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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Humans As the Intense Predator: Unbalancing the Food-Chain Unsustainably

By 2015, humans—the homo sapiens species in particular—had become “the dominant predator across many systems”; that is to say, the species had become an unsustainable "super predator."[1] We have had a huge impact on food webs and ecosystems around the globe.[2] Moreover, we have been using more of the planet's resources than we should. By August 2015, for example, humans had already consumed the year's worth of the world's resources.[3] In terms of fossil fuels, the consumption has had an impact on the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. Behind human consumption are human beings, so the astonishing increase in human population is a major factor. As a virus-like species incredibly successful genetically over the previous five-hundred years, the self-maximizing feature both in terms of population ecology and profit-maximization may be the seed of the species destruction, and thus long-term genetic failure.

The full essay is at “The Intense Predator.”
We are fishing fish out of existence. (James Watt: Getty Images)


1 Chris Darimont et al, “The Unique Ecology of Human Predators,” Science, Vol. 349, no. 6250, pp. 858-860.
2 Ibid.
3 Jonathan Amos, “Humans Are ‘Unique Super-Predator’,” BBC News, August 20, 2005.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On the Pretentiousness of Senior Water Rights in California

California water regulators proposed a record $1.5 million fine on July 21, 2015 against the Byron Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The agency claimed that the district had defied cutbacks that the California Water Resources Control Board had ordered by diverting water from June 13 through June 25. The complaint said that Byron Bethany had consumed an estimated 2,056 acre-feet of water[1] in spite of the fact that the agency had imposed a 25 percent mandatory cutback in urban water use and cuts to major agricultural interests.[2] I contend not only that the district’s board put the interest of a part ahead of the good of the whole (i.e., the common good), but also that the board did so out of a sense of entitlement based on the sheer longevity of the water rights in the district.

The full essay is at “Pretentiousness of Water Rights.” 




[1] An acre-foot is the amount of water that would cover a square acre up to a foot high.
[2] Adam Nagourney, “California Farm District Accused of Diverting Water,” The New York Times, July 21, 2015.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Koko the Gorilla Meets Mr. Rogers

Koko, a western lowland gorilla held in captivity, learned over 1,000 signs from American Sign Language, and achieved a "sophisticated understanding" of spoken English by the age of 44.[1] Research has uncovered, moreover, that "gorillas may be capable of complex vocal behavior that defies previous beliefs about their communicative abilities."[2] In other words, the species is able to have a spoken language. Even though humans branched off from chimpanzees rather than gorillas 7 million years ago (our own species, homo sapiens, began 1.8 million years ago), the findings are hardly surprising; after all, whales and dolphins communicate by making distinct sounds. Even so, the prospect of being able to carry on a "conversation" with a member of another species is astounding. Gorillas like Koko might one day be able to tell us what it is like to be a gorilla. Ironically, we might learn more about our own species in the process. 

Koko teaching Mr. Rogers the sign for love.

The full essay is at "Koko the Gorilla."



1. Carolyn Gregoire, "Apes May Be Much Closer to Human Speech Than We Realized," The Huffington Post, August 15, 2015.
2. Ibid.