The only solution to this problem is technology. Some combination of green energy sources plus probably very large scale terraforming.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
Emissions are a byproduct of our progress (thus far).
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.
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...)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
 details may be incorrect; I haven't paid a ton of attention to the specific proposals.
I really hope that I am proven wrong about it being too late due to trapped GHGs (but we can still try).
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.
That's just silly. Regulation guarantees the safety of the food you eat, the buildings you live in and the car you drive.
After all, check out this thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12340694
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?
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...
Would that be because you know you've just made an unsustainable statement. Regulation has prevented plenty of ills.
that's a shame. how could we fix this? perhaps... regulation against lobbyists?
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.
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.
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.
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.
A carbon tax is decidedly not progressive. Take a look at the carbon map  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.
 - http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/american-carbon-footprint
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.
That's the goal, no? Burning oil releases CO2. Growing trees and burning them is carbon neutral.
Perhaps planting a tree should incur a negative carbon tax.
Young, inexperienced but passionate fish sometimes have been known to deny the existence of water. Later they're embarrassed.
As long as that inventor doesn't turn out to be a new Thomas Midgley Jr.:
NB Inventor of both leaded petrol and CFCs.
> 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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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).
"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.
It's a lot like saying "prove it to me with numbers, because all the numbers you're giving me are bunk."
"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?
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.
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.
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.
One word, CFC
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Yes, but we don't have that solution.
Batteries, pumped hydro, thermal storage, and many other technologies exist. They just need to become cheap enough. Thus, the problem is once again price.
The engineering issues are in getting this stuff to be sufficiently cost effective that we can afford to put them into wide use.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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]
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.
We need to reduce the solar incident radiation...
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.
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?
Be the change you want to see in the world.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That's the reason some houses have not AC in the south of Europe but all the offices have.
Don't underestimate the thermal power needed for just one additional degree in a typical American house with poorly insulated windows, walls and doors.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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".
Or you could plant a tree.
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.
Indeed, worth a book.
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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"
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.
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.
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).
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.
Even if all humans die, mankind will survive for eternity as a collection :)
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.
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.
Naw. See the well-documented phenomenon of the Jevon's Paradox:
I think this sounds more plausible than terraforming, but is really the same thing.
There already exists a "carbon offset market" 
So the solution is economical, which in turn will lead to technological solutions (carbon-reducing technology directly driven by profits in this market).
And there are big problems here in terms of externalities: my 'improved' climate might be disaster for you.
> 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.
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.
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.
> 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.
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.
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.
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.
Firstly, 6B in Africa is the most pessimistic assumption possible.
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.
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.
 https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Graphs/Probabilistic/POP/TOT/ (Need to choose Africa)
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.
2C is generally considered to be the line above which things are critical.
They are simply on their way to become like us: high population density, high individual environmental damage.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.