building projects. Were it not for these unfortunate […]

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Trump’s wall and the imaginary lines we draw

There was quick reaction to President Donald Trump’s announcement last week that he plans to follow through on his campaign pledge to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. Conservative and liberal commentators alike were channeling their inner Robert Frost, referencing his poem “Mending Walls” that starts “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” […]

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Baumol’s cost disease, productivity and the future of growth

William Baumol, one of the most famous economists you’ve never heard of, died recently. Baumol’s fame came out of the observation that there are sectors of the economy in which productivity is rising swiftly, for example, manufacturing, and sectors where it is rising slowly or not at all, for example, string quartet performances. The conclusion […]

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Stock hedges, home insurance, and our misunderstanding of risk

“If you own stocks without a hedge, it’s not rational.” So says the world’s most famous student of risk Nassim Nicholas Taleb in a recent interview with Bloomberg as many of the world’s stock markets hover near all-time highs. “It’s like buying a house without insurance,” he explained. “We have tail risks today that we […]

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Remembering where we live: Physics vs. biology

It is awe-inspiring to view images of galaxies and nebulas brought to us by high-powered, space-based telescopes. And, it is even more amazing to see depictions of such phenomena as if we, the viewers, are suspended in space a long, long way from Earth. In fact, in modern science fiction movies and television shows we […]

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Is adaptation to climate change really feasible?

The climate change denial lobby likes to use a variant of the dog bite defense. Perhaps you’ll recall the joke about the owner of a dog that bit a passerby. Defending himself in court, the owner says: “My dog doesn’t bite. It wasn’t my dog. And furthermore, I don’t have a dog.” In similar fashion […]

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Living in a world we can’t understand

What is not intelligible to me is not necessarily unintelligent.                          –Friedrich Nietzsche As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the […]

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‘Watch what we do, not what we say': Shell cancels U.S. gas-to-liquids plant

When civil rights advocates grew restless because of President Richard Nixon’s right-wing rhetoric on the issue of desegregation, then-Attorney General John Mitchell told them, ”Watch what we do, not what we say.” Those following the hype over America’s supposed newfound abundance of oil and natural gas would do well to follow that advice when evaluating […]

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