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July was the hottest month ever recorded, according to Nasa (nytimes.com)
381 points by MarkEthan on Aug 23, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 502 comments

Personally I think that the idea that these trends can ever be revered by some sort of world wide agreement to lower consumption is a pipe dream. People want to eat meat and drive cars and fly on airplanes. As long as they're rich enough to do so you'll never stop them.

The only solution to this problem is technology. Some combination of green energy sources plus probably very large scale terraforming.

The problem is that costs are subsidized by basically letting businesses destroy the environment. The solution should be simple: add lots of taxes, let the off-the-shelf cost of meat and gasoline reflect the real cost to our environment, make deforestation a crime, tax the shit out of all polluting industries and if a country is not participating add taxes on imports from said country, or ban those imports altogether.

As long as the burning of fossil fuels keeps being dirt cheap, there's no incentive for innovation.

You mentioned meat - if governments would tax the current CAFO practices in accordance to the destruction of the environment and of our health, the consumption of meat would go down because of the price, but that meat would end up being raised with sustainable farming practices, on organic grass, locally grown, as that would prove to be the cheaper way to raise meat and so it would have a higher quality.

"The problem is that costs are subsidized by basically letting businesses destroy the environment. The solution should be simple: add lots of taxes, let the off-the-shelf cost of meat and gasoline reflect the real cost to our environment, make deforestation a crime, tax the shit out of all polluting industries and if a country is not participating add taxes on imports from said country, or ban those imports altogether. "

This will either lead to: your country (and many countries) becoming a massive failure or war.

Leading people isn't done solely by smacking people repeatedly and saying "no don't do that", or taking money out of their pockets every time they do.

This mechanism doesn't work if you do it to everyone, and in fact, if you look at oppressive governments, even they tend to have at least one class of people who can do whatever they want or are paid well or whatever, and use that class to keep others in line.

Leadership instead is often convincing people to be dragged along with you in a direction they may not want to go. It has to actually be palatable to people to do so.

There are other problems. What makes you think people won't emigrate to the places which don't do this crazy plan? What makes you think the leaders of those places won't end up with tons of power because they have a near-unlimited set of people who want to live there, tons of money, and a happy populace?

If they gang up with other countries, what makes you think they won't just take over your country, and if you've pissed off the populace enough, that your populace won't want that to happen?

This "simple" solution just ignores all the politics, etc involved, because it thinks they don't matter. But they do.

What do you mean? You're discarding the solution as something completely impractical when the reality is that import tariffs and taxes are very effective at controlling certain behaviors and mitigating the second-order effects of certain economic activity.

Recycling, sin taxes, environmental regulation and control for polluting industries. They are not 100% effective but they are clearly way more effective than the alternative of doing nothing.

We don't live in a black and white world where people either accept prohibition passively or defy it just because. There are cost-benefit relationships to doing these things and reasonable economic policy is about striking the balance that allows the most beneficial results.

I think the dispute is over exactly how effective they would be at actually changing the climate, though.

In the meantime, since they are very effective at changing economic activity, as you describe, the argument is that you would soon see disparities in economic output, and geopolitical power, and even immigration inflows / outflows between the countries that institute these onerous regulations, and those that don't.

Apologies for just cherry-picking this phrase;

(Disclosure: part of a populace)

> that your populace won't want that to happen?

I'd be willing to, if it helps the planet. I could be more thrifty in what I buy. Currently I'm not because I'm buying organic meat (even then, not very often) and other extras for sustainable things. Of course then I'd need to be thrifty on other stuff, but if that's what it takes. It helps if everyone else has to do it, too :) (for encouragement, and also because it's easier to be thrifty as a populace). Maybe it would even be nice.

It feels a whole lot more effective than my personal decision to restrict my consumption of meat to the occasional delicacy :P I often wonder, I try my best to leave a relatively small footprint, but it's real hard to get an idea what gives the biggest bang for your effort. Is it meat consumption? Maybe all those litres flushing the toilet? (although in NL, we got so much water we like to banish it) And does it really weigh up to what the industries are doing, or is it really just a drop in the ocean?

When I was a kid, one of my favourite authors, Midas Dekkers, a biologist, wrote this thing that always stuck with me: You can procreate, put a new human on this planet, or instead you can throw your empty batteries into the ocean all your life and still impact the environment less.

Although I basically agree with you (Fear & Greed aren't just what drive the Stock Market) the problem is that the Politics of Fear seem (to me) to be far more dangerous short term... but if people aren't afraid of their frog being boiled, what are we to do?

Some form of global collectivism will be required to deal with extreme climate change, whether it is enforced by governments or insurance companies and banks.

Alternately, pull out and nuke it from orbit... it's the only way to be sure.

Great suggestions!

We've basically imposed the "taxes on imports from said country, or ban those imports" on North Korea, with the result that they use the worst of environmental practices:

• Inefficient small coal-burning fireplaces in outlying areas. (Pyongyang is better.)

• Regulatory environment where factory and vehicle emissions are not even close to a priority.

• Unsafe nuclear testing.

Ok, so that was my straw man :) Hopefully it illustrates something more universal, namely:

Many countries lack the internal political will to put meaningful environmental clean ups in place. Even something as simple as the tax you proposed to pay for environmental clean up of disaster areas is impossible due to politics.

Until we have de-politicized the topic, that probably won't change. New clean tech is one great way of accomplishing this.

> Many countries lack the internal political will to put meaningful environmental clean ups in place. Even something as simple as the tax you proposed to pay for environmental clean up of disaster areas is impossible due to politics.

The point isn't changing other countries. The point is giving competing green technologies a fighting chance.

I don't care whether Saudi Arabia suffocates in cheap oil or builds a hi-tech green energy paradise. That's their choice. But I don't want the local green energy startups and organic farms be driven out of business by cheap Saudi-Arabic oil. Same with China - I think it's fundamentally unfair that local businesses have to abide to many regulations (e.g. environmental, safety, hiring) that Chinese companies don't need to, yet they are able to compete in the same market offering lower prices.

I think that the current implementation of free trade is a fundamentally failed and morally wrong model.

The point where your narrative breaks down somewhat is that when you look at pollution per capita, the US is far worse than China. This is even without accounting for the fact that most of the benefits of Chinese pollution, if there are benefits, end up in the USA.

China's population is 4.3 times that of the USA, but they only burn 1.3 times as much coal. In other words, the average American burns nearly 4 times as much coal as the average Chinese person.


Is that really a fair comparison though? If the United States managed to become as populated as China it wouldn't have the luxury / potential to use as much energy per person as it does now and would become more like China.

1. According to Wikipedia, North Korea emits 3.0t CO2 per capita as of 2011. US emits 17.0t per capita. One could almost make the claim that economic sanction is working. :/

2. The problem is to change the behavior of billions of people, and many will find it inconvenient (to varying degrees). Of course it's gonna be political. These days I end up regarding anyone proposing "de-politicization" with suspicion, because "getting the politics out of it" is a great way to ensure that whatever solution we can apply is delayed by years.

3. The same for geoengineering. I know some people are sincere, but in many cases it sounds too much like "There must be a unicorn technology that will solve the problem without us paying the price. If it's not there yet, we just have to wish it harder."

A more likely claim would be that living primitively causes fewer emissions.

Emissions are a byproduct of our progress (thus far).

"add lots of taxes" - How incredibly naive. Any tax money would be wasted. Some people would pay more, some corrupt people will find a way to spend that tax money, and almost nothing else would change.

Well maybe, you'll make it so poor people can't drive or cool their houses in the summer, but the middle class and up won't change their behavior.

I wish you "just tax it" people would hold your electives accountable for spending before you throw more money at them.

This is a Pigovian[0] tax so the tax by itself makes the world more efficient. Also since most governments can borrow lots of money, tax revenue is fairly decoupled from government spending.

And if people are concerned about an increase in tax revenue being spent on Social Security or Medicare they could just use the money to write everyone a lump sum tax refund.(or reduce the income tax etc...)

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

As far as this scenario is concerned, it doesn't matter that the tax money is wasted. The point is to discourage consumption.

Discourage consumption by who? People without money?

You're busy looking up, and forgetting there's a class or two of people below you that would be [disproportionately] affected by your policy.

If you think everyone should have access to some meat, you can take some of that tax money and use it to subsidize a minimal amount of meat consumption for low-income families.

That's a scary thought. Think of it this way: in a corrupt society the wealthy upper class can do whatever they want and get away with it. If we continue controlling behavior like this through tax then we'd have the same behavior as the corrupt society: wealthy people do what they want and poor people can't do anything... The difference is you'd be codifying this into law. Instead of being 'corrupt' behavior we can work to abolish, it would be the acceptable expected behavior.

Maybe that isn't corruption at all, and we've been wrong this whole time. Maybe right and wrong are malleable enough to sway under money. Maybe we need corruption to survive as a species. I don't know.

That idea about all pasture-raised, grass-fed beef isn't even possible. Current pasture-rased beef is 9% of global cattle. Grazing, mostly beef, occupies 60% of the world's pastures. So we would only need to move the grazers to 666% of the world's pastures to build our sustainable future!

One of the main causes of global warming right now is grass-fed beef because it requires so much land. In South America, it's common practice to burn down the rainforest to feed herds of cattle, which is why we end up exterminating thousands of species per year. They're eating straight through some of our biggest carbon sinks and annihilating biodiversity.

Yes and no. You can change the carbon efficiency of people's consumption quite a bit with appropriate nudging and consumption taxes. You can also have global agreements paying countries not to exploit their "unburnable" fossil fuel resources.

Little things like the EU mandate for ending incandescent lightbulbs can definitely add up. You need technology and policy and economics. The market for power plants is never going to be "free", it's always full of political considerations for permitting. So countries need to have energy policies that move towards low-carbon energy.

Terraforming I'm much more skeptical about. I can't see how you can make the economics work for anything other than a tiny bit.

The people who make me crazy are the ones who argue that everything will be fine, there's on need to change behavior because we'll fix it in post, I mean, geoengineer our way out of any problems.

I always want to suggest to these people that they should start smoking, because clearly, the future's so bright there will be a cancer cure soon.

And, not to be too crass, but that admittedly snarky reply is about one body. The geoengineering proposals are about intentionally influencing a hugely complex system we still don't fully understand, and that is undergoing changes with implications we don't fully understand. All the talk about ecological engineering seems to assume that the worst that happens is it doesn't work. That sort of naive optimism would be cute if we weren't literally talking about the planet. And if at least some of it weren't duplicitous.

This isn't the reason I chose not to have kids, but it sure does reaffirm that choice. Perhaps the Drake pessimists are correct, and intelligent life can't get off-planet before offing itself.

> still don't fully understand, and that is undergoing changes with implications we don't fully understand.

There is evidence to support what you are saying: every year there is new research that brings the inhospitable-deadline closer to today - there is a high degree of uncertainty. However, assuming that humans are at the very least responsible for the acceleration of climate change by pumping out GHGs, we could start by reversing that single change that we have made.

It's not as though we should just give up.

I don't disagree. I'm completely on board with reducing GHGs. I'm talking about proposals to pump sulfur compounds into the stratosphere[1], or the loon that decided to dump a bunch of iron into the ocean several years ago.

You might be reacting to my parting, pessimistic shot - that's fine. I don't think we should give up either. I'm just not optimistic when it comes to humans and collective action problems.

[1] details may be incorrect; I haven't paid a ton of attention to the specific proposals.

Your well-presented argument merely deserved a contribution. I really had to do a double-take on those proposals :). As for your collective action concerns, I agree with you in general - although I have recently been privy to a small glimmer of hope.[1] Until a few weeks ago I regarded this outcome as less probable than the human race improving our climate impact and had many brilliant hypotheses as to why; something that I have since been proven wrong about.

I really hope that I am proven wrong about it being too late due to trapped GHGs (but we can still try).

[1]: http://ewn.co.za/2016/08/22/Victory-for-DA-as-Herman-Mashaba...

The economics aren't that hard, just long term and not as good as other returns. think arability. Particularly useful in areas you might terraform. (have thought about this for like 2 years now, heh. I hope it's my next startup.)

For me, terraforming is the equivalent of developers saying "we need to rebuild from scratch".

Kinda, yeah!

Don't worry, when we get our next Earth we'll do it properly.

> Yes and no. You can change the carbon efficiency of people's consumption quite a bit with appropriate nudging and consumption taxes. You can also have global agreements paying countries not to exploit their "unburnable" fossil fuel resources.

No, you really can't, or we wouldn't have year-after-year record breaking temperatures. Regulation has never fixed anything. And especially when it comes to science, we need to remember that innovation and regulation are opposite ends of the same spectrum.

> Regulation has never fixed anything.

That's just silly. Regulation guarantees the safety of the food you eat, the buildings you live in and the car you drive.

It also prevents people that are dying from getting drugs that they need.

Plenty of people are dying from unsafe food, unsafe buildings and unsafe driving. Nobody can fix these problems because lobbyists are increasing the barrier to entry under the guise of safety.

After all, check out this thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12340694

In 1900 it was literally impossible to buy flour that did not contain significant amounts of chalk dust and other adulterants. In Hong Kong there are entire streets given over to baby formula shops because the Chinese from the mainland don't trust the stuff in their shops, with very good reason. Don't assume that just because things are not perfect that regulation hasn't made a huge positive difference.

>. In Hong Kong there are entire streets given over to baby formula shops because the Chinese from the mainland don't trust the stuff in their shops, with very good reason.

But aren't Chinese shops much more heavily regulated than the ones in Hong Kong. I've always understood China as a very heavily regulated bureaucracy and Hong Kong as a bit more free market?

It's heavily regulated on paper, not in reality.

The least safe new car in 2016 is vastly safer than the absolute best car produced in 1980. Remember, seat belts are a direct result of regulation mostly from US airforce testing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stapp

That doesn't matter unless you're arguing that it wouldn't have happened without a government and regulation. Most of the responsibilities of a government would be better handled and implemented by the private sector.

The first seat belt was invented over 20 years before air force testing, they went into common use directly because of studies on rapid deceleration and mandates for adoption. It's hard to credit that with any other cause.

Consider, you might think break inspections would be completely unnecessary because who would drive a car without breaks. However, in states without annual inspections have accidents related to this. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vehicle_inspection_in_the_Unit...

You seem to think that markets can do absolutely anything. Asymmetric information, unpaid externalities and other economic hazards are a thing.

You are blinded by your ideology, it's making you ignorant to the truths that everyone else clearly sees.

> I'm not going to get into a debate over it,

Would that be because you know you've just made an unsustainable statement. Regulation has prevented plenty of ills.

>And yet, nobody can fix these problems because lobbyists are increasing the barrier to entry under the guise of safety.

that's a shame. how could we fix this? perhaps... regulation against lobbyists?

A simple carbon tax at $X/ton and a little patience would go along way by simply making carbon-lighter solutions more competitive.

The problem with pretty much any regulation actually implemented is that politicians have been way too eager picking winners (massively subsidising specific approaches instead of letting a thousand flowers bloom) and protecting losers (assigning emissions trading credits to existing big polluters, essentially shielding the organisations that need them the most from incentives, while burying newcomers in cost and red tape), creating an opaque web of perverse incentives and an orgy for lobbyists.

The question becomes if the taxes are raised high enough to actually impact or reverse climate change, will people abide by them?

If it costs $100/day to heat your home in the winter are you going to pay that or buy black market kerosene or just chop down a tree and burn it when no government inspector is around?

There's a limit to how much can be done with taxes.

First, there's no evidence that the carbon tax would have to be so high to be effective - $7-20/ton[1], probably increasing over time. US emissions per person is the world highest at 16.5 tons -- that's several hundred dollars per year, not day.

Second, the revenue from the carbon tax should be fed back to the people by lowering other taxes. It should be net-zero on the government budget. The point is to create a clear and simple incentive across the board to switch to low-carbon behaviour, not to raise revenues.

Third, nobody promised this would be a quick fix, but nothing is at the moment. But re-jiggering the economy to give a clear incentive is a good start, and even at $7/ton, reducing carbon becomes a multi-billion dollar industry overnight.

1: http://www.carbontax.org/blog/2008/10/18/a-question-of-balan...

> US emissions per person is the world highest at 16.5 tons -- that's several hundred dollars per year, not day.

That's 16.5 tons per man, woman, and child, right? So potentially over $1,000 for a family of 4.

> Second, the revenue from the carbon tax should be fed back to the people by lowering other taxes. It should be net-zero on the government budget.

The bottom 50% of earners currently pay about 3% of Federal taxes. So if you are planning on replacing the progressive income tax with a carbon tax I think you're going to run into pretty substantial problems with regressive brackets massively increasing taxes on the lower and middle class.

Total US emissions were 6.8 billion tons. At $7/ton that's about $50 billion or 1.5% of total Federal tax receipts. Sounds like no big deal, right? But for the bottom 50% it's a $25 billion tax hike on their existing $100 billion bill -- you've just raised taxes 25% on the bottom half.


Principle of charity, give the person a break. Obviously people are going to think about that before enacting a carbon tax. Funnel some of that money into offsetting transfers to low income households and you're all set. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Taxes can be progressive, flat, or regressive. This is actually one of the most important qualities of a tax.

A carbon tax is decidedly not progressive. Take a look at the carbon map [1] of the 'Americans Carbon Footprint' and you will see, the problem is not the rich motoring around in their their yachts.

Now, the biggest factor in carbon footprint is the zip code you live in -- due mainly to energy use and transportation costs. So does a carbon tax vary based on the zip code of your primary residence? Seems absurd to me. So we have to start by admitting that any carbon tax we do come up with may not actually tax a large part of your carbon emissions. Which is to say, it likely would unfairly target certain products based on their carbon footprint while giving a free pass to others. While taxing some carbon might seem better than taxing no carbon, IMO a tilted carbon tax is worse than no carbon tax.

A gasoline tax approximates transport carbon footprint. It also makes electric and public transit more desirable. You can certainly also tax electric/natural gas/oil based on their footprints. This would be effective, but again, regressive.

If you take out the part where people are paying for their carbon footprint and go back to just taxing the rich, it's not really a carbon tax anymore.

It's not like people can report their carbon footprint on their 1040. The only way to tax carbon is to tax purchases at sale -- let's call it a CAT - Carbon Added Tax. Such a 'CAT' would be regressive.

Generally, if you subsidize purchases which lead to lower carbon footprints, the rich will spend more money on those qualifying items. For example, solar subsidies. This is an example of a non-regressive approach to encouraging carbon shrinkage through the tax code. SolarCity calculated that lifetime net carbon savings of the typical solar install was 150 metric tons.

[1] - http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/american-carbon-footprint

It doesn't matter whether a tax is progressive or regressive on its own. What matters is its place in the overall system of taxes and transfers. You can have a progressive wealth redistribution system based mostly on regressive taxes (sales tax, carbon tax, vice taxes) by ensuring that transfer payments and tax breaks are heavily directed towards low income residents. "Regressive" is not an end-all reason to reject a taxation scheme that has many other desirable properties, namely internalizing externalities and directing market forces towards less pollution-intensive technologies.

A simple solution could be to cut every man, woman and child a cheque for 1/nth of the carbon tax revenue. The top 50% probably use more than 50% of all the carbon (but are probably also better positioned to cut their emissions in the short term), so it should be fairly progressive, distribution-wise.

I'm sorry, but that doesn't actually change anything. You cannot make a tax non-regressive by adding a blanket subsidy. It's like shifting the curve 'mx + b' by increasing 'b'. Everyone gets the subsidy, and then there is still a regressive tax that is targeting the poor.

Not to be argumentative, but based on some brief research, the bottom 50th percentile do in fact cover close to 50% of the carbon footprint, and it's the rich, not the poor, who are in a position to cut their emissions by choosing more-expensive/lower-emitting products.

In short, these are two most disagreeable sentences.

> just chop down a tree and burn it

That's the goal, no? Burning oil releases CO2. Growing trees and burning them is carbon neutral.

Kind of - this approach works until you run out of trees, then you have a serious problem. Sub-saharan Africa is experiencing this in places http://archive.unu.edu/unupress/unupbooks/80918e/80918E0u.ht...

Plus, burning trees generates a ton of other harmful particles. It's not a problem if a few people do it during winter time for fun, but it becomes a massive healthcare issue when it generates a suffocating low-lying brown smog carpeting your whole city.

This. Taxes (and some kinds of regulation like Germany's "fell a tree, plant a tree" rules) are immensely helpful to price externalities into the market.

Chopping down and burning a tree would incur the carbon tax, so the idea would be that this would incentivise you to plant a new tree.

Perhaps planting a tree should incur a negative carbon tax.

Regulation has never fixed anything.

Young, inexperienced but passionate fish sometimes have been known to deny the existence of water. Later they're embarrassed.

I can take you to the water, but I can't make you drink it.

It's unregulated water, I'm not drinking that!

Did you already forget about the CIA torture report?

"We can't afford to stifle the inventor who will get us out of this mess."

As long as that inventor doesn't turn out to be a new Thomas Midgley Jr.:


NB Inventor of both leaded petrol and CFCs.

> Regulation has never fixed anything.


> And especially when it comes to science, we need to remember that innovation and regulation are opposite ends of the same spectrum.

So, regulation has never protected us from the negative externalities of a scientific discovery destructively applied by the market or state? Remember, the state is also subject to regulations - the same free market that fuels your utopian free-market fundamentalist pipe-dreams is protected and sustained by regulation.

If you reduce net CO2 production by 90% you still get record temperatures year after year, but the rate of increase is dramatically smaller.

maybe, maybe not. methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas. So if you reduced CO2 90%, but methane went up by 2X then you would have stronger warming. My point is CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas.

Methane is unstable which is why you can burn it. Thus, we have an automatic and endless Methane sink.

You mean "If you reduce CO2 production by 90% by humans"

The analysis that I'm waiting to see is "of the global CO2 production each year, how much of it is due to humans?"

If we contribute 90% of CO2 production, then reducing it may change things.

If we contribute 10% of CO2 production, then even reducing our portion to zero, the overall change is near-negligible.

If my bath is overflowing, the only water I have to worry about is the relatively small volume coming over the edge - not the total amount of water in the bath.

The ecosystem produces vast amounts of CO2 ... and consumes a similarly vast amount. It is the imbalance that you need to worry about. And that imbalance is largely caused by humans either damaging CO2 sinks or releasing CO2 that ha been sequestered over the last few billion years

To continue your analogy: if the goal is to stop the overflow, then we should probably see what the contributors are.

If the faucet is on and your kid is dropping pennies in, both are contributing to the overflow but stopping your kid is going to be irrelevant.

Do we know which humans are?

The point is that the faucet, in this analogy, is not contributing to the overflow. The natural inflow from the faucet is matched by a natural outflow from the drain. The surplus is the problem, not the absolute inflow.

Of course, turning down the faucet would still help. But in this analogy, the faucet is jammed on, but the kid might stop if you ask him the right way.

So your assertion is that the planet is a perfectly steady state, static system?

Almost. Right now, the drain is actually emptying the tub faster than the faucet is filling it. Atmospheric CO2 is increasing at a lower rate than CO2 is being released by humans, because natural sinks are absorbing a lot of it. It was fairly stable, on human timescales, before we started adding our own input.

Can you substantiate your thesis a bit? I.e. explain where the CO2 that the nature is (allegedly) producing is coming from?

For humans, it's pretty simple: we're burning the oil on the timescale of centuries that the nature has been storing on the timescale of billions of years. For nature, the longest CO2 cycle is at most a multiple of the longest life-span (~500 years), and there's no indication that the cycle has changed (i.e. that suddenly more trees are burning in natural fires than have for the past few millenia).

According to the EPA:

"While CO2 emissions come from a variety of natural sources, human-related emissions are responsible for the increase that has occurred in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution."

Ref: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases (on the carbon dioxide tab)

And the Energy Information Association goes on to include magnitudes here:


If those numbers are accurate, humans contribute 0.2% of CO2 and 60% of methane. So my follow up is: Which gas is a worse contributor? Because we can greatly influence one of those.

But "source" of CO2 is meaningless without the other column, "absorbtion". Obviously nature produces CO2 (e.g. by animals and plants breathing), and CO2 isn't a problem by itself. The problem is the increase of CO2, i.e. the delta between production and absorbtion. That 0.2% of human CO2 surplus turns into 20% increase over a 100 years. That's the problem, not the production/absorbtion/cycling of CO2 itself. And that part, AFAIK, is all human-made!

Based on your statements, is there anyone whose data and interpretation of it you'd trust? I feel pretty confident that you've already ruled out anyone respected within the scientific community, particularly anyone studying climate change.

It's a lot like saying "prove it to me with numbers, because all the numbers you're giving me are bunk."

Edit: tense

I'd love to see simple magnitudes:

"Nature generates X million tons of CO2 each year. Humans generate Y million tons of CO2 each year which primarily comes from A, B, and C."

From my own search, there are lots of numbers around X and Y and they're wildly different. Do they converge around a range?

Suppose net CO2 went up on average by 1ppm per thousand years by natural causes. Well, over the last 2 billion years 2,000,000,000 / 1,000 * 1= 1,000,000 ppm. 2,000,000 ppm wait part per million so 2 parts per part that's meaningless.

Thus, net CO2 from natural causes must average very close to 0 on long time scales.

PS: If you look into it natural carbon sequestration increases slightly as atmospheric CO2 increase which is why things end up in balance. Natural carbon sequestration is also why there are huge sources of coal and oil to begin with.

You can also come at it from the other direction: look at how much CO2 humans have released over the past century or so, look at how much more CO2 is in the atmosphere, and compare. I looked this up a while ago and as I recall the result was that about half of humanity's CO2 production was being absorbed somewhere, and about half of it is still around and accounts for the increase in atmospheric CO2.

Which is to say, the natural net contribution to CO2 in the atmosphere is negative. If we somehow put a stop to natural processes involving CO2 and just carried on with human activity, the rate of CO2 accumulation would go way up.

> Which is to say, the natural net contribution to CO2 in the atmosphere is negative


Looking at the last hundred years or so, natural CO2 production is less than natural CO2 absorption. The difference is substantially less than artificial CO2 production, so the net change is still positive.

Do you have a link with the figures?

There's a summary here:


This is the relevant bit for how much emitted CO2 has accumulated in the atmosphere:

"From 1870 to 2014, cumulative carbon emissions totaled about 545 GtC. Emissions were partitioned among the atmosphere (approx. 230 GtC or 42%), ocean (approx. 155 GtC or 28%) and the land (approx. 160 GtC or 29%)."

If you want to double-check against increasing CO2 concentration, the mass of the entire atmosphere is about 5.15e18 kilograms, so one part per million is about 5e12kg or 5 gigatonnes.

The preindustrial CO2 concentration was roughly 280ppm. We're now at about 400ppm, so that's 120ppm or about 640 gigatonnes more CO2 in the atmosphere today. Things are a bit confusing here because for some reason emissions are measured in gigatonnes of carbon alone, not CO2, so you need to multiply emissions by 3.67 (the mass ratio of CO2 to just C) to get CO2. Taking the cited 230 GtC added to the atmosphere and multiplying by 3.67 gets us 873.46 gigatonnes, which is roughly in the same ballpark, considering this is an off the cuff internet comment using random googled sources.


It's not negligible, because the balance of the process matters. The natural processes producing CO2 were in balance with the natural processes removing it from the atmosphere, and now they're not. So the overall proportion in the atmosphere is increasing.

> Regulation has never fixed anything. And especially when it comes to science, we need to remember that innovation and regulation are opposite ends of the same spectrum.

One word, CFC


Nuclear, nuclear, nuclear.

I've said this before, and the same climate scientists who first discovered anthropogenic global warming agree, that nuclear fission plants are the only technology that can bridge the gap between fossil fuels and fusion.

Wind and Solar are now cost-competetive with nuclear, without its nasty side effects. And the cost of storage for nuclear waste has not really been calculated yet.

Whoever downvoted this should take a look again.

While being pro-nuclear was all counter-conventional wisdom cool 5 years ago, the math is changing very, very quickly. PV power is so much cheaper in terms of startup costs, and it scales both up and (more importantly) down.

Nuclear power isn't some counter-cultural fad. It's the top recommendation and consensus among climate scientists. This messianic fantasy that solar and wind will save us, to which every anti-nuclear technologist clings, is not only wrong, but dangerous.

Global warming is no longer a theoretical issue. It is here. Now. Within 20 years people will begin abandoning the Persian Gulf, sending a wave of refugees across Europe that will make current migration look like a trickle.

We are facing an existential threat to global civilization. There's no longer time to bet on a solar moonshot. We're discussing geoengineering for god's sake. We need proven technology, and we need it now.

And within 20 years, how many of those reactors will actually be built? Especially within the Persian Gulf, where nuclear weapons proliferation is a big issue. How many decades did Iran spend under sanctions while building a reactor?

The solution can't be first-world-only, and local solar is a much better bet in equatorial but poor and politically unstable parts of the world.

Unfortunately, nuclear has one big issue in addition to the issues already described (long time to build a plant; geo-political concerns on the link between plants and atomic weapons): when it goes bad, it can go spectacularly wrong. No other power source has produced a singular disaster like Chernobyl where about 2500 square km of land is basically uninhabitable for a few hundred years+. Coal fires are the only thing that come close.

For that reason, the NIMBY forces / politics against nuclear are much stronger than average (both in building the plant and storing the waste). Never mind that, on average, nuclear power is much safer than fossil fuels. People fear the spectacular more than the mundane. Take terrorism vs. car crashes, in the Western world you're more likely to die in a car crash by far, but it's terrorism that stirs up the fears.

As far as global warming is concerned, power generation is only part of the puzzle anyways. Such contributors as transportation and deforestation are also important. Honestly, solar and wind are pretty competitive right now... except for one angle. The main problem with solar / wind / etc. energy generation right now is variability, so the real "moonshot" for this technology is energy storage. (Which is the same real issue with electric transport as well).

And, what might be little known outside of Germany, we still suffer from the Chernobyl incident, as it is still not entirely safe to eat wild mushrooms (and certain game) from southern Germany forests due to radioactive contamination. And that won't change in my lifetime.

Nuclear reactors aren't economical, don't scale well, can't be deployed everywhere and it takes forever to build them.

Even if everyone would agree to convert everything to nuclear reactors now it would probably take a decade before the first goes online and several decades until enough of them are online. That's far too long.

In that same period you can easily get far more energy quicker with decentralized renewables.

Nuclear power have all types of problems for competing on the energy market. From its several sizes available: from incredibly big to absolutely huge, to its bad PR problem and NIMBY, to expensive waste treatment, to any company that runs them getting bankrupt sooner of later.

Solar and wind are are here now. And they get in all form-factors, including single-home sized. Besides, photovoltaics are way behind in the Moore's law, and still have a lot to improve.

Today, pushing nuclear energy is almost guaranteed to get you no result, while solar will probably get you the biggest improvement you can get.

The problem isn't price. The problem is consistency. Nuclear is a complete (day & night) power solution. Solar/wind isn't.

Energy storage solves that problem. The technology exists, the only potential trouble is cost, so it comes back to price again. Storage costs are also dropping rapidly. A proper comparison of nuclear to wind/solar needs to account for the cost of storage as well, but even if you add that in I suspect it's approaching parity.

"Energy storage solves that problem"

Yes, but we don't have that solution.

I'm puzzled as to why you quote part of my comment and then act like I didn't think of the point you're making, when I made the exact opposite point just one sentence later.

Batteries, pumped hydro, thermal storage, and many other technologies exist. They just need to become cheap enough. Thus, the problem is once again price.

It's not just price. None of the technologies you mention scale to anywhere near the levels of a nuclear powerplant. It's a huge engineering issue that, while most likely solvable, simply hasn't been solved yet.

How so? Pretty much any building you can point at has enough space for batteries to sustain its power needs overnight. The only reason we haven't all run out and done it is because, first, it's not necessary with the grid as it is now, and second, it costs a whole lot.

The engineering issues are in getting this stuff to be sufficiently cost effective that we can afford to put them into wide use.

How many batteries can we build? How do we build them on such a large scale? Do we mine enough raw materials for so many batteries? Are there enough materials for so many batteries? How do we cool them? How do we replace the faulty ones? How long do they last? How many people do we need to maintain them? How do we train them? How do we dispose of the batteries?

Not all of these questions have have hard or problematic answers (e.g. especially the last one is probably much worse for nuclear), but they do need to be answered, at all. We've been answering these questions for nuclear for the past 50 years.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_battery solves all of these problems.

Flow batteries are amazing for home use, but for industrial scale? I don't know... Also, IIRC, don't they have a fairly limited temperature range?

They are currently being used in Africa and South America primarily for industry use (telecommunications mostly).

No, you won't run an aluminium smelter with them, but for load balancing during those (pretty rare!) times when you don't have either solar or wind they are fine.

I don't know about the temperature problem. I know they are used here in Australia at 40C+ and in Africa in similar climates.

I think that they are actually better for industrial use than home use. They aren't silent, and they need to be cycled. The noise isn't an issue in industry, and in home use I know the power cycling can sometimes be a problem because it is hard to find somewhere to dump the power (currently the solution is to dump it to heat, which isn't great - or alert the homeowner and get them to run a pool pump or something).

RedFlow (one manufacture) is in the same building as me, and they have an interesting report: http://redflow.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Diesel-Runtime...

We do actually.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_battery are cheap to produce, have decent power density and are solving this exact problem now in Africa and South America.

Production levels are just starting to ramp up now.

Was reading about this the other day. As far back as three years ago they predicted that Solar would undercut Nuclear. there's many articles out there, this is one of them:


Indeed, it is amazing how quickly things are changing. If we solve intermittency, there won't be any reason to be pro-nuclear.

If. Meanwhile as long as we are burning any amount of coal, we should be building nuclear plants as fast as possible, and we should have been doing that for the last 30 years. The fact that so-called "environmentalists" made that impossible due to their incessant FUD is why I hold them much more responsible for our current situation than Exxon.

The problem is that wind and solar are only a supplementary to nuclear power at the moment. It won't be able to replace nuclear until we find a better way to store energy.

We've got a really good storage medium for energy.

Liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons.

They can be synthesised, in a carbon-neutral fashion.

Other storage methods, including batteries, molten salt (thermal), and CAES are likely to also be used. But there are some things for which bulk liquid fuel still wins.

There's over 50 years of research into it.


And no production prototype?

Small scale, USNRL, though the lack of anything more does concern me.

Battery technology is improving significantly.

You're right about that. Molten salt storage will even bring it down below the price of natural gas turbines used now.

However, even with all the projected improvements and price declines in recent years, solar still will not be enough to serve global energy needs in time to stave off disaster.

Can you quantify "significantly"?

That's one of those words people throw around to make a point without making a real point. Are we talking 20%, 100%, 300%. And whatever the number, is it sufficient? Also, what's the timeline? A decade?



"Most recently, Tesla landed a 500MWh grid storage deal with Advanced Microgrid Solutions‬. And, outside the U.S., others have taken notice. Italy's Enel Green Power SpA announced it will partner with Tesla for 1.5-3MWh battery storage, and, Ireland's Gaelectric Group entered into an agreement with Tesla Motors to build a 1 MW demonstration utility-scale project."

[there are hyperlinks in the original paragraph]

That article is over a year old. It sounds like slow progress, which is nice. However, given the timeline, I don't expect electric vehicles to be significant for at least another decade.

Isn't another benefit of wind and solar the fact that it's distributed rather than concentrated into a few locations? Between the increase in frequency and severity of storms associated with climate change and the threat of terrorism/accidents, I would think the distributed nature of renewables would be a consideration even if nuclear remains a key part of the national grid.

That's a fair point. However, nuclear plants can be modularized and produced industrially. These are called SMRs, and in fact they are actually the recommendation issued in the joint letter to the President on climate change.


Possibly, but it's too slow and expensive to build and insure. Even in the UK, how much solar and wind can we put up before Hinkley Point C produces its first watt?

Yeah, but don't forget the massive cleanup efforts required after big wind and sunlight spills.

Even photovoltaics is more economically feasible in western countries today, because construction work has become so expensive. Wind turbines are even cheaper.

And you totally ignore hydropower, which is better than any other energy form in price and following demand. It just needs lots of political will.

I tend to agree: you can't go "back to nature" when you have 8 billion people running around, a larger and larger portion of which want to live like those of us in developing countries do (especially in the basic sense of having AC to escape this increasing heat). AC is a great little allegory for the whole thing... would you rather have AC and deal with hotter and hotter days, or forego AC and wait a century, have no children or grandchildren, and hope things return to where they were?

We need to reduce the solar incident radiation...

Before AC, did people not live without it?

I live just North of Toronto, it's definitely gotten above 30 degrees a few times this year and I think above 40 (Celcius), but I can't be sure.

We have no air conditioning. There are days it's downright uncomfortable and you're walking around shirtless and sitting by a fan because even warm air flow is better than no air flow.

There are a lot of cold showers and cold drinks consumed. I have to say though, it's only seemed to be 2 or 3 days at a stretch and then a storm or cold front comes in and breaks it up. So is it unlivable? No. Is it uncomfortable? Sure.

If it were my house, I'd definitely have caved and had AC installed; and if I had it, I'd most likely abuse it more than I should. If I'm honest with myself and asked "do I really need to have the AC running right now?" I'd have to say, I could count on 2 hands the number of days this year where the answer was yes (although, I did make it through without it, so is that even true?) vs. just (ab)using it because it's there and 18C is comfortable in summer.

When I build a house, it's definitely having geothermal heating/cooling to take the edge off.

... and a dehumidifier takes the edge off too. Dry heat is a lot easier to suffer than wet heat.

geothermal cooling. Really? For a private residence north of Toronto?

I have a $50 AC in my bedroom, that I'll turn on at night to get to sleep. That cost maybe $10/month in electricity.

I don't see how the upfront and maintenance cost for something like geothermal can ever breakeven in a place where you only need to use it for a few days a year in one room. Do you?

It's not a few days a year in one room. Geothermal maintains a stable temperature throughout the year so it reduces the need for AC in summer and heating in the winter. While it doesn't do the whole job, it does enough that you can reduce your power needs significantly. As for break even, it does, when you consider the whole picture. Additionally, if you don't take on environmental needs as your own personal cause, then how can you expect others to.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

Before AC, people didn't know what they were missing. Good luck unringing that bell.

Many died. Even today, it's common for hundreds or thousands to die during heat waves. Today, it's people who are too poor to afford air conditioning. Before, it would have hit many more.

Those who didn't die were also far less productive. In many climates, living without air conditioning means spending much of the day simply surviving the heat, not getting anything done.

Hot climates were extremely limited in potential without A/C.

This includes the American south, much of the midwest, Tokyo, China's larger cities (especially toward the south), Indonesia, the Middle East, and Australia.

Developing regions, especially in Africa, Central and South America, the Philippines, and Australasia also tend to strongly favour aircond. It's not just a comfort thing -- computer and office equipment, and even paper, are difficult to maintain in hot and humid environments.

These are also the latitudes and climates in which the bulk of the world's population, much of it still underdeveloped, still lives. If the story of "an advanced Western standard of living for all" is to be borne out, A/C will be a large part of it.

In my part of the world (northern Europe) basically nobody has AC, but that is probably because of the cooler temperatures here. I'm curious, at what temperatures do people who live with AC start using it? Or is it going all year round?

I live in a latitude about the same as Spain, Southern Italy, Greece and Turkey, but in my part of the U.S., it's been above 30 degrees Centigrade for a few weeks, with high humidity. Our winters also get around 0 Centigrade (+- 8 or 9 degrees) pretty regularly, so we need to supply both heating and cooling.

Usually when it gets above 24/25 C we start to really put on the air conditioning. And below 20 C we put on the heat. A/C is generally important for not only cooling, but reducing humidity so your body's sweat actually does something useful.

I've lived in houses around here that didn't have A/C and it's pretty dreadful in the summer. You basically don't do anything during the day, and it's too hot to really sleep comfortably. Even fairly poor people usually end up with at least one room with A/C.

This isn't true for all of the U.S., the Pacific Northwest (e.g. Seattle) and Northern California tends to not have air conditioners because it doesn't usually get hot enough.

Quite a bit of the U.S. is at the same latitude as North Africa or the Middle East, the northern-most bits get maybe to Belgium? So even with the temperature gradients that ocean currents and global air movement affords, we get total sun that's more like areas of the world people associate with being "hot".

Having been to Europe numerous times, I notice most public areas, cars, buses, trains and offices seem to have A/C. So I'm sure you spend more time in it than you may realize.

"And below 20 C we put on the heat."

I'm pretty sure we don't put our heating on here in Edinburgh until October when nights are probably getting to be well below 10C.

Mind you for me 10C is "comfortable", 15C is "warm", 20C is "hot" and 30C means I'm on holiday somewhere hot where I can go capsizing to stay cool.

There's definitely an element of being locally acclimatized. I remember spending some time in the desert, finally got used to the hot temperature when December rolled around. I was freezing all the time and finally checked the thermostat, 19 C.

I had a situation like that when I first went to university. My parents house in the north of Scotland was rather old and rather ramshackle with no central heating - I can remember going to have a bath once and finding 2" of ice in the bath. However, I don't remember feeling cold as a kid.

However, I went to university and stayed in centrally heated halls of residence, which I didn't find warm. However, when I returned home for Xmas it felt like I had been shipped to Siberia - I was dying of cold! I remember being pinned to the bed by a pile of blankets as I desperately tried to stay warm at night.

I'm in Newcastle and I'll probably have heating on next month - basically the lowest I let my home temperature drop to naturally is ~17C, then I put the heating on, set to 19C.

Isn't that because Geordies are famous for never wearing warm clothes? :-)


In greece, summers are atrocious without AC. But it gets even worse in the middle of polluted cities like athens.

Some corners of Athens are disgustingly unbearable. Tall buildings, narrow streets filled with parked cars. The entire thing is a dust, smoke and heat trap. Temperatures feel 10 degrees warmer in those corners. Not to mention it smells horrible.

I'm from Poland, last week we actually had 38C outside and I don't know anyone who has AC. Yes it's hot during the day and nights can be uncomfortable, but every conversation I had with friends about this always ends with "yeah it would be nice to have but it's not worth the expense for the few weeks of summer".

It's not all year round. The rule is pretty easy: when you can't think clearly any more you start your AC.

That's the reason some houses have not AC in the south of Europe but all the offices have.

I live in Louisiana, southern US. I generally leave the thermostat set to ~23°C, so the AC comes on periodically to try and maintain that temperature indoors. During the warmer months, that's a significant portion of every day. During the winter, the central heating comes on instead to do the same job. There are some times of the year where neither come on, but they are brief and it will likely be on at night. It would get far too humid indoors without something running, I wager.

Here's the thing: You'd save significantly by setting it to 25deg. when cooling and 19deg. when heating. Both are very comfortable once you've adjusted for a day or two - after that, going to 23deg. actually feels wrong (either too cold im summer or way too hot in winter).

Don't underestimate the thermal power needed for just one additional degree in a typical American house with poorly insulated windows, walls and doors.

Northern Italy (just below Austria). The hottest is around 37° Celsius, but I don't use AC until I go over 30 inside the house (which has happened just once or twice this summer). Workplaces usually keep AC on as long as temp is above 23°, but that's just my experience.

I live near Barcelona, those days the temperature reaches 27-28C.

We don't put the AC, we open the balcony door and the air current is enough.

In winter, we reach at most 5C, we don't put also the heating. Some neighbors have it very high and in our apartment the temperature is 20-21C.

I live in Australia.

We tend to use AC if the outdoor temp is above 30C, so most days November to April.

It gets to above 45C here, which is pretty horrible without AC.

Not in huge concrete jungles in hot latitudes in the summer.

Yes, but it wasn't as hot... It's a vicious self-fueling cycle. By using AC, we're making the world warmer, which makes us use more AC.

People in our Florida office have fan heaters running under the desk because the AC keeps it too cold.

The insanity boggles my mind.

I had to go out and buy a sweater and thick trousers to sit in the office while it is 32C/90F outside.

I can beat that one. My school was in the mountains and had cold winters (temps < 10F/-12C not being unusual, dropped below 0F/-18C several times while I was there), but also fairly warm summers (> 90F/30C) due to being in the southern US.

The school had a campus wide steam heating system to deal with the winters, but according to what I heard they were terrified to ever turn it off because parts of it were approaching 100 years old. So, all summer long the heat was running on low in the same buildings that were being air conditioned.

Don't worry, the sea level rise will come up through the floor and kill their fan heater.

in cities like chicago and new york they crank the heat in the winter so that it's 80F inside. you get sick just from the temperature differentials of walking inside and outside.

you also have to strip down to a single layer as soon as you walk in the door, and put all the damn clothes back on if you want to go outside, or you start pouring sweat. what's wrong with keeping everything on but your winter coat?

being from southern california you see this stuff for what it is -- people going insane from shitty weather. it should be 73F everywhere, inside and out, all the time.

unfortunately, it's getting hotter and hotter here, too. eventually we'll be insane also.

The problem there is: what are you supposed to do? Many thermostats are placebos anyways.

Use solar panels to power the AC to break the vicious cycle!

Regarding terraforming, I suggest a quick win may be to trigger a volcanic super-eruption. The cooling effect is known to reduce global temperatures to refreshing and/or bracing levels:


I was leaning towards using nuclear weapons to kick things off, but the potential side effects of such an event will probably be tricky enough, without the giant dust clouds soon to enshroud the Earth also being radioactive.

There may of course be other unforeseen consequences, but given the alternatives (which we see all too clearly) I ask: who's in?

Well, the nuclear weapons could remove most of the carbon emitters, but that's morally challenging.

Alice: Looks like there is a wasp nest under the roof, we need to do something about it

Bob: Let's blow it up with dynamite!

When thinking about terraforming people tend to think of megaprojects that would "fix" everything at once, but that doesn't work.

There are much more predictable and safer ways to do terraforming, e.g. desalinating water, building canals, planting forests, ferilizing ocean in the worst case.

Volcanic dusts are naturally more radioactive than sedimentary dust, though. So I'm not sure the long term effects of a volcanic super-explosion would be much better without the nukes... :)

It would also trigger a famine and lead to extremely bad air quality.

I see this actually as a nice plot someone could turn into a book.

1. Build a machine that pulls significant amounts of CO² out of the atmosphere.

2. Go to the UN an straight up tell them "we can make this problem go away, give us 1tn$ and 20 square kilometers of land in these countries, over this schedule with these milestones".

3. Profit.

> Build a machine that pulls significant amounts of CO² out of the atmosphere

Or you could plant a tree.

Costs of carbon sequestration range from about $20 to $70 per tonne, as part of exhaust capture (CCS). For direct capture from the atmosphere, values are closer to $150/tonne.

The world is dumping 38 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. (I'll ignore the additional gigatonnes we've already committed.)

That's $2.6 trillion per year for sequestration, just to stay even. (The value's actually lower than I'd expected.)

For comparison, global GDP is about $70 trillion, so this is 3% of global GDP.



You also have to keep in mind that it's this expensive because it's not done on a huge scale. If it was, the cost would very likely be much much lower than the quoted $150.

The costs are dominated by the chemical energy requirements, as I understand. They seem unlikely to fall greatly.

And what if this machinery starts taking out CO2 too fast? Who will stop it, taking into a count the beaurocraty level in UN and lobby behind such a money making machine?

Indeed, worth a book.

I think the technology for that is already there, or nearly so; the financial will really isn't. There's no way you can get $1trn for anything other than a war.

I staunchly agree with your first point.

I staunchly disagree on the second point. Technological solutions generally "solve" one problem at a time. Desalination solves the fress water problem. Carbon sequestration solve one part of the greenhouse gass problem. Electric cars solve another part. Green energy production and batteries mitigate another part. Next we need to solve pollution from ocean freightliners. Then the methane problem. Next the landfill problem. Followed by the issues created by how much we've changed global ecosysyems and weather patters due to strip mining, covering massive tracts of land with asphalt and concrete and monoculture, and deforestation. Then we need to discuss how we plan to stop poisoning the oceans because of our reliance on petroleum based fertilizers and chemical pesticides. And turtles all the way down.

Untill we learn to live in balance with nature, rather than separate from it, in an extractive relationship, treating side effects as problems to be isolated and solved, it will always be more of the same.

Why is this voted down? In the end, balance is a global political issue that we must address in addition to the specific concerns.

Government intervention could conceivably work.

In the same way that we were able to get rid of the hole in the ozone layer by imposing restrictions on CFCs, couldn't governments give tax incentives and impose regulations that encourage a greener, more sustainable system?

That's kind of my point. Governments are (for the most part at least) beholden to the people and the people will never tax incentivize themselves into a state of drastically lowered consumption.

Live in a multi-unit building in a city where you can commute and do errands by walking or cycling (electric bikes are fine and get around that whole pedaling bit). Source your energy renewably and use little of it (80-300kwh per month isn't crazy depending on your climate). Don't buy much stuff. Eat very little meat.

I mean, it doesn't take it to 0 but even if you DO want a comfortable life it doesn't mean living in a hovel.

I'm as guilty as anyone though. I love to travel, and I live on an island, so I fly a lot. Offsets only do so much (though they'd be really helpful if we had a functional carbon market).

There is a sad counterpoint, though, and one I think of often.

There are discretionary purchasers of fossil fuels - people/companies who would buy units of fuel but aren't because it's not cheap enough. All of the actions I named above reduce the demand for fossil fuels (by an infinitesimal amount, but still). Reducing demand reduces the price such that some other user will consume those fuels anyway. In this case it might as well be me, as a self-interested economic actor.

This is the idea behind putting a cap on emissions and selling the right to emit, but so far such schemes are a failure. And as much as I hate to admit it, they really do need to be global in scale - if cap and trade just results in more stuff being manufactured in nations that don't limit emissions, we haven't really fixed anything.

You are right about the problem that efficiency in one place will potentially cause consumption in another. In the literature, this is usually called a 'rebound effect' or Jevons' paradox.

It may be that an emissions / extraction cap could be implemented non-globally so long as a large enough block were willing to participate, and so long as they imposed tariffs on any non-participants to price in the emissions happening on the other side of the border.

All of that sounds reasonable, except "Live in a multi-unit building in a city". Being that close to that many people sounds like hell.

Well, you certainly don't _have_ to. If you desire access to friends, goods, and services without using carbon-intense forms of transport it tends to make things easier. It also means you're not converting wild land to lawns, asphalt, parking, et cetera. Finally, one of the best ways to improve delivery efficiency is to decrease the last-mile distance (probably poorly named) from a distribution point, like a grocery store, to the site of consumption.

Living in a small residence in wild land without the need for automobile-scale infrastructure to support it would address most of the issues I raised above (a small cottage accessible primarily via mountain bike perhaps? I think I'm selling myself on this idea...)

Then again subsistence farming in a manner that doesn't remove wild vegetation, or better yet uses it without drawing too much from the population, is probably even better. It could be a lonely life though.

Or just live in the country and ride your bike to the city a lot.

Yes, if only there weren't so many darn people on this planet, but of course you're entitled to your space. /s

What about it sounds like hell, exactly? We're all different, but I think some of us underestimate our adaptability.

I disagree. There are advanced cultures in the world without this ambition you speak of (I'm looking at you, Holland), where convenient life in a local environment that is all accessible by bike, eating lots of fish, and caring less about immense wealth and impressions and more about quality of life.. it is attainable.

I'd be interested to see a comparison on the amount of advertising done per capita in Holland vs. the United States.

Once I stopped watching television, I was no longer exposed to such incessant advertising.

As a result, I stopped caring so much about impractical consumption. I.e. buying the new car they show every 10 minutes in such persuasive and skillfully crafted multi-million dollar targeted advertisements.

Me too. I rail against advertising incessantly on here, but I really think it's far nearer to the core of the issue than a lot of people think.

Even a lot of anti-ad folk are like "just make them less intrusive and it'll be fine". No, that's just an extra annoyance. Ads are, at their very essence, incredibly bad.

Just did some number crunching and it appears Holland spends roughly half as much on advertising per capita than the US.


And the coolest thing about Holland is that they are one of first to do terraforming on a large scale by creating a local environment under the sea level!

Technology never ceases to amaze though. Just last week I replaced the 12 50 watt spotlights in my kitchen with 42 watts total worth of LEDs. For twenty dollars. You can't tell the difference except that maybe it's a bit brighter in there.

That was something I wouldn't have predicted being able to do 10 years ago. If something changes in the next 30 years that make this whole climate change panic look like a bunch of silly overreaction, I won't be all that surprised.

Unfortunately, the evidence so far:

- A consistent exponential growth in emissions - A consistent improvement in GDP/energy and a mild improvement in energy/CO2

raises the question: can technical efficiency gains reduce emissions? If so, can they do so rapidly enough to prevent catastrophe.

This question has been open since Jevons wrote about the use of coal in the Empire, but it is certainly not cut-and-dried.

In the case of your spotlights, there are several places for a rebound effect:

- You have more spare money; you spend that money on something else, which (perhaps) causes some emissions - You have avoided using some electricity, lowering the cost of electricity. This renders electricity useful for some other customer for whom it was previously marginal

And so on.

For efficiency gains alone to work, the new technology will have to be astounding enough to reduce the cost of energy below the marginal production cost for all the existing sources, and to allow us to chuck away all of the existing fossil fuel infrastructure without discomfort.

Otherwise we will just use astounding new technology along with all our old technologies, and do more stuff.

Efficiency gains (which will come, and are welcome and necessary) need to be coupled with a political limit on extraction of fuels to avoid this outcome, in my opinion.

Lighting is pretty small potatoes compared to transportation and agriculture and climate control. Your efficiency improvements, while great, are vastly outweighed by increases in global population and standards of living.

If you were to wave a magic wand and put a complete stop to human CO2 emissions today, the consequences of climate change would still be felt for decades. Never mind some technological change in the next 30 years, we needed something in the last 30 years. It's too late to stop it now, the only question is how much it can be mitigated, and how to deal with the consequences.

> People want to eat meat and drive cars and fly on airplanes

Not only that but try telling the billions in India and China "ok, now you're out of poverty you can't have a refrigerator or cooker"

>> Some combination of green energy sources plus probably very large scale terraforming.

The Achilles heel in all of this is how to make green energy affordable. If you want to really make impact, making these technologies affordable for lower income and the poor is the best way to reduce energy consumption.

Unfortunately, a lot of these technologies are still way way way out of reach of these people to take part in. Last time I checked, getting a small solar array on my house would cost in the neighborhood of $20K just get it installed. With a ten year ROI, this isn't feasible for me to do right now, and our state just ended their solar tax deductions with no signs of it ever coming back - giving me even less incentive to do this.

I'm all for less consumption and green technologies, but most are not affordable, and the long ROI isn't worth it right now.

> The Achilles heel in all of this is how to make green energy affordable. Last time I checked, getting a small solar array on my house would cost in the neighborhood of $20K just get it installed.

Depending on where you live, green energy might already be affordable today.

I had the same sticker shock at solar prices. While looking into that, I learned that my local for-profit electric provider offers a "green energy" option, where they promise to replace my billed electricity usage with mostly wind energy instead of the coal / natural gas mix normally used.

The total cost of that is $0.01/kwh extra. Or, roughly $6/month extra on an average electricity bill, to switch from coal to wind.


A plan like this should be affordable for the vast majority of Americans.

Last I saw stats, something like 57% of the U.S. is officially living in poverty. Trying to afford anything more than the necessities of life isn't going to happen on an individual basis for them, so it'll need to be a state/federal level effort to provide them with that.

It's not just the practical problem of getting rich people in the west to lower their consumption, it's the deeply moral problem of denying the lifestyle we've enjoyed for the past ~century to the couple of billion people currently joining the middle class.

So yes, technology is the only solution. Incremental improvements in efficiency should not be shunned, but they're not going to be 'solutions'.

I'm not even sure we will need to go to very dramatic steps to get there. Solar competitive with coal at market-prices seems to be right around the corner, that'll be a massive water-shed moment. I have high hopes for algae fuel (perhaps naive), because this can plug directly in to the existing downstream oil infrastructure (and burning hydrocarbons is going to be part of life for the foreseeable future).

> some sort of world wide agreement to lower consumption is a pipe dream

This has been my conclusion recently too. Sure, we can all do our own bit individually, but I can't realistically see a global shift in conscientiousness taking place.

It's good to remember that "globally" we are a huge collection of individuals. Perfect individual == perfect globe (ideally, of course).

I remind myself that empty collection != null collection.

Even if all humans die, mankind will survive for eternity as a collection :)

How about Lunaforming? If there's enough water, there's certainly enough sunlight to split it for H and O, making habitation and manufacturing possible. Migrating heavy industry off-planet, the old L5 society [0] idea, might be an option.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L5_Society

The trouble with heavy industry is that it's heavy. You can't ship e.g. bauxite to orbit and aluminium back down using conventional rockets and have the economics make any sense.

The timeframe is unlikely to work either. We're a decade away at least from the first industrial building on the moon, but we need to change CO2 production now.

Edit: the only sci-fi space solution that might make sense is the solar shade, if you can find a suitable reflective durable thin light material for it.

I was thinking, but didn't write, that mining on the moon is the place to start. It'd be silly to ship raw materials to space. It's not nearly as hard to ship finished products back.

How do you move stuff there though? See how hard it is just to have the ISS in orbit...

Didn't Yao Ming single handedly reduce the amount of ivory trade in China by spreading awareness about elephant situation?

Obviously meat is much more dear to people than ivory, we might need a million Mings to spread awareness - it is still worth a shot though. Even if we manage to reduce meat consumption by say 5 to 10%, it would be a huge help.

The only solution to this problem is technology

Naw. See the well-documented phenomenon of the Jevon's Paradox:


We really need a global carbon credit system (with stiff tariffs for countries that do not participate). Cut net greenhouse emissions by a few percent a year until net emissions are negative and atmospheric CO2 and methane are back to pre-industrial levels. This will help renewables (and nuclear, for better or worse) in the short term. In the medium term, the invisible hand of the market will make carbon capture profitable, which means smart VCs will start dumping cash into it now.

I think this sounds more plausible than terraforming, but is really the same thing.

> The only solution to this problem is technology.

There already exists a "carbon offset market" [1]

So the solution is economical, which in turn will lead to technological solutions (carbon-reducing technology directly driven by profits in this market).

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

From what I quickly found it seems that Greenhouse Gas Tax on meat is still missing.


It's missing from far more than just meat; the problem is raising taxes is politically painful in the short-term, and said policy will not reap any tangible benefits... The chances of a political solution (economics) to global warming won't be tenable until it's too late.

Honestly? At this point, I think that the only solution which will prevent Earth from becoming uninhabitable to all but simplest lifeforms is a war which will destroy at least most of humanity and reverse our technology level to one before of industrial revolution. New tech will never adopted fast enough by people acting out of their economic self-interest.

I agree that technology in terms of energy supply will be important, but is terraforming really a sensible option? Given how little we understand the climate, trying to manipulate it in this way feels like a very risky manoevre.

And there are big problems here in terms of externalities: my 'improved' climate might be disaster for you.

That depends on what you mean by terraforming. If it is use nuclear bombs to cause huge volcano eruption, it is obviously stupid, but if it is using mirror to heat up air behind the cyclone makes it dissolve or change route, it's a great idea we should try. And we'll learn a lot about the climate in the process.

> my 'improved' climate might be disaster for you.

People tend to like the same kind of climate, so it will be disaster mostly for white bears and desert lizards. Of course it's possible that someone tries to improve climate in his location, by making it worse in other places, but that is not a risk introduced by terraforming.

I would say political will. I still don't understand why aa advanced country like USA doesn't have a good public transportation system which could easily take the cars off the road. Many people would be happy to avoid sitting in cars for hours and polluting more.

> As long as they're rick enough to do so you'll never stop them.

This is the key. We just have to start charging properly for externalities. Then two things can happen, either only the very rich eat meat regularly or someone finds the technical solution you are hoping for.

I think you hinted at the solution. "as long as people are rich enough to.." Well, put in place taxes high enough that people are rich enough to afford it! and use the money for sequestration tech or alternative energy.

Per capita CO2 production has dropped in the US and EU by over 20%. Remember, the only long term causes are fossil fuels which are both finite and replaceable.

> The only solution to this problem is technology.

Or taxes.

Having kids especially in the west is probably the least environmental friendly thing you could do.

This is what i was thinking ~15 years ago, but now it is painful for me to remember that i could seriously support such an idea.

Environmental friendly matters only because it is human friendly. Removing all the humans is not environmental friendly since climate change and extinctions happen a lot without humans too. Reducing number of people to half the current population is not environmental friendly since we were cutting down huge forests and driving species to extinction even before the industrial age.

The most environmental friendly thing you can do is have more than 2 children, and make sure they are well educated. There are still lots of deserts on earth that they can make into forests, we just need the science and manpower for that.

Warmer arctic region is not a problem, it gives more livable space. Higher sea level is not a problem, it gives more water to create lakes and fill aquifers in places like Sahara, Iran, and central Asia. 50 bln people on earth is not a problem, it gives more creativity and more workforce to go to Mars.

I'm with you on everything except for this part:

> Higher sea level is not a problem, it gives more water to create lakes and fill aquifers in places like Sahara, Iran, and central Asia.

Higher sea level is absolutely a problem, as it disproportionately takes away the most valuable, economically productive, and inhabited land, and causes huge refugee crises. There's no shortage of seawater. Everything you mentioned could be done now (if we had enough power for desalination anyway). Higher sea levels don't make it appreciably easier, but they sure make everything else way worse.

You are right, I should've said slowly raising. If we let it to actually rise and flood cities it would be indeed a catastrophe, but the perspective of raising sea can incentivize richer countries to invest into moving that water somewhere else.

The best (and really only) place to store that much water is in kilometer-thick ice sheets at the poles ... the melting of which is what is causing the current problems. The aquifers simply aren't close to big enough to make a dent.

If we stop having kids, then why would we bother to protect the environment?

Its a question I ask myself as I don't plan on having any. There is some instinct in me to avoid suffering of future generations. It seems to be the right thing to do. Not sure where that comes from.

I'll refer you to the opening scene from season 2, episode 6 of "Utopia": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcx-nf3kH_M

To save humanity we will need some kids anyway. Who will choose who will have them?

Only if you reduce humans to simplistic 'worthless carbon-gobblers'

Having children in western democracies, where they can learn and act with large amount of freedom and information is frankly eventually much better for the planet and humanity. Compared to poorly educated children in a 3rd world country, with oppressive government, western children are much more likely to find and make solutions for energy access and technologies that allow humanity to live reasonably, potentially even off-Earth one day.

pretty sure we can stop them but not by asking nicely. just takes armed officers and the threat of force from the state.

There is another solution: less people.

I don't understand why people say this like it is some kind of self evident comment.

High levels of industrial production without counting the cost of carbon emissions is the problem.

Counties with high birth rates (mostly in Africa) aren't the ones causing that.

It's really the 2 person family in the West, with 3 cars, a MacManshion and 4 overseas holidays a year.

In the same way that PG showed us how startup = growth, AGW = continued exponentially growing emissions.Since the effect of CO2 on temperature is logarithmic, there can only be marked warming in the continued exponential growth scenarios.

Europe and even US have negative emission growth recently, even though our populations are slowly growing, our emissions efficiency is outclassing our increased consumption for a net small retreats in emissions. 1st world alone, and at their current and projected rate we'll continue to increase CO2 concentration and warm but second derivative of temperature will go strongly negative, and we will never hit a crisis.

There are no scary AGW that show this 1st world emissions plateau, instead they show continued exponential growth coming from increased wealth and high population growth (e.g. projected 6 billion people in Africa by the end of the century) in the developing world.

This doesn't me to "blame" anyone, simply to point out that if we "froze" the consumption levels and population at today's levels there is no scary AGW. Only with inexorable population and economic growth do we get +2C scenarios.

As far as I can tell, I think most of your assumptions here aren't born out by the evidence.

Firstly, 6B in Africa is the most pessimistic assumption possible[1].

Secondly, this is completely wrong: 1st world alone, and at their current and projected rate we'll continue to increase CO2 concentration and warm but second derivative of temperature will go strongly negative, and we will never hit a crisis.

To quote Wikipedia: In a scenario where global emissions start to decrease by 2010 and then declined at a sustained rate of 3% per year, the likely global average temperature increase was predicted to be 1.7 °C above pre-industrial levels by 2050, rising to around 2 °C by 2100.[2]

To make it clear: with a global reduction in emissions (not just first world) we are still in the "crisis" area of a 2 °C increase in temperatures by 2100.

Those estimates were made in 2008, and I believe we are already past the possibility of dropping emissions enough to meet those targets.

[1] https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Graphs/Probabilistic/POP/TOT/ (Need to choose Africa)

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

nl, do you deny there has been global warming?

We've already warmed close to +1C. While this huge +1C warming crisis was going on, we raised agricultural output by 10x. We've gone from thousands of people dying in hurricanes to dozens.

There is a warming amount ("climate sensitivity") that will rock our civilization, but it's not 2C - that amount would be background noise in the progress on the 21st century.

Hu? Of course I don't deny there is global warming(!!?)

2C is generally considered to be the line above which things are critical.



> Counties with high birth rates (mostly in Africa) aren't the ones causing that.

They are simply on their way to become like us: high population density, high individual environmental damage.

Oh, by all means, don't stop there! Elucidate the enormities you're willing to encompass.

C'mon man don't throw a thesaurus at us like that.

Language can be a form of play! I picked up my vocabulary from books, back when books were what you had to use. You have the Internet. Go thou forth and roll around in it!

I also speak Spanish, but not in comments since my goal is to have the people understand me. ;)

IMO it's important to keep the person who's going to read your words in mind if you want them to understand you rather than using your favorite high-dollar words to try to sound smart. Making word soup like that obfuscates your message, as evidenced by the off-message conversation we're having right now.

Not that you're wrong, but I've been having conversations like the one that is on message here for a very long time now. I'm accustomed to there being a few people who will say "well, the real problem is that there's just too many people", and I'm familiar with the typical unwillingness of such people to be drawn on questions like exactly whom they find surplus to requirements, exactly how they see that changing, and exactly why they imagine it reasonable to say such things in front of God and everybody, just as though it were nothing to be ashamed of.

I've more or less given up trying to draw such people into useful conversation, because there isn't enough common ground for direct discourse between me and someone who finds it other than abhorrent to seriously contemplate mass human slaughter as a geoengineering technique. Happily for my state of mind if nothing else, that perspective seems rare enough overall to make largely unnecessary an engagement for the benefit of the audience - put simply, this isn't really a subject on which most people need a worked example.

So, in such a case, I sometimes feel at some liberty to indulge myself, especially here on Hacker News, where the typical user's personal lexicon is considerably broader than you tend to find a lot of other places. Of course I understand that it's not a game to everyone the way it is to me. But I also understand that I'm not the only one who feels that way about it. And I don't really know that there's a lot of grounds to assume, for example, that I'm just "using high-dollar words to try to sound smart". I mean, I already know I'm not all that smart, and I hope I'm not terribly insecure about it; I make myself useful in other ways, and in general I'm just glad to be able to keep up on HN to the relatively limited extent I succeed in so doing.

Some folks just like playing with words, that's all. I've always been one of them. Sometimes, when there's no real need to hammer home a point most people already grasp implicitly and the rest aren't at home to, I screw around a little. You're the first person who has evinced any upset at all about that since before I was in high school. Maybe you're right, and I shouldn't indulge myself this way at all, rather than just doing so very rarely. But I don't really know that I care to stop. I guess I'll just have to hope that people getting bent out of shape over it remains as rare as it has been throughout my life heretofore.

"Less people" is not a solution. "Very slowly reducing the world population" could be one. But it could never be implemented. Reading Thomas Piketty's book is really good to apprehend this population growth vs economic sustainability subject.

The good news is that global populations will begin to decline over the next 100 years!

That is assuming humans will live 80 years like they do now. Hopefully in next 100 years we'll figure out a way to increase human lifespan enough to keep exponential growth of total population. (Some people believe that it is possible http://www.sens.org/)

What are you trying to say?

That the problem is there are too many people in a world of finite resources. A solution is less people.

I'm not suggesting how this is done, but we probably shouldn't e.g. subsidize growth anymore. You shouldn't get a tax break for having kids. It should go the other way.

You're probably correct on this point in general, but the tax break I get from having kids offsets the cost of almost two weeks of preschool. No one is having kids to save money.

You're right of course. Again, no real solutions just pointing out a problem. Also, not sure why people assume I want to reopen Auschwitz when I say we need less people.

Hey, don't get me wrong - I don't assume you want to reopen Auschwitz. I mean, Hitler was a piker. If you really want to get rid of excess population, you want to go for something like engineered famine. Worked for the Soviets, at any rate, to the tune of something like thirty million, but of course that's almost a century ago and there's inflation to consider, so you're going to want to shoot far higher.

Perhaps you think I'm being unkind to you here, or unjust, or unreasonable somehow. Perhaps you don't really understand how people make a connection between saying "there are too many people" and this kind of thing. Perhaps, too, it has escaped your notice that a lot of people said things like that in the century just past, and that the result was atrocity on a scale possibly never equaled, certainly never exceeded, in all human history before that time.

And here you are, not even a hundred years later, trotting out the same blood-soaked idea that started it all - and with the sheer unthinking temerity, the gall, to expect a friendly reception. Do you know nothing of history? Or do you just not care?

> You shouldn't get a tax break for having kids.

Fair enough. Then people should pay more in taxes than they receive in health and pension benefits. Right now, American retirees on average get more in benefits than they paid in taxes. The only way that works is if we have continual population and productivity growth, meaning we need to incentivize kids or we need to stop retiring and getting sick so much.

It gets problematic, because then you'd basically have a system where the government decides who gets to have kids.

A better solution is probably a raised standard of living and more education.

edit: By raised standard of living I'm not talking about AC and other energy-intensive luxuries. I mean not having to have 7 kids because many of them will probably die.

You've got two variables you can control. Birthrate and deathrate.

Someone, or something, will ultimately be making decisions.

Why not a government, or government analog?

What about that bothers you? What alternatives do you suggest? Different mechanisms? Different institutions?

Raising standards of livings has always required raising material resource consumption.

Its an interesting question to ponder if the reduced birth rate by increasing quality of life, education levels and general health will offset the raised material resource consumption by that move.

In the end I think the individuals themselves will be the ones making the decision to have fewer kids. I don't have a source for this, but I seem to remember that immigrants to more developed nations have fewer children after assimilating than people in their native, less developed countries.

Several principles suggest not. The Jevons Paradox, White's Law (after Leslie White), and the Darwin-Lotka Power Law.

These seem to reflect strong underlying tendencies of complex evolving systems. In particular that higher levels of organisation and complexity very powerfully tied to greater rates of energy and resource use, overall if not individually.

If humans manage to defeat this tendency it would be a singular exception.

Populations past a certain level of prosperity for a generation or two do seem to drop reproductive rates. Perhaps the answer here is higher educational costs to discourage people from having many kids, and lots of alternative activities instead (Pokemon)?

Higher education costs would lead to the opposite of what you're hoping for. Generally poor and uneducated families have more kids than educated ones, for a variety of reasons. You'd be better off lowering education costs.

Are you really suggesting people will play Pokemon instead of screwing? I mean, yeah, if they weren't going to screw anyway, maybe, but the idea of advancing the one as a serious alternative to the other...well, I mean, I know people get really into those games for whatever reason, but that much?

Increase college tuition (even more?) with the hopes of stemming population growth? You know the majority of the planet doesn't actually attend college as is already?

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