It may seem strange, during the worst global crisis since the Second World War, to spend time thinking about even more destructive catastrophes. But that’s exactly what I’ve been doing, reading Toby Ord’s new book The Precipice. Ord writes about so-called “existential risks” for humanity, which include outright extinction, but also the permanent collapse of civilization, or an irrevocable dystopia… Lees verder »Why you should read Toby Ord’s new book on existential catastrophes
So Michael Moore has released a new documentary taking down renewable energy, which I watched yesterday. I can’t recommend it. I too have grave doubts about the capacity of renewables to power modern civilization, and yes, this documentary mercilessly drives home the valid points about intermittency and low energy density. But this is still a piece of propaganda, as per… Lees verder »Planet of the Humans
Remember Milton Friedman’s argument about the humble pencil, which he used to illustrate the principle of free markets? Not a single person in the world is capable of making a lead pencil, according to Friedman. Why? Because if you list all its components and trace back their origins and manufacturing process, you’ll see that making a pencil involves cooperation between… Lees verder »Why face masks are like lead pencils
A strange paradox: the better we manage to contain the coronavirus pandemic, the less we will learn from it
Every prophet of doom, unless he also happens to be a psychopath, hopes that his predictions will not be borne out. This is also true for the epidemiologists and virologists who have been warning the world since January that the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus poses a severe threat to public health around the world. Since then, these pessimists have been… Lees verder »A strange paradox: the better we manage to contain the coronavirus pandemic, the less we will learn from it
Imagine you could wave a magic wand to make one thing disappear from the world: extreme poverty or extreme wealth. Which would you choose? Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that we won’t be liquidating anyone: we’ll just hand out and take away money, respectively. According to Oxfam’s annual report on inequality released last week, there are currently 2,153 billionaires in the world.… Lees verder »Is extreme wealth a greater evil than extreme poverty?
At the root of our climate problem, writes Pope Francis in his ecological encyclical Laudato Si, lies our human pride and arrogance: “The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.” Coming from a Catholic Pope, such sentiments are hardly surprising. For centuries, Christian thinkers have railed… Lees verder »Why activists have become a bigger obstacle to effective climate policy than denialists
As an ‘effective altruist’, what should you do about climate change? ‘Let’s Fund’, an organization that abides by the principles of Effective Altruism, figured it out. By far the most promising (but underfunded) climate policy is investment in technological innovation. After “hundreds hours of research”, Let’s Fund calculated that the most effective way to donate to combat climate change is… Lees verder »Effective Altruism for the Climate
Despite huge advances in science over the past century, our understanding of nature is still far from complete. Not only have scientists failed to find the Holy Grail of physics – unifying the very large (general relativity) with the very small (quantum mechanics) – they still don’t know what the vast majority of the universe is made up of. The sought after Theory of Everything continues to elude… Lees verder »Have we reached the limit of human knowledge?
My long-time collaborator, the physicist Taner Edis, has a cool new paper in which he draws analogies between religions and conspiracy theories. In dealing with challenges from modern science, theologians have often resorted to conspiracies, both involving the “scientific establishment” and God himself (or Satan). In some respects, according to Edis, the responses to evolutionary theory developed by liberal theologians… Lees verder »A giant, cosmic conspiracy
The fight against institutional racism recently won a major victory in the Netherlands. The organizers of Zwarte Cross (‘Black Cross’), a major Summer festival combining motorcross and music, finally decided to remove various Islamophobic and racist signs from their premises, following outrage on social media by activists. (Trigger warning: I will be forced to quote some racist statements in this… Lees verder »Humor Is a Cover for Racism