Weekly Selection 14 February 2020

Michael Spence, The Challenging Arithmetic of Climate Action

(Project Syndicate, February 12, 2020)

The Nobel laureate puts it in plain and palatable terms: the challenge of creating a sustainable global economy is monumental because, if the global economy grows at 3% over the next few years, getting annual CO2 emissions down to 2.5 metric tons per person within the next 20 years would require carbon intensity to decline by 7.8% per year (with zero growth, a 4.8% annual decline would be needed). There are solutions, but we mustn’t overlook their distributive implications, otherwise, they will fuel persistent headwinds to progress on the climate change and sustainability agenda (reads in 5-6 min).

Karen Hao and Tanya Basu, The coronavirus is the first true social-media “infodemic”

(MIT Technology Review, February 12, 2020)

As one would expect in today’s day and age, fears around the coronavirus have been amplified by social media, so much so that the WHO dubbed it “a massive infodemic,” with an overabundance of information - accurate or not - that makes it hard for people “to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” Social media has spread information and misinformation around the world at unprecedented speeds, fueling panic, racism … but also hope (reads in 4-5 min).

Ian Parker, Yuval Noah Harari’s History of Everyone, Ever

(The New Yorker, February 10, 2020)

This is a long read (about 20 min) about the celebrity historian/philosopher. His blockbuster “Sapiens” predicted that our species is on the verge of a radical redesign, arguing that thanks to advances in computing, cyborg engineering, and biological engineering, “we may be fast approaching a new singularity when all the concepts that give meaning to our world become irrelevant.” So what’s coming next? Read on! One hint: one particularly troubling aspect of a technological dystopia - losing mental autonomy to A.I. - can be at least partly countered by cultivating greater mindfulness.

Annie Lowry, The Great Affordability Crisis Breaking America

(The Atlantic, February 7, 2020)

The US economy has had a great decade and has been one of the best performing rich economies, yet “families were bled dry”, as this article argues. Beyond the great headline economic numbers, “a multifarious and strangely invisible economic crisis metastasized: Let’s call it the Great Affordability Crisis”. It is caused by the exorbitant increase in the cost-of-living for the three things that matter the most: housing, health care and education. As a result, a third of US households are classified as “financially fragile” (reads in 7-8 min).

Andrea Petersen, The Surprising Science Behind Friendship

(The Wall Street Journal, February 9, 2020)

If you can overcome the paywall (more and more frequent across the board…), this is an interesting interview with Lydia Denworth, the author of the just-published “Friendship”: a book that explores the science behind friendship and reveals how crucial friendship is not only for happiness and emotional wellbeing but also for physical health. Friendship is all about cooperation and reciprocity. Science now shows that it improves our body’s cardiovascular functioning, how our immune system works, and even how we sleep (reads in 5-6 min).