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Articles by Michael Tobis

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We are what we think. With our thoughts we create the world. — Buddha

OK, first, let me hasten to say that I find myself, as most any physical scientist would, irritated by the ancient quote above.

I expect a modern person to know, though the Buddha may or may not have known, that the logic of the physical universe is so intricate and so precise that mere human thoughts are grotesquely insufficient to create it, that some objective reality must exist.

What You Think About Determines What You Think

There is another sense, though, in which it is precisely true that we create the world with our thoughts. We live in a world both of artifice and of nature. Our environment shapes our minds and our minds shape our environment. What we are thinking about matters.

Consider the matter of Iran, for instance.

By now everybody’s talking about Iran, but early last week there was immense frustration directed at the major media in a small niche community, for ignoring the story entirely. That niche community was Twitter users.

It was an unusual week among Twitterphiles. We were experiencing the world much as one did when the Berlin Wa... Read more

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  • A gap between rich and poor makes free markets fail

    It's really an absurd travesty when starvation gets blamed on "global warming do-gooders," and we haven't seen the last of that. The problem is miscast, though. There isn't a food shortage, at least not yet. There is a food price crisis, which is a very different beast.

    Are its roots in the huge resource gap between the relatively rich and the very poor? If that's true, it has broad implications.

    Here's one way of looking at it, from the Omaha World-Herald:

  • The only way to a soft landing is down

    The only way to a soft landing is down.

    In a brief article on DeSmog by Emily Murgatroyd, a Cato Institute type, Jerry Taylor, is quoted as saying

    Scientists are in no position to intelligently guide public policy on climate change. Scientists can lay out scenarios, but it is up to economists to weigh the costs and benefits and many of them say the costs of cutting emissions are higher than the benefits.

    Can we consider this claim, or is it somehow protected by a taboo? Is one a Marxist or even a Stalinist for pointing out that economists are not, themselves, necessarily right about everything?

    Economists, meanwhile, claim to have the key to rationality. Their claim is based in their own definition of their field, which is about "how people collectively make decisions", but they proceed very quickly from there to the marketplace via a number of dubious assumptions.

    The marketplace is real enough, and the fact that it affects the decisions we make is inescapable, but that doesn't prove a claim that economics is uniquely placed to resolve our differences.

    A claim in more desperate need of challenging I cannot imagine -- yet on it goes, essentially unchallenged in circles of power.

  • Delusional Beltway optimism about energy

    A couple of weeks ago, I attended a seminar hosted by several departments at the University of Texas on the topic of "peak oil." The occasion was the visit of David Sundalow of the Brookings Institution, who is hawking his new book Freedom from Oil. This was mutually convenient for him and the university, which is trying to carve out a position as an optimistic, rolled-up-sleeves, can-do problem-solver in the fields of energy and water.

    I have no objection to that approach and am pleased to be somewhat distantly associated with it. That said, I did not leave the event with great enthusiasm for Sundalow's book. It was worthwhile in that it drew for me a sharp distinction between can-do optimism and unrealistic, delusional optimism.

    I think a train wreck of development, energy, food, environment, and warfare, all driven by a hugely overpopulated planet, is going to be very hard to avoid. I think we can avoid it, and even when I am pessimistic I whistle a happy tune and act as if we can avoid it -- because without optimism there is no hope. Optimism is a moral imperative. That said, it needs to be reality-based optimism. Sometimes the things we want to work aren't the things that are going to work.

  • Where were younger people at Live Earth house parties?

    Pretty much everyone in attendance at two Austin Live Earth house parties was a boomer. Is grassroots activism still unhip among young people?

    If you are under 30 raise your hand. Photo: iStockphoto

    I was a bit nervous about attending a Live Earth event. At 52, I thought I'd be at least twice the age of most of the people I'd encounter. I needn't have worried.

    I attended two Live Earth house parties in Austin, Texas, and saw nobody under 30 except the kids of one of the hosts. I looked for online pictures of other parties elsewhere and saw about the same thing: mostly folks in their 50s with some 40-somethings and 60-somethings in the mix.