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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.

https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases


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.:

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

http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/1605/archive/gg04rpt/pdf/tbl3.pdf

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

What?


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:

https://www.co2.earth/global-co2-emissions

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.


Thanks


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


Truisms.




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