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Antarctic CO2 Hit 400 PPM for First Time in 4M Years (scientificamerican.com)
462 points by splawn on June 16, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 309 comments



We all know by now CO2 and CH4 leads to a warmer planet. We also know what's driving greenhouse gas levels to rise across Earth. Contributors are deforestation, intensive animal farming, and primarily the combustion of carbon fossil fuels like coal, tar sands, oil, natural gas etc. But here is the underlying problem, despite us knowing how bad things are, (97+% of scientists who study this field agree we are causing the planet's climate to shift away from the temperate climate we thrived in) not enough is being done at present to truly solve the problem.

What really is disheartening and what no one in the media and government is talking about is how in 2015 CO2 levels rose by the largest amount in human recorded history. 3.05 PPM

http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/gr.html

We are being lied to and mislead by our governments that uniform actions are being performed to save the planet for the future of man. Vested interests in the fossil fuel industry continue to drive climate change. Yes, solar energy is starting to become incredibly efficient but not enough of it is coming online in proportion to fossil fuel burning that persists and is also installed annually. If we do not rally against it, our ability to live on this planet is at stake. The lives of our posterity are also at risk because of the burning. It will not be until we take extreme actions not on a country level but as humanity together that we will slow the burning and save ourselves.

What are these actions you might ask that will actually be effective? These can range from banning fossil fuels entirely, global carbon pricing system, banning deforestation, changing human diets, extreme uniform investment in renewable energy and potentially fourth generation nuclear reactors, more funding for developing nations to install alternative energy sources, and to shift the transportation grid towards sustainability.


Honestly, the whole point of worrying about climate change is its impact to humans (the earth has survived far worse over its history, and will likely survive worse in the future). The suggestions you mentioned all have substantial negative impacts to humanity - arguably as much as climate change itself (i.e. doing nothing) - and has a huge upfront cost, to boot. Additionally, such extreme actions will result in large black markets that render those bans moot, and abide by very few or none of the laws and regulations we have in place to mitigate some small amount of impact to our climate, making the situation worse than it is now.

The only real solution is to innovate our way out of a large amount of our polluting habits, in a way that is cost-effective.

Also, I don't recall any governmental agency saying that we are taking appropriate action to save the planet. Most agencies are saying that we should start taking action, but that we've already passed the point of no return.


> The suggestions you mentioned all have substantial negative impacts to humanity - arguably as much as climate change itself

I think that assertion deserves to be examined a bit more closely.

We are already effectively subsidizing the fossil fuel industry to the tune of 5+ trillion USD per year [1]. This is a figure from the IMF that includes direct monetary subsidies as well as externalities like public health, environmental damage, etc.

So the question now becomes this: would switching to renewables cost more than that? If we started dumping that same amount of money into renewables and corresponding infrastructure, how quickly could we switch away from fossil fuels? If we do some impromptu calculations based on current cost of solar panels, batteries, etc., it seems like it might take maybe 20 years.

Obviously it's not that simple in practice, but I think this demonstrates that humanity could theoretically switch away from fossil fuels without enduring any severe hardships. This isn't a problem of the technology not being good enough[2], or renewables being too expensive: it's just a political/organizational problem.

[1] http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/cat/longres.aspx?sk=42940.0 [2] With the possible exception of jet planes, for which batteries aren't good enough to provide a compelling alternative yet. But I would guess that when the electric car market really starts to take off, battery tech will start improving a lot faster.


We should stop subsidies for all fossil fuels, and begin phasing in taxation of fossil fuels to account for their cost. But the cost I'm talking about it not just about money. There isn't a viable alternative to a whole host of products that we use. Off the top of my head I can think of plastics (huge) and large equipment. Even using energy-reclamation for garbage trucks is an "innovation" for us. We simply couldn't do it with the current paradigm. You also have to consider that the majority of humanity is evolutionarily wired to be change-averse. Overturning our current infrastructure is not easy, and will require trillions of dollars of investment, for essentially the same level of service that we have today. That's hard to convince people to do. And even the best idea is worth nothing if people won't adopt it.


Most of the things I have read which accuse energy companies of being subsidized lack a basic understanding of the historical accounting mores of those industries. This is principally because of depletion allowances and industrial depreciation. Both of those still apply and have full standing in the law.

I am not saying this should not be changed but rather that it'd be quite a change.

As a USAian, I can expect my energy need to be met by cleaner tech than someone in, say Africa. Natural gas is here and will make a difference.


The major players in the fossil fuels industry are all net tax payers. If I'm understanding the summary from the linked paper, it's saying that they're not taxed enough for the satisfaction of the paper's authors. Thus they are being "subsidized".


> 5+ trillion USD per year

That's a stupendous number.


> The suggestions you mentioned all have substantial negative impacts to humanity - arguably as much as climate change itself (i.e. doing nothing) - and has a huge upfront cost, to boot.

Not even remotely true. If we experience massive economic pain for several decades as we switch over to renewable energy, big deal, that's a few decades.

If climate change displaces hundreds of millions of people, disrupts global weather patterns, and devastates ecosystems across the globe, what do we do then? Some of that damage is irreversible. We simply do not have technology to reverse climate change on any timescale that is going to prevent massive levels of death and misery for most of humankind, not to mention permanent destruction of major ecosystems.

We're talking about how habitable Earth is going to be for mankind into the foreseeable future. Damage to the current state of economic markets doesn't even come close to that sort of impact.

We can argue about what would be the most effective way to change, but to suggest that expensive changes would be worse than ruining the biosphere for humanity is ludicrous.


> The suggestions you mentioned all have substantial negative impacts

Not eating meat, invest Hyper Loop high speed ground travel, home solar, electric cars, dramatically raise air travel cost, stop cutting down tropical forests, and stop burning coal. These are all doable, and with minimal quality of life impact. If a life is ruined because they can't have a McQuarterPounder, a Chevy big block, and flying to Texas every week, maybe they deserve a scorched planet where the trees are paper products, the water is plastic and fracking residue, and all the large animals are dead.

I realize I'm over simplifying but doing NOTHING is a lot different than doing trying something anything with minimal return. We are doing nothing. That's sad.


Speaking as an American, not eating meat, buying (currently) much more expensive cars, and not being able to afford to fly are huge quality of life impacts.


As is the increased population density to make any kind of HyperLoop/high speed train/slow speed train/fixed route transportation effective beyond simply transferring money from tax payers to shysters.


Why would investing in renewable energy and next-generation nuclear power result in substantial negative impacts to humanity?


Can you prove that one of my suggestions would have a negative impact on humanity and economic growth?


In general, the issue I see is using a hammer to prevent people from surviving in a complex environment, vs using innovation to promote a more sustainable way to make a living. People aren't usually polluting because they love dirty air, water, hate polar bears, or even because they think it's a good thing to do. People drive cars for hours each day because there isn't a viable (cost-effective) alternative.

> banning fossil fuels entirely

No fossil fuels means the global delivery of goods and services comes to an immediate halt. Medicine, food, clothing, power - everything stops. We are absolutely too reliant on fossil fuels, and we have to change that. But you may be forgetting how long it took to get us hooked on one of the easiest-to-consume energy resources on the planet. Moving to a resource which takes more work to get energy from is not going to happen overnight. And if we did come up with something overnight, it's probably not thought-through enough to be a real solution.

> banning deforestation

This issue is much more complicated than it seems. Let's take the Amazon rainforest as an example. A large portion of the deforestation is occurring because single-family farms are clearing forest to make a farm, so they can grow crops. How do we handle situations like that without materially affecting the ability of people to support themselves?


> affecting the ability of people to support themselves

Well, that depends. Is it subsistence farming? Or is it for biofuel? Biofuels may, during combustion, cause fewer emissions, but add in the change in land use (with the attendant fertilizing regimen, etc.) and the reduction in carbon sequestration from removing trees... That causes deforestation for biofuel to be worse than just burning fossil fuels in the first place.

Burning things isn't the way out, no matter how neatly those things burn. Nuclear power (whose waste products arguably are vastly easier to contain than burning anything), solar power, geothermal power (the benefits of nuclear power without the pesky reactors) ... Even wind/hydroelectric power generation are, kWh-to-kWh, less damaging to our climate overall.


> If we do not rally against it, our ability to live on this planet is at stake.

I think you're speculating here, we don't actually know this.

I believe the primary reason we haven't done anything yet is because the effects of increased CO2 levels haven't yet reached the scale of mass food production shortages, or a sudden increase the price of basic food stuffs.

And since we can't know whether that will ever happen, we're easily able to ignore, or at least not be very concerned about, climate change.

Your proposed solutions all require agreement on a global level. I can't see that happening until we actually face an immanent existential threat.

And lastly, on a personal note, the reason I've stopped caring is this: people have been trying to tell us the environmental end of times is nigh for decades, and it hasn't happened. Each year we continue to produce more food and feed more people.

Granted, we should probably stop burning fossil fuels, but I disagree with the reasoning. We shouldn't stop burning fossil fuels because of the CO2 output, I think that's a red herring. We should stop burning fossil fuels because of all the other junk doing so puts in our environment. More uranium has been released in to the environment by burning coal for electricity that nuclear power probably ever will.


Your fifth paragraph (the personal note) is atrocious reasoning. It's the equivalent of saying "There won't be a housing crash. People have warned about that for years, but each year home prices keep rising."

The effects of the carbon we're releasing vastly exceed human lifespans. So you have to be prepared for the possibility that predictions will take decades to have a visible impact.

The counter to your "we produce more food and feed more people claim" is that we've done so largely by drawing down capital stocks. Stored carbon, topsoil, aquifers, etc.

We can't know that those increased support numbers are proof of anything. They might be, but we'd only know in hindsight. And by then it's too late.


Yes, I agree it is atrocious reasoning. It's probably not reasoning at all in the sense of thinking about something in a logical, sensible way. I don't care because I'm emotionally exhausted by the situation.

While I do think we should do something, it's not clear to me what I should do other than occasionally shout at the screen from my chair. I suppose I could vote Green or vote with my dollar, if I thought it would help. I could put solar panels on my roof, but I'm not a home owner so I can't. I could buy an electric car but I don't have tens of thousands of spare cash, nor the desire for a vehicle loan, because I'm trying to save for the deposit on a house.

Maybe what I can do is seek solace in the knowledge that future generations will be able to look back and read that I was at least angered for a brief period by the circumstances I find myself in.

And in the mean time I'm going to continue doing the things I like that make living worthwhile, which means driving 200+ kilometres one or twice a month to get to the surf or the mountains in my not-so-fuel-efficient camper van, and having the occasional steak.

But that's just it isn't it, if 'saving the world' means giving up the things I like, I'm not interested, really, until there is zero friction and everyone else is doing it.

And this is the revealed preference of almost all of us on this planet: we're too busy surviving, or too busy enjoying, to stop for a moment and think "should we be doing these things, no? okay let's change". And even when we acknowledge we should change, we don't. We're trying, but it's mostly token gestures.

All the evidence suggests that dead people, previous generations, don't care much about the environment, and since the consequences / benefits to inaction / action are multiple decades out it is very hard for us to act now.

I don't believe we, the global community, will act until our ability to survive is in immediate danger.


Oh, actually I agree with you then. I don't think we'll do anything unless immediately threatened. If then.

Our CO2 emissions have actually been growing. And any sort of gas/carbon tax that would actually alter behaviour is shouted down.

And when we actually have immediate problems from warming, there will probably be pressure to focus on the short term aspects, such as famines or economic decline, and pressure to keep burning fossils fuels.

Probably the only way out is to have some tech that makes t economically stupid to burn fossil fuels, because they're more expensive.


Civilization's biggest challenge is addressing multi-generational problems. Modern America is one of the most depressing and backwards nations in that regard... we struggle with small engineering projects that simply span a couple decades, to say nothing of investing in and protecting future generations.


"Civilization" has pretty much always failed at addressing big inter-generational problems.

That was my takeaway from visiting Mesa Verde in 1972 and I haven't seen an example to contradict it yet.


I often forget the difference between deforestation and desertification. For the later, which is an even worse problem you might want to watch this TED talk:

https://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_green_the_worl...

As for some of your other suggestions "global carbon pricing system" reminds me of cap-and-trade which is a very political process if implemented. A simpler and fairer way to do that is to simply tax hydrocarbons and coal coming out of the ground. Then the price will be passed on to whomever uses it - tax the source rather than the use, it's much simpler and less subject to political manipulation and agendas. As for changing peoples diets, why not change their reproductive habits? All of these problems stem from having too many people. You can cut down a few forests, you can pump a few oil wells, you can raise cattle, the problem is having too much of that stuff to support an untenable number of people. We don't even have jobs for all of them. IMHO every country should have a means to provide birth control to anyone who wants it. A simple and effective long term attack on all of these problem, but no, it may not be enough by itself.


CO2 emissions have remained relatively constant from energy producing sources since the 90's in the U.S.[1]. Obviously, this is not the case for China and the alike.

However, what we also don't consider is that cattle, swine, and most of all Humans digestion produce an exorbitant amount of those emissions. I just spend ~10 minutes searching and couldn't find a source regarding how much CO2 we as humans produce, but I would guess it's a lot more than other livestock.

CO2 levels have less of an impact than other chemicals on the atmosphere[2]:

> It (livestock) generates 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.

[1]https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/co2.ht... [2]http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?newsID=20772


Human digestion doesn't produce nearly the amount of methane as cattle. Our digestive processes don't rely so heavily on fermentation.

Of course, if we stopped eating meat, our digestive processes over time would evolve to include more fermentation, so... Hard to say. But, now, humans aren't ruminants, and so produce climatically insignificant amounts of methane.

Livestock doesn't even account for the majority of methane production anyway; landfills, fossil fuel production, and burning of biomass produce even more.

That said, we do need to reduce our dependence on ruminants as a food source. Methane production aside, a significant amount of deforestation occurs to make grazing land for cattle. Add in carbon/methane emissions during transportation of livestock products, environmental effects of the deforestation... Cattle have a fairly large carbon "hoofprint". (I use carbon footprint, or humorous derivation thereof, to include methane, which does after all include carbon)


I'm going to make an argument that will probably be very unpopular, but here we go.

The global economic system is the primary incentive system for human behavior. Under global free-market capitalism, firms are incentivized to increase profits. Unless a superior profit incentive exists for reducing environmentally hostile practices, energy and manufacturing firms will continue to make profit-optimizing choices at the expense of the environment. With our current predominant global economic system, laissez-faire capitalism, there is no way to make firms act in an eco friendly way if it's less than optimal from a profit perspective.


The problem is not capitalism, it's lack of ethics.

Since our educational process (which used to include religious teachings promoting ethics for most people) no longer instills an ethical framework, anything goes.

Transition from capitalism to some other economic system will do nothing to help, since unethical people will still maximize their experience at the expense of everything else.

Witness the communist USSR - it was the worst offender in history as far as the environment goes. China, while arguably more capitalistic in recent years, is also a huge environmental offender.

Until humanity in general, and the US in particular, returns to a concerted effort to improve ethically, we remain in deep trouble. That process of ethical improvement had gone on for hundreds of years, but seems to have regressed since around 1950.



Beautiful. I'd love to have seen it in an equal-area projection, though. The high concentrations are disproportionately in the high latitudes where area is stretched, so I think the yearly variation would look a little less ominous that way.

Anyway, I hope one day we can get a new Sim Earth with this style of simulation and presentation.


Here's another visualization by Oregon State University, similar to the video but with a navigable equal-area map :

http://co2.digitalcartography.org/


I recall seeing a long-term (from roughly 18,000 BCE to 3000 CE) visualization of ice-cover, ground cover, and sea level, with numbers on the side showing CO2, human population, and population below current sea level. I recall CO2 less than 200 PPM during the last glaciation, and I think this projection showed a peak around 560 PPM, before gradually declining. Sea levels kept going up though, given the assumptions in this scenario.

But I can't find it again. Anyone know about this?


Wow, that's even better :)


Am I reading the visualization right that CO2 practically disappears every summer? Wouldn't it logically follow then that we're not actually too late to fix our CO2 levels? If we can reduce emissions, plant consumption during the summer months for the northern hemisphere appears to be incredibly effective at basically demolishing the built-up CO2.

Or is the "too late" aspect more about the melting polar caps, and that they'd not rebuild quickly?


The NASA video is very pretty, but the scale is like a line chart where the y-axis doesn't start at zero -- it's picked to most vividly distinguish minute changes in CO2 concentrations.

The linked WaPo article has a chart which is much less pretty, but much more informative and significantly more troubling. [1]

What you see from the zoomed-out historical chart is the variations throughout the year which produced such a beautiful visualization are little more than cute rounding errors in the steady yearly increases in atmospheric CO2 which have brought us from ~320 ppm in 1960 to 400ppm today.

"Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will continue to rise even though global greenhouse gas emissions from industry may be leveling off somewhat, the study adds — because each year still represents a net addition to the atmosphere, and carbon dioxide is a very long-lived greenhouse gas. Thus, even by 2050, the researchers don’t think we’ll find any way of getting back below 400 ppm."

[1] https://img.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp-co...


More importantly, the NASA video is only for a single year (2006). The chart from WaPo that you linked clearly shows the problem with looking at only a single year of data.


> Am I reading the visualization right that CO2 practically disappears every summer?

No. The concentration does drop seasonally, but not even close to zero. See:

http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/

Click on the "full record" tab and note that the Y axis starts at 320 (compared to the preindustrial level of 270).

The seasonal drop is about 5PPM, and we're at about 400 now, roughly 50% over pre-industrial levels. There are seasonal natural emissions as well. Even if we cut artificial emissions to zero it would still take the better part of a century (maybe even several centuries) to get back down to preindustrial CO2 levels.


We can fix this, we can take the carbon out of the atmosphere [1]. There is reason for optimism. We. Are. Not. Doomed. The optimum level of carbon is probably slightly above pre-industrial levels. We definitely need to get back below 350ppm to keep human civilization... civilized.

400ppm+ is a trajectory to anarchy. The chimpanzee raiding impulse is alive and well in our DNA, a survival adaptation for stagnation and decline.

We have the technology, bio-energy with carbon capture and sequestration, its a scaling problem, but first we have to stop pumping so much carbon up into the air. We have made progress there as well:

1) Cheap Solar PV has arrived, growth has been exponential for two decades. [2]

2) Energy storage is possible. Think underground maglev trains, on circular tracks, working as massive flywheels.

3) Fusion is attainable in the time frame we need it in, if we increase research funding, but its not required. That said if we cracked fusion, we would have all the energy we would need to desalinate seawater and sequester carbon.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bio-energy_with_carbon_capture...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growth_of_photovoltaics


>...Energy storage is possible.

Possible, but except for pumped hydro, it looks like still a lot of work needs to be done.

>...3) Fusion is attainable in the time frame we need it in, if we increase research funding, but its not required. That said if we cracked fusion, we would have all the energy we would need to desalinate seawater and sequester carbon.

I am not sure if fusion is attainable in the time frame needed or it would be economically viable in that timeframe. With fission we have working reactors right now and with a little more research effort we could soon have 4th generation reactors. With reactor designs like the integral fast reactor (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral_fast_reactor) there would be enough potential electrical generating capacity to last the world thousands of years. (Of course we should also keep investing in fusion research and energy storage.)


Breeder reactors like fast neutron reactor main advantage is less radioactive waste, there is enough of uranium in world to feed the old light water reactors for thousands of years too, but they produce lot of radioactive waste which could be used as fuel and inactivated in breeder reactors.


>Breeder reactors like fast neutron reactor main advantage is less radioactive waste,

Generally they will also have more passive safety features and in the case of something like the IFR, an even smaller chance of proliferation. Less nuclear waste might be the most important issue to most people though.

>... there is enough of uranium in world to feed the old light water reactors for thousands of years too

True, looks like I was really using the wrong units of time. Scientific American had an article where they estimated a 60,000 year supply at current rates. If we switched to the world using breeder reactors, probably more like hundreds of thousands or millions of years of fuel depending on the growth rate you use for consumption.


"The optimum level of carbon..."

Such a human thing to say.

Between that, and all the top comments as of writing this start out addressing how beautiful the data visualization is. That is why humans are doomed.

Mother nature is fine with or without us.


You're on the right track, but ditch fusion and flywheels. It'll be battery storage, wind, and solar:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-13/we-ve-almo...


And plain old demand shifting.


What's demand shifting?


See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demand_response

Basically, instead of just relying on batteries, consumers of power can often also shift when they are going to consume the power. Spot markets and future markets can help here.

We already see that in industrial applications, where you can get power very cheaply, if you can tolerate arbitrary power cuts during peak hours.


Yup that's all true. But when the next president of the largest economy either doesn't believe in climate change or wants to increase fracking then we clearly have a long way to go before change happens.


Both party candidates believe in fracking. Not sure how we lower our CO levels while fracking is the new coal.


Coal releases far more carbon than natural gas.


> That said if we cracked fusion, we would have all the energy we would need to desalinate seawater and sequester carbon.

I've not heard this before. How does desalinating seawater help with sequestering carbon?


I think grandfather commenter is more worried about clean freshwater here. (A scarcity of clean freshwater might be one of the consequences of changing the climate and thus the water cycle.)


Why not just massive flywheels? What's the benefit of having a train go over tracks instead of having a large solid wheel?


Maybe bearing scale-up issues?


Short answer: There are more trees and other green stuff in the northern hemisphere. As the planet tilts relative to the sun the north/south get more of the light and warmth that helps plants grow. So there is a seasonal up and down to CO2 levels. It's been around for millions of years. What is new is the increased average.


Unfortunately, plants do not sequester much CO2 long term. Instead, the CO2 gets released back to the atmosphere as plants die off.


Unless you bury the plants. That's what happened to create coal and oil.

The problem of too much CO2 in the atmosphere will solve itself in a few thousand years: the ocean currents will sequester lots of carbon in the depths of the sea. Of course, people alive today and their children and grand-children don't want to wait for so long.


I think the time frames for returning to pre-human levels is longer than a few thousand years [1, 2].

1. http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/03/how-lo...

2. http://www.nature.com/climate/2008/0812/full/climate.2008.12...


Thanks. Sorry, I was going from memory here.

In any case, it'll happen by itself, but it's longer than humans can afford to wait.


Yes that is certainly true.


"I think we're going to be a planet covered in trees. I wonder what that would be like". https://youtu.be/YxJLyPSRusc?t=52m4s


That is neat. It looks like fire. Probably intentionally ;)


That is fascinating - Any idea how this was made?


It's a simulation based on ground measurement.

https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/11719

Now we have: http://oco.jpl.nasa.gov/ (2014)


Not entirely sure, but could be using the data from the Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite[0].

This satellite orbits the Earth on the order of ~16 times per day which would not be enough granularity for the smoothness of this video, so I assume it's been combined with other weather data and advanced modelling to provide the smooth interpolation.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbiting_Carbon_Observatory


OCO blew up on launch, but OCO-2, its successor, has been producing data since 2014. This nature run was from 2006, which predates the OCO-2 era, and predates GOSAT, another CO2 satellite. It may overlap partly with SCIAMACHY, an ESA mission.

But in summary, I don't think the video was heavily constrained by actual CO2 observations, which are done only at a small number of sites on the ground (TCCON or FTIR). The video was probably constructed based on models of plant respiration (which is observed, indirectly, by remote sensing), winds (ditto, of course), and ground emitters.

OCO-2 has offered more significant constraints on global CO2, with a roughly 2km x 2km footprint (per pixel), 1ppm accuracy (in a ~400 ppm quantity), and global coverage every 16 days. There are some videos of observations (not models) at:

http://oco.jpl.nasa.gov/galleries/Videos/


OCO didn't blow up on launch. The payload fairing failed to separate. The vehicle couldn't reach orbit.

Doesn't really impact what you're saying (nor does it alleviate the massive embarrassment of Orbital Sciences).


Sloppy of me! You're right, of course. I knew people who went to see the launch at Vandenberg, and (being on the science team) they were crushed [edited to clarify: metaphorically! -- having spent so much hard work in preparation for eventual results] just a few minutes after launch, so I put it into the wrong mental category.


"crushed"?


Sometimes I feel I am the only one sceptical of the politics and alarmism surrounding climate change. I am Not saying I'm skeptical that it is real (or to be more appropriately scientific, that the evidence suggests the observed increase in CO2 and temperature most likely is caused by emissions), but I'm saying the politics are more complex than that.

I can think of a number of other issues that pose similar if not more immediate, or greater risks to humanity that have lower economic costs to solve.

Global warming activism also bothers me in some ways. Snobs have an absolute affinity for it, and it seems in this cause it's easy to create an aura of good will without actually having to follow-up and do anything tangible to benefit other people. Think: Buying hybrid cars that pollute more than my simple Honda. Preaching about the importance of action on this topic is also rather convenient: you don't appear to actually have to take any action. Preach about the problems of homelessness, drug abuse, crime, healthcare? There are obvious ways to actually spend your time helping people who are victims there. Want to hold the moral superiority card with as little effort as possible? It's super convenient.

There's also the the west's party line to the rest of the world: We can afford clean energy now, and of course we want it; but even though other nations can't afford it, they're now declared immoral for not embracing it.

None of what I'm saying is that global warming isn't a worthy cause, just that the enormity and alarmism of the politics that surrounds it is cause for question.


1. The big fear with climate change is that it's irreversible. That is not the case with the other problems you mention.

2. Climate change is predicted to cause food supply problems for hundreds of millions of people, trillions of dollars of economic damage, and rising sea levels that flood coastal cities. I don't see how the other problems you mention are more dire.

3. The problems you mention – homelessness, drug abuse, crime, healthcare – are problems that affect us on a domestic level. Climate change disproportionately affects poor people in other countries, yet the CO2 in our atmosphere has been disproportionately created by wealthy countries. How is addressing this snobby?

4. True climate change action would require upending the entire energy sector of the economy. How would this be not taking any action? Just because the action hasn't taken place yet doesn't mean the preaching should stop.

I find climate change opposition adopts the following trajectory: 1. It's not real. 2. Ok, but humans aren't causing it. 3. Ok, but it's not worth solving.

Your response is currently on step 3, and I don't see the logic behind it.


Seriously? I am opposed to climate change? Did you read my post? I never said I am opposed to progress on climate change or that it's not worth solving.

This is exactly the type of politics I dislike when it comes to climate change: I called into question some of the political aspects of climate change, and now I'm being cast out of as an infidel, non-believer, someone opposed to climate change progress, and being given a bunch of straw man arguments.

2. OK, but what are you really contributing here? I didn't specifically mention any other problems when I said other problems have more immediate or greater consequences, so when you say "that's not the case with other problems you mention." Well, nevermind. I assume you latched onto problems I later mentioned that are easier to make changes with in your community, like crime, homelessness, etc., and conflated that with the earlier argument I made.

Also, to address this idea about climate change being irreversible. That's a problem, because it may likely be very likely to be very difficult, but keep in mind: climate change has been happening for billions of years and carbon sequestration technology already exists. Atmospheric CO2 and temperatures already have been higher than they are now... The idea that it is irreversible is not scientific fact. Anyways, that discussion can easily serve as a straw man debate than really getting distracts from the message of what I was saying: It IS a worthy cause to fight against, I said that.


If you're not saying, "it's not worth solving," then what exactly are you saying? What other problems pose "similar if not more immediate, or greater risks to humanity" than climate change? It'd be nice if you could name a few. It seems like your post boils down to, "we have other problems to solve too, besides climate change." Ok. Great.

You do 2 things in your post: you prioritize climate change below other problems (apparently without naming them, which I mistook), and you criticize the behaviors of climate change activists. Please correct me if I'm wrong in understanding your assertions.

I replied with 1 and 2 to show how climate change is the most dire and threatening problem we face. And I replied with 3 and 4 to address your criticisms of climate change activism.

I view climate change as by far the biggest problem humanity has on its plate. I think the alarmism is plainly justified.


He's expressing his concern for the politicalization of the climate issue. It's the same concern that one might have had for the "war on poverty" in which the clout & organizations surrounding the issue become more important than the issue itself.

He's also expressing concern for wealthy individuals concerning themselves with "climate change", but don't have the capability to make a direct, observable impact. He thus raises the question: "If we can save 10 humans now, is it worth worrying about saving 100 later?"

This is a deeply philosophical issue that deserves thoughtful discourse, but it seems you've devolved it into a battle and put intent behind his words such as "you criticize the behaviors of climate change activists" that probably don't fairly represent his.


He made some assertions. I argued against them. He accused me of misunderstanding him. I defended myself and asked him to clarify. I think I'm entitled to argue and defend my claims. Nothing about that is turning this into a battle.

> He thus raises the question: "If we can save 10 humans now, is it worth worrying about saving 100 later?"

No, he said "I can think of a number of other issues that pose similar if not more immediate, or greater risks to humanity that have lower economic costs to solve." That is a much broader statement than saying, "I can think of problems with lesser risks, but that are more immediate." I don't see how my points 1 and 2 don't address his claim. I am challenging him by pointing out the nuances (irreversibility) and seriousness of climate change.

> you've devolved it into a battle and put intent behind his words such as "you criticize the behaviors of climate change activists" that probably don't fairly represent his.

He says, "Global warming activism also bothers me in some ways. Snobs have an absolute affinity for it..." That is criticizing the behaviors of climate change activists.


The 'death' of antibiotics? Soil depletion? Hopefully mankind can scrape together the energy & resources to tackle a few existential risks concurrently


Lose the high-school dramatics. I put you in camp #3 as well.


1. It is reversible over time if people concentrated on removing CO2 from the air.

2. This is not yet known. What if Russia opens borders and lets people in as long as they stay in Siberia?

What if food supply shortage helps innovate instead or changes priorities?

3. Snobby in a way for criticizing countries that are going through their versions of industrial revolution when the West went through it already.

4. Not much action from that person. People are really bad at counting calories. I bet everyone is way off when counting their carbon footprint and they would get outraged by others when they themselves could be outputting way more.

Best thing to do in terms of carbon footprint unless you are directly working on solutions is to not have children and start working on solutions. Finger pointing and preaching doesn't help.


1. Is there a viable technology to do this right now? Is there bound to be one within a decade?

2. That's why I said "predicted." Relocating hundreds of millions of poor people to Russia is not a solution to climate change. Look at the problems we are having now with accepting a couple million refugees from Syria. Plus, this doesn't address the flooding and economic cost. The long-term effects of climate change on humanity are overwhelmingly negative.

3. Virtually all climate change activists I know of primarily advocate reducing emissions at home (in the US for me). The goal is not to prevent other countries from industrializing, it's to prevent them from emitting CO2. This may be possible with green energy. Ultimately, the atmosphere doesn't care where the emissions come from.

4. I don't really care what supporting climate change action says about an individual person, I care about results.

> Best thing to do in terms of carbon footprint unless you are directly working on solutions is to not have children and start working on solutions. Finger pointing and preaching doesn't help.

Yes, finger pointing doesn't help. But at least in the US, we already have the technological and economic means to drastically reduce our carbon footprint. The problem is political will. We need top-down political action to force green energy – as you hint at, individuals trying to reduce their carbon footprint will never be enough. There is unfortunately no other way.


re (1.) It might not be that easy. Sure, the planet would cool down again, but

- the 1000 year ocean cycle takes time, (which is now transporting heat and carbon into the lower ocean layers)

- building up the ice sheets again takes way longer, and ice sheets are important to the albedo, thus also have an influence on climate,

- there are some points where something big might change, such as ocean current patterns changing permanently(due to changes in heat and salinity distribution), permafrost thawing and releasing huge volumes of methane, ..

It's a massive problem to undo. Right now it'd be still relatively easy, but it might not stay that way.

(We'll have to learn how to control the climate longterm anyway since another ice age would be desastrous, but it's too soon. We're still to unknowledgerable and weak.)


re: #2, see the huge instability of the permafrost in areas that are currently warming. It's not a good place to settle humans. http://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/siberia-crater...


I've been hearing about the sky falling because of climate change most of my life. Yet in the 1970s it was global cooling. The easiest way to convince someone of a particular 'danger' is to promise world-ending catastrophe.

The science was 'settled' on Eugenics during the early 20th century as well and we saw how that turned out.

There's no mention of any positive effects of global warming. The climate is certainly changing.. But then again it has always changed and the world will adapt and evolve as it always has. When Leonardo DiCaprio gives up a private jet for a city bus, then maybe I'll start to worry. The science has been misappropriated by anti-capitalist activists.

Forgive me for not trusting the anti-capitalist cabal that share more values with Lenin than with Milton Friedman.


> Yet in the 1970s it was global cooling.

Nope: http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/06/that-70s-myth-did-cli...

> Forgive me for not trusting the anti-capitalist cabal that share more values with Lenin than with Milton Friedman.

Stop reading crappy news sources. Have you read the IPCC 5th AR? The synthesis report summary for policymakers is an excellent overview and really easy to read: http://ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/AR5_SYR_FINAL_S...

It discusses evidence, projections for the future, practical effects for people and for economies, and potential mitigation techniques, all in common language. The IPCC reports are a combination of inputs from all the world's climate scientists. These aren't communists and Lenin fanatics (what the heck are you reading??), these are real scientists doing peer-reviewed work with real data. More about the IPCC 5th report: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPCC_Fifth_Assessment_Report

This is a very serious issue and I'm really disappointed that the issue has been framed in such a way as to give you the impression that ignoring long-standing scientific principles that we use in every other area of our lives is the best way for you to act.


> Yet in the 1970s it was global cooling.

Myth. In the 1970s no one was quite sure what was coming, a few people raised the possibility of "global cooling" and one or two journalists hyped it up as journalists are wont to do, but in so far as there was a consensus it was that warming was much more likely to be a problem.

> eugenics

Not, so far as I can tell, a case of the science turning out to be wrong. What happened was that the Nazis were keen on eugenics and most of the world decided that that wasn't the company they wanted to be keeping. It's a change of values, not of scientific understanding.

> positive effects of global warming

The IPCC impact report, for instance, does talk about positive effects. It talks more about negative effects because most of the projected effects are negative.


One of the big problems I see with this issue is that the loudest people speaking up about it sometimes do it in almost absurdly apocalyptic terms, and do have more of an anti-capitalists and hardcore environmentalist vibe instead of a more science based one. This turns it into yet another politically polarized issue. But I think one should ignore the politics as much as possible and stick with the science.

Remember DDT? On one side you had Silent Spring, and on the other side you have people claiming bollocks and conspiracy and the like. I think the science is pretty settled on this one, really has been since the 1970s (eg, a metabolite of DDT, DDE, really is nasty for raptor egg shells, and wanton over-application of pesticide is an extremely poor way to control mosquitoes) but I still see things about the "DDT conspiracy" today.

Likewise, with climate change, I think the science is fairly settled to some degree. The issue here is that it's a very slow moving problem, with some degree of uncertainty. A lot of humans aren't terribly good at thinking very long term. Plus, the "easy" solution involves "giving up" our creature comforts, which contrary to the anti-capitalists opinion I don't anyone is going to want to do.

While you're right that most likely much of the world will adapt, there may be some pain points. We have so much infrastructure built along the coasts right now that could be affected by sea rise increases, for instance. Same with different weather patterns -- for instance, what's San Francisco going to do if climate change starts slowly, over time, affecting the Sierra Nevada snowpack they depend on for water?

The developed world, of course, probably can come up with some solutions for this; honestly I don't think the changes will be a complete disaster there. Poorer nations, might be another story. I'm not sure they are as able to cope.


"The science has been misappropriated by anti-capitalist activists." That is an undeniable fact - last time I entered the local university I needed to fist-bump a guy like Che, chant a few slogans, spit on a Friedman picture and show latest Naomi Klein book at the fraternity doormen. Oh god it was awful.


> Yet in the 1970s it was global cooling

No, scientists never predicted global cooling

> There's no mention of any positive effects of global warming

Perhaps because there is none that outweighs the negative effects?


> I can think of a number of other issues that pose similar if not more immediate, or greater risks to humanity that have lower economic costs to solve.

Cool, like what?

> None of what I'm saying is that global warming isn't a worthy cause, just that the enormity and alarmism of the politics that surrounds it is cause for question.

I agree. But that doesn't make it less of an issue. And cutting off your nose to spite your face doesn't seem like a useful solution, so what's the answer?


>Cool, like what?

Regular environmental damage, for one. We still have lots of forest-burning and toxic chemical exposure around the world. In fact, a major extinction is going on in the Amazon right now because of deforestation.

We could also throw in public health crises like heart disease and diabetes - like climate, we may be able to improve those by changing our behavior.

It is absolutely the case the case that present human and environmental health is under greatest assault by things other than climate. This is not to make climate less, but to point out that other problems loom a little larger than most people think.


Deforestation is a climate change problem as well as a local ecosystem problem. Solve for both.

Life expectancies have risen by a ridiculous amount over the last 150 years. Wide-spread diabetes is a symptom of a wealthy society that is over-indulging - solve for that problem, and, you guessed it, climate change is assisted too.

Climate change can destroy our global ecosystem - the one that sustains all life. While these other things may be more urgent, nothing (aside from a large object in space heading to Earth) has quote the same existential gravitas.


So remove the wealth and thus limit over indulging? Ok, you first.


This comment doesn't even make sense. A wealthy society over-indulging doesn't need it's wealth curtailed in order to stop over-indulging and the comment you replied to didn't imply that it did.


We only got one global atmosphere but lots of hearts and forests. It is a single point of failure.

And fighting some of those things, like pollution from coal plants, also goes hand in hand with reducing CO2 emissions.


The alarmism comes from reputable scientific research saying that the outcome will be terrifying catastrophy.

The politics come from the fact that in many places, everybody but the strongly left have decided they don't give a crap, so many solutions you hear about are intertwined with left-wing politics.

I bike to work and I eat vegetarian. I'm not impressed with the rationalizations people come up with for doing nothing.


>The alarmism comes from reputable scientific research saying that the outcome will be terrifying catastrophy.

Just to be clear, the reputable scientific research is around the issue of climate change's impact on the environment, not on the effects to society. In other words, what that statement means is that we are capable of using the scientific method to make reliable predictions about how much the earth's temperature will rise, how much ocean levels will rise, etc.

The problem I see here is that the 'reputable scientific research' is being stretched to include outcomes to society: 'reputable scientific research says the outcome will be terrifying catastrophy.' That is not science: no one has a scientific experiment that can scientifically prove how many people will die or experience hardship due to climate change, let alone that outcome is terrifying catastrophe. By the way, what is 'terrifying catastrophe?' We can only produce simulations, models, guesses and conjecture, all of which are notoriously fallible devices, to predict what will happen.

Look, and I'm in agreement that the outcome of not acting on climate change will probably be terrible. My post clearly lays out that I am an advocate of climate change progress.

The extreme alarmism is not an indisputable part of the science, it is an indisputable part of the politics. The is something which has become worth questioning.

There are a lot of people shouting up and down about climate change without doing anything serious. Some of the most capable to help others are buying into a market of products and services that appear to have questionable benefit to human welfare. For example, hybrid cars that weigh over 2 tons and get 20mpg. Those investments in extremely marginal improvements in CO2 emissions, without directing effort to make improvements in other peoples lives in very obvious, relatively low-cost, and direct ways, especially in their communities, calls into question the value of the political movements impact on our resource allocation: is $20,000 better spent on a hybrid powertrain that improves fuel economy marginally on an over-bloated car, or is it better spent on other methods of saving lives, improving education, civil rights, individual freedoms, access to food and healthcare? We do have the capability to make the world a better place, and there is still a lot of low-hanging fruit as a means to that end. For example, we live in a world where more than enough food is produced to feed everyone, yet malnutrition is still a problem. Some estimate enough food is currently produced to feed the world twice over.

What I want to say is: it is worth questioning the politics. The climate change movement has become so political, so important and so untouchable of questioning that it raises concerns.

Why is it worth questioning the politics. One reason: are we spending our resources efficiently? I don't think we are.

I commend you for your efforts. For a period, I also biked to work and ate vegetarian.


My problem is that the climate change activism crowd have admitted that the benefit of climate change regulation is income redistribution and effectively the destruction of capitalism. The climate change movement started gaining stream after the Soviet Union collapsed. I am very skeptical of climate activists with their almost identical similarity to the pro-Soviet propagandists from the 1980s.

"But one must say clearly that we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy.. ..One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore.."

--Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the IPCC’s Working Group III, and lead author of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report released in 2007


I can never understand why dumping pollution into the atmosphere and making other people bear the costs is categorized under "capitalism" and "free market," while making people actually pay for the costs they impose on others through pollution is considered "redistribution" and "communism."

When somebody burns coal as part of their business and pollutes my air, they are basically imposing a tax on me to subsidize their business. That's not capitalism or economic freedom, that's socialism for business.


> I can never understand why dumping pollution into the atmosphere and making other people bear the costs is categorized under "capitalism" and "free market," while making people actually pay for the costs they impose on others through pollution is considered "redistribution" and "communism."

Your confusion is well founded. It is actually the other way around. Privatizing externalities (the environmental costs) is honestly a well-respected market-based mechanism to solve problems that fall under the Tragedy of the Commons category, as is the case here. So it is arguably absolutely "capitalist," and "free market." It has nothing to do with socialism and everything to do with using free market mechanisms. If you're interested in related reading, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pigovian_tax

Socializing the costs (which means to redistribute ownership to society) is arguably more consistently "communist." Communism is a really bloated term, economic ideology, in which the economy does not rely on markets, but on socialization of capital and production, arguably more accurately describes a situation where we socialize a cost to society.


That seems quite sensible, but unfortunately every time something is brought up, people come out of the woodwork to criticize it on the basis that it's anti-capitalist, destroys free markets, etc.


It is unfortunate, I agree.


They talk like that because it's actually true in one sense. There are a lot of side-effects of capitalism that aren't accounted for in a business' costs. It's the tragedy of the commons. We all share a common environment, but there's often no cost for harm to that environment.

On top of all that, developing nations are trying to get to our living standard. To do that, they'll be harming the environment as well in increasing amounts, so it's necessary for one to consider that as a factor.

A common way to consider these issues is to issue carbon credits that one can spend. If your business doesn't need them, you can sell them to another business which creates a market for them (and hence a cost). If you do something that reduces emissions you can get more credits. Every country would get some and could trade the credits as well. To help developing nations, they would get a larger share of the credits which would naturally limit the increase of CO2 emissions that the developed nations would get. But, if the developing nations don't need the credits they could sell them to the developed nations to get things they need.

That's all a pretty simplistic way of putting things and the system is far more complicated, but that's the overall idea.

So, it is a redistribution of the world's wealth, but it's still a capitalist system.

The problem is that if you don't give the developing nations something, they won't sign on to the agreement and they could build a lot of cheap but polluting plants and equipment and make things that much harder on the countries that do sign the agreement. It's all very tricky.

A friend of mine did his PhD work on energy planning in developing nations and he focused on India (and went to live there for a year, I was his remote tech support). He's now a senior person at a NGO that does work in developing nations so I've heard him talk about this at length before.


That quote makes a lot of sense in context. He is discussing the economics of climate change policy, and talking specifically about the proposals at that time to allow developing countries higher emission targets because they were disadvantaged by not already having industrialized. He is pointing out that policy can be viewed as wealth redistribution, and that all the arguments about the response to climate change are economic, not environmental.

Read the full interview where he says it here: https://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/11/18/ipcc-official-“climat...


To some extent government is always income redistribution. Even a flat tax rate still takes more money from the rich, in absolute amounts, and uses it to build things and provide services that benefit everyone.

So unless you think all governments should cease to exist you indirectly agree to some level of income redistribution already.

And it's not like subsidizing clean energy infrastructure in developing countries would magically equalize everyone's living standards like communism claimed to do. So it's still fairly limited redistribution.

So where exactly is the problem? You're not saying any more than "fixing the problem will take some money that has to be invested globally, not just locally".


That's not my point. My point is that climate change policy isn't about climate change, thus I am skeptical about climate change activists because their goal isn't climate, but redistribution. Essentially, they're lying.


All they're saying is that it'll take more than just a bit of regulating emissions. If anything they're being honest.

You're confusing goals and solutions here.


That's an unfalsifiable claim, since no amount of evidence would reduce, much eliminate that skepticism.


It is about climate change. The knock-on effects of the short-term changes made to benefit the climate include wealth redistribution. Stop taking that quote out of context.


You can thank Gore and his messianic ego for completely politicizing climate change.


Go ahead and call me all the usual names (I don't care), but I'm a skeptic of a few things - especially things like science that has strong political influences/biases/implications - and yes, sometimes even mainstream science.

But no, I don't deny or ignore the apparent trends. That's why I also don't feel (as others have expressed here) any sense of grave alarmism or fear about the effects of warming. When climate-related deaths have steadily decreased in recent history[1], shouldn't we really be more concerned with adapting (or continuing to adapt) our own environments to deal with the earth's climate? That doesn't mean we shouldn't be environmentally conscious; just the opposite. We should be conscious of our environment, both in terms of what nature provides and in terms of how we adapt to it. Surely, very few people alive today would be suited to living in many populous places in the world without the protections afforded by human invention - today or pre-industrialization. Technological progress (much of which is a product of fossil fuels) has enabled us to live significantly longer lives, and fewer people are in climate-related danger now than ever before in history. In my view, that's a good thing.

[1] http://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/wp-content/uploads/...


Rich countries with efficient and abundant energy have the lowest population growth rates and the cleanest and best preserved environments.

The solution for environment degradation is the same as for poverty - the two are obviously linked.

The solution is efficient energy and rejection of superstitious nonsense.

Alas the majority of the world is trying to unwind the first and positively going the other way on the second.


> When climate-related deaths have steadily decreased in recent history[1]

And exactly what does mean that figure from CATO Institute?

> and fewer people are in climate-related danger now than ever before in history

Do you have any link to back that claim?


Let it roll.

Few in the industrialized world if anyone really gives a shite (1). Lots of well-fed educated westerners would lose sleep if "free" economy is coughing but don't really care about this. Run away capitalism creating the problem in the first place is also -ehm- the reason why mostly leftists seem to get it. Not that this helps. It just makes the whole thing even more partizan.

Sad truth is the guys that are really screwed (so far and at the foreseeable future) by this are not exactly HN commentators. To them this might mean drought and death next year but to us -fat cats- this apparently means a danger to economic development. We simply do not have our asses on the line (yet) - which is why we can talk this to death but do _nothing_ to really prevent it. We might wake up when we start losing relatives due to 50C heat waves. Who knows.

And even then, if we get it, who would actually do something? We -at a global scale- have been terrible at resolving much simpler crises. Want an example? Ebola virus was stopped last minute. Zika virus is on the loose and is gonna get worse (because Olympic games will go on at the epicenter despite hundreds academics calling for delaying them). If nobody makes money out of it nobody cares. Our whole system is simply dancing to that music.

So - let it roll babe.

1. <brutally honest mode on> Including my fat ass. </brutally honest mode>


Good comment!

I'm highly surprised by the skepticism, especially by 'Hacker News' readers, some comments read as if science is but an inconvenience.

Westerners don't live in complete isolation from the environment and other nations of the world.

Our air comes from our oceans (which are in-trouble), cheap goods that prop up modern consumer driven economies (very sadly) come from places which are already being hit hard by warming temperatures, deforestation and drought and mass migration events are already taking place.

More needs to be done.


The worst thing is that we can't stop it when it will be too late. This doesn't work like a switch. Even if we would drastically cut all CO2 emission those levels would not drop in our lifetimes.


Relying on natural processes yes there is a problem, but if we were to put WWII levels of resources into it we could create artificial trees [1] while hiding under a short term SO2 umbrella [2]. Of course I doubt we will actually do this.

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

2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_engineering


I have no doubt at we will try this, plus a lot of even dumber ideas, once the shit really starts to hit the fan. The world is not going to just sit back as Manhattan, Mumbai, Shanghai, Sydney, Rio, etc. disappear under a foot or two of water. Politicians (the same one who spent 50 years failing on this issue) will demand action. It's the best argument I can think of for putting serious research effort into geoengineering, odious as it may be.


Artificial trees are not considered geoengineering since they are just reversing the CO2 released. The really sad aspect is we are not putting in the R&D resources needed to develop them to the required scale. No matter what we do about preventing the release of more CO2, we need to deal with the CO2 that has already been released.


Regular trees work quite well and are cheaper. You just have to harvest them and not burn the wood, or turn it to biochar.


Actually burning the wood works just fine, provided you can sequester (see BECCS, along with recent developments in basalt based CCS).


There are not enough natural trees to do the job because we have taken most of the really productive land to grow food. While there is some potential to use biochar in some locations, it is not going to be enough to get the CO2 levels down at the pace we need.


It's probably a lot cheaper for those cities to build flood control systems.


> build flood control systems.

Water is only one problem. By 2070 some places might be uninhabitable according to this[1] study, due to heat.

> At WBTs [wet bulb temperature] above 35C, the high heat and humidity make it physically impossible for even the fittest human body to cool itself by sweating, with fatal consequences after six hours. For less fit people, the fatal WBT is below 35C. A WBT temperature of 35C – the combination of 46C heat and 50% humidity – was almost reached in Bandar Mahshahr in Iran in July 2015.

At some point it's going to cost big bucks. If the study holds water, the Gulf will either need to be evacuated or artificial habitation will need to be built.

[1]: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/26/extreme-...


Will still be a wakeup call. And I seriously doubt that flood control (and/or relocation) for all major costal cities will be cheaper than climate engineering.


I'm very confident the USA will respond effectively to global warming as soon as the Midwest actually sets on fire and not a moment before.


As soon as Houston stops being the 4th largest city in America or people come up with a plan for how to kill a city's main industry without it turning into a hotbed of suicide and violent crime.


Of all these I believe ocean iron seeding to be the most interesting and viable. It may also improve fish stock and have other direct economic benefits.

The negative knee-jerk reaction of my fellow Greens on this matter is is only topped by our anti-nuclear power rhetoric.

Global adoption of LFTR reactors combined with the massive reduction in coal/oil power plants, ocean iron seeding and the adoption of electric vehicles should get global C02 levels close to pre-industrial levels within 200 years, if we start today.


> Global adoption of LFTR reactors ... if we start today

I'm a huge fan of gen IV reactors in general and LFTR in particular, but we are a long way from being able to deploy any MSRs, even if everyone woke up tomorrow and suddenly took the construction of LFTRs as a terminal moral value. All that have been created to date are small research reactors, mostly 40+ years ago. Almost all of the MSR research projects started recently have fizzled out; AFAIK the only project that has any kind of plan for future civilian nuclear energy is China's. The current regulatory and public opinion environment for civil reactors is absolutely abysmal, and that will likely take even longer to change than the research will.


Here's an excellent presentation about that from a psychology perspective: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnEO2ysnO6Q

Half of us are in denial, half of us are doing ineffective things, and half of us are in China.


Note: I buy into global warming, but that video was terrible and only manages to worsen the case for global warming.

He claims people are global warming deniers and uses ice cores to prove the case, only he's an idiot for not realizing that MOST of the people he's referring to are not denying that the earth is warming up, rather they're clearly saying that it is the impact/outcome where there is a disagreement.

He consistently and unjustifiably uses answers for peripheral problems to debate core arguments which only destroys his credibility. I could only watch for so long... I just had to stop, it was hurting that much.


That compounded with climate lag... scary stuff.

http://www.skepticalscience.com/Climate-Change-The-40-Year-D...


Indeed. The Earth is large and difficult to steer.


But that is what's mind-boggling. That one species has managed such global impact.


There is no pipeline flush in nature CPU.


I've been having a bit of an existential crisis about this recently. Is sustainability even possible anymore? We are obviously living beyond the capacity of the earth to cope right now. But is it even possible to sustain this many people (at current standards of living with foreseeable technology)?


I believe in global warming, but I also think a higher or lower temperature Earth with a greater level of CO2 just means that different organisms will thrive. We think that we have damaged the Earth, but the Earth is much, much older than us, and we've barely made a dent if you consider the full lifetime of everything that ever will be. Now- if we had started a global thermonuclear war and eradicated all life on Earth, I wouldn't be saying that, but all we have done is to change the temperature and the atmosphere a little, which has serious consequences for the way things currently are, but in the end it will just mean different organisms take over and what grows where will change.

If anything, the thing we need to be concerned about is being ready for changes, which will happen. We might need to grow different sorts of foods, focus on better insulation for our homes or move underground or underwater. We may need new laws to avoid wasting resources. But, there is no reason to be depressed about it. Those things will happen with time.


Yes, these things will be rendered insignificant in the fullness of time, but as a human's with limited lives, it's still important to maintain empathy towards the human suffering of the here-and-now, and the very near future. It will be painful, it will be stressful, and we need to brace ourselves for the reality that many of our fellow humans will die from famine, regional war, and refugee crises whilst we struggle to adapt to and mitigate the worst of it.


Well at least we are unlikely to starve: satellite imaging shows very significant greening of the planet in many areas previously barren. How so? As the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs puts it,

“The benefits of carbon dioxide supplementation on plant growth and production within the greenhouse environment have been well understood for many years. For the majority of greenhouse crops, net photosynthesis increases as CO2 levels increase from 340–1,000 ppm (parts per million). Most crops show that for any given level of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), increasing the CO2 level to 1,000 ppm will increase the photosynthesis by about 50% over ambient CO2 levels. For some crops the economics may not warrant supplementing to 1,000 ppm CO2 at low light levels. For others such as tulips, and Easter lilies, no response has been observed."


But this means more carbs in plant and less proteins, the diluted nutrients is said to be cause of bees dieng off, as they eat pollen for their protein needs and pollen has less protein, because plants dillute it with all that extra carbohydrate productions caused by more co2 in atmosphere


Do you have a source or any information you can point me to? Thanks,


That's my way of thinking about it too. At any rate getting nearly 200 independent nation states to agree on anything when they all individually benefit by flouting the rules - that's madness. We'll burn oil and coal and gas until it doesn't make economic sense. I very much doubt politics will change the outcome. Technology will hopefully save us from ourselves on that front.

A bigger problem is positive feedback loops. Melting ice means more dark water to absorb sunlight, and more melting. Melting permafrost releases CO2 and Methane and causes more warming. And somewhere around ~5 degrees warming the frozen methane on the ocean floor will bubble up and cause the mother of all feedback cycles. We'd be in for about 10 degrees warming and a mass extinction that would wipe out 90% or more of all species on Earth. From what I've seen of global warming predictions we won't get there - but I'm mentioning this because at some point warming temperatures doesn't just mean major changes and flooding our cities - at some point it means a terrible calamity like the Earth has only occasionally seen.


A bigger problem is positive feedback loops.

Historically we've had much more CO2 in the atmosphere than we do now. Why didn't the methane bubble up and kill everything then?


The methane was primarily caused by decaying biomass falling to the ocean floor. It didn't exist at the time the CO2 levels were higher.


It did. That was part of the sad chain of events causing one of the biggest mass extinctions ever 250m years ago. Its one of the theories anyway.


But will we be able to eat the different organisms that will thrive in this environment? What happens when today's staple crops no longer produce the yields we need to sustain our civilization?


During the little ice age, people ate things that grew in colder climates, like potatoes. We will find a way to survive, and we have more technology now to help than we did then.


Get ready to enjoy eating things made from jellyfish. Like, a lot of them.


I would venture that seaweed or algae is more likely.


I don't think so, if only because seaweed isn't very calorie dense - 4 calories per 2 tablespoon according to Wikipedia (well, the google card that gets all its info from Wikipedia at least).

I think it's much more plausible that we'll go the route Asimov predicted in "Caves of Steel" - genetically modified and processed yeasts, which are much more calorie dense than seaweed, and much better suited to the sort of industrial process that feeding 10+ billion people requires.


As a Korean, I'm glad we're prepared. Jellyfish salad and seaweed soup, anyone? :)


I specifically cite jellyfish, because they're one of the few creatures that will thrive in the increasingly acidic oceans. As so many other species — including those we currently enjoy eating to the brink of extinction — die off, jellyfish will abound.


My response to you is "what right do we have to usher in these changes?"

You might argue the "might makes right" perspective that anything within our capability is acceptable and appropriate but I don't agree with that sentiment. I feel that we, as sentient/semi-sapient beings, must be as custodians for this world and all the life within it.

We are actually the least among all, until we begin to serve the rest of this planet that has seen us to this point.


The changes are already ushered in. Our responsibility now is to manage the consequences as well as we can.


He's not saying this is all fine and dandy, hes saying its not an apocalypse, just a global catastrophe from which both the earth and humanity will recover.


The odds are a bit longer on humanity surviving this mess than the planet.


Humanity will become extinct long before the biosphere. You need to think more inhuman [1]

"It is based on a recognition of the astonishing beauty of things and their living wholeness, and on a rational acceptance of the fact that mankind is neither central nor important in the universe; our vices and blazing crimes are as insignificant as our happiness. […] Turn outward from each other, so far as need and kindness permit, to the vast life and inexhaustible beauty beyond humanity. This is not a slight matter, but an essential condition of freedom, and of moral and vital sanity.’

[1] http://dark-mountain.net/stories/books/book-1/the-falling-ye...


It's very difficult to derive 'ought' from 'is'.


> might makes right

This is false.

I believe that this assumption was addressed accordingly by Thucydides in his account of the Peloponnesian war around 400 BC.

If you believe that might makes right the time where you will find yourself in a situation of disadvantage will come and then the precedent you have set might come back and haunt you in ways you never had thought possible.

ps. ofc here we're talking about nature and believing that we're might against nature as a species is blasphemy. The earth (the planet) will survive, our species will not :-)


> different organisms will thrive

Like mosquitos, ticks and other disease-carrying insects that kill 1 million humans every year.


Welcome Zika et al


You are correct. As long as this does not mean we will hit severe resource scarcity that starts one or several wars that turns so bad that nukes starts flying.


> just means that different organisms will thrive

Like non-human fauna.


This is very human-centric point of view. How many species will be lost forever as a direct cause of this event ? Sure, it happens all the time, but typically over a much longer period meaning other species can evolve to fill the gaps. There is no time for evolution to work over the 200 years this last change happened.

Another thing to consider is that the less diversity exists the harder it is for life to continue.


> This is very human-centric point of view. How many species will be lost forever as a direct cause of this event ?

Actually, it's your view that's human-centric. Species? Diversity? These are human concepts and mores.

> There is no time for evolution to work over the 200 years this last change happened.

Evolution doesn't "work". It's merely the process of natural and sexual selection. The flora and fauna are constantly being sculpted by the environment, even a rapidly changing one. And there is no evidence to suggest similarly rapid shifts haven't occurred in the past. In fact, there is evidence that they did and life went on.


I find it odd to see people criticizing each other because their comments are too human-centric. I happen to be human, and I believe the same is true of most of the commenters here. I don't really care very much about what happens to the Earth as a whole, but the survival and prosperity of humanity matters a great deal to me.


> the survival and prosperity of humanity matters a great deal to me

Just curious about what drives that particular viewpoint. Why do you care about the survival of the species? When you die, the world ends. It doesn't really matter what happens after that, does it? You could be dead two milliseconds and then a big rock hits the Earth and everything is gone. Still it doesn't impact you, because you are dead. And I am asking for the sake of discussion, purely.


I'm going to be around for a while, probably, and living in a better world makes for a better life. After I'm gone, I still want a better life for my child.


I suspect this kind of thinking is an innate evolutionary reflex. Similar to why people love having kids.


Sure. All live will grow until it consumes all available resources. There is no such thing as voluntary growth control in "natural systems". Agent Smith was wrong when he claimed all other life seems to find a "balance". Balance emerges from mortal competition between species.

Only humans have this: http://www.vhemt.org/


I find it odd, that you don't care what happens to the Earth as a whole, given that is the only place you can live as a human :)

And the thing is that the prosperity of the human species in the last century has been made largely at the expense of the Earth as whole.


I care about the Earth as far as it affects humanity. If white rhinos go extinct, that's sad, and the loss of biodiversity is harmful, but it's a fairly small thing. If, say, wheat were to go extinct, that would be a huge disaster.

The fact that our recent prosperity has come at the expense of the Earth is only bad in so far as that harm to the Earth is harmful to humans too. The two are linked, but not identical. The only way to eliminate human-induced harm to the Earth would be to eliminate humans, so the goal needs to be mitigation of harm and where possible moving harm to the Earth into areas that affect humans less.


No, its a systems viewpoint. And it can only be held by an organism that can appreciate the system. All other organisms breed util the systems natural capacity is exhausted and continually competes against one another.

You know exactly what I mean by "work". The current 6'th mass extinction (Holocene) is currently ongoing. The species responsible for this has no natural enemies against which we compete and will therefore continue unabated until all resources have been consumed and the system collapses. Just like it always has.


> The species responsible for this has no natural enemies against which we compete and will therefore continue unabated until all resources have been consumed and the system collapses.

This isn't remotely true. There are tons of bacteria and viruses which are parasitic towards us. We compete against them.

Nevermind the fact that the greatest competition always comes from your own species. The greatest check on human expansion and prosperity is humanity. We kill, maim, and restrict each other on grand scales.

There is also no historical evidence that a single species has ever been responsible for a mass extinction, so I find it odd that you're assuming we'll be the first when there is a historical record that spans billions of years. That's just arrogance.


   > But is it even possible to sustain this many people (at
   > current standards of living with foreseeable technology)?
Absolutely, there is a tremendous amount of waste which is not recaptured due to economic rather than technological reasons. Further there are technologies (like nuclear power and breeder reactors) which can provide energy forever (for all practical purposes). And ultimately the survival of humans can be reduced to simply to energy, energy to grow food, energy to process wastes, and energy to communicate and interact. Modern nuclear submarines stay submerged under the ocean for 6 months, only coming up for consumables such as food. A companion "farm" sub (not that such a thing currently exists, but is certainly possible given the extent of aquaculture today) could provide the necessary consumable. Letting the submarine pair exist under the ocean until its nuclear fuel ran out. Add a third submarine that has a breeder reactor and a fuel reprocessing pipeline and you've got a permanent colony.

It still requires Newport News to build more subs but you get the picture. With enough energy you can support the entire predicted population of the planet.

But emotionally, there are bigger problems. Nation states and large population groups are at risk of starvation and deprivation as a direct result of climate change. And those at risk populations are not getting any support from the people who are putatively putting them at risk. So emotionally, an existential crisis is probably justified.


The way I see it, sooner or later it will come down to atmospheric engineering (i.e. managing reflective airborne molecules, like an artificial volcanic winter). The question will be wether we have this technology sorted out until the situation becomes desperate and whether the world will be politically stable enough for an entity to take responsibility over this - it's going to be like a sword of damocles over everyone's heads and once we've started with this we can't go back (because everyone will keep burning fossil fuel until it has run out).


How does that address ocean acidification?


It doesn't. It won't be pretty, it's basically fighting for survival of the human species at that point.


Maybe we can neutralize that by dumping basic solutions into the ocean?


Because ocean acidification is caused by atmospheric CO2? Pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and you'll reduce the amount of CO2 dissolved in the ocean.


A solution could include CO2 sequestration


"But is it even possible to sustain this many people (at current standards of living with foreseeable technology)?"

In short no.

The reason being the current system requires endless growth (measured currently in GDP) in order sustain this many people with current standards of living. Of course current standards of living are not enough, especially for people in poverty around with world. If growth doesn't continue the entire economic system grinds to a halt. However, endless growth confined to a closed system (Earth) is not sustainable not only for the climate but also for resources like water, food, etc.

Geoengineering is just another foolish attempt of humans to try to bend the planet to our wishes. This line of thinking, that we are somehow better than the earth, somehow removed from all earth systems as a species, is what got us in this mess in the first place. Yes, I realize the irony of saying this on a forum with readers, like myself, who solve technical problems for a living.

Parts of the environmental movement are now starting to focus on economic system change for this very reason.


> The reason being the current system requires endless growth (measured currently in GDP) in order sustain this many people with current standards of living.

I don't think we are anywhere near the growth limit on the planet. (Economic) Growth is mostly limited by energy use, and current tech can handle growth for about a century. Add technological evolution, and we're easily in the 500 years range of energy use increase.

By then, all bets are off. Heck, for the 100 year span all bets are off.


It's not true that the economic system requires endless growth. The EU and Japan haven't grown much in recent times and life goes on. The electorate quite like growth though and will tend to vote for governments that provide it.


Earth can cope, we mightn't.

Nature looks very harmonious to us, but we only see the sustainable species (alive now, and very few are fossilised and found). Many many species must have evolved that created conditions unfavourable to themselves - we only see the ones that didn't. (Organisms have an effect on their environment, favourable, unfavourable or neutral). Consider a plant that encourages swampy conditions. If it thrives in those conditions, great. If it doesn't, it will evolve itself away.

There's speculation that Earth's oxygen atmosphere destroyed the life that created it. Though most changes and extinctions are local.

Intelligence is such a dramatic, effectful evolution, it may take several iterations before a sustainable version arises (if possible). Perhaps this has happened on Earth already.

In the Drake equation, L is very low (how long technological civilizations usually last).


I'm curious as well.

If myself (or someone else) were to develop a zero-emission approach to electricity generation (non-nuclear) that could handle "base load" and did not involve filling up the landscape with solar panels (or their moral equivalent), and did not produce waste, would that even help any more?

We globally consume about 20,000 terawatt-hours of electricity right now annually, and in the US, electricity generation is 30% of total CO2 emissions. Presumably, if there was additional power for electric vehicles, we could also reduce overall emissions even further by moving away from gasoline.

But at this point, even NO emissions seems pointless to work towards—we're already screwed. It seems like instead of pursuing lower emissions, we need to work towards reducing the CO2 that's already in the atmosphere.


Large-scale engineering, the kind we'd need to do large-scale cleaning of the atmosphere, or large-scale high-efficiency hydroponic farming, or building huge earthworks to protect cities from rising sea levels, or anything else we might need to do to deal with global warming, is driven by large-scale energy production. Without energy, we can't do the things we need to do to survive without a lot of pain, suffering, and death. With plentiful energy, we can do the things we know we need to do, and new technological advancements become possible.

I wouldn't rule out nuclear energy. There are risks, but it can produce a lot of energy in a small space, and the waste is much lower volume and easier to contain than chemical energy production. In my opinion, we should've built up our nuclear energy production over the past 30 years so that coal and oil could've been phased out by now, while we developed viable solar energy tech to replace the nuclear tech.


At some point it will become feasible to capture CO2 on a large scale and reduce CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

So, not screwed yet.


If you have enough energy to spend, capturing CO2 is quite feasible.


I'd say the less emissions we have to less severe the consequences will be and the the easier it will be to work around the problems in the future. Every tiny reduction buys us more time.


I would suggest you stop worrying and get on with your biological imperative to reproduce your dna, only in slightly variated pattern to ensure parasites and viruses are kept guessing.

Also know that people have been grappling with this question for centuries and every doomsday prediction has turned out to be wrong. So there is cause for optimism.


Every previous civilisation met its doomsday.

They weren't, however, globe-spanning comprehensive complex and ultimately fragile systems.


You might benefit from reading this book:

https://www.withouthotair.com/

Obviously there's no simple naive answer to your question, but essentially to a first approximation the answer is yes, it's possible. The changes we need to implement are pretty dramatic and some particular things don't look very viable (say, regular people making frequent international flights), but aside from those it's entirely doable and reasonably affordable. It's purely a matter of willpower.


{not a quote from link but the conversation reminded me of this}

I would not rule out the chance to preserve a nucleus of human specimens. It would be quite easy... at the bottom of ah...some of our deeper mineshafts. Radioactivity would never penetrate a mine some thousands of feet deep, and in a matter of weeks, sufficient improvements in drilling space could easily be provided... It would not be difficult, Nuclear reactors could, heh... provide power almost indefinitely. Greenhouses could maintain plant life. Animals could be bred and slaughtered. A quick survey would have to be made of all the available mine sites in the country, but I would guess that dwelling space for several hundred thousands of our people could easily be provided. [Selecting who would go down] could easily be accomplished with a computer set and programmed to accept factors from youth, health, sexual fertility, intelligence, and a cross-section of necessary skills. Of course, it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition.

Q: Wouldn't this nucleus of survivors be so grief-stricken and anguished that they'd, well, envy the dead and not want to go on living?

When they go down into the mine, everyone would still be alive. There would be no shocking memories, and the prevailing emotion will be one of nostalgia for those left behind, combined with a spirit of bold curiosity for the adventure ahead! Ahhh!


This sounds essentially like the plot of the Book of Ember series if anyone (or their kids) is into post-apocalyptic cave living fiction.


It's from Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.


Yes, sustainability is possible. No, we are not living beyond the capacity of the earth. Yes, it's possible to sustain this many people, and some billions more.

Because the very concept of "resources" is not fixed. In the Paleolythic, all of Eurasia and Africa only had resources to sustain a few hundred of thousands of humans. Petrol wasn't a resource, coal wasn't a resource, even land wasn't a resource.

When we learnt to grow crops and tame animals the resources grew to let the same land sustain some millions of people.

And in the past 50 years, Borlaug's Green Revolution [1] turned all of 70's predictions of doom like The Population Bomb false. We have now more food than ever, and more resources than ever. And that's if we call "resources" just the things that we can use now.

In 50 years, people will be worrying about running out of X, where X will be a thing that we now don't think about as a resource.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Borlaug


No, sustainability is an empty concept in a future where the status quo is past the point of no return (which we're already in). We will need to move a hell of a lot faster than the Paris Agreement to prevent huge die-offs of people and loss of biodiversity.

We're going to need a Manhattan Project for carbon sequestration.


People have been saying there would be a die off since the 80s. Did you ever read the population bomb?

We'll adapt like we always do.


Agricultural production areas and crops will probably have to shift to follow climate and rainfall. I don't want to go all doom and gloom but there is going to be a substantial economic (and perhaps human) cost for future generations.

The people behind climate change denial are basically exercising generational warfare. They are attacking the future of young people and their offspring to maximise the profits of predominantly elderly investors.


Not having kids may be one of the biggest forms of environmental activism.


I am not sure, I wonder if having kids mean you will care more about the future?


This. I had an argument with a friend because I said having more than 3 kids is selfish, and conversely, having fewer kids (or adopting) is selfless and should be praised. They retorted saying it should be part of an individual's freedom to have as many as they wish. I think after a few more generations we may be looking at a world wide child policy (similar to China).


Oh come off it hardly anyone has kids anymore. US population growth is very slow and due purely to immigration. Populations in many countries are in free fall. China's one child policy has created a demographic disaster with insufficient girls born.

This Paul Erlich stuff is so 1970s.


Why? Global population is already forecast to peak pretty soon.


The sooner the better. According to the most realistic climate models, the point of no return for ~2 degree global average warming is already over. We don't have a good idea at what point truly catastrophic damage is going to occur (by which I mainly mean something like a Siberian clathrate gun that could hypothetically drastically warm the climate within a human lifetime). Continuing the current path of CO2 increase, every 10 years increases the risk for a runaway warming process. What's worse is that our models aren't good enough to say with certainty how high this risk is (or that it doesn't exist). So really, the time we live in now is what counts and every little bit we do, helps.

If you want some scary reading material, start here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abrupt_climate_change

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permian–Triassic_extinction_ev...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clathrate_gun_hypothesis (Please note: This article seems to change its message regularly. it's best to go for the source material instead).


Holy shit! The methane clathrate gun is scary stuff..so basically there's a temperature that we dont exactly know that could eradicate our species in some kind if irreversible chain reaction. And almost no one talks about it.. Ive never heard of MCG before, thanks for your post.


Exactly. The most infuriating thing about it is that people keep debating about how serious we should take this. Even that wiki article seems to be poisoned by deniers. I quote from a previous comment of mine:

> "Research carried out in 2008 in the Siberian Arctic has shown millions of tons of methane being released, apparently through perforations in the seabed permafrost,[20] with concentrations in some regions reaching up to 100 times normal levels.[22][23] The excess methane has been detected in localized hotspots in the outfall of the Lena River and the border between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea. Some melting may be the result of geological heating, but more thawing is believed to be due to the greatly increased volumes of meltwater being discharged from the Siberian rivers flowing north.[24] Current methane release has previously been estimated at 0.5 Mt per year.[25] Shakhova et al. (2008) estimate that not less than 1,400 Gt of carbon is presently locked up as methane and methane hydrates under the Arctic submarine permafrost, and 5–10% of that area is subject to puncturing by open taliks. They conclude that "release of up to 50 Gt of predicted amount of hydrate storage [is] highly possible for abrupt release at any time". That would increase the methane content of the planet's atmosphere by a factor of twelve,[26][27] equivalent in greenhouse effect to a doubling in the current level of CO2."

Yet in the same section, you know what the introduction text reads currently?

> "Most deposits of methane clathrate are in sediments too deep to respond rapidly, and modelling by Archer (2007) suggests the methane forcing should remain a minor component of the overall greenhouse effect.[17] Clathrate deposits destabilize from the deepest part of their stability zone, which is typically hundreds of metres below the seabed. A sustained increase in sea temperature will warm its way through the sediment eventually, and cause the shallowest, most marginal clathrate to start to break down; but it will typically take on the order of a thousand years or more for the temperature signal to get through.[17]"

So let me get this straight: Because someone found a model from 2007 that makes things look mostly fine, we ignore empirical data from 2008 that shows that a Clathrate Gun of 50 Gt could go off at any time? Please someone tell me how I'm wrong just so I don't have to go crazy here.


Since I can't edit this comment anymore: I left a comment on the Talk page of this article [1]. Are there any climate scientists on HN?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Clathrate_gun_hypothesis


The forecast may or may not happen. Everyone having at most 1-2 kids would help.


Lots of Europeans, Chinese, Japanese, etc opting for zero already.


The problem lies in developing nations.


They release drastically less CO2 than the richer people do.


Their growth rate, not their emissions. US is double per capita, but China is double for actual emissions. Sheer scale.


I don't think it's that clear cut. Other than the personal freedom aspect, which I agree with, you can also argue that more people == more scientists/engineers/minds working on advancing our technological capabilities. This is arguably the number one thing that will lead to a solution.


Your whole reason for being, the thing that gets you out of bed and searching for food, is your in-built desire to recreate and nurture life. Intentionally rejecting that is a massive commitment to make, given the very long term consequences of it.

In short, go have some kids, bring them up well and enjoy the benefits. Our biology is tribe-based and ingrained, so it's smart to work with that and be part of a tribe.

We all die alone, but those that die surrounded by love feel less lonely in all the decades up to that final point. That's your Dna rewarding you for a job well done.


That seems a bit of a stretch... There's no inbuilt point to life, but people try desperately to find one because evolution gave us some kind of drive for meaning, whatever that is. Don't mistake reproduction for some kind of divine purpose, it just is.

Don't mistake anything for purpose. Purpose is a concept central to goal directed planning, but it is a construct of the mind. Since humans give purpose to things, humans cannot be assigned a purpose except as a way to use them for some other means.

You are right though -- finding cuties gets me out of bed, but believe me I'm using birth control.


This advice isn't for everyone, but personally my study of philosophy has led to adopting nihilism which has, surprisingly, reduced my anxiety about concerns like OP's.

It is this almost backward reasoning that since life is meaningless, it really isn't this gigantic tragedy even if the earth is destroyed by a giant planetary collision and the human race is destroyed. In the grand scheme of things, I don't matter, the human race doesn't matter, and neither does the earth.

I will still do what I can to improve my life and others' lives, but accepting this nihilism has allowed me to free myself from the paralyzing anxiety and inaction caused by overvaluing human life. This, in turn, enables me further to make healthy contribution and add what little meaning I actually can to our existence here.


Everyone driving cars and eating meat is not sustainable.


Quite probably not, though the fundamental problem's been apparent since the late 18th century. No, not a typo.

Fossil fuels, population, pollution, mineral resources, topsoil, water. There are numerous problems.

You might want to look up the WorldWatch Institute who have done a lot of basic work here. Pick up a standard ecology text (say, Odum), and you'll find this discussed.

Figuring out how to run fast and hot for a long time is difficult.


I'm going to suggest 2 things which have historically been unpopular in my postings :-)

1. We don't need to sustain this many people 2. We don't need to sustain this standard of living

The first one is pretty straight forward, although it's going to take another 100 years to sort out (barring a major disaster). Shifting child bearing years from the early 20's to the early 30's and changing cultural habits so that each family has only 1 or 2 children will do this for us. However to fix this problem, people need to be willing to share the wealth of the world a little bit more equitably. Improving the situation of women around the world has to be a very high priority as well. But if you look at what's happened in the last 50 years or so, it's pretty impressive. I actually have a lot of confidence that we will reach a slightly declining population within the next century. Either way, I just don't see a problem. Fixing this issue will make the world better, not worse. Obviously there are difficult economic challenges to consider, but again I think if we solve them it will only make life better for everyone.

Standard of living is similar. I think we're probably going to have to cut back a certain amount. But I don't think this is bad in any way. We're used to doing things like driving anywhere we want to go in a personal car. But if you go to Europe these days you will find that many cities and towns have opted to do away with cars in their town centres. This reduces some convenience, but massively improves the centre of the town. It means you have to park on the outskirts and either walk or take public transit into the centre.

Likewise we can get rid of a lot of things we don't need. I would literally ban clothes driers if I were king of the world. What a useless waste of energy. You are very slightly inconvenienced by having to hang your clothes outside. Of course you can't do that immediately because many apartment buildings have no access to the outside. Again, over 100 years we can dramatically improve this situation.

Other things are the way we heat/cool/light buildings. Why should it be 21 degrees C every single day inside regardless of the weather outside? What the heck is wrong with having seasons? What's wrong with having a night time? Some people would obviously rather have it the way it is now, but given that I personally live with an apartment that goes above 30C in the summer and below 5C in the winter, I can attest that it doesn't dramatically affect my standard of living. In many ways I prefer it. I was in Tokyo a few weeks ago. There are many more people on the streets in Ueno at 2am than at lunch time. Yes, it's fun, but is this really essential to our culture? Do we really suffer as a society by having to sleep during the night?

Most of our energy usage is in manufacturing and transporting things. We may have to do with less. But imagine if goods were 2 or 3 times the price they are now. Suddenly there is a reason to make higher quality goods with craftsmanship. If energy is priced higher than labour, suddenly there is a reason to train people to do a craft/skill. Suddenly there is a reason to buy a frying pan and not throw the damn thing out until well after you are dead. Seriously, do we need to buy crappy furniture, cooking utensils, clothes, etc, etc and replace them every 2 or 3 years??? Is this really a higher standard of living?

I remember reading a small book on the ecology of older cultures. You would buy 1 or 2 nice sets of clothes. When they got worn, you would wear them for every day use. When they got too worn for that, you would cut them up and make cleaning rags out of them. When they got too worn/dirty for that, you burned them for heat. Is this really worse that having a closet full of clothes from 30 years ago, waiting for a revival of that style? Good grief, clothes end up in land fill and we manufacture brand new rags for cleaning which also end up in land fill. It's almost criminal.

Enough rant :-) Like I said, from my previous rants on the subject, I realise it is not such a popular viewpoint, but I invite you to consider that dealing with constraints does not necessarily make your life worse. We're spoiled to a certain degree and having to do without has the potential to let us grow as a culture.


I'm going to posit that many of your proposed changes to standard of living aren't even downgrades. For the most part, cities eliminate cars in town centers to raise the standard of living, not out of fear of pending ecological disaster.

As far as consumerism, I think a lot of it is driven partly by corporations desperately trying to avoid us ending up in a post-scarcity society; inducing artificial scarcity by emphasizing fashion and planned obsolescence is a great way to capture what otherwise would have been excess wealth.

On top of that, certain resources are either naturally or artificially constrained, which lets the owners of those resources collect rent, again capturing what otherwise would have been excess wealth.

On a side note, I don't have air conditioning, and my house gets much warmer than 30C in the summer. Anywhere above about 32C is just plain too hot for me to do anything other than lay underneath a fan and drink water, so if I need to get work done I go to a coffee shop. At 15C I put on a sweater and am fine down to about 5C (assuming I'm sheltered from the wind). My wife, however is shivering under six layers of blankets and 3 layers of clothes at 5C, but is perfectly chipper up to about 35C. It's lucky we don't have thermostats because we already argue about when the windows should be open!

[edit]

About the clothes dryer... I live in a semi-arid area now, so I understand how clothes lines could work. I grew up in an area where much of the year at least one of the following would apply:

1) Raining

2) over 90% humidity

3) below freezing

clothes lines in those conditions were more than a minor inconvenience.


Refreshing viewpoint. I agree with both suggestions.

I hope as you do that humans start limiting their population. It seems to me that we can either breed un-controllable and have the maximum number of humans living awful lives fighting for scarce resources; or we can control our population and have less humans living happy sustainable lives.

Thanks to technological advances, those living today have been blessed with plentiful resources, which has meant most of us have had happy lives. Read Jared Diamond's "Collapse" for what happens when resources run out - in almost all cases, humans start literally eating each other within a generation.

And you are right on the standard of living too. We can (and most of humanity does) have very happy and fulfilled lives with a fraction of the resources most western people consume. Go and knit a sweater/carve a spoon/write a poem, instead of watching the Kardashians (or Cardasians!).


First off - I agree with you.

Second - how do you propose this without being "King of the world" ?

Africa has a population growth rate of 2.53%, they will double from 1.2B to 2.4B in <30 years. The world population growth of 1.13% still will DOUBLE in less than 70 years.

Just the fact that the world's economies are based on debt requires that there is an exponential increase in growth to support the interest.

I've thought about this issue a lot and without some kind of dramatic (i.e. catastrophic) change, I don't see the status quo working, nor the 'carbon taxes' which seem to be a lot more of the same.

If you consider declining energy ratios like ERoEI (energy returned on energy invested) or energy produced per global capita, we should be hitting these limits repeatedly over the next 50 years.

In order to stop growth, you would need to halt population as well as have a debt jubilee, I don't see either of those happening. You'd also have to tell most of the people in developing nations that they will never have the riches that the west currently enjoys.

I'm not sure how you achieve those goals without war.


Just a quick reply since it is impossible to solve all the world's problems in an HN comment ;-)

1) You need to invest in poorer countries and lobby their governments to improve the condition women (possibly doing both at the same time by essentially bribing governments). This should naturally reduce population. You simply need to push the natural child bearing age out to 30. If you allow women the economic ability to resist getting married until they are in their late 20's this will solve the problem. Like I said, it can't be done quickly. It might take 100 years, so let's make the next doubling of population the last.

2) There is some misinformation about economics out there (from personal experience of being misinformed). I recommend reading some text books on the subject. The main thing to keep in mind is that interest paid is entered into the money supply. Interest is necessary to maintain inflation. Debt as money creation removes barriers to growth. I seriously have no room to explain further than that.

I'll leave you with one more thing. From about 1600 (slightly after I think, but I can't recall when) until the mid 1800's it was illegal for most people to cut down trees in Japan (because by the year 1600 almost the entire country was in danger of deforestation). No wood, no coal, no oil, no electricity, and virtually no animal fats (legally "vegetarian"/pescatarian society) for 250 years. The next 100 years will be dramatically easier than that was and Japanese people still praise Edo society as being one of the most cultured in history.

My point is not that our current rate of consumption is sustainable (it's obviously not). My point is that the alternatives are not necessarily worse.


I agree with most of what you have said. In fact, in my talks in various places, I propose similar changes. I give concrete examples that make sense to them locally. Less number of children, no air conditioning, and less number of clothes are included my set of examples. A few of the others that I talk about are excessive home furniture and furnishings, frequent and expensive vacations, and exorbitantly-priced housing.

Reception varies widely. Overall, I have seen that rural and semi-urban population is more receptive than the urban. Most urban population has a consumerism-driven notion of "standard of life" that can not coexist with any practice of economy that disagrees with it.


yea but not everybody has a triple digit iq and is a self sustainable engineer and doctor. consumption economy works bc it makes people buy stuff constantly and replenish all the time which in turn makes them work all day therefore driving innovation (as a whole) forward.


Out of curiosity, how does them working all day and buying things drive meaningful innovation? Less resource usage per person might instead free up people to do innovative work because fewer people need to do the other work.

Bored, educated people with some free time seem to innovate the most; as opposed to who is paid to do it.

It might change the direction of innovation, but I'm not certain if that is good or bad. I'd love to cut down on the innovation done in advertising or algorithmic stock trading.


well could argue that the work of others may give some with certain talents more time to create meaningful innovation e.g. funding research, but i guess its true that many things lack any large purpose. if people were more productive as individuals maybe that would be different, i dont know.


>Is sustainability even possible anymore?

Yeah sure. The only thing we're really unsustainable on is burning fossil fuels. Solar is growing exponentially and at the current rate would be able to replace most fossil fuel use in a few decades.


>Is sustainability even possible anymore?

Yes, but it clearly involves population control.

We should be sending birth-control, not food, to developing nations.


Birth control doesn't help when people want to have lots of children. Having lots of children is an essential survival strategy in a poor country. If you want them to have fewer children, make them wealthier.


I'm not convinced by that argument (though I've heard it before).

This strikes me as assuming the births are planned, whereas I don't see how they possibly could be.

Enriching these countries is certainly part of the solution, but controlling population is part of the solution towards enriching them in the first place.


Nah.


Up from preindustrial levels of 280 ppm. More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide_in_Earth%27s_at...


Forgive my ignorance on this issue but Earth has various feedback mechanisms that forestalls CO2: getting absorbed back into rocks and consumption by flora. Is comparing CO2 levels to 4 mya disingenuous because that is just one variable we are isolating? Are we sure that rising CO2 is producing these effects attributed to climate change and not some complicated combination of factors that is evidenced by Earth history of rising temperature followed by cooling temperatures followed by...


You are correct that we don't understand EXACTLY how this works. But we do have an increasingly good idea, and it is now very widely accepted that increasing CO2 levels are due to fossil fuels, and that they are going to make life for future generations miserable. And I don't mean a few beach-side swimming pools falling into the ocean miserable - I mean millions of people drowning in a storm surge in Bangladesh, and millions more starving to death in Africa miserable.

So we can either hope that some mysterious feedback mechanism will appear that puts this all right, or we can figure out how to fix this.

And we've actually done this before. In the 1980s, scientists started raising concerns that the ozone layer was being depleted, and an international response reduced our CFC use to levels where we are now seeing the ozone layer recovering. In my cynical moments, I do wonder if the difference between then and now is that the oil lobby is much more powerful than the refrigeration lobby, but actually I think the problem is that reducing CO2 is a much harder problem and so more people just bury their head in the sand.

So you can choose - bury your head in the sand (that's really what dreaming of mysterious negative feedback mechanisms is), or get fixing. I have kids and would hope that their kids have as good a life as I do, so I'm fixing.


With CFCs it helped that a single company manufactured 25% of the global supply (according to Wikipedia anyway: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DuPont#Chlorofluorocarbons) and when presented with evidence that they were harming the environment, led efforts to find alternatives.

CFCs were a great victory, and encouraging when it comes to battling CO2 emissions, but also much easier to curtail both politically and technologically.


No, you're not ignorant.

Yes, if the earth were an unstable system it would have destabilised in the past.

Yes, it is a combination of factors poorly understood, like the work only now coming out of CERN.

Yes, the ROI of the various treaties and tax plans are beyond negative.

Yes, this type of comment is verboten.


> Yes, the ROI of the various treaties and tax plans are beyond negative.

Have you factored externalties into those ROI calculations?

> Yes, if the earth were an unstable system it would have destabilised in the past.

A stable system can still have its equilibrium point shifted in one direction or another. Your blood for example is a buffered solution, keeping a relatively stable pH. But it can still be influenced by many things.


Care to show us your notes about the ROIs of the various treaties and tax plans?


I don't get this concern for Earth itself. The planet had much higher CO2 levels before life began. Then plants etc. absorbed some of that CO2, and a lot of it is now in coal, oil, etc. instead of in the air as CO2. When we are burning fuels, we are actually returning the atmosphere to a more original state. However that state is not good for us. So when we are talking about global warming, it is today's life, including us humans, that will suffer, not the planet itself.


It's just a statistic. There are lots you can look at. This one is interesting specifically because it hasn't happened in 4my. The earth will be fine, life will continue.

The more specialized something is, the more it's at risk for exceeding tolerance. Costal housing is good example. It's built to withstand perhaps 100mph winds, beyond that roofs come off.

The built in mitigation is pretty slow, so there will be perhaps a couple hundred years of rebuilding stuff. Sea walls, levees, more weather resistance.


Understanding the climate is hard. Scientists are working on exactly these kinds of problems.


I wonder why it was at 400ppm 4m years ago. Presumably the Earth survived the last time.


Earth will survive next time too. I'm pretty sure Earth could survive absolutely anything we throw at it. Life on Earth may not survive in it's current form, however.

It's interesting to note that the last time a life form on Earth substantially changed the Earth's atmosphere, it caused "one of the most significant extinction events in Earth's history" (see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Oxygenation_Event and https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide_in_Earth%27s_...)



It's the transition speed that is most important to consider. Past climatic changes have caused extinction events of varying degrees, but they happened on a timescale of tens to hundreds of thousands of years. We are changing the world's environments in equally or even more dramatic ways (ocean acidification, climate change, habitat destruction, deforestation, overfishing) on a timescale of just a couple hundred years that is currently driving the unprecedented extinction rates [1]. We could raise CO2 and the temperature slowly over thousands of years and the biosphere would have time to adapt, but it's the rate of current change that is so devastating.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/29/earth-lo...


I've been reading about the Younger Dryas [1] transition recently. This was the ice age that we're still warming up from; before it started the world was at least as warm as it is now. Then, over just a few decades, the global temperature dropped 2-6C and lots of animals went extinct. Humans got hammered badly too. The cold lasted about 1200 years, then over a few decades it warmed up again, and it's continued to warm up ever since.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Younger_Dryas


Question is if humanity would have been able to survive for the duration of those 4m years; Earth surviving humanity to my knowledge has never been the issue.


Well, our ancestors were around. It seems it was about 2C hotter from 10 to 4m years ago https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:All_palaeotemps.svg


We don't know what happened to our ancestors. Anything from environmental disasters to epidemics could have wiped out 95% of our ancestors at some time, and the only trace of that would be slightly lower fossil counts.

In other words, "our ancestors survived" isn't really reassuring. There's a really wide gap between "Everybody's lives become seriously harder" and "Humanity goes extinct".

After all, even WW2 only managed to kill ~3% of the human population. A completely survivable event.


Arguing about the past about whether we can survive in the future is a logical fallacy because we all experience the Anthropic principle [1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropic_principle


"Our ancestors were around" is a useless thing to say. Every single extinct species had an unbroken chain of ancestors going back to the very first life forms.


Yes, but they were a couple million and most, and consuming orders of magnitude fewer resources than we are.


They weren't humans, though: humans have only been around for about 0.2M years.


No humans then. No civilizations then. It was hot, and species were OK with that. Or just weren't.

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