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What can a technologist do about climate change? (worrydream.com)
402 points by michael_nielsen on Nov 24, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 289 comments

I work on climate software at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory[1]. My team works with big data and visualization. We support ACME[2] (the Department of Energy's climate modeling program), PCMDI[3] (a team that's been evaluating climate models since 1989), and a number of other projects and groups.

If you are interested in what you can do for the climate, we need all the help we can get. Our code may not be the epitome of hygiene (think decades-old python with docstrings that haven't been touched in that long), but in the time I've been here we've gotten loads better. All of our code lives on github ([4] and [5]), we have way more funding than we know what to do with, and we have more work to do than people to do it.

If you're interested, shoot me an email (in my profile). I'm still hunting for the job application link.

EDIT: Job link found! http://careers-ext.llnl.gov/jobs/4494026-software-developers... Don't worry about all of the skills listed, it's a generic one. Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions.

[1]: https://www.llnl.gov [2]: http://climatemodeling.science.energy.gov/projects/accelerat... [3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Program_for_Climate_Model_Diag... [4]: https://github.com/ESGF [5]: https://github.com/UV-CDAT

"Anticipated Clearance Level: Q (Position will be cleared to this level)."

... why would someone working on climate modeling software need a clearance for nuclear weapon design information?

US citizenship required. And: 'If you hold multiple citizenships (U.S. and another country), you may be required to renounce your non-U.S. citizenship before a DOE L or Q clearance will be processed/granted.'

The lab clears basically all salaried employees at L or Q; if there's any chance that you might look at classified data some day (IE: if you want to interview at another group internally, or have some useful expertise that can be leveraged somewhere else), it saves everyone time and energy if you're already a Q. There's some financial reasons not to do it, but I think the math works out in favor of not running multiple levels of background check on every new hire (if they were to give you an L and then a Q).

I worked at LLNL 2001-2005 as a mechanical engineering. It was a very nice place to work. I had to go through the clearance process and that was the weirdest part. They sent people to interview a camp councelor I had when I was 10 years old! I also had to list every address I had lived at and every country I had ever visited with cooresponding dates.

Given the huge amount of personal data the government now has on me it was quite concerning when the OPM had 21.5 million government employees information hacked, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/federal-eye/wp/2015/07/0...

I used to refer to LLNL sankey diagrams all the time: https://flowcharts.llnl.gov -- really good work.

There is also the global model from the IEA: http://www.iea.org/etp/explore/

How comfortable are government software groups like this with remote workers?

The answer is "it depends". If you work for the lab, the answer is "not very" (I know of 2 or 3 full time remote workers, and they're all in the IT department and completely indispensable). If you form a contracting company that jumps through the pile of legal and bureaucratic nonsense in order to be appropriately incorporated, the answer is "we don't care where you work", though getting hired is a pain.

So, mostly, no. On the other hand, there are a number of national labs spread around the country (http://www.energy.gov/about-national-labs), and the rules may differ depending on the main kinds of work done at each of those facilities, I'm not entirely certain.

We do have a fairly liberal "work from home when you want" policy, and a formal work from home agreement can happen (a coworker works from home every monday).

It show a 404.

BTW this is open for remote work? devs outside USA?

Nope, no remote work. We hire foreign nationals and will facilitate immigration processing, but it tends to only be for truly exceptional people (though the bar is a lot lower in my group than most).

It appears from the application page that it's US citizens only. Since you work there, can you clarify after looking?

I got a 404 as well--disabling HTTPS Everywhere fixed it.

"NOTE: This is a Career Indefinite position."


Career Indefinite means that if the project you're on ends, the lab will keep you floating for a (short) period of time till you find another source of funding.

1. Your email is not in your profile.

2. The job link throws a certificate error, and then 404s if I ignore it.

Sorry, didn't realize that my email address didn't automatically show. Added it. As for the job link, there's not a lot I can do.

Ah, it was the HTTPS Everywhere plugin messing up the link.

fwiw, the job link worked for me...

I did considerable research into jobs where I would have the opportunity to help with climate change while I was a freelancer. I came up with a short list of companies, evaluated on a somewhat subjective basis of "effectiveness". (I read an essay by Bill Gates where he explained his investment strategies to "making the world a better place" were based on applying financial input where it had the most leverage.)

Most of the companies were here in the Netherlands, one was in the USA. I applied to them all, and got 3 interviews. I ended up choosing a utility startup called Vandebron based in Amsterdam.

Vandebron (https://vandebron.nl/) means "from the source" in Dutch. They're an AirBNB-style marketplace for renewable energy. Customers choose the supplier ("generator") they want to buy their energy from. They're growing quickly!

I've been there a little less than 3 weeks, and I feel like it's the best career decision I've ever made. I've never felt so motivated before. I encourage anyone wanting to join the effort against climate change to dig deep. Find the company you think will make the most impact. Get yourself in the door. Most companies are happy to find talented IT people.

May I ask, how did you go around searching for companies like this?

Of course.

1. I Googled, a LOT. "cleantech jobs", "cleantech netherlands", "green tech jobs", etc. etc. etc.

2. I started reading sites like cleantechnica.

3. I got a few leads from this site: http://www.climate-kic.org/

4. Jobs I'd found already, I looked up the companies I already knew about then followed the "companies like this" links on LinkedIn.

5. Followed lots of people in clean tech/environmentalism on Twitter. Not sure if I found anything this way, though.

Bret Victor has provided a first principles approach to solving climate change. I work at SolarCity we take a similar systems thinking approach and tackle the problems at their fundamental level. We have been vertically integrating the business from manufacturing highest efficiency solar panels, mounting systems that enable fast installation, electrical systems that can work with the grid, financing for homeowners that don't require any downpayment.

Our Software engineering team specifically works on improving efficiency of our sales workflow, geo spatial systems that support our installation crew, grid systems that monitor and work with the grid, and providing the best experience for our customers.

I'm happy to talk to anyone who is interested in joining us. Shoot me an email at mkumaraswamy@solarcity.com

Our career's page: http://solar.solarcity.com/careers/software-engineering/

I applied to SolarCity for similar reasons, because I'd like to hopefully do something about climate change. Hope I hear back soon

Great piece. I was thinking: "what programmers can do?" And came up with the "use compiled languages" answer.

I compare Ruby and Haskell, as that's what I have experience with; but I expect it to hold true for any Ruby/Python/Java/etc vs C/C++/Haskell/Go/Rust/etc shootout.

Just some typical numbers:

Disk space to house one app deployment: 800MB Ruby/Rails vs 80MB Haskell/Yesod. Memory consumption of one instance: 350MB Ruby/Rails vs <1MB Haskell/Yesod. Time (CPU bound) needed for a request: 80ms Ruby/Rails vs 8ms Haskell/Yesod. Startup time of app: 30sec Ruby/Rails vs <1sec Haskell/Yesod.

Especially for large scale apps this makes a difference. Just through metal at it, is not a sustainable answer. The Googles and FBs know this; and they compile a lot.

I think going compiled is going green with your software in many cases; especially on scale.

800MB Ruby/Rails

What, really? How much of that is the app source? As a byte-shaving embedded developer I have zero experience with Rails.

On the other hand, unless you're scaling really big, the CO2 cost of the computers is probably dwarfed by the cost of the developers commuting to work.

> How much of that is the app source?

Little. Most is libs.

> [...] unless you're scaling really big, the CO2 cost of the computers is probably dwarfed by the cost of the developers commuting to work.

Yups. That's why I mentioned "scale". Personally I cycle 7 mins to work :)

I'm disappointed that the one item most accessible to the software/consumer-electronics world: telecommuting, doesn't appear much in the article.

Giving people the tools to properly manage a remote team (including non-experts that are unaccustomed to remoting) is something we can do and that will take commuters off the roads.

Telepresence and telecommuting is a big one. The energy savings that could be realized are staggering, and it's so far probably one of the Internet's greatest failed promises.

The Internet was supposed to break the tyranny of place, reducing not only the need for constant energy-guzzling commutes but also reducing the need to cluster in overpriced 'centers' like... well... Silicon Valley and San Francisco for example.

The reality almost seems opposite. The Internet seems to have intensified geo-centralization of industries, with the Internet itself being chief among these. The fact that the whole tech industry must huddle in the Bay Area is a clear demonstration of this failure-- these are the people who are best at using the net, and they can't use it this way.

So yeah, this is a big one and is a very worthy target.

Doesn't help when many of the big tech companies -- that other companies are influenced by and model their cultural and corporate infrastructure on -- have decided they absolutely HAVE to have in person spontaneous communication because it might result in some random problem being solved or new idea that saves them millions of dollars, so no one can work remotely and they have to relocate to Silicon Valley or be fired.

Yahoo and Facebook and Reddit are a few companies I've seen announcements of new policies that have shunned remote work in the past few years.

Telecommuting is very much a sociopolitical problem. Too many work places are so bad at evaluating work they end up evaluating the length of time employees spend in the office instead.

This right here. I'm using a product that I helped build to earn my living from 500 miles away. I walk everywhere. I drive biodiesel but not much. I filled the tank last winter and still have a half tank.

We can set things up so we don't need to drive to get our work done.

Let's do it.

It's touched upon at the end of transportation, but only briefly.

'As for airplanes, people might just have to fly less [0]. This will require better tools for remote collaboration, or in Saul Griffith’s words, “Make video conferencing not suck.” [1]'

I've used video conferencing that doesn't suck and it was great. It was half a board room with a row of huge monitors down the 'centre' (far wall) and half a table against them.

It really felt like people were on the other side of the table and not on the other side of the planet. This also opens up augmented reality possibilities like tagging people with their names.

[0] http://www.withouthotair.com/c5/page_35.shtml

[1] http://longnow.org/seminars/02015/sep/21/infrastructure-and-...

Don't be disappointed! I think the point of this call to action is to raise awareness and keep the discussion going, not to mention every single solution.

virtual reality and telepresence, and large virtual shared monitor could help with productivity as a stepping stone till full vr is here.

This is really awesome, both layout wise and for it's data visualizations. I'm a huge fan of Brett's work and this seems like it fits right in with his other exposes.

That said, anything that doesn't discuss the global shipping industry (or more abstractly, emissions due to globalized trade), nuclear power, and solutions for developing countries* is missing more than half of the discussion (I'd personally argue it's almost missing the entire forest for a couple of trees). I'd be very careful to follow any conclusions or suggestions that don't factor any of that in.

* This is the biggest annoyance for me when climate change is discussed in general. Moving the US and other developed countries to clean/renewable energy is mostly a matter of time and money. But developing countries like, say, India, have neither the money, infrastructure, or time to do so (not even broaching the fact that some don't even have the human rights framework to maintain an environmentally sustainable economy). Furthermore there's a moral issue, in that US/China led development essentially set the stage for global climate change. Is it morally acceptable to punish developing countries for following the same route? Fossil fuels are essentially the only way these companies can begin to compete... and after all it's the developed countries that took us, at a dead sprint, to the edge of the cliff.

Sorry, but the global shipping/maritime industry is only responsible for like 5%, maybe less, of emissions, as nasty as bunkers are, so it looks like you're the one staring at a tree.

Like you mentioned, the real concern here is China and India's ability to grow their power generation stack using renewables rather than fossil fuels. Whether or not some more voyages take place will be trivial compared to the impact of China/India's power generation.

I mostly agree with you but at least India is trying to move to nuclear[1].

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/India's_three-stage_nuclear_po...

I look at the human-caused part of climate change as a billion or so smaller and easier-to-solve (but still hard) problems. Each one of these billions of problems is a person like you and me who acts without truly knowing what they are doing. Not in the sense of faking our way through life, but that we have only a superficial awareness of the consequences of our habitual or culturally-driven actions. This makes climate change an information problem, and technologists do information splendidly.

It's an information problem because we base much of our behavior on feedback loops. When we get a big electricity bill, we take a closer look and perhaps rely less on our heaters or air-conditioner. When we see the odometer on our car hitting big numbers too soon (and repair bills looming), perhaps we look into a job closer to home. There's thousands of examples, many of which have an impact our our environment.

So if we focused on developing a tool whose sole purpose was to give us quantified feedback on the consequences of our actions - much like how we use utility bills - we might be able to make a real dent in the big problem of climate change and others like it. We already have the pieces for a tool like this (Internet, computers everywhere, software libraries) along with the skills of technologists, so what's needed is the vision and the demand.

I recently wrote these ideas in long form: (https://medium.com/@SteveHazel/we-re-drowning-in-low-quality...)

I think it's problematic to focus exclusively on individual responsibility for averting climate change. Climate change is a massive global problem, intimately related to the structure of the global economy. The scale of the problem and the changes needed to mitigate it are thus far beyond the reach of any individual consumer. Problems at this scale can only be addressed by nation states and transnational actors, as was done for CFCs for example. Unfortunately these actors have been dragging their feet for decades. I am skeptical that they will be able to get their acts together in time to avert catastrophe.

You say global economy and then you say far beyond the reach of individual consumers. Yet the global economy is by definition composed of the demands of individual consumers.

You also say that top-down hasn't been working very well and so we may be running out of time. Isn't that a strong signal that we should look at a different approach?

As technologists, we can plainly see the power of our mobile computers and the influence they have over our behavior. Advertising is huge because it works. But what if its influence drives us to disproportionately purchase products or services that contribute to climate change?

If advertisement works, and technology works, and people's behavior is already being directed, then why can't we direct it another way?

I don't think advertisement works that well. While you may convince a small minority of consumers to consume in a climate conscious way, I sincerely doubt that it would appeal to the vast majority. For example, you would need to persuade people not to eat meat, not to fly, not to purchase fresh food that has been transported by air, not to drive cars driven by fossil fuels etc etc. These are all things that make people's lives more enjoyable (for the most part), so you are asking people to act against their immediate self-interest. I don't think advertising is sufficient for this. What would be more effective is a carbon tax on consumer goods, which would drive the price of such goods up dramatically. But this would require government action.

As for solutions, I don't claim to have all the answers. I do think that the divestments movement is a very good idea, as is direct action against the most polluting industries (for example, a recent action to shut down Europe's largest coal mine).

Ah, I meant advertising in the sense that we're seeing tons of advertising for cheap meat, air travel, factory food, new gas cars, and whatnot. A good question to ask might be that if corporations _didn't_ advertise so much, how much less frequently would we buy those types of products/services? Would we still need them? I think the advertisers know what would happen, and so they have to keep it up.

Now, if we decided to throw a few environmental ads into the current mix, I think you're right that they'd have little effect. But we can't forget how much advertising we see for stuff that's harmful in many ways, regardless of how temporarily satisfied we are with our purchases. Because so much of what we buy has serious negative (but hidden) consequences, advertising is causing us to act against our (non-immediate) self-interests.

> So if we focused on developing a tool whose sole purpose was to give us quantified feedback on the consequences of our actions - much like how we use utility bills ...

Utility bills and a carbon tax are the only feedback you need. All the rest is politics.

Does a carbon tax stop the slash-and-burn in Indonesia (for palm oil) and Brazil (for cattle)?

I agree that the full cost of what we buy needs to be included in its price or else we'll keep seeing the same problem, having only kicked it down the road a bit. But there are also many more large problems besides climate change that involve more than carbon dioxide emissions.

Speaking of which, this came across my twitter feed just now: https://theconversation.com/feeding-godzilla-as-indonesia-bu...

Indonesia is keeping up the burning despite being under Chinese levels of smog.

Somewhat towards this end, the University of Michigan has built this: http://lab11.eecs.umich.edu/projects/powerblade/

While I don't really agree with the premise, my initial impression is that this should get ten upvotes for being so well reasoned and executed. Amazing work, I'm confident a lot of good will come of it.

One recommendation, at your earliest convenience do something about this:

> I didn’t mention nuclear because I don’t know much about it.

Nuclear generates a lot of controversy. On paper it looks great; in practice there it turns out to be very expensive or have nasty problems buried in the details. For example, molten salt reactors have corrosion and reprocessing problems.

I don't blame the author for refusing to take a position on nuclear.

If that was confusing, all I'm recommending is to learn more about it for now, since he says he does not know much.

My reasoning is that any technology that can produce an enormous amount of energy without burning hydrocarbons is worth more than a little consideration, even if it presents serious engineering and regulatory challenges, and especially to anyone who is concerned about carbon emissions.

I agree, and I think regulatory is the key word with nuclear. Cost overruns and delays are due to the public's and government's ignorance on nuclear energy precipitating disproportionate regulations and hurdles. Nuclear, by far, represents the way forward if people could get over the irrational fears tied to the words "radiation" and "nuclear". It could be developed safely and less costly if we put up the resources. We need more nuclear physicists and engineers in the U.S. and the world.

The Oak Ridge molten salt reactor lasted four years without serious corrosion. Terrestrial Energy and Thorcon are working on systems with sealed reactor cans that get replaced in similar timeframes.

Reprocessing isn't a necessity; it extends fuel supplies but even Terrestrial Energy's simple burner design without reprocessing is six times as fuel-efficient as conventional reactors. Running on thorium is more complicated, but all the molten salt companies other than Flibe are starting with uranium.

Reprocessing isn't a necessity

What do you do with the spent fuel salt mix then?

I'm not sure whether the "no reprocessing" plan would leave the fluorides and whatnot in the waste. It seems like it'd be relatively simple to separate that just to reduce the waste volume, after letting it cool for several years. I was referring to recycling the spent fuel into the reactor.

From Terrestrial Energy's page on waste:

- The IMSR burns its fuel far more efficiently than conventional reactors and leaves only one-sixth of the plutonium waste per unit of energy

- The IMSR creates power far more efficiently than conventional reactors and leaves one-third less fission product waste per kWh of electricity

- With the addition of IMSR waste fuel recycling, the IMSR can consume all its fuel and leave no plutonium waste

- Recycling liquid fuel waste is technically and economically far more viable than recycling of the solid fuel waste of conventional reactors.


I'm struggling to figure out why nuclear is lumped in with fossil fuels.

Nuclear is low-carbon, but it's not renewable. Earth has a set amount of uranium that is destroyed when creating energy.

Currently we have about 200 years of uranium available for economical extraction. But if we tried to replace all coal with nuclear, we would be out within a few decades. Then we'd need to move to other non-renewable materials (thorium?) or start mining astroids.


And the mining of uranium looks awfully similar to the mining of coal. (Of course you need far fewer uranium mines for the same amount of energy.)


Sure, but the need to transition away from non-renewable energy is not the goal that Bret is working on (limiting anthropogenic CO2 and therefore its atmospheric concentration). I think everyone agrees there is a much longer "grace period" before those resources would be depleted than there is for even the slowest of hypothesized AGW scenarios. So if accelerating the depletion of uranium (ha) would solve the more pressing issue then it makes sense.

Perhaps your concern is that people would get complacent with what can only be a temporary solution (even if temporary means thousands of years), but if AGW is regarded as an urgent and critical problem to solve, I don't think you can afford to ignore the opportunity.

> Currently we have about 200 years of uranium available for economical extraction.

In that 200 years a whole lot more uranium will become available for economical extraction, exactly the same as what happened with oil and natural gas.

Peak uranium is about as believable as peak oil. And given that uranium is a tiny fraction on the operating cost of a nuclear plant, it is viable at much higher prices. Which means much lower yield ores can be used for fuel. |

And then there is thorium, which we have more of than we know what to do with.

Then there's mining Uranium from the Ocean which puts a ceiling on the price of Uranium at 15x the current price. Economically unfeasible today, but it is the max it could ever cost.


Why is peak oil not believable? There might be more of than we thought, but we're pretty sure there's not infinitely much. It has to happen eventually.

When I say peak oil isn't believable, I mean in the sense that over the last 15 years, especially before shale oil, the west was bombarded by "experts" saying peak oil had already occurred, and oil would be unafforadable in just a few years as prices skyrocketed. Any argument that involved technological progress in reducing the cost of mining hard to get oil was mocked and lambasted as hopelessly naive.

I of course don't believe that there's an infinite supply of oil. Only that we haven't exhausted the millions of years of dead trees, which before the the emergence of white fungus with the ability to eat them, covered the Earth a hundred meters deep in some places.

It is a fact that conventional oil has already peaked, sometime in the last 5-10 years. Shale oil, tar sands and the like are picking up part of the slack, though their EROI is lower (though still a little better than renewables) and have a bunch of other technical and environmental issues. At some point we'll have to bite that bullet.

The problem with your remark was caused by the doomers who took the flag of Peak Oil (TM) to claim that everything was going to crash and burn when the peak reached. Then when reality turned out to be more nuanced than that, the general public just went on to laugh the whole thing off and keep ignoring the real issues.

In an ideal world, we should be in the middle of a crahs program to retool the whole industry to work with renewables and mitigate the effects of other related issues like climate change/global weirding... but instead, we are doing too little and too late.

You say doomers took the flag to claim everything is going to crash, but then say we should be in a crash course to change off of oil. Yet we have several decades of known oil reserves, maybe dozens, with room to grow usage.

And given the rapid pace of EV cars, the market is going to solve the oil problem far faster than any mandated crash problem, well within the dozens of years of oil reserves we have left are exhausted.

It takes decades to retool the whole industry. Inventing new forms of energy is just the begining, you have to make those available in wide scale. Whole new industries have to be born and old industries have to be let fade and die.

It is not that the house is on fire right now. It is that we live in a house with no fire alarm and not up to code, but everybody is dragging their feet to fix that because "it has never happened before".

And since you mention EV cars... where do you think the electricity to power them is comming today? What percentage comes from non-reneweable sources? And what percentage of the car market lives near the bigger sources of reneweable sources?

Peak oil and peak uranium are a simple deduction from the fundamental theorem of calculus.

The only thing to dispute is "when."

Along with the fact uranium is not the only source of nuclear energy, "nonrenewables" that can supply current rates of consumption for thousands of years are effectively not "nonrenewable" in the sense we usually mean.

Sure, it can't carry us to a Kardashev Type II civilization, but we're only responsible for the problems of today.

Is that a problem (the non-renewability)? Even if we deplete our available uranium while transitioning to fully renewable energy, we've still quit dumping carbon into the atmosphere. At that point, economic pressures are adequate to force us to renewable energy, I think.

From your first link:

> Two technologies could greatly extend the uranium supply itself. Neither is economical now, but both could be in the future if the price of uranium increases substantially. First, the extraction of uranium from seawater would make available 4.5 billion metric tons of uranium—a 60,000-year supply at present rates. Second, fuel-recycling fast-breeder reactors, which generate more fuel than they consume, would use less than 1 percent of the uranium needed for current LWRs. Breeder reactors could match today's nuclear output for 30,000 years using only the NEA-estimated supplies.

Unless we build a very large number of conventional reactors over the next couple decades, which isn't likely, we've got time to develop more advanced reactors.

> Nuclear is low-carbon, but it's not renewable.

Sure it is, Nuclear doesn't just mean uranium fission, fusion reactors are nuclear as well and they will be a big thing in the future and we get better at doing it.

> fusion reactors are nuclear as well and they will be a big thing in the future

I used to think this as well, but I'm not sure I believe it anymore. I suspect that by the time we're able to make fusion power work, the solar/wind/batteries combo may be so cheap as to make fusion pointless for mainstream power generation.

Solar is fusion being mainstream :) however, smaller more local reactors will I think still be a huge part of our future as well.

Just 20 more years now... ;-)

Progress takes time, but it is the future of energy.

> Nuclear is low-carbon, but it's not renewable.

So is the sun.

But seriously, the amount of fissile fuel we have available greatly would suffice for hundreds of years of energy, and leave very little waste, if we only invested in nuclear technologies a bit more.

This reminds me of Mendeleyev's concerns about major environmental problem of the XXth century city - horse poo. Megatons of horse poo. How could possibly we handle that? History proved that technology can save us from predicted environmental impact of horses made by one of the brightest minds of its time. Same thing with uranium depletion problem. In 100 years we probably shall have effective thorium reactors, thanks to Norway and China, solar power stations on the Moon and who knows what else. Just lets don't stop thinking and tinkering.

Nuclear is not really low carbon when you take into account the amount of concrete you need to build a modern reactor.

Unless we have a major breakthrough in mining uranium or we actually manage to make breeder reactors safe and cost effective then nuclear is not really a viable option.

Edit. I should have been more precise in my language. By low carbon I am meaning minimal carbon, not just lower carbon. Natural gas is lower carbon, but it is not low carbon.

It really doesn't matter too much because there just isn't enough uranium to make it a viable alternative at the scale we need to have a significant impact on carbon emissions.

In the time honoured tradition of shooting ourselves in the foot by making better the enemy of best?

Neither concrete, nor uranium mining have to burn fossil fuels (and CO2 sequesting concrete is a real thing). They are decoupled from their fuel source, but the lack of incentives to improve that situation at present (due to the near entirety of electrical generation being fossil fuels) is the bigger problem.

Making cement by its nature releases a large amount of CO2 and accounts for 5% of total emissions [1]. I do agree that we are not really creating the right incentives to improve things.

1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_conc...

But note from that page: energy use is 40% of the CO2 expense of concrete. So assume we can pretty much eliminate that by other means.

That leaves a 50% chunk due to chemistry. For that we have things like eco-cement, or carbon sequestration technologies.

In addition to what XorNot7 said, the amount of concrete needed to build a nuclear power plant is trivial compared to the total amount consumed annually by the construction industry.

It's less than the concrete for an equivalent amount of wind power. Neither is all that significant compared to fossil fuels.

It is not just the the total mass of concrete needed, it is the technical requirements and the difficulty of building the nuclear structures that uses massive amounts of carbon derived energy.

I'd like to see specific numbers on how that difficulty translates into carbon emissions.

Estimates I've seen that showed large CO2 emissions from nuclear were wildly overblown. In one case, they assumed that nuclear power would lead to full-scale nuclear war and included the carbon impact of the war.

In any case, if the NRC would let companies start building molten salt reactors, we could have much simpler construction. For starters, they'd be at atmospheric pressure, eliminating the need for large steel-reinforced containment domes and high-pressure reactor vessels. We could mass-produce reactors in factories or shipyards.

>I'd like to see specific numbers on how that difficulty translates into carbon emissions.

So would I. Getting good data in this area is near impossible.

For something complex you can use the rough rule of thumb that the dollar cost is proportional to the emissions - as complexity increases the actual emissions converge towards the economy wide average. On this basis the emissions from building a current generation nuclear power plant is very high.

Nuclear plants cost a lot up front but they produce a lot of power for a long time. Per MWh they're not that expensive compared to renewables. Taking the government's estimates for capital cost, we have onshore wind at $58/MWh, nuclear at $70/MWh, hydro $71, advanced coal $77, solar PV $109, offshore wind $168, solar thermal $192.

But I don't think anyone would claim that the construction of a modern coal plant has significant emissions compared to actually burning the coal.


How many recent Nuclear plants have been built that will be able to generate power at $70/MWh? All the recent ones have had massive cost and time overruns.

This report from the UK is interesting reading [1].

1. http://www.parliament.uk/documents/post/postpn_383-carbon-fo...

Yes, that report is interesting. It says, "Nuclear and renewable generation generally have a low carbon footprint." In the charts, nuclear has a significantly lower carbon footprint than solar PV, geothermal, and small/medium wind, and only a slightly higher footprint than large wind.

Getting accurate information on the carbon footprint of nuclear energy is hard. The best paper I have seen on this is Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Nuclear Electricity Generation [1]. Their range is from 9 to 110 g CO2-eq/kWh by 2050.

1. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1530-9290.2012....

That's an interesting reference; turns out they have similar estimates for other power sources. For wind they have 3 to 45 g CO2-eq/kWh, not counting fossil backup.


Ok let's go with that. By comparison, coal is around 900, and gas around 500, according to the U.K. document and the EIA [1].

Once we have molten salt reactors, nuclear's impact should drop further, both because they need much less concrete, and because they need much less uranium. Even Terrestrial Energy's basic version is 6 times more fuel-efficient than conventional light-water reactors. Transatomic's is 75 times better than LWRs, and can be fueled by our existing nuclear waste stockpiles, which could power all of civilization for decades, no mining required.

But maybe you want to stay with currently deployed technology. In that case, you have to take into account that we mostly back up renewables with natural gas, which is five to fifty times worse than nuclear.

1. https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=74&t=11

It is still a drop in the bucket compared to coal-powered generators running 24x7

> Nuclear is not really low carbon when you take into account the amount of concrete you need to build a modern reactor.

That sounds really preposterous.

The best you can do is lobby for denser development and ending the rules that force a suburban character. Suburbs are more wasteful than cities. Riding a bike to work generates less pollution than a car. Buildings themselves are more efficiently insulated when it's 100 units on a block vs. 100 single family homes on 50 acres. Deliveries can use more efficient and less polluting forms of transport, such as rail, more often or for more of the trip. Delivery trucks can stop on the block

While that's going on, lobbying for a carbon tax would be a great way to lower emissions from industrial or other sources.

How do you convince the supposedly "green" SF population that SF should really look more like Hong Kong?

It doesn't have to look like Hong Kong. Paris isn't as dense as Manhattan, but it's something like 2/3rds as dense despite relatively few tall buildings. SF could allow mid-rise European style development and grow quite a bit denser.

If SF had Parisian density, it could fit something like 2.5 million people. Other places in the bay could also not make suburban living mandatory.

Housing affordability and environmental problems are a national issue. IMO the best solution is a Federal law that makes it impossible for cities to mandate suburban living. That avoids the problem where one city liberalizes land use and then sees huge development while others keep their doors closed.

I totally agree with your sentiment. But what do you mean by "ending the rules that force a suburban character".

>But what do you mean by "ending the rules that force a suburban character".

In most of America, there are a number of zoning regulations in most suburbs that make building anything other than a single family home on a large lot illegal. Likewise the suburban strip mall or giant sprawling Walmart isn't just what people may or may not want, it's what the law requires.

Let me use an example that I know of personally: Culpeper, Virginia. Culpeper is a small rural town that developed along the historic railroads as a place for farmers to bring their goods from the surrounding farmland, load them onto trains, and maybe get some goods while they're in town. It still has within the (expanded) town limits farming equipment dealers and a place to drop off crops to be shipped off. The downtown is historic, dating back to the late 1700s with buildings from that era and the 1800s still around. Here's a representative street view: https://goo.gl/maps/jJUUg2JZzEk

As you can see, this place has a number of stores, some with housing on top, and nearby housing. This is what's known as 'mixed-use' development: instead of being purely residential or purely commercial, the two are both allowed to exist in the same space (or even the same building). The town is laid out on a grid, which disperses traffic and makes walking efficient. There is no parking other than street parking and a small parking lot or two the town has provided.

Contrast this with the current zoning rules. In most of the town, the smallest allowed lot is something like 15,000 square feet, which is about a quarter acre. As you can see from the street view link, none of these buildings are on a lot that size. None of them would be allowed under this rule alone.

OK, so maybe the buildings would be much bigger under current rules, but that could still result in a dense urban environment. Unfortunately, the town has added additional rules that require side yards (100 feet minimum, IIRC) and a large setback from the street. This means none of the buildings would be allowed to touch, meaning the historic walkable downtown core would be illegal under either of these rules.

OK, you protest, maybe we could still have a walkable town that's dense even with both sets of rules. We could build taller to make up the density, though it would be more expensive.

To prevent this, the town limits what's known as the floor area ratio, which is the square footage of the building (across all floors) divided by the square footage of the lot. So a FAR of 0.5 would mean that the total square footage of a building across all floors would have to be at most half that of the lot. This is the exact limit the town has imposed in most circumstances.

This means at least half of the minimum quarter acre lot would be empty, and the largest unit possible on the smallest allowed lot would be about 7,500 square feet (using the standard minimum of 15,000 square feet), without taking into account setbacks and front, back, and side yard requirements, which would further restrict the allowed size, especially on a more narrow parcel of land. A 7,500 square foot house is huge, so you won't see too many of them.

The town does provide an option to build townhouses and apartments more densely, but it's roughly 5 units per acre for townhouses or 8 units per acre for apartments if I'm reading the statutes correctly.

For all uses, only 30% of the lot may be covered.

Dense development is now out. But we could still build apartments next to grocery stores and shops, right? That would still allow people to walk to something, even if it's not particularly dense. Nope.

Except for downtown, and then only for certain town council blessed kinds of businesses (like barbershops), mixed uses are illegal. Your residential area must not contain commercial. Your commercial area must not contain residential. No apartments over stores allowed, sorry historic downtown. Hope none of your buildings burn down, because it would not be legal to rebuild them.

OK, so we can't mix uses, we can't build densely, but we still don't have to build strip malls, right? Wrong.

Culpeper, just like many areas, has a dizzying array of parking minimums that require X number of spaces provided per unit or per square footage in commercial properties. It's randomly generated and not based on any market realities, just like in most areas. In many areas they also mandate that the parking be free.

What this means is that a huge portion of land must be used for parking or businesses must provide parking garages. Both are hugely expensive; even in a rural town like Culpeper land costs tens of thousands per acre. Underground parking can cost $10,000 per space in construction costs. A large surface parking lot just in land in a place like Culpeper can cost $100,000 or more, and then you have to add on paving and maintenance. Who knows how much the environmental cost is?

This isn't just some podunk town regulation; even New York City requires this outside of Manhattan in a lot of cases, even if exactly 0 people want the garages. Their land is expensive enough that typically parking garages are the preferred option and they might actually allow charging for parking. Too bad many garages will sit mostly empty. It makes it difficult to build on a small scale since the parking garage will eat up a huge amount of money and require entrances, reducing the developable land.

Given the interaction between all of the various statutes, the strip mall and suburban Walmart style store is all that's allowed to be built in most of America.

Even the places that get it mostly right, such as Arlington, Virginia (to use another familiar place) still have parking minimums and still force suburban living outside a narrow corridor. Right next to Metro stations Arlington has single family housing when there's an affordability crisis and declining Metro ridership. I can think of a way to fix that.

There's also an office space crisis in Arlington; too much was built, not enough was rented out. Without single use zoning, the office buildings could be converted to residential and rented out quickly. Single use zoning forces them to sit vacant. If the opposite situation occurred, apartments would sit vacant while office workers are stacked on top of each other to make use of expensive real estate.

There are other ways in which cities and towns promote sprawl. For starters, when developers build new subdivisions, they have the developers build roads. These roads tend to be cul-de-sac style roads because they are cheaper to build; less road surface is needed. They also are hell for traffic, reduce emergency response times, and make walking difficult.

Rather than rejecting these designs as more costly and bad, the cities and towns gladly take over maintenance, knowing they'll have to widen every road a thousand times in a never ending circle of congestion. Virginia is actually trying to force a certain level of connectivity to prevent this, but the rules are not much better than what currently exist; the cul de sac can live on, just with a few more internal connections.

Roads are heavily subsidized. The gas tax mostly covers highways and interstates (and even then does not actually cover them), so local roads are paid for mostly with local tax dollars. Non-drivers pay directly in local taxes. Drivers pay nothing for congestion costs even if they do actually cover the cost of building and maintaining roads. Free roads make transit, which used to be mostly profitable private businesses, unable to compete and thus require massive subsidies.

Federally, transit is screwed from a regulatory standpoint. Transit systems are forced to provide paratransit services that can charge at most only twice the most expensive fare between the two points. The idea was to force systems to become more ADA compliant to cut costs, but the regulation actually forces a 100% ADA compliant system to shuttle around people within a half mile of station to a destination within a half mile of station.

Part of the problem is that the regulation specifies that you must provide service to people who can't get to your system because local streets are not ADA compliant. So if your city never upgrades its streets, you as the transit system must pay for their failure. You can't rip them up yourself, so you're financially screwed. Congress could and should have put this mandate on cities, making them more likely to upgrade the streets.

These trips are super costly: some agencies spend a third of their operating budget on these services. They've started contracting out to taxis to handle the work, and taxis aren't cheap (though are cheaper than paratransit vans). The user might pay $5 for a $20 cab ride. This forces transit to either raise fares and be less competitive or get a higher tax subsidy. Solo drivers face no such mandate.

Somewhat related, intercity trains in the US basically can't use European or Japanese trains due to outdated 1920s rail regulations without all kinds of special waivers. This makes rail travel slower and more expensive than it would otherwise be.

TL;DR lots of laws need to change

I'll probably get downvoted but I'm honestly interested in some thoughts on my dumb thinking.

This is an amazing presentation and I've loved Bret Victor's other presentations but, and I'm making an assumption here, I kind of assume he's rich or at least financially independent given where he's worked and when he worked there. Assuming I'm right I find it a little hard to listen to the advice which sometimes sounds like "Consider saving the planet but with a high possibility of a financially challenged life. I've already made my money so I'm free to give you this advice in comfort and security".

Of course that doesn't mean you can't get rich following one of these solutions. It also doesn't mean that money = happiness or anything like that. It's only this nagging feeling that the reader is being asked to sacrifice something the author themselves has not and that the author has forgotten where they are in their lives relative to most of the people they are asking.

If I knew all my financial needs (health care, retirement, family) were already well met I'd have less trouble dedicating my time to worthy causes like say Bill Gates apparently is. But, I'm not there yet. I do have to worry how I will retire, how much I'll need to spent on healthcare as I age, etc... Sure I can still make the decision to chase financial independence or chase worthy causes but it's just, I guess maybe the word is frustrating, to be asked to make that choice but someone who I assume doesn't need to choose. They've already achieved financial Independence and therefore the choice is far easier. (maybe one more reason for basic income).

I'm also aware it sounds stupid to even bring this topic up. There's all kinds of ways to frame this and ignore the part of it I just mentioned. But, for whatever reason I can't ignore it. I guess because I've seen my father too old to get an engineering job he's qualified for and too poor to retire.

At last report Bret Victor's research is supported by these folks: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-01-29/sap-looks-...

It's a hard question, what you ask -- should the techno-aristocracy pursue worthy causes, while the rest of us toil to enrich them? Is the world so fundamentally unfair that we're stuck without autonomy, doing tiresome tasks for corporations which don't even offer us basic economic security in return? Much less the opportunity to improve that world?

There does seem to be an option, at least early on: Labor for those who respect neither their employees nor customers. Or find/create energetic work which can make us and our surroundings better. Either decision feeds on itself. The first path limits options, the second gives some chance for things being better.

But I don't want this to be a blame-the-victim argument: that your father made a poor early career choice, and that Bret Victor chose wisely. But one element of Victor's argument is that our career choices (if we have them) have consequences for the world as well as ourselves. If we can find work which is not cynical and destructive, it may make the world better, and even set a good example. If we struggle for work which is emotionally, financially, and creatively unrewarding, then we're suggesting to others that that is the world, and they may find it easy to make similar choices.

The recent essay (by a presumably enfranchised techno-aristocrat) https://medium.com/@ystrickler/resist-and-thrive-1d36819853c... covers a similar territory regarding career choices, also pre-supposing that we have some autonomy. An argument there is that the initial choice is harder, but the consequences are easier.

Maybe don't think of it in terms of chasing worthy causes or not, in absolute terms. Calculate how much income do you need to secure your retirement that you mention and then be prepared to spend the rest of the income or time (resources) on the chasing.

(1) This is great.

(2) Political economy is a much bigger issue right now than technology. Most of what we need to do is deploy, and the tech we have is good enough for that.

(3) Low-hanging fruit for self-identified "Technologists" is to reconsider some of the blind spots caused by their social identities. David Roberts explains:


Also, I'd like to see "Tools for problem finding" augmented with "tools for POLICY problem finding". The state governments of California and New York, for example, do amazing work transforming the big beast of legacy systems. Bret cites some of the former's, and notes the specific example of CAISOs plea for grid storage. Better visibility of techies into policy could help a lot. Dave Roberts has done great work on this:


This is a masterpiece. I'm excited and overwhelmed after briefly skimming through it.

I'm looking forward to the hours it will take me to work through this web page and its hyperlinks.

I legitimately hope this causes even a few technologists to shift their attitudes & how they approach their careers (the way Inventing on Principle did!)

Buy iron, dump in ocean. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_fertilization) Donate to geoengineering efforts and lobbying against insane moratoriums against geoengineering efforts.

Environmental 'solutions' have the unfortunate habit of being severely under researched and causing further, if not greater, damage.

Besides, that is a solution for the symptom, not the disease.

When you have treated all symptoms and stopped them from arising again, the disease is effectively cured even if you still carry it. The final solution will be complete mastery over our planetary weather, it's better we do that sooner than later. Tsunami and earthquake deaths total far above terrorism deaths, we only need funding to fight terrorism to the extent that they get in the way of building to that final solution. Even if we "fix" the climate change disease (say perhaps by wiping out industrial-era and beyond humanity, the disease?) those other natural phenomena will still be killing many.

You are vastly, VASTLY, overestimating our understanding of the biology, chemistry, geology, & incredibly complex web of interdependencies and relationships that make up the environment we live in.

Much simpler to solve at the source (whatever actions are directly causing the damage) than the falacy of thinking we understand and have accounted for every possible permutation of events that will cascade after dumping material A into resource B. We don't even know what we don't know but this is the end game and mistakes here don't get do overs.

The next step in your logic is our 'traditional' response at this point: drop in another chemical/process that is supposed to 'fix' whatever mess up we did before. Haven't we learned from that yet, Deepwater Horizon was just the most recent example.

No, I recognize it's a hard problem, that's why we should be devoting significant resources to doing things now.

I get the point about unintended consequences with cascading problems (and cascading solutions to the new problems) (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2743879) but the odds of screwing up here are much less than screwing up on AGI, whose work has already significantly started and may be completed first anyway making this whole discussion moot. Geoengineering is risky, but it's not as risky as other things, including inaction, which as the status quo guarantees loss of thousands of lives. Even if the climate change alarmists' greatest fears come true we still easily have 50 years to try things on smaller scales before time is up. Anyway I think it's a lot more feasible for a strong nation to lead a technological solution than to convince all strong nations to curb their development. Call it a plan B if you must, but at some point I expect climate change alarmists are going to say something like "China and Russia and India aren't playing ball hard enough, their emissions are still causing global warming that will end humanity in x years unless they immediately reduce to the levels of the USA and the EU whose combined efforts bought us y years but it's still not enough, so it's time for war to make them."

It is indeed under-researched, so it should be researched. The fact that nobody is working on it at all is insane.

>Here’s an opinion you might not hear much — I feel that one effective approach to addressing climate change is contributing to the development of Julia. Julia is a modern technical language, intended to replace Matlab, ...

Well that was awkward transition.

I have a friend who works in stratospheric research. He has to work with some hoary old Fortran stuff. Giving scientists better computational tools like Julia is absolutely something that would help fight climate change.

Completely agree. I like Bret's stuff and love Julia but that section seemed very weird and almost preachy. He seems a little out of his element because a lot of physicists doing earth modeling use compiled languages like Fortran and C/C++ for the big simulations and python for the smaller stuff. Julia is cool though and a great substitute for the python stuff. It won't implicitly solve distributed computing and the computational problems people have to create large models. Unfortunately being closer to the metal can give big wins in terms of communication (mpi), avoiding memory copies, using simd compiler intrinsics and gpus, etc. and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

> It won't implicitly solve distributed computing

Why not? It's out to explicitly address distributed computing - http://docs.julialang.org/en/latest/manual/parallel-computin...

Julia is performance-competitive with C++ and Fortran, and productivity-competitive with Python. It's out to do both. Julia code compiles to LLVM and is incredibly "close to the metal" including SIMD, ref http://docs.julialang.org/en/latest/manual/performance-tips/... and https://software.intel.com/en-us/articles/vectorization-in-j..., and GPUs http://blog.maleadt.net/2015/01/15/julia-cuda/

Try using Julia a bit before you talk about what it "won't solve."

Interacting with that graph of world carbon emissions and gradually realizing what it is showing me. Stuff of nightmares (and fantastic interaction design).

If you liked those interactions, I'd check out the iPad app Al Gore / Bret worked on - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-edAGLokak

On a fundamental level, one can learn the discipline of systems thinking. Permaculture is an example of systems thinking with the ethics of Earth Care, People Care, & Fair Share.

It may also help you become a more effective & well rounded technologist.

What books do you recommend for learning more about systems thinking? This is the list that I'm using: http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/giftlist/11TF5E15VQZ82

>Climate change is the problem of our time, it’s everyone’s problem, and most of our problem-solvers are assuming that someone else will solve it.

I would change that to say, "Climate change is a problem that will always be 50 years away".

At the bottom of the page, Bret says "at least for the next century, the “problem” of climate change will not be “solved” — it can only be “managed”. This is a long game. One more reason to be thinking about tools, infrastructure, and foundations. The next generation has some hard work ahead of them."

I view this as a very short term problem (i.e. the artificial effect on the planet through our own doing.) And I'm not saying that it isn't a problem and that we shouldn't be doing anything.

The planet naturally goes through warm and cool times. There's little we can do to mitigate that, we'll experience another ice age eventually.

Climate change isn't a problem for the planet; it's a problem for the people living on it.

I have a controversial opinion on this topic: I don't think it is morally ethical to use inefficient languages in high duty-cycle applications. By "high duty-cycle applications" I specifically refer to environments which consistently consume the bulk of available CPU resources: big web servers, caching intermeddiate servers, etc. The common rationale is to trade off engineering time for CPU time. But that trade also means trading engineering time for carbon emissions, too.

You're going to need actual numbers for this to be a valid argument. Data centers use only 3 percent of global electricity production (http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2014/12/17/under...), and it seems unlikely that a noticeable portion of that is caused by CPU-intensive software that isn't already well-optimized.

This isn't world-changing by any means. Just as individuals can reduce our energy consumption with high-SEER HVAC systems, high-efficiency lighting, etc, I think that programmers as individuals can reduce energy consumption by using higher-efficiency computing languages.

Amdahl's law applies here: some things are just not worth worrying about. If you're Google or Facebook, you already have entirely selfish incentives to optimize your code. If you're not, and the performance of your "inefficient" software is acceptable to you and your users, the net environmental benefit of rewriting it in C is likely indistinguishable from zero. It may even be negative, if the increased development cost prevents you from improving energy efficiency elsewhere.

Honestly, reading even a little bit of this article leads to the conclusion that the only solution is to switch to nuclear energy as our primary source of energy.

I'm sorry, but wind kites or wind blimps aren't going to substantially affect carbon emissions.

  > Nuclear power
  > I didn’t mention nuclear because I don’t know much about it. 
  > See Stewart Brand’s book Whole Earth Discipline for an optimistic 
  > take from a recent convert. (Ironically published five months 
  > before Fukushima, but his points still stand.)
I haven't read the book (Whole Earth Discipline), but it seems to have been published at least a year and a half before the Tōhoku earthquake. In any case, advocating nuclear power before an earthquake or tsunami would only be ironic if the author were advocating building new reactors near coastlines or fault lines and allowing them to lapse on safety mechanisms.

The alternative would be to argue for the whole city of Tokyo to drastically alter its energy profile so that an entire nuclear reactor weren't needed, in addition to other plants, to power the city.

I still think that in addition to storage work needs to be done with super conductors in order to one day circle the earth with various power lines that fed from where energy is being produced to being used where generation is currently lacking. Before writing it off, it would not have been that long ago that wrapping the world in cables for communication would have been seen as a pipe dream either.

I am not a fan of the idea of lithium or current tech batteries being stacked in mass. I just think that there would be bigger environmental concerns long term with these as servicing is a big issue.

Still as a technologist two things. First never consider the science of the climate as settled. As soon as you do you close so many doors in your own mind that you will hamper yourself. Second realize the one big area we are truly short on isn't the technology but the people who can service it. From electricians, hydraulic engineers, and mechanical. Get people interested in those careers too. For many who might not have the technical chops to create such systems many more are far more capable of maintaining them

This is well-done, but I wish such treatments spent more effort establishing that climate change projections are (a) reliable and (b) catastrophic. Those two points are the essence of the case, and yet they're usually just assumed. (Note that whether climate-change is anthropogenic or not is utterly beside the point. That so much attention is paid to this peripheral issue is a major red flag.)

I still like Burt Rutan's take on the AGW question (http://rps3.com/Files/AGW/EngrCritique.AGW-Science.v4.3.pdf).

He looks at it as an engineer, using generally-accepted data. His conclusion is that the alarmists are wrong.

So from slide 2 of that link:

Note, the green life along the Nile river and the dead desert elsewhere. When co2 is greater in the atmosphere, plants need less water to thrive. When dinosaurs roamed we had 3 to 5 times current co2 and planet was nearly all green, pole-to-pole Near catastrophe when co2 declined to 180 ppm, since below 150 ppm plants, then animals die. If you promote a green healthy planet, then you should lobby for a co2-fertilized atmosphere, not a co2-starved atmosphere.

If that's the argument you open with, then as an engineer you have missed the point entirely.

> When dinosaurs roamed we had 3 to 5 times current co2 and planet was nearly all green, pole-to-pole ... If you promote a green healthy planet, then you should lobby for a co2-fertilized atmosphere, not a co2-starved atmosphere.

Genuinely embarrassing as a key argument. He neglects to mention that sea levels fluctuated 50-150m higher during the period of the dinosaurs!

God knows how many major cities around the world are coastal.

This is the effect on the San Francisco Bay Area of a 1.5m sea level rise plus 1m storm surge:


What's genuinely embarrassing is that you think there is enough ice on the planet to raise sea levels 150m.

Clearly a typo for 150 cm.

It's not a typo, historic changes in sea level are in the hundreds of meters, from over 100m below current levels (in the relatively recent history) up to a maximum of perhaps 200m. A lot of that is to do with shifts in geology - configurations in the continents, levels of continental shelfs etc, but there's about 75m of potential increases which are locked into ice-sheets, glaciers, etc, and/or dependent on thermal expansion. Of course, even under the most catastrophic scenarios seeing increases on that scale would take thousands, probably tens of thousands of years.

I'm just trying to illustrate how absurd it is to say "oh yeah let's return to the climate in the Cretaceous, everything would be lovely".

What terrible arguments:

The temperature trend is so slight that, were the global average temperature change which has taken place during the 20th and 21st centuries were to occur in an ordinary room, most of the people in the room would be unaware of it.

Well, yes, people are bad at noticing gradually increasing temperatures. A room full of people can heat up from 23°C to 26°C without most people noticing.

That has nothing to do with whether a global temperature increase of 3 degrees would be healthy for the planet.

> That has nothing to do with whether a global temperature increase of 3 degrees would be healthy for the planet.

Don't leave us hanging here!

It helps to think about temperature as what it really measures: the amount of energy stored in the system.

A small room that increases by a few degrees is storing only slightly more energy. Humans won't really notice it.

A global biosphere is a much larger volume, so a few degrees stores much more energy, compared to the human scale. And that energy is what powers our weather.

Can you think of a weather system you would enjoy with more energy powering it? Stronger storms, stronger winds, greater temperature fluctuations, greater precipitation fluctuations, greater groundwater fluctuations, etc.

Ultimately "the planet" will be just fine under those circumstances, but human society might suffer.

So, if we had the technology to do it, how many degrees should we cool the planet? Could we eliminate hurricanes and other catastrophic weather?

The infrastructure of human society was built for the condition ranges of a certain climate. The current global warming trend is seen as bad right now because a) it's taking us outside that range, and b) it's preventable.

Purposefully cooling us outside that range would also be bad, albeit in different ways.

Well, the planet was always going to heat up, it's just that we've accelerated the process.

Not sure that's true. We seem to be on the cooling leg of a Milankovitch cycle, and the sun's energy output is not easily predicted on century time-scales. I mean, eventually it will swell up and toast the Earth, but that's a long time from now.

The rate of change matters too, because people do migrate and refresh their infrastructure. If the rate of change is equal to, or less than, our migration and infrastructure rates, then we can adapt without much additional cost or social strife. Right now, it's predicted to be quite a bit faster. Edit: because of our own activities that are causing warming.

More recent studies suggest that current heating, with or without human C02 outputs, would continue for the next 50,000 years.


I haven't read this whole thing but by just by skimming it I find all the usual denialist BS with some engineer hubris mixed in.

There's the claim that CO2 isn't bad, it's needed for life. This is a common among denialists, ignoring the fact that lots of things which are needed for life are also unhealthy in large quantities.

There's the claim that far back in the earths history CO2 levels were higher, ignoring the fact that the speed with which we are altering these levels is what's unprecedented.

There's the claim that CO2 is such a small part of the atmosphere's composition that we have no need to worry, which I find hilarious because he's not an expert in atmospheric composition but the scientists he's trying to refute are.

The whole "those silly scientists don't know how to interpret data" thing is a new spin on it though.

Never mind all this rhetoric. Where is the beef i.e., where is the data that you believe shows that global temperatures have been increasing more than would be reasonably expected by random natural variation?

Here's an opportunity to demonstrate what fools the 'denialists' are and moreover win $100,000 into the bargain.


Wow, that slide presentation is a masterpiece in how to deceive engineers. He's not looking at it "as an engineer," he's looking at everything with preconceived notions and trying to cherry pick his way to his conclusion.

That's fairly ad hominem. Can you give some examples?

Interesting, you find my comment to be fairly ad hominem but you don't the slide deck you shared?

Basically all the "data" and arguments that he's presenting are cherry picked to be on the edge of plausibility, but as soon as you poke at them at all they fall part. It's really just a standard piece of denialist schlock.

For example on slide 4 look at his plot and compare to the wikipedia page:


It's a bunch of canned and repeated arguments that are easily shot down, but doing each one takes so much time. It's like "debating" a creationist, shooting down an argument means that many more easily shot down arguments come right back up, with the denialist side somehow never loosing credibility while trying to assail the credibility of others.

If somebody finds that slide deck interesting, please read other data too, it's a completely biased picture, meant to trick people. Something balanced like the IPCC will be far more solid information, with proper citations, that can be backed up.

>Something balanced like the IPCC will be far more solid information, with proper citations, that can be backed up.

How could an organization dedicated to a topic filled with people who dedicated their life to said topic be trusted to have a balanced view of whether or not that topic has an impact? Just purely from a conflict of interest perspective, it seems similar to asking for a balanced view of religion from the 'international panel of priests and pastors'.

That seems like an argument for getting programming best practices advice from an auto mechanic.

Climate scientists are not dedicated to advancing the idea of anthropogenic climate change, they are dedicated to studying the climate, where ever that leads them. If this were not true, then some of the contrarian scientists in the field would have much stronger criticisms of the work. As it is, their criticisms are relegated to rather minor details, without any good rebuttals of the primary thrust.

If you want to make the claim that the IPCC is not balanced on this, then there should be much stronger criticisms of the science in the IPCC, rather than the easily knocked down trivialities that appear in denialist memes.

What? So these otherwise very intelligent people, don't see the flaw with discrediting their own profession for the sake of getting respect? You think that is what's going on?

The most obvious weakness in it is that he criticises numerous regression models (and presumably knows how to build one himself) and even sneers at the concept, but his own arguments are all based on simplistic "the line looks different during the sunspot activity period" generalisations. Which isn't going to impress people on here that work with messy datasets on a daily basis, and know that once you've acknowledged multiple uncorrelated factors impact the variables, the shape of the basic scatter plot doesn't tell you very much.

The scaling of the "to inform, not to scare" graph to show "normal CO2 limits in a confined space" is particularly silly since afaik absolutely no climate scientist has ever speculated we're all about to suffocate from the additional carbon dioxide released.

I'm not entirely unsympathetic to his argument that climate forecasts are an inexact science, humanity is perfectly capable of living at higher average global temperatures and engineers might be better focusing attention on structural adjustment problems (like flooding and regional disruption to crops). But this is a polemic rather than a more compelling approach to reading the figures. And the idea mooted at the end that airline certification levels of certainty should be applied to all public policy decisions is just... amusing.

It's pretty obvious that there is a clear bias from the beginning, and the tone is revealing as well.

No -- ad hominem is a personal attack unrelated to issue under discussion. Saying an author cherrypicked to arrive at a desired conclusion, is not that.

He looks at it as an engineer...

Well, you're not wrong -- he's chosen a goal, and desperately tries to fit his processes to accommodate it. It's a shame he couldn't have tried looking at it as a scientist.

Mate this is a pile of biased, self-aggrandizing, rambling shit.

Love the justification of his methodology over the Scientific Method:

• Not responsible for adequacy or value of product.

• Frequently being wrong is not a problem.

Whereas the engineer has to be concerned with:

• Consequences if wrong (people die).

Come on, dude.

I'm a fan of: http://stanford.edu/~moore/Boon_To_Man.html

Near the end: "If mankind had to choose between a warmer or a cooler climate, humans, most other animals and, after adjustment, most plants would be better off with higher temperatures. Not all animals or plants would prosper under these conditions; many are adapted to the current weather and might have difficulty making the transition. Society might wish to help natural systems and various species adapt to warmer temperatures (or cooler, should that occur). Whether the climate will warm is far from certain; that it will change is unquestionable."

His conclusion isn't that alarmists are wrong; his conclusion is that global warming would be a net good for humanity, that CFCs don't cause ozone depletion, and that DDT is actually A Good Thing. And the last two, despite being flagrantly unpopular opinions, are apparently so self-evident that they don't even require explication. And that's just in 2 slides.

In general, there's a cogent argument to be made that some of the more extreme predictions people have made about the ultimate impact of global warming are maybe a little bit over-dramatic (and in fact, some prominant climate scientists called out Sanders for this). But this guy? Nutjob.

The graph on page 10 is absolutely beautiful. I have discussed the same idea with others and I was told that the real 50 degrees difference between summer and winter is irrelevant while the 2 degrees increase in the average temperature over the next 100 years will be devastating. Having been told that a human construct (average) is more important than a real fact, I gave up. :)

If you're an engineer and you want to help enable sustainable deployment of solar power infrastructure, my company Genability is hiring for all kinds of roles right now. http://genability.com/careers/work_with_us.html

I'd think there are better sources for reading about climate change than an author one who must admit "I didn’t mention nuclear because I don’t know much about it."

You consider an author honestly assessing the scope and limitations of his own knowledge, and disclosing it, a negative? Really?

I'd wager that a good chunk of our problems today originates from policymaking on the basis of people who don't know, or don't admit, what they don't know.

Huh? I'm not criticizing the inclusion of that sentence, I'm criticizing the claimed scope of the piece. It's great to know lots of stuff about renewable energy, but its impossible to have a sufficiently informed opinion on climate change to start making claims about how our industrial society should re-tool without knowing about nuclear. Proper intellectual modesty does not shield you from this.

If the author wrote a long piece about how the best way to solve climate change was to quintuple the number of nuclear power plants and mentioned "I really don't know much about the solar industry", would you consider that an authoritative piece? Should we be reading it?

Spot on!

The guy has a MS in Electrical Engineering and knows his stuff. Bret maybe just doesn't want to discuss topics he knows little about. Doesn't mean the rest of the manifesto is somehow broken :)

What would you recommend?

When it comes to real climate change data - nothing can substitute glaciology data.

This is a good graph for you. Holocene temperature variations. Ironically it was quite warmer just 8 thousand years ago. Look, no cars, no cows, no industry... and it _was warmer_.


How so? Does the author not suggest the elimination of nuclear even though he has no knowledge of it?

> Get lost.

Please don't do this on HN. Comments here need to be civil.



The model-driven section (ability to write models, publish models, and for them to become the standard for public decision making) is important to me and I am working on solving it through the Beaker Notebook, an environment for data modeling, visualization, communication, and publication.

Check out http://BeakerNotebook.com and especially https://pub.beakernotebook.com/#/publications

The final step of making authoring and execution work in the cloud is still under development...

So what can I do as a software developer? Any OSS written in Haskell / Scala / Java / OCaml I can contribute to?

Ride your bike to work and encourage others to do likewise. Might be a small gesture, but it's something you can do tomorrow.

Yep, in the 1973 Scientific American, they compared Kcal/Kg/Km of different modes of transport. Bike vs 40x over a Car.

Fantastic article with so much information.. I feel humbled when I see how much work people put into these things and how great the result looks like !

Haven't read it all yet and forgive me if I'm repeating what's already mentioned there, but I would also add the following..

I think that climate change is the consequence of people doing too much X. One way to curb it would be for people to do less X or do (more) Y instead. No governments, no grants, you and me - the people, aka users.

But that involves changing the people's behaviour, which is very hard. Or is it ? Well, advertising works quite well and we've become very good at manipulating and determining people to do (buy) all kinds of things.

What if we used all that ad tech and all that exposure that tech corporations have and implement a global 'climate change' propaganda ?

This can be done starting tomorrow.

Microsoft Windows popping up an alert "Do you really need all your lights on in your house ?"

Facebook wall containing ads encouraging people to be less wasteful, respect nature and think about the future (we can do incredibly cool ads nowadays!).

iPhones displaying "plant a tree !" on the home screen with the button to actually schedule it in the calendar.

Google search returning a 'sponsored' link to climate-healing projects ...

There's so much, we, the tech people working at the big corps can do today .. We don't need startups for that, we already have most of the eyeballs of the planet in our operating systems, social networks or search engines.

It's a matter of delivering the right information and people will follow. We all want to do this, regardless of country or race or religion.

So, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple , etc - why not allocate 1% of your UIs to fixing the climate ?

You can reach everyone on the planet and we are ready to do it, just give us some pointers, remind us to do the good stuff and we will, because that's how advertising works !

I'd happily discuss this more, so let me know if anyone's interested ;).

I like the increasing focus on climate change but what about any one of of the other really damaging things we are doing? Acid Mine drainage, for one, is heavily related to the tech world with the ever growing demand for more materials to build our hardware.

Let's figure out how to build electronics & devices in a manner that enables systemic recycling and has more reasonable power costs. As it is, we just bury our old tech under a pile of trash and go mine some more. That is not a sustainable or in my opinion, sane, practice.

The simple answer to the question is to create source of power and distribution that are cheaper, easier, and as reliable as gas, oil, and coal. Add to that a cheap solution to remove carbon from the air and oceans and you solve the problem. Anything that requires sacrifice of the first world or impedes the third world's progress is not going to be adopted.

Swing for the fences since we need the homerun.

We already have energy sources that are much cheaper than coal when you take all the costs into account. If you start demanding that renewable energy must be cheaper than coal when coal gets huge effective subsidies and renewable energy gets none, that's an artificial constraint that makes the problem unsolvable.

Why does China use coal? If you truly want India and China to switch sources then you need to check all the boxes. No one is going to sacrifice when they are bootstrapping.

Why has China started investing heavily in renewable energy? For one, they want the status of a modern country that's leading the world in important matters; they don't want to be a shitty third world country stuck in the nineteenth century. For another, they're tired of constantly choking on coal smoke.

> they want the status of a modern country that's leading the world in important matters

Yes, their military spending and quest for a blue water navy is number one on that list.

They continue to use coal as the main source of energy because it is what the west did and its a know quantity, reliable, and cheap. They are increasing their attempts at other energy but a lot of that comes from their desire to stay dominant in all forms of manufacturing. If they can subsidize and crush the manufacturing in other countries (such as the US), they will do it.

Beautiful. Thanks for sharing Michael. A really through look at how we can use data and technology to help in preserve stable climate.

Develop products and technologies that are better for the environment while at the same time more attractive than what it replaces. People don't want to sacrifice: they want better. So real change is about better alternatives.

You need a long planning horizon. Be prepared to spend decades for the problems that matter.

I actually believe 'climate change' is a type of cover for geopolitical issues related to the petrodollar. I believe that humans affect the climate, but the real scientific basis for that being the primary driver of climate change isn't there. But they are using 'da earf is melting' as a substitute for another truth that is just as scary.

That truth is that the United States and its closest allies use about twice as much fossil fuel as the rest of the countries, and being able to continue that is completely dependent upon a massive military campaign that stretches thinner as the years go by.


Technologists can work on education and preventing the spread of war propaganda, which is rampant in Western television and media. Notice how the terrorists always seem to be loudly explaining which currently most strategic middle east country they come from.

If you want to believe the main problem is just that 'da earf is melting' or climate change or whatever, the root of the problem is still fossil fuel dependency.

The massive amount of fuel used for moving 3,000 pound vehicles to and from offices everyday, for work that probably 75% or more can be done over the internet with Skype or whatever, is the most obvious low-hanging fruit.

Another thing is, as the dollar hegemony fades, what replaces it, and what sort of conflict arises during that transition? Something like bitcoin might be a good alternative to WWIII.

We can also look toward alternative technological frameworks for society that support decentralization. Named-data networking, IPFS, Ethereum, etc.

Suburbia is a prime target for reform. Here is my idea: https://runvnc.github.io/tinyvillage/

Shockingly, passenger vehicles make up 43% of US greenhouse gas emissions. [1]

Your comment made me look into it since my intuition was that you were wrong (that personal transportation does not contribute _that_ much).

1. http://www3.epa.gov/otaq/climate/documents/420f13033a.pdf (page 2)

Check your link. Passenger vehicles make up 43% of the 27% of US greenhouse gas emissions which are from the transportation sector, or 11.6% of total US emissions.

I'm surprised the above was downvoted.

Seems to me it can be paraphrased as 'whatever is going on with the climate, a big current issue is that our current level of oil consumption is geopolitically destructive and unsustainable; thus, the conclusion remains that we do need to reduce oil consumption, and the best way to do that is to cut down on the wasteful and destructive overuse of automobiles'.

Regardless of one's opinion regarding the relative importance of climate versus geopolitics, I think it's a reasonable argument and the prescribed action is a good idea either way.

Despite the downvotes, this is actually a decent hypothesis, even if tinfoil-hatty.

Do you find that navigation in the middle annoying, specially since user has to scroll to find it again. Content is great but design didn't quite do justice to the research.

Many workplaces are built in suburban wastelands. Perhaps if enough people refused to work in such a hostile-to-any-mode-other-than-car environment, that might help.

Build mining robots. Those robots can mine olivine, crush the rocks, and spread it all over the oceans. We can offset all human CO2 emissions with this method.

re: "Coordination (consuming when?)"

Z-Wave already has ADR (Automated Demand Response) capabilities. http://z-wavealliance.org/energy-management/

So the protocol (OpenADR2.0a) is defined, the messaging is available (from a DRAS), and the consumer client is listening (Z-Wave). We just need more appliances to build ADR integrations to Z-Wave.


Technologists have a hard time being employed past a certain expiration date.

I always wonder who might invest in and how much CO² could be saved by bringing the Americas to 230V. Due to half the voltage, the current needs to be doubled for the same power at 110V leading to much higher losses due to resistance (U=I*R²).

Very little. This isn't just the last mile, its the last 10-100m. Transmission losses at this level are miniscule, especially relative to the capital cost of changing over to a higher voltage.

Almost all of the transmission is done at much higher voltages (3-4 orders of magnitude higher).

Writing more efficient software?

I've asked this question a few times but haven't really gotten a satisfactory answer. There are a lot of what I might call "epic problems" out there. Malaria, homelessness, HIV, refugees, war, climate change, income inequality, gender inequality, hate crimes.

I don't know anything about creating vaccines or cures for malaria or HIV. I don't have a degree in social work or behavior science. I don't have any experience with economics outside of personal investment and filing my income tax paperwork each year. I don't have billions of dollars to fund a company to focus on these things.

I make a small salary relative to what's required for these things and have very limited knowledge.

I'm a programmer and a manager. So how do I contribute to these problems? How can I take the skills I have and get homeless people the help they need? How do I take my web development skills and reduce income inequality? How do I help stop the next Trayvon Martin incident?

I have no idea. This article goes into great detail about climate change, but I finished reading it and still have no idea. I don't even know where to start.

There is absolutely, positively nothing wrong with making "lots" of money in a conventional manner, and donating it to an effective charity taking on the target task. In fact, in the spirit of the Kantian imperative, if everybody actually dropped their "merely productive" jobs and then tried to "directly solve poverty", we'd have just made the poverty problem much, much worse!

You may want to Google the term "effective altruism".

Funny enough, there’s a link at the top of Bret’s essay here to an article describing how the community/movement excited about “effective altruism” has gone off the deep end worrying about the singularity and strong AI (not to mention proselytizing / self promotion) while ignoring more obvious concerns like poverty or climate change.


> Effective altruism (or EA, as proponents refer to it) is more than a belief, though. It's a movement, and like any movement, it has begun to develop a culture, and a set of powerful stakeholders, and a certain range of worrying pathologies. At the moment, EA is very white, very male, and dominated by tech industry workers. And it is increasingly obsessed with ideas and data that reflect the class position and interests of the movement's members rather than a desire to help actual people.

According to the 2014 effective altruism survey [1], about 80% of effective altruists surveyed donate to global poverty and only about 5% donate to organizations working on AI risk.

[1] http://eahub.org/sites/effectivealtruismhub.com/files/survey...

I cut a discussion from my post about how I tend to actually philosophically deeply disagree with them, lest I sidetrack the conversation pointlessly. Despite my disagreements, and the fact I might value things somewhat differently than them, I broadly appreciate their taking time to analyze various charities for their effectiveness. Even if abstractly imperfect, and even if I would rate things somewhat differently, they're still gathering useful data that I think can go a long ways towards ensuring that you aren't just pissing into the wind and that your donations are having a real effect.

Loud minority != actual majority.

There's quite a bit wrong with this model - most of all, it starts from the assumption that the lack of capital is the main limiting factor. World hunger is not a resource problem, it is a distribution and ideology problem.

I tend to agree that world hunger is not the best example of problem that can be fixed in that manner, actually. But there are plenty of problems that can be.

I'd also observe that if you agree with the statement "People just don't care enough about the problems to fix them.", that that is morally all but the same thing as saying "People don't give enough of their money to solve the problem.", especially if people are careful about who they give it to. Caring basically is money, be it in the form of concrete donations, donations of time, or anything else that money can be converted into. If you can't solve the problem with careful monetary donations, it is approximately equivalent to saying you can't help the problem at all. In which case, under most reasonable moral systems, you can unburden yourself of worry over the problem, if there is literally nothing you can do.

If I were speaking to a multi-billionaire who potentially had resources to realign the world political stage, we might have to be a lot more careful, but we're talking a fairly normal first-world person.

> Caring basically is money, be it in the form of concrete donations, donations of time, or anything else that money can be converted into.

This is not just a laughably simplistic statement, but a sinister one, as it's the flawed axiom on which you justify your moral self-exoneration from feeling the need to do anything.

But let's take your logic even further. Because of economies of scale and the powers of compound interest, multi-billion-dollar industries (and their owners) have much higher marginal earning potential, and the effects of their efforts will vastly outweigh those of everyone else. Since "caring basically is money", there's a higher proportion of caring-ness that billionaires hold, and ought to mobilize.

This means that, for anyone who is not a multi-billionaire, "there is literally nothing you can do". So for most people living their day-to-day life, we should continue to live in relative ignorance to these problems, and defer the moral question of mobilizing the world's resources and care the multi-billionaire.

Moral of the story (of jerf's worldview): "don't worry, don't even try to fix things; the ubermensch will do it for you".

If I am putting words in your mouth, then I would request that you point out the flaws in my argument. Moreover, rather than pointing out that it's a strawman argument, I'd request that you point out why it is so -- otherwise, my pastiche of your logic ceases to be a strawman and becomes an accurate representation of your opinion.

I really recommend you read about the Effective Altruism movement if you want a detailed response to your questions.

In response to your question, you are totally right! Anything you can do for most of these problems will probably be completely meaningless compared to the scale of the problem. Almost certainly, the rational decision is to do nothing. So what?

The entire idea of altruism is that you make an economically irrational choice to contribute to a cause that produces positive externalities for society but does not benefit you directly (if it did, it's not altruism anymore: it's just an investment).

Measuring caring in terms of dollars allows you to maximize your possible contribution. Imagine a highly-paid consultant who cares about the homeless, so he volunteers at the local soup kitchen for several hours a week. If he instead simply worked for those same hours and earned $100 an hour, he could pay 10 people to work at the same soup kitchen and help 10 times as many homeless. That's the kind of tradeoff you don't think about if you don't realize that money is fungible with regard to caring.

In the longer run, realizing that money <-> fixing things means that you can also decide to dedicate your life to making money and donate a significant chunk of that money to the cause of your choice, leaving both you and presumably society better off than if you had dedicated your whole life to volunteering/working for your cause in the first place, since your money can fund specialists in the field who are probably more effective than you, as a random coder/manager would be.

And no, this doesn't imply that if billionaires hold the most effective resources for solving the problem, you should give up. Instead, dedicate yourself to effectively convincing said billionaires to care about your cause. The guy(s) who successfully convinced Bill Gates to donate to malaria eradication have probably saved more lives than every volunteer who was previously working on that effort.

The point is, realize that if you want to care, you should make a difference in the most effective way possible, and often that is by leveraging money and resources in ways that most people would not consider "charitable work" in the traditional sense of the phrase.

> If he instead simply worked for those same hours and earned $100 an hour, he could pay 10 people to work at the same soup kitchen and help 10 times as many homeless. That's the kind of tradeoff you don't think about if you don't realize that money is fungible with regard to caring.

A statement that 'money is fungible with regards to caring' ignores the network effects that happens when money becomes prioritized, like a version of the Jevons paradox, in which a relative efficiency in coal resulted in an absolute increase in coal consumption.

Here is a detailed report about the room for more funding in several standout charities:


They are all significantly under funded.

The best of them distributes long lasting insecticide treated nets which protect against malaria.

Below is an estimate (via google doc) that pegs the cost per life saved via nets at around $2,800. The estimate only considers the nets' mortality effect on children under 5 years old.


And below is more general information on this charity:


What you are describing is exactly what has been happening, and it is not working. We've abandoned the traditional role of government in solving these collective action problems in favor of empowering the rich to solve these problems through foundations and NGOs.

Government funding for research and conservation projects is at an all time low while those with the means fund their own pet projects. This is both inefficient (because these people aren't necessarily experts or choosing to fund the right experts) and it is undemocratic.

Ha, I feel like you are responding to a completely different poster than the GP. Your quotes must be responding to some strawman, because nowhere do I see the post above suggest leaving a job, directly solving poverty, or the problems with making lots of money.

Meanwhile from someone with the GP's background, the marginal utility of a few hours a week helping with an Open Data or Open Government project would be vastly higher than staying at work longer hoping to get that promotion, not to mention it would also scratch that itch most of us have to be developing new things, it will help prevent burnout at work, and get you involved with a new community which is good for possible future social and business contacts. You won't directly solve poverty, but I'll bet the farm that you also won't eventually have billions (or even millions) to donate to charity just because you decided donating money is a cool way to help people.

To Jemaclus, if you don't have any contacts at your local level of people that could really use some tech help (and most of us don't), Code for America might be a great starting place to look: http://www.codeforamerica.org/brigade/

Except that solution cannot scale here. If most people with the ability to solve these issues chase after dollars, then there's fewer people actually working on it.

Remember, there's no plan B for earth. We have to overcommit our resources to ensure success, since we won't get many "iterations" to find "product/market" fit.

"If most people with the ability to solve these issues chase after dollars, then there's fewer people actually working on it."

We just discussed someone who believes, probably correctly, that they have no personal ability to solve the problems. Few of these problems, if any, can be solved by any one person. Collective action is necessary. What's wrong with empowering the collective?

If the approach of powering the collective doesn't work, give up, eat and drink for tomorrow we die, because it's the only thing that can work.

I disagree, that solution can scale very well. Specialization is at the core of how we live in such luxury compared to a few hundred years ago.

A handful of well-funded, well-educated experts working as a career on a hard, expensive problem can be much more effective than hundreds of well-intentioned but uninformed people who put in a few hours and a few dollars here and there.

Actually there's quite a bit wrong with this approach, the most obvious being the inefficiency incurred by funneling money through several layers of middlemen.

"You may want to Google the term 'effective altruism'."

For values of "obvious" apparently.

I think about the same things and ask the same question.

My current plan is to save most of my money so I can reach financial independence very early. I'm 25 now, I'll be financially independent by 27, meaning I'll have enough money invested to live indefinitely on interest/dividends. My total expenses/spending is $25k/year and I'm sure I can keep them there if I want to. Most people who start making a silicon valley software engineer salary right out of college could be financially independent by 30 if they wanted to. It's just a math equation of spending, income, and compound interest that most people have never considered. (If anyone doesn't get how this works, I can explain.)

Once I'm financially independent, I no longer have to worry about money for myself, so I can fully commit to finding a better way to use my time. This will probably mean meeting and talking to lots of people who are doing stuff in the world and looking for an opportunity that I'm excited about helping with, and that's a good fit for my skills. This might mean writing more code or it might not, I can learn new things too. I might come to the conclusion that continuing to be a software engineer making a silicon valley salary, living frugally and donating all my extra money is the most beneficial thing I can do, but I wouldn't be surprised if I find something better.

Meanwhile, while I'm working and saving all this money, I get to be an example of someone who is frugal, healthy, happy, and incredibly excited about and enjoying life, to my friends and anyone I meet. I can inspire other people who are in similar circumstances to myself, to reduce their spending and resource consumption while still being happy. Demonstrating to people that sustainable happy lives are possible and much more fun than "normal" consumerism/consumption is something I'm really excited about.

By my quick math you'd need at least $500k to live off the interest. Are you investing in a plain way (ie. index fund or similar) and just have a really good salary? It sounds like you're banking upwards of $75k/year.

Yes just index funds, making about $200k/year pretax if I count salary+stock+bonus+401k match.

I'll admit, not everyone makes $200k this early. But most people could be financially independent much sooner than they think if they realized that spending doesn't make them happier and started saving instead -- so I suggest this when I get the chance. :)

Lots of people have no idea where their money is going because they don't track spending.

Totally - I have a happy frugal lifestyle as well and try to spread the word. I just don't make anywhere near that much :) My target is 35 and relies on buying land to cut a huge chunk of my annual expenses.

I'm happy for you! Having the option of retiring at 35, and being happy in the time until then, is a sweet deal. :)

Congratulations! I spent my 20s having spotty, unpredictable employment and chasing large personal projects that never paid off, so I'm looking at financial independence around 43 instead. ($55,000/year of dividend income, ignoring capital gains; this will be after the 15% tax on dividends.) I wish I'd taken this possibility seriously at an earlier point in my life; I commend you for doing that, and I hope you find good ways to use your time.

Thanks :)

43 still gives you about 20 more years than most people to do something other than earning money to spend! Imagine what you'll get to do with that kind of time.

I love hearing from other people who have a similar plan.

And of course I'll suggest you could be independent sooner if you reduce some spending. ;) But that's your tradeoff to consider.

You guys speak of dividends. I'm not good with stocks so pardon my novice. May I ask what you invest in that earns you the best dividends and keeps you diversified? I'm also assuming you reinvest the dividends? Are there any tips you can give for someone wanting to start doing this? Are there any tricks you have that help you pay less taxes? And tricks to how one should diversify?

I put almost all of my savings into total stock market index funds. I use Vanguard so the expense ratio is 0.05%. Dividends are automatically reinvested so I don't have to worry about that -- from my perspective dividends look no different than the fund's value going up.

Here are some resources that explain why to do this and how:



There are endless ways to diversify. For example, my portfolio is "diversified" across all stocks. But the entire stock market goes up and down, so some people diversify by putting a percentage of their savings in something else, like bonds or money market funds. These tend to have lower historical average returns than the stock market, but they won't necessarily go up and down at the same time so your savings will not fluctuate as much.

I haven't looked into paying less taxes, aside from maxing my 401k.

Wow, lots to look up and learn. Thanks for the leads and taking the time to comment!

Forgive me for taking so long to respond, but it's my suspicion that there's too much money chasing the S&P 500, driving prices artificially high (even for the most obvious dead companies walking) while creating bargains everywhere else in the world. I'm planning to look into REITs and MLPs -- "real estate investment trusts" and "midstream limited partnerships" (oil and gas pipeline operators) respectively -- as an initial wealth-building mechanism, although I might change (especially towards railroad stock) as I start accumulating wealth. Both of these investment vehicles are legally required to pay out most of their profits as dividends, producing sustainable dividends around 10% instead of around 3-4%.

Part of my interest in them is that the world's population is stagnant and will begin to decline soon -- creating an environment in which growth will be impossible, quality will prevail over quantity (goodbye, Caterpillar and General Electric!), and rent-seeking will be much more successful than profit-seeking.

> (If anyone doesn't get how this works, I can explain.) would you mind explaining me?

Jach's reply explains some of the logic. Basically if you can live on $X per year, then once you have $X * 25 invested, you can most likely live on the interest from that investment for the rest of your life without using it up.

Here's an article shows the math: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/01/13/the-shockingly-sim...

In my case I'm saving between 80-85% of my after-tax income, which is how I can "retire" after between 4-5.5 years of work.

Two ways to achieve this are to increase your income or to reduce your spending. Ideally both. Reducing spending generally means your life has less impact on the environment, you'll be happier.

It's key to realize that money you save and invest earns more money for you, forever. A useful heuristic here is that if you can save $X per month, after 10 years of doing that you'll have $X * 173 in the bank. So suppose I currently buy lunch every work day for average of $10, if I instead pack a lunch that costs me $1, I'll save $200 / month. Over 10 years this adds up to $34000.

Once you start thinking this way, it's easier to be excited about cutting your spending. And then you find that you can live and be happy on a much smaller amount of money than you thought. So not only do you build up your savings a lot faster, you actually need a lot less savings to be financially independent.

Looks like he put some links elsewhere in this thread, but I'm in a very similar situation with the same goal -- 25, saving up, hoping to "retire" in my early-to-mid 30s at the latest -- so here's how I look at it. The core idea and assumption is: you can get on average at least 5% annual growth by investing your savings instead of stuffing it in a bank account or under your mattress. As long as you can live on less than that per year, you don't have to work.

For me I'd be fine living at $20k/yr. This makes my target goal in savings to be around $500k. So if you have $500k invested this January, by next January you should have $525k. As long as you can live on less than 5%, typically at most 4% ($20k) per year, then next January you withdraw your $20k and your total invested savings is $505k. One year later, that grows by 5% again, to $525,250. Take your $20k (which is now less than 4%), repeat until you die or we hit the Singularity. :)

I think you need buffer room to handle the core assumption, though, and this is ignoring taxes and other things. For instance, Vanguard hasn't been doing that well for the past 2 years, though it will probably do better and the 10 year average yearly return from 2013 to 2023 will almost certainly be higher than 5%. You can buffer yourself against economic slumps by having more money or living more frugally -- additionally, there's the possibility of entering into the real estate business once you have some initial capital, that may also be a (somewhat risky) way of hedging since you may nominally be $1.5m in debt from your mortgaged properties, but as long as rent exceeding mortgage+repairs keeps coming in and the n-plex doesn't massively depreciate in value you have a steady stream of income that's independent of your savings that you could sell if needed to wipe away your debt.

how much savings will u have by 27? do you have a house too?

I expect to have $500k by 27. No, I don't have a house, I split an apartment with a roommate close to work so I have a very short commute.

500k is enough for retirement? are you going to live in a cheap city?

It's enough for me to live the way I live right now, indefinitely. I currently live in silicon valley paying very high rent ($1100/mo). If I didn't want to work I could live somewhere a lot cheaper.

"Retirement" means different things to different people. I was talking about financial independence, which means I can choose to retire, but more likely it will mean I find work I enjoy more, without considering the pay as much.

There are some risks, nothing is guaranteed: - I could have health problems that cost me too much even with health insurance - The market could crash and never recover

But if the market crashes and doesn't recover, maybe I'd have to go back to work for a while. Health problems are a risk for everyone, and no amount of money is going to guarantee good health. However, I bet that leaving the office job early will reduce the risk of health problems overall anyway.

good luck! i also hope to have 500k net worth soon too, probably in a few years. do you anticipate marrying and having a house soon?

Life could go anywhere -- this is just my current plan. It has been my plan since I started working 2.5 years ago, but it may change.

If I meet someone, who knows. :)

But I am happy already, while I'm single and don't own a house. I also don't assume that it's necessary to own a house when one is married. The hypothetical We could decide whether it's worth trading 2-3 more years of work to buy a house. Maybe it would be, maybe not. The key is to consider the options, and not just assume you have to do what everyone else does.

As others have said in this thread, the bottleneck of solving epic problems is solving social problems. The bottleneck of solving social problems is coordination of individual behavior; cooperating.

As far as I can see, the bottleneck of social coordination is information transfer, especially information transfer towards facilitation of trust.

Solving epic problems usually requires making long-term investments. I think many individuals would make more long-term investments towards solutions to epic problems if they were able to establish more trust in the cooperative behavior of other individuals.

I think it comes down to counteracting the dilemmas studied in game theory. I think there is opportunity to leverage software and the internet to create new/stronger information flows that can more often raise us above the pessimistic equilibrium of game theory dilemmas.

Despite the increasing ubiquity of internet-connected hardware, messaging systems, and search engines, I think there is still a lot of opportunity for tech-trained people to improve and build information systems that provide key information to key places in support of social cooperation. Software and the internet has made information flow a lot more liquid, but there is still a lot of opportunity to improve query-ability of data sources, and improve the value of information propagation across communication networks.

Ultimately, we can seek to increase cases where an individual changes his/her behavior, due to trust in other individuals changing their behavior.

Most epic problems are really social problems. That is, we know how to prevent and treat malaria, we have plenty of land and homes, we know how to prevent and treat AIDS, we have plenty of places for refugees to live, we know how to stop contributing to man-made climate change, etc.

Social problems need social solutions. That means a lot of people working together to enact or expand the solutions that we already know exist.

If you're super rich like Bill Gates, you can bring people together with money. The Gates Foundation funds a LOT of projects that employ a lot of staff and volunteers, and they market the heck out of them so a lot of other people know it's happening.

I'm not super rich, and neither are you. So we need to find ways to come together with other like-minded folks to push the rest of humanity to help fix the problem.

One way this happens is politics--run for office to attract popular support, or find a candidate who you agree with and support them.

But the real work of social change happens between elections, and the real platforms are not political parties, but mission-driven membership organizations. In the U.S. they're often called nonprofits, NGOs, institutes, foundations, etc.

So: want to make a difference on an epic problem? Find one or more mission-driven organizations working that problem, and get involved. Sign up for their alerts, give them money, go to events, share their social messaging, volunteer, or even go work for them.

I will say that the nonprofit world is, in general, well behind even big corporations when it comes to using software and technology. You know how the U.S. federal government has initiatives like the Digital Service and 18F to try to foster a modern tech mindset? Most nonprofits need that too.

So, I am homeless. And a woman. And have taken a college class on Homelessness and Public Policy and, as far as I can tell, I appear to be the highest karma openly female member of HN.

For some of the social stuff, it helps "minorities" (including women, even though we are hardly a minority, mathematically speaking) if you learn to bet the odds differently when talking to people. Here is a bit I wrote about that: http://micheleincalifornia.blogspot.com/2015/04/what-fool-be...

For homelessness: We are people. Stop viewing us as some Other. Also, most homeless people have health issues. Anything you can do to promote a wellness model is a good thing for the world. Hint: Help people eat better. Invite a homeless person to eat with you at Chipotle and buy them a Chipotle gift card or hand them some cash when you part.

I write very occasionally about what helps the homeless here: http://whathelpsthehomeless.blogspot.com/2015/03/good-food-i...

For climate and health stuff: Walk more, drive less. Recycle. Stop shaking hands. Stop blowing your nose around other people. (Go do that in a public bathroom, with the stall door shut.)

There will always be problems. Do what you can, when you can. Find a way to make your peace with there never being enough.

I have this feeling a lot. Being able to ship software seems like such a powerful thing, and then you try to apply this skill to difficult social problem and you realize how unimportant code is. I suppose if problems like these could be solved by an app, they would have been solved already.

> Re: Malaria, homelessness, HIV, refugees, war, climate change, income inequality, gender inequality, hate crimes.

There are tons of informatics needs for modeling malaria genome evolution specially against emergence of front-line drug resistance that is spreading from SE Asia to Africa. Tools need to be built to inform public health officials where the genome's gene flow is headed next to modify the front-line treatment to contain the spread (e.g., Real-time genomic surveillance of Artesminin resistance of Plasmodium).

There is an entire open-source community of people uploading and sharing time-stamped genomic samples of malaria and host information if you are interested (http://www.malariagen.net/).

Similarly for HIV, there are lots of public health research groups doing modeling of HIV transmission, applied to specific local communities to contain an epidemic. Web front-end needs to be made and data pipelines that crunch incoming input data is needed. Most of this work is done in academic labs where information is only broadcasted on papers but could use a nicer front-end open to public and automated back-end for production data crunching. (e.g., http://web2.research.partners.org/cepac/model.html).

that's just stating that there is a need, not where to start :) I wouldn't have any idea on where to go to help out with those either

1) Join a lab as a programmer (e.g., National Weather Service (climate), J. Craig Institute (infectious diseases))

2) Read the computational papers on a subject you are interested; replicate the results in the papers and open source your software/pipeline; apply the method to a newer data-set.

3) Contribute to a open source informatics toolchain used for the subject (e.g., https://github.com/bigdatagenomics/adam)

Especially for social problems, my working theory is work to make people's lives better. A rising tide lifts all boats. The poor of today seem to be better off than the poor of two hundred years ago, as many things (including food) are available cheaper than ever.

How can technology specifically help? The first thing that comes to mind-

The entry of women into the workforce and subsequent advances in gender equality were, in my opinion, greatly aided by advances in textiles & housekeeping (washing machines, dishwashers, etc).

Women have always been in the workforce - the only change over the last century that has occurred is middle and upper middle class women have entered the workforce. Working class women have never not worked.

Get involved in local government.

As someone else pointed out, most epic problems are social problems. Building a moon base was a technical challenge in like the fifties, and now it's an organizational problem of getting a hundred million people to agree to do it.

Government is our primary mechanism for solving organizational problems; you can invent other ones, but why bother?

Our government -- assuming you're in the US or a similar country -- is a citizen government. While there are a lot of bureaucrats involved in carrying out policy and a some of our higher elected offices become full-time jobs, the vast majority of the policy makers are ordinary people taking time out of their ordinary lives to decide which problems we want to tackle and how.

If you have reached a point of stability in your life and are looking for a way give back, start hanging around your local town, city, or county meetings. You'll find a lot of opportunities to just jump in and start helping -- events and ongoing activities you can lend a hand with, volunteer advisory boards you can lend your knowledge to. And if you find an area where no one seems interested in doing something, well, that's an opportunity for you to run for local office and try to start something new.

Getting involved with local government may help to solve your local problems, but won't help with the epic ones. And from my own experience living and working in DC, getting involved with the federal government gives you only a very small chance of making a dent in whatever your pet issue is. I've worked with people who've lived here for 30+ years fighting for a single issue who've failed to make any meaningful progress.

Sure, but in local government you can (a) make real progress at a local level and (b) shape priorities of the layers of government above you.

In local government you can adjust zoning to encourage low-income housing and encourage multi-use residential/commercial zones. You can demilitarize local police forces and encourage a "protect and serve" attitude. You can set up needle exchange programs to reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases. You can accept refugees into your community.

There is also communication between different layers of government, both formal communication and informal networking -- a lot of state representatives and congressmen used to serve in local government. Getting involved in local government gives you another way to influence policy at a state and federal level.

> ...homelessness, refugees, war, climate change, income inequality

These are all directly caused by an economic system which optimizes for profits instead of people. I would also argue that the other problems you listed are perpetuated by said system. You are looking to solve a social problem using individual means. You cannot do that. Join local fights, help replace this broken system.

You pay taxes. You vote. You spread ideas that you believe help the world. That in and of itself is immensely useful.

Your impact on the world isn't just what you directly build or finance. But also the impulses and ripples you leave through your interactions with other people.

As a sofware developer, I hope to make enough to one day to not worry about providing for myself and family. So I can more directly contribute to solving the world's issues. But until then, I can continue to try to be a good person and individual economic contributor. Donate what I can (time, brain power and money) to good causes. And to spread knowledge and ideas that, if they reach enough people, can make big differences.

I'm curious as to what motivates your question. Is there an expectation that a software developer could contribute to climatology more than a climatologist could to software problems?

That's a great question. I don't think it's a matter of "Can I contribute more than a climatologist? but rather "How can I help a climatologist make better models and predictions?" or "How can I help my city reduce homelessness?" or "How can I help microbiologists develop vaccines for Hepatitis C or HIV?". Maybe it's building software. Maybe it's just getting word of mouth out. I don't really know. But I have a particular set of skills that don't directly map to those industries, and I'm not sure how I can contribute beyond just throwing money at the problem.

To give a little more context, my fiancee is a microbiologist (lab researcher). I talk to her often about her work, but I don't understand 95% of the jargon she's talking about, just like she doesn't know the difference between OOP and ASAP. I mean, at some point it's about educating myself on these issues. But like I said in my original post, I don't know where to start.

If I don't know anything about microbiology, how do I learn enough to contribute software, without requiring a 4 year degree in microbiology?

Does that make more sense?

Check out https://80000hours.org/career-guide/start-here/ that has a good guide on careers and how you can "do good". Sometimes it is through having a social impact outright, sometimes it is by earning to give.

This is a fantastic question, and have been asking myself for a while. It turns out that there a quite a few technology projects that are tackling exactly these problems, addressing these issues technologically is an active area of research, and there are a number of companies with jobs that focus directly on developing this sort of technology.

One of my favorite projects is Rainforest Connection [1]: to help prevent illegal logging, they put recycled phones with solar panels in the tops of trees in rainforests, and then using some simple sound processing they listen for chainsaws and text the local villagers if they pick up on anything. The villagers then go out and stop the loggers.

For some other examples, check out PartoPen [2], and Projecting Health [3].

Projects like these are the subject of the field of ICTD (Information and Communication Technologies for Development). Much of the research here focuses on health and education in developing regions, but many projects go outside of that. For a look at some of the recent research here, check out the latest ICTD conference [4]. There are ICTD graduate programs at maybe ten universities.

Outside of academia, these sorts of projects are being tackled by Microsoft Research India [5], the teams in Google that used to be Google.org [6], IBM Watson [7], Palantir's philanthropy engineering [8], and various smaller companies like [9], [10], and [11].

EDIT: I'd also like to point out that climate modelling as chaosphere2112 mentioned is another way to work directly on global-level climate issues; most of the things I'm pointing to are local.

[1] https://rfcx.org/

[2] http://www.partopen.com/

[3] http://blog.path.org/2014/09/projecting-health-video-india/

[4] http://ictd2015.org/papers-notes/

[5] http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/groups/tem/

[6] https://www.google.org/

[7] http://researcher.watson.ibm.com/researcher/view_group_pubs....

[8] https://www.palantir.com/philanthropy-engineering/

[9] http://www.dimagi.com/

[10] https://www.commcarehq.org/home/

[11] http://www.dekaresearch.com/water.shtml

Listen to God, and he'll tell you what to do!

Anyways, many "epic" problems are caused by our own sin: hate crimes, war, homelessness, gender inequality, etc, etc. Our sin is the cause of these problems. Not only sin found else where in the world, but our sin.

So here's a starting point: love thy neighbor as thy self, read the bible with your heart, and rejoice for Jesus died for our sins! Finally, love God! And all of this will go along with in helping epic problems. Amen and God bless!!!

I'm not sure why you're getting down voted. You're viewpoint is just as sane as the guy a few comments above (grenzbegriff) who thinks a lot about what he can do, but is too busy making sure he never again needs to work a day in his life. Heart warming stuff.

As an atheist who is in the middle of listening to 90 hours of the King James bible, I think you should listen to the bible with your ears, not your heart.

If you do, you will find all sorts of bigotry, slavery, bigamy, intolerance, and stonings for women to didn't yell loud enough while they were being raped. To be clear, this is the stuff God is cool with.

In the bible God is a fickle asshole who can't make up his mind most of the time. One minute he's pissed because men want a king to reign over them, the next minute he's picking the king. One minute he's infallible, the next he's taking advice from humans. The one thing God is really, really sure about is our penis. He wants it circumcised.

Yeah, it's pretty disappointing that this community would reject a genuine opinion that has merit.

I assume that this has been rejected for two reasons: 1) They don't believe in God, which is too bad, and I pray for them who down vote me that they make it to heaven, because in hell the fire never goes out [0]. 2) They reject the idea that their sins effect other people, which is also too bad, and they don't want to take responsibility for their own actions. People from #2 may be the same ones from #1 and vice-versa.

You should read the bible with an open mind. Society in days of the coming of Israel was uncivil and ruthless, and it required rules and laws in order to remove the evil. Without it, we wouldn't have the same peace and harmony that we have today.

As for the women being raped, I think you're referring to this [1] which goes something like: a man meets a virgin -- who has pledged to marry a man whom is not this man -- rapes her, but the women could have prevented it if she cries for help, then they're both guilty. This is the right decision because the women let this man have sex with her, and then later denounced as rape. That is why they're both sinful.

If this wasn't clearing from reading that verse, it's clear from the very next verse Deuteronomy 22:25-26 that says that if a man rapes a women in the country whose screams are not heard, then she is not at fault because just nobody was there to save her.

For all the other things you mention, I'd be happy to explain to you likewise, if you point something out specifically.

Often, people who reject the bible are looking for rules & laws that conform with their beliefs, but their beliefs can be corrupted and blinded by evil. The word of God & Jesus is truth, and it's a word of love and wisdom and to those accept Him will see his glory.

God led the people out of a darkness and slavery to freedom and glory. He said to the people of Israel: "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." --Isaiah 41:10.

[0] Mark 9:43 http://www.biblestudytools.com/mark/9-43.html

[1] Deuteronomy 22:23-24 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy+22%...

>As for the women being raped

You totally nailed what I was referring to in Deuteronomy.

I maybe reading between the lines, but it basically says, if she isn't heard crying out (in town) then she's guilty.

Let's just say she is guilty, I just can't get behind stoning women for non-capital crimes, but God commands it.

Now let's say there was a knife to her throat and she didn't cry out. Or she was knocked unconscious by her attacker and couldn't cry out. God doesn't make allowances for those situations, which I find odd, since the bible can be oddly specific about other things.

>Society in days of the coming of Israel was uncivil and ruthless, and it required rules and laws in order to remove the evil.

I would agree with that, but then I would extend it to say that time needed religion with an all knowing and active God to keep people in there place. I'm not sure it's needed anymore.

All that said, I like the intention of religion. I just hope we can someday replace ancient religion with a more modern one based on reason and not fear.

As much as I love debating religion, it never ends up being a debate. In facts v. belief, belief always wins (if you're a believer). Plus, in the end, it doesn't matter because if you're right, everyone I know and love is going to hell with me and I'm okay with that.

> Let's just say she is guilty, I just can't get behind stoning women for non-capital crimes, but God commands it.

Generally, God doesn't encourage this anymore, only back then. However, this is general and does depends on a case-by-case basis.

> Now let's say there was a knife to her throat and she didn't cry out. Or she was knocked unconscious by her attacker and couldn't cry out. God doesn't make allowances for those situations..

God's laws and rules aren't* absolute (see asterisk below for more on this.) He does make allowance for such things.

A perfect example of this is in Galatians 5:18, "But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law."

Which says that if you're guided by the Holy Spirit, you don't even need to follow the law of Moses. You must be careful with this, however, as to not break the law falsely just thinking you're guided by the Holy Spirit. God will have the final judgement.

This may also apply to such things as the women crying out load when being raped, that if she's guided by the spirit, she is not under law to cry out, but more than likely if she's guided by the spirit, she will cry out. (If you read the link to Ellicot's commentary after the single asterisk, it seems that actually the Jews of Old Testament must follow the law of Moses, but today people of the Christian faith, due to Jesus Christ, _have_ this discretion when led by the Holy Spirit; and so, maybe the women back then would be guilty absolutely if she does not cry out in earnest.)

> Now let's say... the bible can be oddly specific about other things.

One parenthetical note which you probably already know, the Bible has real laws and examples for us to follow, yes, but It's not appropriate for there to be an asterisk of every example, with every little if statement and reminder how it must be interpreted because that'd be one long, messy Bible.

> I maybe reading between the lines, but it basically says, if she isn't heard crying out (in town) then she's guilty.

If she cries out in earnest in town, she wouldn't be raped. If, however, she _is_ raped somehow, she is not guilty. In this case, though, I do not know exactly what would happen to her, because it's possible that she would be wrongly persecuted. Or, maybe she would be spared by God Himself.

If she isn't spared by God and she is brought to death by God's rules, she'll still be judged justly by God whether she goes to heaven or to hell, and judging from [7], heaven is better than [an early] death here on Earth.

> All that said, I like the intention of religion. I just hope we can someday replace ancient religion with a more modern one based on reason and not fear.

It's not based on fear like it used to be. Imagine living in Israel in those days, with the idea of being stoned to death for sinning or worse placed in an eternal hell for sinning. That is fear. But since the coming of the Messiah, if you just believe in Jesus Christ, you'll go to heaven :)(read below for more on this.)

Fear is why people were stoned to death because stoning instilled fear into people who were doing the stoning and the community, as a result, they would fear sin because they witness the terror of being stoned to death. As a result, this created a civil, healthier, happier (, etc.) society both today and back then.

> I would agree with that, but then I would extend it to say that time needed religion with an all knowing and active God to keep people in there place. I'm not sure it's needed anymore.

Yes, and maybe that's what God thinks: it's better now if He takes a more passive role. Maybe, that's why the holocaust happened, because God has decided to let us develop naturally and suffer naturally the consequences for our sins, knowing that good will prevail.

However, maybe this is something you can learn from Him yourself, because I'm not sure myself. Although, He may be taking a passive role, nonetheless, He helps those who believe in Him. If you let him, He'll take a more active role in your life, and the Holy Spirit will guide you.

> As much as I love debating religion... Plus, in the end, it doesn't matter because if you're right, everyone I know and love is going to hell with me and I'm okay with that.

Jesus died for our sins!!! You only have to believe in him [0][1][2][3][4][5][6], and you'll go to heaven. And I will meet you there, my friend!!

Finally, I'll leave with this, that is great guidance to me and maybe to you as well:

  Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

  -- Matthew 22:37-39
So, love your God with all your heart and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. These are the two greatest commandments.

-------------------------- line break ----------------------------

* Read Ellicot's commentary for Galatians chapter 5: http://biblehub.com/commentaries/galatians/5-2.htm. From this, it seems that God's laws and rules aren't absolute if you are a Christian instead of a Jew that is whether or not you believe in the Messiah being Jesus Christ. Also, it's a commentary that says that if you believe in Jesus Christ (again thereby Christian) then being circumcised helps you none. In other words, if you're Christian, God doesn't care if you're circumcised, which deflates your previous comment about circumcision.

[0] John 6:47 - “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”

[1] Acts 16:31 - “They said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'“

[2] John 5:13 - “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

[3] John 3:16 - “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”

[4] John 24:6 - Jesus said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

[5] Ephesians 2:8-9 - “For by grace are you saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves – it is the gift of God. Not by works, so that no one can boast.”

[6] John 1:12 - “To all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God.”

[7] Matthew 18:8-9 - "If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell."

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