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Atmospheric CO2 levels accelerate upwards (nationalobserver.com)
499 points by tempestn on Apr 11, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 504 comments



The message I"m getting is not that I have to prepare for something or change energy sources, it's that "our lifestyle is killing the planet much faster than we thought".

CO2 levels is just one of a myriad of indicators that are off the scale now.

By lifestyle I mean supermarkets and restaurants and iPhones and planes ... all the stuff that we're so proud of as a society.

Winning, getting ahead, being number one, outcompeting, etc. All those ego-centric values that are the basis of our socio-economic systems - focused on disconnecting the `self` from `other` - are wrong on a fundamental level.

Ultimately it is the lack of spirituality in people that's killing the planet. Religions, Inc are a major part of the problem, not a solution.

By 'spirituality' I mean the deep realisation of the larger context in bio-space and bio-time that I as a creature exist in:

My body is just a cell of a larger organism - Earth - and my life is a drop in the river of life that's been flowing for billions of years - the constant unfolding and re-merging of the DNA molecule.

`I` am the privileged observer of this Process and my ultimate mission is to leave it in better shape than I found it.

Well, most of us are failing at it.


The planet is going to be just fine, the only thing that we can screw up is our ability to live on it in large numbers - which matters a lot to me for obvious reasons.

Unless we're speaking about things that literally are extinction events for us, the larger organism doesn't really care about extremely short term fluctuations; in the scale of a few hundred million years the current climate change (or the temporary existence of homo sapiens) doesn't make a meaningful impact.


People keep saying that. Lots and lots of species will go extinct before we do. And it will be our fault.

Sure, the hunk of rock we call a planet will go on, and life will go on, but claiming we are the only casualty here is profoundly wrong.


I am so happy to hear somebody say this. But to take it even further than the extinction of species: nobody seems to care about the suffering and/or loss of billions of individual animal lives that are and will be occuring as a direct result of our negligent behaviour.


The sun is hotter now than it was at the PT event. There are serious climate scientists saying that, its possible that a greenhouse effect similar to the PT event happening now, could push earth into a Venus like state.


>"There are serious climate scientists saying that, its possible that a greenhouse effect similar to the PT event happening now, could push earth into a Venus like state."

The Venus atmosphere is 50x thicker than Earth's, Venus is also ~1.4x closer to the sun. Where will all this extra atmospheric mass and incoming radiation come from?


Water is one of the strongest greenhouse gases around, and there's plenty of it in the oceans that can evaporate in a runaway process. Once that happens, we're the next Venus.

Reaching that tipping point is quite difficult though, and would require additional warming besides fossil fuels. Methane-based runaway warming maybe? Or even basic thermodynamic heat sink effects (which we'll reach in about 200 years at the current rate of growth in energy supply).


Can you find a "serious climate scientist" who is claiming this "oceans boiling away" scenario is plausible? Alternatively, can you put some basic numbers on that? What will the surface temp need to be to initiate the boiling away?

It looks like currently the TSI at Earth varies between 1315 and 1405 w/m^2 (a range of 90 w/m^2), which apparently has less effect on the temperature than the tilt of the earth. http://lasp.colorado.edu/lisird/sorce/sorce_tsi/index.html


Right. But it is a possible mechanism that has nothing to do with the current thickness of the atmosphere or distance to the sun. Once upon a time, Venus wasn't so bad either.

Is James Hanson not "serious"? I agree that the consensus view seems to be that this is still an unlikely scenario.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/13/130729-runaw...

As far as numbers go, I'm not a climate scientist, but I have done these kind of calculations before. If I figure out the tipover temperature, I'll post it.


If I understood correctly, for that model they varied the "surface temperature" of a 1-dimensional object under constant illumination by hard-coding it, rather than simulating an increase in insolation or pressure to cause warming:

"When surface temperature is below the critical point temperature (647K), the surface pressure is set as the saturation vapour pressure for that surface temperature, and the tropospheric temperature– pressure structure is taken directly from the saturation vapour pressure curve. Where the surface temperature exceeds the critical point temperature, we prescribe surface pressure as 2.6×107 Pa, corresponding to Earth’s surface water reservoir." http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v6/n8/full/ngeo1892.html

So first, they do increase the thickness of the atmosphere, and the increased surface temperature would come from a possible future sun (not adding CO2) I guess. Second, I wouldn't put much stock in such simplified models.


One thing to note is the PT event took several million years to unfold.

I think human civilization has bigger problems in the mean time.


Um, human-generated CO2-caused warming might well happen a lot faster than the PT event.


> in the scale of a few hundred million years the current climate change (or the temporary existence of homo sapiens) doesn't make a meaningful impact.


CO2 levels is just one of a myriad of indicators that are off the scale now.

By lifestyle I mean supermarkets and restaurants and iPhones and planes ... all the stuff that we're so proud of as a society.

Scale relative to what, or when? I mean, yeah, we are certainly 'off the scale' for supermarkets, iPhones and planes compared to, say, the ancient Romans. But in fairness, they've got us well and truly beat on the ignorance, slavery and infant mortality scales. How do we rank in 'spiritual' terms relative to the Romans?

But taking your assertion as a given, what specifically do you suggest we do about this problem? My concern is that, in the near future, we may find ourselves climbing down a few rungs of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, leaving 'self-actualisation' / spirituality way out of reach.


Yet the reality is self-actualisation / spirituality are as out of reach for many now as they were years ago when we were 'poorer'.


Self-actualization and spirituality seldom go hand in hand with wealth. Poor people have improved spirituality than wealthier people. Wealth draws your focus away from those things onto pleasures like sleeping around, or owning the latest i-device because it's the latest. Hence Jesus saying it's easier to thread a fishing line through a needle than for a wealthy person to find the Kingdom of Heaven.


Possibly, though it's often more complex than that. For example, the Gautama Buddha was born into the aristocracy, but renounced his social station[1]. It would be reasonable to suggest that his education and experience of luxury were necessary for his later understanding of the nature of suffering.

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gautama_Buddha#Biography


If this is indeed the case, does that mean you feel pity for those born into well-off families, and feel happy for those born into abject poverty? The latter, of course, being more likely to live a spiritually fulfilled life?


> Hence Jesus saying it's easier to thread a fishing line through a needle

Nit: it's thread a camel through the eye of the needle, not fishing line


Nope. That's just a shitty English translation. The Jews at the time were familiar with different types of ropes/threads. It is most likely that Jesus referred to the type of rope used in fishing which is much larger than a thread.

http://www.biblicalhebrew.com/nt/camelneedle.htm


According to that link that is just one of several possible interpretations. In fact the author seems to prefer the "camel" translation, as there are contemporary examples of similar hyperbole.


I agree. If "nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle" was a expression used previously, it's not so strange that they have a local version with a camel.


Well then I guess I'm a bit lost. What exactly is being suggested here?

We seem to have established that, for 'many', there's no relationship between material wealth and spirituality (although the people replying to you appear to disagree, but I'm going with your notion). And I think the original post was suggesting that climate change is a consequence of a lack of spirituality.

If we take all the above as true, wouldn't this all logically suggest:

(a) We're doomed regardless of how many solar panels / wind farms we build, because the root cause (lack of spirituality) remains unaddressed; and

(b) To avoid being doomed, we should devote the bulk of our finite efforts and resources towards general public achievement of spiritual enlightenment? And only after this has been achieved, only then might we be able to stave of climate change?

Or is something else being suggested?

Just my opinion, but I'm not so certain that there's either (a) no relationship between 'spirituality' and material circumstances, or (b) that there's an inverse relationship, as is suggested below (i.e. poor people are more spiritual). I can't see how either of these propositions are self-evidently true. The latter is a nice thought, I guess ("oh, he said the meek! oh isn't that nice!"). It's a similar idea to that of the 'noble savage' I suppose.

Going with your notion (i.e. no relationship): I think catastrophic climate change would significantly diminish material resources, in practically every respect. Even 'empty space' will be in shorter supply, due to mass migrations towards relatively unaffected geographies. IMHO, these sorts of 'material privations' (and I don't mean your voluntary weekend fast, here) would bring out the worst, most desperate behaviour in most people, particularly if experienced en masse. I don't think these would be people freed from petty material concerns, and therefore able to pursue 'spirituality'. I suspect they'll instead be people doing whatever it is they need to do to increase the chances of their family's survival.

IMHO, the social dislocation caused by catastrophic climate change is one of the few things I could see leading to a violent breakdown of social order, or to the next global scale war. I tend to think these sorts of adversities would lead one away from spiritual enlightenment (unless dying counts as spiritual enlightenment).

Would you contend that people were generally more 'spiritual' during the Great Depression? Were they more spiritually enlightened during the world war that followed? Or does one thing have nothing to do with the other?


I think I misread your final sentence as we shouldn't do anything because it means we will fall down a few rungs but having re-read it I suspect you meant if we don't do anything we will be forced down a few rungs.

To me it is clear we should do something about it but that is unpalatable to many or even most people because they think their lives will be worse without cheap abundant energy. I think they are wrong.


Hey thanks for the reply. Yeah that's my main thrust: we need to be taking urgent and concrete action if we're to avoid catastrophe (if it's not already too late). I think that's why some of the replys to the original comment came off a bit 'sharp': 'spirituality' is great and all, but it's such a nebulous concept that it suggests nothing that is really actionable (at least, on a non-individual level).

On cheap abundant energy, I come at it from the other side of things. You're probably right that those is 'first world' countries (like myself) could be more conservative and less wasteful in our energy usage. And we've already got more than enough 'stuff', and having a little less is unlikely to hurt us. My concern is more about developing countries, particularly large ones like India and China that are rapidly industrialising. It's not that people's lives in developing countries will be worse if they halt this process, it's more that they will be condemned to living significantly poorer, and shorter, lives because of a problem they're mostly not responsible for (and that other countries have gotten rich from).

The latter two in particular have rapidly growing energy consumption, and, to be fair, they are making some attempt to generate energy from viable non-co2 sources (for instance, both are strongly pursuing nuclear fission programmes). That said, the overwhelming majority of their current increases in generating capacity comes from constructing new coal-fired plants.

Asking people in these countries to lower their energy use seems extremely unfair: it's like asking the poor to eat a tax-hike to repair the budget. I suspect they'd find it quite intellectually insulting if we were to suggest that instead of continuing to make material improvements to the quality of their lives, they should instead pursue 'spirituality'.


"Ultimately it is the lack of spirituality in people that's killing the planet."

Bad accounting is killing our planet. Neglecting important parts of the balance sheet creates perverse incentives.


I get that externalities are the key problem. That plus the present impossibility of coherent global action against a global problem.

But as much as I think the human species will win a Darwin award, there's really zero risk of "killing our planet". I mean, one could sterilize the entire surface of the Earth, and the Archaea would hardly notice. They extend kilometers below the surface.


Aren't the major forms of human organization -- corporations and nation-states -- effective ways to externalize costs?


If everyone was seeking enlightenment, there would be no incentives. Incentives are entirely constructions of the ego. Also, most of the posters seem ignorant to the fact that science and rationality are equally as dogmatic as the most fundamentalist religion. All beliefs are false, there is no argument against that.


No contest.

I can't argue spirituality, enlightenment. "If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him."

While I personally believe we'd all be better off reconnecting with awe, wonder, our place in the universe... When's the last time you watched the Milky Way? Heard the birds singing without the roar of airliners? ...Those beliefs aren't actionable.


How is the desire to observe the Milky Way due to a belief in its beauty not actionable?

There are organizations that seek to preserve the possibility to view the night sky with minimal light pollution (http://darksky.org). I went to a campsite in New Mexico that is designated as a dark sky sanctuary recently -- it was amazing.


In fact, you wont even seek to save the planet or to change anything that's happening because things simply are, there is nothing that you'd prefer, extinction or to thrive, pleasure and pain all simply become sensations with no judgement as to whether they hurt or benefit you because those are judgements of the ego https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FtVLnmuJzg


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FtVLnmuJzg All beliefs are false, upon discovering this you can seek enlightenment because you will not follow the desire for sex, wealth, power, or even the desire for enlightenment itself, attainment is illusion as is thought


"Enlightenment" as a goal has always felt like a sham to me. All understanding is approximate, but comparing science to religion is a false equivalency. Dogmatic belief ends in tautology, a thing is true because it's in the book and the book is true because it says so. A scientific belief is probabilistic and ends in open research questions, the theory of General Relativity models a subset of reality to a reasonable degree of confidence based on the evidence we have collected and makes no greater claims.

Science shows us there is no meaning, purpose, or grand truth. All life is a 4 billion-year old chemical reaction... born by chance in the universe's beautiful dance of physics, fueled by energy and bound by entropy. From dust to dust, the billions that came before us are as forgotten as those that live and those yet to be born.

But, yet, there is meaning.

We don't exist at the abstraction layer of quarks or microseconds, nor do we exist at the scale of galaxies or millennia. Questioning human existence at those levels is a philosophical divide-by-zero. We exist at the human layer, in the context of society, on the scale of under a century. Science gives us a solid foundational existential philosophy for higher order philosophy, which we can probabilistically derive from the evidence available and test as rigorously as any other aspect of our understanding.


Some beliefs are less false than other beliefs:

http://chem.tufts.edu/answersinscience/relativityofwrong.htm


While I get what you're saying, the "fact" of the matter is if you think about it long and hard with an open mind you eventually discover that all belief are false and that there is no gradient of falsehood. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FtVLnmuJzg


I believe that your belief that all beliefs are false and that there is no gradient to the falsehood is false


There is no true or false, only unasking questions ;)


Look, we're not "killing the planet". Humans are organisms like any other. Sure, human populations have spiked from millions to billions in recent millennia, and mean per capita resource utilization has increased dramatically. But that's just what organisms do.

So anyway, the planet will be fine. Human civilization may collapse, given the risk of crop failure and war. But even humanity will survive.

Edit: Many other species won't be so lucky. Maybe there are moral implications there. And certainly there will be practical implications. That will be part of crop failures.


That's my position too.

Whenever I get told a corrolary of 'the planet is more important than humanity' I automagically hear:

'look, I'm not really into this scientific thing where you guys seek truth with experimentations, logic and deep thinking. I guess I could, but frankly I don't see the point, I'm just going thru life, because, well, because. But, you see, I'm pretty sure this time we're having the last drop of our civilization because a {insert big fear here} is coming upon us and we can do nothing about it!'.

This has been going since the beginning of humanity I guess. Differents type of minds, as aliens to each others as are cats to dogs. Greek philosophers to roman plebe. Galilee and Copernic to their so-called peers. Technologist to ecologist.

That's the real danger we are still facing since the beginning: we're at the same time forced to collaborate to do something really meaningfull for our children (free and sustainable energy/food, freedom from work, long and diseases-free lifes, space-faring, etc), and utterly unable to communicate and seek consensus in a very efficient way.


Isn't this a straw man?

I don't think anyone really believes the giant ball of iron we live on is alive or can be killed.

"Killing the planet" is shorthand for "making the planet inhospitable and causing harm to a majority of its living inhabitants" or something like that.

So why do so many people feel compelled to derail conversations about global warming by pointing out at length that the earth itself is not literally going to be killed?

It's not informative and not helpful.


No, it's not a straw man. Yes, many species will go extinct. Human civilization will probably collapse. Maybe the human species will go extinct. But life will go on, and within a billion years, who will care?

We wouldn't be here, but for the last major extinction event.

Anyway, I'm not arguing for inaction. But I do think that it's too late. Exponentials and positive feedback are full of surprises.


So what's your point?

Everyone knows that there will continue to be life on earth. Everyone knows that noone will care 1e9 years hence.

Are you suggesting we shouldn't care either?

Are you just trying to be "more correct" than other people by pointing out literal falsehoods in things that they've said even though noone is actually taking it literally? (That qualifies as a strawman argument)

Either way, your statement is not leaving anyone more informed than they were before, and carries an attitude of resignation/despair which is not helpful.

You're very right about positive feedback and it is almost certainly too late to avoid a ton of damage. But whether our children will be able to live healthy happy lives 80 years from now in the places they've grown up (or anywhere) is still an open question and could very well depend on how well we get our act together over the next decade. There is some urgency here, and we should strive as much as possible for our discourse on the topic to be productive.


Exaggeration doesn't help the argument that anthropogenic climate change is a serious problem.

I am not suggesting that we shouldn't care.

Maybe you're right that there's still a chance of averting catastrophic impact if "we get our act together over the next decade". That's what I've been arguing for decades. But in recent years, the signs of increasing rate of change and positive feedbacks have become much clearer.

What are the chances that the US will cut CO2 emissions by 50% in a decade or two? I'd say that it's about zero. Suburbanization is a huge conundrum. Plus all that old infrastructure. Not to mention the fact that a substantial minority thinks that it's all bullshit, that God is on our side, and that it's all part of immanent Armageddon.


> What are the chances that the US will cut CO2 emissions by 50% in a decade or two? I'd say that it's about zero.

I agree. But so does everyone else. So why point it out unless to argue in favor of despair?

Placing a sufficient price on CO2 emissions would probably do it. Odds of getting our legislatures to do this may be slim, but why not try?

> Exaggeration doesn't help the argument that anthropogenic climate change is a serious problem.

I'm not exaggerating. The EPA's forecasted temperature increase over the next 83 years is a confidence interval with upper bounds at 12F for the USA and 8.6F for the global average. (https://www.epa.gov/climate-change-science/future-climate-ch...) A change of that magnitude will have tremendous consequences:

- Changing rainfall patterns and foundering marine ecosystems might threaten public food and water supplies.

- The resulting economic fallout might create large migrations of people who will have to compete for space in regions of the world already overfull.

- Large regions of the country would become unpleasant to reside in on account of the temperature alone.

- Violence and poverty could become widespread.

These seem to me to be genuine threats that it is realistic to believe that people alive today might face in their old age.


I think that we agree on the facts.

I just think that focusing on human impacts has the best chance. Indeed, your examples are all about human impacts.

When I read "kill the planet", it seems about much more than that. Maybe that's just my ecohippie spiritualism ;)


>>But I do think that it's too late.

Why?

It doesn't look like we are staring extinction right in the face.

Any talk of reasonable influence on climate is over a few centuries.

So why do do you its 'late'?


Right. I doubt that climate change alone could lead to human extinction. But climate change could bring starvation, chaos and war. And there are tens of thousands of nuclear weapons.

But yes, probably not extinction.

More likely is collapse of industrial civilization. That will cut CO2 emissions, and climate will recover is a few centuries. Many other species will go extinct in the process, however. It'll be a major extinction event.


>At present, the rate of extinction of species is estimated at 100 to 1,000 times higher than the "base" or historically typical rate of extinction (in terms of the natural evolution of the planet) and also the current rate of extinction is, therefore, 10 to 100 times higher than any of the previous mass extinctions in the history of Earth.

From wikipedia, Holocene extinction. By what other metric could you possibly define "killing the planet" than killing the life on it?

I hate this argument because it feels like moving goalposts. For one thing, I don't think its hyperbolic to say that an uninhabitable planet is dead. It's dead as far as it matters to us. Moreover its so hard to read something like that and not feel like the message is "Don't worry, it'll be okay". If life is reduced back to single cells, is that okay? Will the planet still not be dead? If there is still water and organic molecules, so that life may evolve in the coming millions of years, is the planet still alive?

Due directly to human actions, species are dying faster than they ever have. Global warming has the potential to erase more species than ever before. Given the speed it's happening at, it may be a very real possibility that plants will not be able to adapt to changing conditions. Given that, it may be a very real possibility that the overwhelming death will cause runaway greenhouses faster than new plant and ocean life can reverse it, which would end all life on earth.

Life on earth would probably survive a nuclear holocaust. If you wanted to have the beast chance of permanently killing all life on this planet, this isn't far off from how you would do it. Push as much co2 as possible into the air as quickly as possible to change global conditions enough to kill all plants at the same time. If you just try to nuke everything, you'll leave a niche that other organisms will expand into. It's like antibiotics- you can't take just one huge pill, you need to keep taking them to make sure absolutely nothing survives.

Saying we aren't killing the earth is like watching someone that is getting stabbed repeatedly and saying he still has blood left.


>Push as much co2 as possible into the air as quickly as possible to change global conditions enough to kill all plants at the same time

This makes no sense. How exactly an abundance of CO2 will "kill all plants" given that they are thriving on it? Let's say temperature rises further, like +10C rise. Desertification may kill some plants, sure. In the meantime, huge swaths of Siberia and Canada will stop being permafrost and transform back into thriving bogs, marshes and forests.

Moreover, there were times on Earth with widely higher temperatures. We are talking thousands of ppm of CO2 in the air and tropical flora on Antarctica. This didn't "end all life on Earth" at all.


A 10C rise would put us in the Cretaceous, the hottest time in the past 300 million years. It would melt all ice on earth and the globe would be unrecognizable due to sea rise. This has happened before. It hasn't happened in a couple centuries before.

A 3C rise will kill a lot of plants. A 5C rise will kill most of the plants, and if they can survive the change in biodiversity, the release of methane and CO2 from everything rotting, starving predators, and extreme weather and fire, life on earth might survive and eventually recover after a few hundred thousand or million years.

A 7-10C change over 300 years would, most likely, kill every single thing on the planet that was not transplanted by humans. There are only two ways to survive that without human intervention.

1: Be wide-ranging enough to spread very quickly to areas that become habitable as they open up. A few times a century the entire ecosphere will have to pack up and move to live in the changing climate as floods and deserts move things around. These plants would find it impossible to thrive over the long term and have very little chance of surviving.

2: Literally just tank the entire thing start to finish. For most plants, they will not be able to significantly change their range over this time. In ideal conditions yes, under the massively destabilized climate -disappearing coasts, halting ocean circulation, temperature swings from freezing to sweltering- no way.

The plants in northern Canada would have to be able to survive in tropical heat as well as they currently do in ice and snow. Plants in the tropics would have to survive 100 meters underwater. As the permafrost melts, plants will spread northerly- but the climate will catch up. Ironically it would be better if we killed 99% of plants right now so they could beat the climate. As it stands in a hundred years tropical vines will not be winding their way between New England evergreens- they will be dust in a desert. The pines outside my window will be choking in 40C weather. Boabab trees wouldn't survive in the soil here and Redwoods won't survive in Greenland.

NB: I don't mean to say I think the total collapse of life on earth is likely at this point in time. I think at present even humans are pretty likely to survive what's coming even if we stay our current course for 30 years. However I would give it better than 50% odds that a 7C+ warming would kill multicellular life. Most of the assumptions that you have to make to lead to warming that high necessarily kills everything, eg ice melting, circulation stopping, humans not giving a fuck, etc.


As quickly as possible is the key. In the past any changes in temperature were much more gradual.


What mechanism for "killing all plants" through sudden atmospheric CO2 increase do you have in mind?


I'm just saying that the biggest, most sudden, longest lasting change in habitability would be made with CO2. The temperature change is what kills the plants, not CO2. It's a bigger temperature change than an asteroid impact and lasts longer.

It's like setting up a bomb, and it has multiple stages. You load co2 into the air until the bomb goes off, causing enough temperature change to cause large desertification. That releases even more stored carbon. That triggers the polar melt feedback, which triggers the permafrost melts, which triggers even more deforestation, which triggers wildfires and weather, which trigger even more polar melting, which wrecks ocean circulation, which fires the clathrate gun, and suddenly there are a handful of species in an earth that is set to random and they will inevitably die out.


We're already rather close to "as quickly as possible" :(

But plant life? Are you thinking phytoplankton?


Well, for why specifically you'd do it like that: Loading up CO2 in the atmosphere gives you a delayed action on all of this. It's not the CO2 directly, its the fact that you can just start investing into a sudden, massive change easily and then have it all take off exponentially.

If you instead pumped a toxin into the air, you would kill a great deal of things right away but as the concentration of poison rose they would develop a resistance. Thats the slow, traumatic burn, which is global but survivable with enough biodiversity.

If you nuked everything, that would kill almost everything on earth but after a couple decades it'll be relatively survivable again. Life only has to stick around a little bit- spores and seeds is safe places, that by some freak coincidence managed to survive the radiation. Also survivable.

With CO2, nothing happens until suddenly it does. There is a massive change in temperature that kills off biodiversity at a rate higher than ever before- we haven't even hit significant changes and we're experiencing this already. Then, once the biosphere is vulnerable, it gets hit with millenia of instability and extreme problems. There might be pockets that are shielded from this- if they sustained large, diverse populations through the massive initial changes.

It's like the KT extinction on steroids. KT was ~10,000 years- a CO2 bomb would happen even faster and last even longer.


Yes, major extinction event. No doubt about it.

But killing off plants? Can you cite something for that?

It seems to me that preventing collapse of human civilization is the thing to focus on. It's what most people will care about, right? And it's far more likely than total global ecosystem collapse. I mean, we may see the first signs within a few years. The "end of all life on this planet" is something that humanity will never get near, because it'll be long gone before it happens.


The next sentence in the page is "It is also the only known mass extinction of plants". I didn't include it because it says citation needed, though. Every scenario in which life is endangered globally involves harsh feedback loops and is therefore extremely hypothetical and unstudied, but the possibilities do exist. Climate change simulation is a best case of a best case scenario- how could you possibly account realistically for the impact of losing biodiversity on that scale?

The short term problem is probably ocean acidification, although 3+ degrees will directly kill a ton of food production and plant species. Ocean acidification is usually thought of in terms of corals and shellfish but it can also lead to a collapse of the ocean food chain when nearly all zooplankton die. Oceanic plants can survive acidic conditions and will thrive without predators or competition, but that leaves out the fact that the ocean will now be full of dead, rotting things. There are an incredible number of ways that scenario can become a nightmare. Poison by toxins, infection caused by too-rapid growth, explosion of predators as they feed on detritus, etc. A healthy population is required to survive a huge climate change, and there are a million ways for that to go wrong.

The major catastrophe would be 5+ degree warming, which has the potential to collapse current ocean circulation patterns including the nino cycle. That would cause major devastation to biodiversity, deoxygenation of the ocean, and kill most life by land area and ocean volume. Then the isolated patches of life would have to deal with extreme weather, air quality, acidity changes, water and temperature changes. The survivors would have to stabilize the biosphere and live for millions of years with an unprecedented lack of biodiversity, until they could evolve. Species die spontaneously all the time. Tasmanian devils developed contagious cancer.

The Sahara used to be a jungle. The wind changed a little bit, and converted everything to sand. As the climate changes, areas will be destroyed- even if they stay green, biodiversity will be massively reduced and those places will no longer be sustainable long term. Even if rain starts falling in the Sahara, it will be decades or centuries before it grows.

In a normal extinction event growth is moderated over tens or thousands of years, in a smooth transition to other species. We have a century until we reach the same changes.

Say you have a field with grass, moss and cows. Geological warming kills the grass over a hundred years, and the moss slowly grows in it's place, and all is good. If anthropogenic warming kills all the grass overnight, The cows eat all the moss except for a little hidden under a rock, which is killed when a cow dies on top of it and blocks the sun.

>It seems to me that preventing collapse of human civilization is the thing to focus on. It's what most people will care about, right? And it's far more likely than total global ecosystem collapse. I mean, we may see the first signs within a few years. The "end of all life on this planet" is something that humanity will never get near, because it'll be long gone before it happens.

Wow, that may actually change my feelings on reading this sentiment. It's still a little horrifying that we have to wait until humans are affected, but I do understand how someone could look around and say "Yep, still looks alive to me!". If focusing on the threat to humanity engenders the threat as a whole, I'm all for it.

Of course, the breakneck speed of extinction is still horrifying. Each day means hundreds of species that I will never see, and I'm already pissed about missing giant sloths. We only killed those 10,000 years ago.


I suspect that the dynamic will look like 1) non-human species extinction from habitat loss; 2) disruption of human civilization and possible collapse from food shortages and conflict; 3) human and ecological recovery; 4) recovered or new human civilization; 5) more ecological recovery.

With luck, we'll only get part way into 2, and it won't be too bad. But those positive feedbacks are frightening.


That's true, but it's also not very relevant.

Many asteroids and barren planets are also going to be fine, but I don't think anyone cares about that. People care about the future of human civilization, which is very much at risk.


Yes, but that's very different from "killing the planet". If what you care about is the future of human civilization, then that's what you ought to be talking about. Bringing up "killing the planet" just invites eye rolls.

Personally, I care more about the future of consciousness than about the future of humanity, per se.


There is probably intelligent conscious life out there in the universe, and considering the mass extinction we are setting up right now it might be best to leave it alone. So keep consuming, burn that coal and save the aliens (from us)!


People pointing out the distinction between "killing the planet" and "killing off our species" is what causes my eyes to roll. Seems to me like a moot point.

edit: /mute/moot/g


Well, "the planet" = "our species" is a big part of the problem, no?


Not sure. If that somehow poetically translates into the reason it is so easy for us to demonize science with corrupted politics... Then you get a "100% yes" from me. :)


Yeah, I think that we agree :)

Science: "Climate change will destroy human civilization."

Big oil: "They lie. No problem. Anyway, God gave it all to us."


Well, if you want to spin it positively, that problem might take care of itself. Literally.


We're an integral part of the current ecosystem on this planet. We are not killing the planet, we are killing the current ecosystem on the planet; i.e. we are killing ourselves.


We're not "killing" the current ecosystem. We're changing it, and causing a major extinction event. That's pretty impressive, for one species. But yes, it will almost certainly be to our detriment. I agree that we're probably killing technological civilization. That's still a long way from human extinction, however.


On one hand, I wouldn't completely dismiss the sociocultural norm of prizing competition and pursuit of individual power and status, since even though these motivators seem superficial and lowly to some, they have historically shown to be powerful facilitators of progress and development of humanity, and completely antagonizing them is unwise. We wouldn't be where we are without socioeconomic competition.

The iPhones and the planes and the supermarkets are not the problem - they are fruits of civilization and represent our progress as an intelligent species, at least in one regard.

Also, I don't think "ego-centric values" will be going anywhere, they seem to be rooted in our biology, from which dominant societal values are ultimately derived.

Of course, biology and basic societal expectations are not the only drivers of human behavior. Intellectual ideas, abstract thought, understanding of nature (in the broad sense), coupled with our faculties of emotion together act as essential motivators, and are often incorporated by society as general expectations and norm.

Obviously, taking a simplistic, power-driven, ego-centric behavioral paradigm to an extreme without incorporating the bigger picture into our perspective is a major mistake. We become short-sighted, basic and ignorant, leading to both practical problems as well as a philosophically undesirable state of humanity.

The concept you distinguished as one of the potential solutions - spirituality - and particularly your example of a physicalist/pantheistic spiritual outlook on the Universe that is not constructed dogma but rather a mental interpretation of scientific fact - is precisely the sort of thing that needs to be more common place. I have a hunch that a philosophy of that exact nature will be embraced in the not-so-distant future.

We are intelligent agents, isn't it common sense that we take as much knowledge as we can into consideration before we act, rather than being exclusively animated by immediate, manifest but somewhat animalistic motivators?


In this light, I guess our curse might be that although we were able to part somewhat from the more prevalent "way of nature" (and strive to do so), we won't be able to completely let go of its inherent mechanisms.

Douglas Adams talks about a theory by Mark Carwadine in Last Chance To See[1] in which he tries to explain why the Kakapo has a terribly slow and inefficient mating habit. The idea is that basically, without mechanisms (like predators) to keep them in check, any population that reproduces too fast will trigger a chaos theory-like strongly oscillating population count (coinciding with the resources available per capita at any previous sample point) and thus, most likely, flatline at zero at some point.

Maybe that's our problem: We were able to remove many constraining factors limiting us as a species, but can't let go of the habits that made us succeed so far. Of course, that doesn't only apply to reproduction, but also to resource consumption as a whole. On top of that, our ability to exploit fossil resources only amplifies this effect, because we were able to continue without more immediate consequences so far.

In that sense, one might argue that even without climate change, we would have to change our ways in order for our lifes to remain sustainable.

[1]: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Chance_to_See


That has been the rhetoric since the 1960s. That is the rhetoric that is obviously not working.

I call this the "abstinence based" approach to solving environmental problems. Guilt and shame and preach people into denying their "sinful nature." It works about as well as telling teenagers not to have sex.

We have made a near idol out of technology because the benefits of modern technology and all its associated energy consumption are massive. Due to the diminishing marginal utility of wealth, these benefits are the most massive for the poor. The major driving force of consumption and pollution growth is not the relatively small number of super-rich buying more jets, but the rise of billions of people from hand-to-mouth poverty into something beginning to resemble at least a first world lower-middle class lifestyle.

Sitting in a rich Western country and telling them they're sinners for wanting these things is not going to work. It's going to get you ignored. It's getting you ignored.

The way to save the planet is to stop the feel-good moralism and start treating this problem as what it is: a technical problem that can be solved by scientists and engineers. Replace fossil fuels with solar, wind, and nuclear power and give out free condoms to teenagers.

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

If you pay attention to the large scale developed economies on that list, you'll notice a large difference between the CO2 emissions of, say, France or Switzerland vs. the United States or China. All of these nations are full of mobile phones and computers and high speed transit systems, but all are not equal in terms of their environmental impact. Clearly some are doing what they are doing in ways that cause less environmental harm than others.

It is possible to maintain and even continue to develop our "sinful" lifestyle while reducing its footprint.

Not only is this possible, but it's the only option. There are still billions of people living in poverty, and those people are going to ignore your rhetoric. It's their desire not for opulence but for basic health and dignity that is going to push the planet past 600-800ppm CO2 in this century... unless we find ways to satisfy that desire without trashing out atmosphere.

We will solve these problems by innovating, or we will sit around and pray and moralize all the way to hell.


I'm pretty sure this rhetoric is a big part of the conservative reaction to climate change, you're not going to listen to some holier than thou hippy tell you that you have to change your life based on some pseudo-spiritual bullshit.


This is the liberal approach. Environmentalists of the shame, guilt, and moralizing school are reactionaries. They want to deprive people of what they want in the name of high ideals and return to an idyllic time of purity in the past (that never existed).

The liberal approach to CO2 emission is solar, wind, nuclear, hydro, and EVs. The liberal approach to STDs and teenage pregnancy is for the man to put a rubber thing on his wang.

The American right ignores this problem entirely, so they haven't even made it that far. On sexual externalities they are consistently conservative or reactionary.


A fucking MEN!


> By lifestyle I mean supermarkets and restaurants and iPhones and planes ... all the stuff that we're so proud of as a society. Winning, getting ahead, being number one, outcompeting, etc. All those ego-centric values that are the basis of our socio-economic systems - focused on disconnecting the `self` from `other` - are wrong on a fundamental level. By 'spirituality' I mean the deep realisation of the larger context in bio-space and bio-time that I as a creature exist in

Man this pseudo spiritual hippie bullshit annoys me to no end. This philosophical shift toward absurdism is infuriating and every time I read something like this my blood boils. I have nothing against you personally but lets be honest here; the ONLY reason you can say this crap is simply because people competed, lost, got ahead and in process elevated your living standard so much that you can now sit behind a computer screen today and be pretentious and ungrateful about what society have achieved so far.

You being an observer of what is does not lead to anything meaningful. And if you find meaning in that, then great. More power to you! But to claim that iPhones, planes and supermarkets are not things to be proud of is a sign of nothing other than ignorance. You clearly can't see the level of pain and suffering that had to be endured for us as a species to get to this point. That's why you can make such claims. You simply lack perspective.

If overcoming your own biological limitations (flying) is not enough of a miracle for you, then... I dunno wtf is.

Edit:

Just take a look at the replies below to see what I mean. People lack perspective. Most haven't read enough history to understand that we are making one of the BEST trade-offs humanity has ever seen. The question never was IF environmental degradation is okay, which they think it is. Instead, the question has always been HOW MUCH is okay and what do we get back in return?

In these people's minds, virtue signaling far outweighs the alleviation of human suffering. They do not understand that the trade-offs we are making is what allows them the freedom to speak their mind and gives them the ability to effectively communicate using the medium they are currently utilizing. Rather than focusing on solving a problem, they instead praise mushroom eating as the way forward.

The problem with the green movement as a whole is that they do not understand economics or trade-offs. If they could communicate and argue from a reasonable and realistic position, there is no doubt in my mind that the green movement would have been embraced by all.


> the ONLY reason you can say this crap is simply because people competed ... and be pretentious and ungrateful about what society have achieved so far.

Even though you're grossly exaggerating what I've said in the comment, I'm still going to answer with a rhetorical question:

What good is all that shit if the price for that is the suffering and death of our children and eventual end of our species ?

This is what the article is really about. ...

My perspective comes from the summers spent with my grandparents - in the village where life was as it has been for thousands of years. They produced no garbage, they breathed clean air and drank clean water. Did they suffer ? Yes of course, from time to time, that's how it's always been.

Frankly, with all our advanced technology, knowledge, medicine, I think we are a lot more unhappier as a whole - you said it yourself, "my blood boils" - and for what ?

Anyway, I think you're angry at the wrong person, because I think we can have both magic and sustainability - if we just change our philosophy. We can look at the last 100 years or so as a 'growth spurt' for humanity - we had to break eggs to make an omelet; now it's time to get back into shape.

Use the best of magic and our ability to create new one and integrate it into a sustainable system, which treats nature as an organism and not as 'resources' and we might be able to survive it.


I think you're looking at the world's history with rose-colored glasses. World poverty is at the lowest levels today than it has been in recorded history: https://ourworldindata.org/slides/world-poverty/#/declining-...

I think you'd be hard pressed to find a time in history when life was better than it is today. And if you did find one, it would be so long ago than population levels were a fragment of what they are now.

We can't go back. Get that idea out of your head. The question is how can we steer the ship.


> I think you'd be hard pressed to find a time in history when life was better than it is today.

That's nice and dandy but what good is it if we can only sustain that maybe another 50 years if we're lucky?


I guess if we had foresight we could have prevented the industrial revolution which would had (likely) prevented climate change.

Of course, the industrial revolution was a force of economic pressure, not a decision the world came together and decided on in unity.

So to prevent the industrial revolution would have required a suppression of freedom and property rights unlike has ever existed in history. On a world scale.


It really is too late, I think. There's too much momentum, and too little control. It's like that situation just before the Titanic hit the iceberg.


> The question is how can we steer the ship.

You mean how we can fix the leaks.


Fix the leaks or find another ship (planet).


Now who's got the rose-coloured glasses on?

Thinking that organising a worldwide migration to another planet is going to be a practical option is as absurd as thinking that moving back to a pre-industrial society is.


To be honest, I'm not convinced anyone will try until a mass extinction is underway anyway, in which case you're only migrating your quota of humans for the rocket's load before the volcanic ash density hits 11 (or whatever).

"May you live in interesting times."


> My perspective comes from the summers spent with my grandparents

Seriously, get a grip and stop being self-absorbed. Read history before you long for something you've never actually truly experienced!


The assertion is that, as cool as iPhones and flying are, this lifestyle may or may not be sustainable, e.g. regarding the CO2 levels.

Leaving aside your silly anger about "hippie bullshit" (really?) and regardless of our history of "competing, losing, getting ahead", what would you propose? Are we just going to brace for pain, and then compete over diminishing ressources?

Consider: all of environment protection legislation that we take for granted now was once "hippie bullshit".


It goes beyond bracing for pain. We'd better be bracing for extinction. And our iPhones and supermarkets won't save us, only our ingenuity will and we now have an administration not much interested in that. This does not bode well for us.


Oh please. The "extinction" meme is all around the thread! I challenge you to elaborate the exact mechanism of humanity's extinction. Why on earth should humanity go extinct because of climate change?


>Consider: all of environment protection legislation that we take for granted now was once "hippie bullshit".

No, all the environmental damage we now defend and wish we could take for granted was once, and remains, valid science. Bio-time, bio-space, and the folding and unfolding of DNA across the ages are in fact hippie bullshit.


I get what you're trying to say but you're probably not old enough to remember (or weren't born yet), however environmental protection legislation was considered "hippie bullshit" well into the late 20th century.


Nixon created the EPA. I don't think he was generally for hippie bullshit. If one is to believe John Ehrlichman[1], Nixon put marijuana on Schedule I to try and destroy the hippies.

[1]http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/23/politics/john-ehrlichman-richa...


> Consider: all of environment protection legislation that we take for granted now was once "hippie bullshit".

In part; I think environmental policies and technologies are very strongly influenced by economics and capitalism. I mean they managed to monetize CO2 emissions via emission rights. It's making money out of vapor. There's probably a few people getting very rich off of the emission rights market.

The other one is alternative energy sources. Solar panels are a good example; they're expensive, have a limited lifespan (10-15 years), and yet provide a huge amount of goodwill and feel-good. There's a lot of people getting very rich off of a product that, in the end, is not actually sustainable and does little to nothing to alleviate the emissions problem - not when the production of a solar panel costs more energy than it'll generate during its lifetime.

I'd argue the only environmental protection stuff that is still primarily motivated by hippie bullshit is things like the ban on whaling and the conservation of nature areas. Neither of which has much of an impact on the environment, unless it's on a huge scale (like idk, spanning all of the Amazon plus all of the deforested areas of the past fifty years).


> not when the production of a solar panel costs more energy than it'll generate during its lifetime.

That is no longer true [1].

[1] http://news.stanford.edu/news/2013/april/pv-net-energy-04021...


It's making money out of vapor.

No, it's making money out of the process of assigning a limited resource to the most economically efficient use.

...not when the production of a solar panel costs more energy than it'll generate during its lifetime.

This is just rubbish. The embodied energy payback period of solar PV was already under 4 years a decade ago.


Your statement that the green movement would be embraced by everyone if they understood tradeoffs and economics doesn't take into account the opposition from entrenched interests and capital.

Your argument makes it sound like most people actually have an option to participate in progress or not (they don't realistically) or that the people making the decisions on tradeoffs are doing so in a rational way that benefits everyone. (They aren't.)

If you view progress as some kind of struggle of the species, like a force of nature, then yes it is indeed grand. If you view progress in the light of power struggle between factions in the species, then most progress actually benefits very few people.

I mean, despite the fact that people have known that plumbing is awesome for several thousand years most people still defecate in a hole in the ground.

I get it. That "captain-planet-mother-gaia" bullshit gets on my nerves too. But so does "economics is a science like physics". While the former is obnoxious, the latter is dangerous.


> Your statement that the green movement would be embraced by everyone if they understood tradeoffs and economics doesn't take into account the opposition from entrenched interests and capital.

It would be if the gains were on the level that would justify the adoption of whatever was/is proposed. Give me any tech, green or not, with 10x improvement on what currently exist and I can bet you anything that no amount of capital or vested interest will be able to oppose it - there are exceptions ofc but I would argue that those are far from the norm (if they weren't no progress would ever take place which we know is not true).

>If you view progress as some kind of struggle of the species, like a force of nature, then yes it is indeed grand.

I believe indeed in this former view you describe here. We could argue which of the two views you present is more true than the other, but I think there is plenty that speaks for both. I choose to believe in this version as long as there is evidence to support it.

> But so does "economics is a science like physics". While the former is obnoxious, the latter is dangerous.

I could not agree more. In fact, I think you are the kind of guy who I could sit with and talk to for hours and we'd get somewhere. I don't believe economics is like physics. In fact, I believe economics, like politics, are more like religion. Case and point being the clusterfuck that is the rule of Keynesian economics for the past 80 years or so.

When I say economics I refer to the rational human ability to understand trade-offs. Not all agents are equally capable of it and not all care as much. But, with that said, it does not take a genius to understand what I wrote above (which you originally replied to).

I firmly believe that most of these hippie green suckers wouldn't want to live in the world they themselves describe as ideal. I think they vastly underestimate the prices of things and how much of their living standard is dependent on energy as a whole. It is short-sightedness that pisses me off. You see people complain about living cost being too high in one thread and later on see the same person talk about how we should be greener regardless of cost. This cognitive dissonance buggs me to no end...

Being able to see the trade-offs beyond what is in front of you is what, in my book, classifies as economics. Perhaps I should have been clearer in my definition. But I hope that this clarifies to you where I stand on the matter!


I agree with you about people not wanting to live in the world that they are signing other people up for.

Despite the fact that I'm about as liberal as a person can get, my problem with the fossil fuel argument is that places like New York state ban fracking but buy natural gas from Texas and Louisiana. So it's OK for us to screw up our environment, but it's not OK in their back yard. Louisiana is so captured by the energy companies that its one of, if not the most, polluted states in the country. New Yorkers get to make money off of energy, use the energy, and complain about how its produced? Fuck that in the ear.

The thing that bothers me the most, though, is the way that we (meaning the democratically elected government) can't use the levers of power to force the massive economic engines that are the energy companies to finance the shift to other technologies. Like a sovereign wealth fund, or something like that. The way it works now, the people fund research and give tax breaks to companies in lots of sectors that are then allowed to privatize the profits that get generated from that investment. Why can't we get part of the profits? Instead of fighting over taxes, it should be viewed as actual ownership and return on investment.

I know that the idea would make a lot of libertarians throw up in their mouth, but I don't think that you can really ever keep government out of markets. It makes the markets. If it operated from an ownership perspective then it can use that ownership to make the public's concerns a real fiduciary issue. It's already picking and choosing winners and losers. It always has. The question, at least as it seems to me, is on whose behalf is the government going to intervene? It's going to intervene. Should that be only to benefit the wealthiest, or is there a way that we can force the markets to honor democratic will without completely screwing it up. I don't know, but I can say this. I don't believe in business anymore as a means to solve any problem. Over the course of my life I have only seen business prove time and time again that short sighted, short term, growth is more important than any other factor.

Even with the way that government has colluded with business to help create the situation we are in, at least government has even notionally democratic institutions while business are inherently un-democratic. I'm not a shareholder of Exon by birth, although I am an American.

I don't know. I'm not optimistic. I do agree with you though about the faux hippie thing. That kind of woo woo BS ends the conversation just as fast as saying "Jesus will fix it".


Not to take anything away from the impressive technological advancement we have made, but that is certainly not the reason that we can now talk about spirituality. Spirituality and related philosophy has been existing long before any of this existed. Ironically, lot of people once they have spiritual realization, move to lifestyle which you would consider "poor living standards".


Sure you could talk then, but with the brightest in the world from your bathroom in slippers? No, technology has made it available. Do you know why the printing pressvwas a big deal? Not being able to talk about spirituality with an audience.


>Man this pseudo spiritual hippie bullshit annoys me to no end.

This guy gets it; he's laffin.

"We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath - a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.

We want to hymn the man at the wheel, who hurls the lance of his spirit across the Earth, along the circle of its orbit.

We will sing of the vibrant nightly fervour of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd.

Look at us! We are still untired! Our hearts know no weariness because they are fed with fire, hatred, and speed!... Does that amaze you? It should, because you can never remember having lived! Erect on the summit of the world, once again we hurl our defiance at the stars!"

(Which is where we should head, by the way, before our lease here expires.)


> we are making one of the BEST trade-offs humanity has ever seen

Either you believe that we are not heading to a near extinction-level event, that we will prevent it before it happens, or that such an event is a fair price to pay for enjoying a century of computers and iphones.

The first option seems blind, the second baseless optimism, and the 3rd... I don't really know what to say. Is there a 4th?


Do you believe that we are heading to near extinction-level event? As far as I have seen, even the most extreme predictions of climate change consequences don't come close to that.

I have seen predictions expecting mass forced migrations, decrease in sustainable population, etc; but unless you're literally expecting the vast majority of the worldwide population to die, it's not an extinction-level event, it's not near extinction-level event, it's an entirely different ballpark.

It might be a horrible catastrophe, it might change civilization as we know it, that's for sure, but there's really no valid reason to mention the term of extinction in this context. There are some risks/potential events that have a (low) chance of threatening extinction, but the expected climate change is not one of them.


"Horrible catastrophe" works, but it doesn't stop there. How are humans and our political and military structures going to react?

It is debatable how close we have been, during various past crisis, to an actual large-scale nuclear conflict. I don't think we can deny our raw capability to cause a near-extinction-level with our existing technology (nuclear, biological or otherwise). Our political and military ecosystems, flawed as they may be, have kept that capability in check.

But would such a "horrible catastrophe" stress that ecosystem way past the point where it will remain confidently under control? Absolutely yes, I believe that beyond any reasonable doubt.

With our global structure out of control, is there is a significant probability for that destructive capability to be put into action? Absolutely yes, I believe that probability to be significant, beyond any reasonable doubt. I don't see how it can't be otherwise.


Do I get this correctly?

* climate change may lead to a "horrible catastrophe" of unknown substance with probability A

* this "horrible catastrophe" may lead to a nuclear war with probability B

* the nuclear war may lead to humanity's extinction with probability C

* you are claiming that A * B * C is very close to 1

If that's right, I call bullshit. There is a ton of potential triggers for nuclear war besides climate change, we didn't have one yet and I can't see why climate change should be the biggest concern in this regard. Moreover, nuclear war is hardly an existential threat to humanity and may even cool the planet a bit.


It's worth noting that only USA-Russia full "mutually assured destruction" nuclear exchange has the potential to come anywhere close to an existential threat. A limited nuclear exchange using up the arsenals of all other states does not; a nuclear escalation that results in USA or Russia nuking a non-nuclear state does not, etc. As long as USA and Russia (who between them hold almost all global nuclear weapons) keep their MAD reserves not triggered, it would simply be localized mass destruction on a scale comparable to the city/country destroying mass bombings of WW2.

It would be horrible, it would be comparable to the largest mass killings of 20th century, but it wouldn't be anything that different from what we have survived in the past and it wouldn't be a "near extinction event". "Just" a horrible catastrophe.


Yes, and what I'm saying is that MAD is far from an unthinkable outcome of the stress and conflicts arising from the worldwide "horrible catastrophe" caused by rapid climate change.


Maybe not, but since when did climate change become the only environmental concern? It's as if we can just curb our appetite for fossil fuel in time, we'll be okay. But there are other pressures on the biosphere that clean energy isn't going to alleviate.


I think "near-extinction" might be hard to credit - humans have survived tough times before - but I also don't think a mere "horrible catastrophe" sounds like a reasonable price to pay for the recent century and a half of rapid progress either.


That's what I mean when I say they lack reason. The entire green movement's argument is an emotional one not a logical one.


>The first option seems blind

yea, just toss an opinion aside as blind because you don't like it. That will get people listening to your point of view!


The benefits of technological and social progress we have managed don't depend on us continuing to pollute and overpopulate the planet. We could have, as a planet, decided not to grow our population back in ~1960 and decided to transition away from fossil fuels back in ~1980 and still managed to have the same, probably more freedom and safety than we have now.


We get it you are mad.

But you anger makes no sense: your world view is winning. Opinions like the one you replied to are definitely in the minority.

People value their iPhones and disney cruises way more than the natural environment.


>People value their iPhones and disney cruises way more than the natural environment

This is a emotional statement rather than a practical one. I think you'd probably get people to give those up if it would have a measurable, provable impact that wasn't 200 or 300 years in a possible future. The real bulk of emissions are caused by the everyday use of things that make modern life and the current population levels possible. Giving up an iPhone is one thing giving up electricity, transport, sanitation, modern farming, refrigeration, climate control, and sending countless billions into abject poverty while causing a few billion more to starve is a politically untenable position.

I believe few people actually truly hold these beliefs as suicides among environmentalists don't seem to be abnormally common and yet it is probably the most carbon friendly course of action possible. The idea seems to be that someone else should do without and that someone else is typically the working poor and middle class families at home and the majority of the world that lives in poverty abroad.


There is an incredible amount of waste involved in the "everyday things" you listed. Surely it would make a difference if that were cut down. Is it out of the question that a fairly comfortable life can be had by all without destroying the natural environment?


> The problem with the green movement as a whole is that they do not understand economics or trade-offs.

Yes, they do. It's just that destroying the planet and letting the future generations suffer for a more comfortable and convenient life right now is not a trade that they are willing to make.


> letting the future generations suffer...

source?



Yes, please! Because the only response I can think of to the list you've posted is "so what?"

Humanity faced a lot of problems in the past. Let me remind you just a few:

* multiple plagues decimating European population

* wheat rust (and unpredictable famines ensuing)

* guano depletion

However, we engineered our way out of them. I can't see why the problems you've listed are any different.


Yes, we engineered our way out of them providing better conditions for future generations. We are not engineering our way out of the problems I listed, but rather making them worse and worse and creating worse conditions for future generations.

Plagues could still happen again. We know more about how they occur and how to contain them, but we don't have any magic bullet against all future plagues that will occur.

Rust is still a problem. I'm not sure why you think it isn't. We have more resistant lines and fungicides but the rust is adapting rapidly.

The difference is, apart from maybe the guano depletion, none of the problems you list of the past were due to human actively making things worse. All of the problems I listed are due to action right now that will cause major problems in the future.


You might enjoy this book. It's quite good.

https://www.amazon.com/Moral-Case-Fossil-Fuels/dp/1591847443


Trade-off: Humanity as a species ends.

Which gadget do you feel is worth that?


Humanity as a species won't end due to climate change. That's a ridiculous assertion. Full scale nuclear war probably couldn't wipe us out completely. Global warming can't either. Billions might die, but humanity will survive almost certainly.


Maybe, maybe not. If you want to split hairs then, how many billion people do you think it's acceptable to kill or cause to suffer so we can have iPhones?

People are very bad at estimating the probability of catastrophic events. We base our estimates on things that have happened in the past, but that doesn't help predict things that have never happened before. Hundreds of millions of years of pent up carbon have never been released into the atmosphere over the course of a couple centuries before. It is hubris to the point of suicidal to think anyone can predict the effect it will have on a complex, nonlinear system like the global climate.

Sure, maybe it will be fine. But the burden of proof should be on the people claiming that it's going to be fine, not on those recommending caution before screwing with something we don't understand.


That's a false dichotomy. There is no reason to believe that we can't have modern technology without catastrophic climate change. If for example we switched completely to nuclear energy and electric cars we would greatly reduce our carbon footprint to the point where the rest might be offset by planting trees and turning them into charcoal.


IF we did those things, sure. However there is significant pressure from various interests to stop us from doing those things on the basis that climate change won't really be a problem or that we'll fix it somehow if it is.


The assertion that climate change will result in human extinction is of course not literally true. But given our current path it is not a ridiculous hyperbole. The consequences we are talking about is the inability to grow food in much of the southwest United States, Mediterranean regions and large areas of mainland China. Not to mention the collapse of a healthy ocean ecosystem, storm variability, etc... This really is an event that will alter the way of life of everyone on Earth and kill a whole bunch in the process. It is not at all ridiculous to treat this as the existential crisis it is.


I agree that global warming is one of the biggest threats we face in the immediate future. I just dislike pointless hyperbole. The likely consequences are scary enough without having to exaggerate them. If we want honest discussions we need truth, not hyperbole.


If there is no air to breathe?


Nuclear power plant + hydrolysis: Oxygen for a couple of millennia.


We'll make some.

The gamble we're making is that we're smart enough to survive in the most dire conditions.

That's a stupid gamble, but we might win. Plus we're on a roll so far.


Survivor bias.


Affordable enough space travel that we can survive.

Earth is just a bootstrap.


Humanity as a species is going to end no matter what we do. Or do you have a solution for the heat death of the universe?


Let's solve our problems in the order they're likely to happen ;)


Ok, so why not to end it right now, it does not matter, right?


In the strictest sense, no. But one difference, which might matter to some people, is that "ending it now" seems to imply actively killing people. Most people, I believe, would see that as inherently different from simply dying due to whatever interaction(s) happen with the natural environment around us.

All of that said, I'm not arguing against pursuing actions to protect the environment. Just pointing out that "preventing the extermination of the human race" really isn't a terribly good justification for doing so when you look at the big picture.

If you accept that premise, the question then becomes: "what are the good arguments for pursuing actions to protect the environment / reverse climate change?" That is, what arguments will persuade people to care about protecting the environment for future generations that don't exist yet, in a time beyond their own limited lifespan?


only very few people contribute to human progress. most of the population are selfish consumers.


Except here what you label as "pseudo spiritual" is actually the more realistic, scientific and moral way of seeing things.

The iPhones and Supermarkets are of the dream reality.

A world without consequences, where the Foxconn Factory Workers (or the mines of Congo) do not exist.


You should go read some history on pre-industrial revolution living standards and come back and tell us you prefer that.


Foxconn factory workers have a lower suicide rate than the average Chinese.


Yea and the slaves in the kitchen were happier then the ones in the field. So what? To try and justify the horrible treatment of these people so that we can feel better about having an iphone that is a few hundred dollars cheaper is absurd.



They have a lower suicide rate than Silicon Valley ..


Can an average Foxconn worker afford an iPhone?


It depends. How expensive is tea in China at the moment?


What does that have to do with anything? I build search engines, but cannot afford to buy one. I don't count this as a great injustice.


Probably because you can use a search engine without owning one.

And yes, I would definetly say it's a problem if workers in a factory can not afford the goods the factory produces.


I would definetly say it's a problem if workers in a factory can not afford the goods the factory produces

Even if the factory is producing high end sports cars or precision engineered industrial machinery?

For that matter I doubt even the CEO of Boeing could afford most of the 'goods' made in his factories.


I get your point.

The CEO of Boeing can probably still afford to take a flight on a plane made by his company, and that probably is true of an average worker of a Boeing factory as well.

So let me rephrase: if people working in a factory can only afford the very basic necessities and the actual goods the factory produces get shipped to the other side of the globe (and waste gets left behind), something is not right.


But certainly in the case of the iPhone a lot of them do get bought locally. Perhaps not by Foxconn factory floor workers, but certainly by a lot of other people in China.

I mean I kind of get the point you are trying to make, but Foxconn and iPhones aren't really a good example of that.


The dream reality.

I'll bite. What's the dream reality?


Seems like there's a sub-thread going on in this discussion relating to zen/buddhism/enlightenment. Dream reality or "Maya" is the reality of concepts and ego. "Reality" is the real tangible experience of consciousness. Everything else is layered on top of that as projection or thought. However, I can tell you having had some experience in this area that using these doctrines to create a "good and evil" but just using more subtle language is also just another concept and layer (supermarkets are just as real and part of reality as anything else). The real goal is to see the perfection of things exactly as they are, and that also doesn't mean you don't have the potential to change it (because human growth and change is also part of it).


Right. OK.

So, while some aspects of what we know from neuroscience and modern medicine map pretty closely to some eastern practices, those practices are embedded in superstitious religions that are no different from their counterparts in other regions.

The real goal is to procreate. There is no soul or divinity or whatever. While we can say that yes to a degree the world as experienced by my brain is like the concept of Maya and the synthesis of my inputs into consciousness are my subjective reality, that's really it. You can't get from there to "the real goal is to see the perfection of things".

The practices of meditation, visualization, etc do have benefits but they don't have to be rooted in the mysticism that spawned them. In fact, that's one of the things I like about zen. it rejects those notions because of the way that people assign baggage to them and start to worship the baggage instead of doing "the thing".


Oh, idk. The modern equivalent of Plato's Cave?


You mean a metaphor?


More simplistically we have to care about things beyond our most immediate surroundings. The extent of that concern has always been something that people argue about, just look at how the left and right view "community" differently. But it is essentially a moral question more than a practical or scientific one. Making people aware of the ethical dimension of their actions is worthwile. It is just difficult to do that without being annoying and preachy!


Or you can internalise costs that normally get externalised. For instance, the government could make people pay a fixed-fee (i.e. a tax) for every tonne of co2 they emit. You then just set the fee at a level commensurate with the total damage caused by emitting a tonne of co2 and then sit back and let people's natural self-interest do the rest of the work.

I think it's noble and commendable to act ethically, and promote ethical behaviour. However, I don't think "people acting ethically" is the thing we want to be relying on when we're trying to avoid self-extinction. By a large margin, people are usually selfish and will act in a self-interested manner, so it's probably safer to harness this particular aspect of humanity. I'm not saying it's pretty, but it sure beats self-extinction.


I think social pressure is hugely powerful in defining peoples behaviour. That is why we act "ethically" out of a sense of peer pressure; it has little to do with the rightness of the underlying act.

You see this with how smoking is viewed. People don't really care about the health effects to bystanders, they care about what others will think about them. That is human nature.

The trouble with this kind of tax/fee is that it trivialises the issue. You are allowed to do something wrong as long as you pay a small fee. This sends a mix message, and even leeds to a sense of entitlement.


Even if this were true, that levying something like a $50 tax per tonne would result in greater incentive to pollute (because we've replaced a powerful social disincentive with a less powerful financial one), it would still very likely reduce co2 emissions.

Cost of energy is a significant cost in most mass-production processes (particularly in manufacturing). So, prior to the imposition of a carbon tax, when faced with the choice of purchasing one of two identical widgets, a 'co2 indifferent' consumer would choose the cheaper one. All other things equal, if widget manufacturer A can externalise some of their production costs (by polluting for free) and widget manufacturer B can't (or won't), widget B will likely have a higher price, even though their total social cost of production is lower. So there is more incentive to be a polluter.

The situation is reversed if a tax is levied on co2 pollution, with the rate set to internalise the cost of all external harm. Now the 'co2 indifferent' consumer will purchase co2 free widget B, because it now has the relatively lower price (prices are now more reflective of total social costs of production because the global cost of polluting has now been internalised).

I guess the other approach, that sidesteps this whole argument, would be to implement a 'cap and trade' scheme (my personal preference). The government auctions or allocates, say, 100,000 one-tonne permits: each permit allows a business to legally emit 1 tonne of co2. If a business needs to emit more co2, and what they produce is more valuable relative to what some other permit holder produces, then they can buy additional permits from this other 'less productive' business (and all businesses like it).

Under this latter scheme there's a hard cap on emissions. So people can feel as entitled to pollute as they like; they'll still be breaking the law if they do so without owning sufficient 'pollution permits'.

Might the latter sort of approach (cap and trade) address your concerns?


We are the universe attaining self awareness. Unlike most other chemical and physical processes, we can contemplate its mortality. Heat death is all too imminent.

The forces that created us no longer drive us. Shackled by our biology we apply obsolete instincts to a novel problem. Unchecked, they will lead to our ruin.

Time is running out.


[E]very man ought to say to himself, "Am I really the kind of man who has the right to act in such a way that humanity might guide itself by my actions?”

― Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions

https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/2376452-l-existentiali...


For anyone who responds like the top response to this comment: What he means is that if people were seeking enlightenment and were aware of the dogmatism inherent in religion and equally in rationality and science, they would be practicing extreme lifestyle minimalism, and would not respond to the economic/emotional/sexual incentives to support the systems that destroy the planet, the money would simply evaporate. Now how do you convert 100% of the global population to this? It's likely impossible in the required timeframe :(


I wish more people would understand the deep but simple meaning and truth behind those words. At least it gives me a glimmer of hope when I see someone else thinking that way.


Why? We can just keep solving problems. If we really wanted to, we could be carbon neutral in a few years and even pay for carbon sequestration. (Basically, just run the whole global economy on nuclear for example.)

Not gonna happen, of course, because it's a huge and expensive undertaking---and there's no(t enough) political will nor even any consensus. But the problem is not our lifestyle per se, nor is competition.


I disagree that it isn't happening. Solar PV capacity is growing rapidly. Vehicles are increasingly powered by electric batteries.

These things were all prohibitively expensive for most people in Western countries, but their declining cost has made them more affordable and more used.


Vehicles are increasingly powered by coal plants.

Electric batteries don't power anything, they're best compared to empty buckets.


By powered, I don't mean to say the battery is the source of the energy it stores.

In analysing the effects of increased usage of electric transport, what's important is where new electricity generating capacity will come from. In the US that's primarily natural gas and solar. Coal generation has actually been decreasing.

Of course, that's not to say that if everyone suddenly started driving electric cars that all the new supply would be green energy.

However, even coal power stations taking into account powerline losses are more efficient than a typical car's engine, and in Western countries usually cleaner as far as particulate and nitrous oxide pollutants are concerned.


Vehicles are increasingly being powered by renewables and efficient combined-cycle gas turbines.

Coal's share of electricity production is declining or being phased out almost everywhere.


Worldwide the share of coal in energy production is at 40% and the United States it has dropped from 56% to 40%.

Coal still produces 40% of every KWh consumed with Nuclear making up a fair portion of the remainder.

Renewables are at 20% and (fortunately) rising sharply but for the moment fossil energy sources are by far the bulk of the energy consumed by electric vehicles.

http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.ELC.COAL.ZS


Yes, but to use this as an argument against electrification of transport is silly.

Even in countries that still have coal-fired power today, an electric vehicle is certainly no worse than a fossil-fuel one.

And, as grid share of renewables and other cleaner energy sources increases, each EV becomes greener and greener over time. But each fossil vehicle remains just as polluting - or perhaps even gets worse as it ages.


> Even in countries that still have coal-fired power today, an electric vehicle is certainly no worse than a fossil-fuel one.

I've yet to see an end-to-end over the lifespan of the vehicle report that was factual enough that it was possible to make that call.

Keep in mind that EVs have been subsidized a lot, that the batteries themselves are made with technology that also pollutes and emits CO2 and that a new EV is almost certainly a net negative compared to continuing to driver an older ICE because the ICE car already exists and the EV has to be built new.

That makes the whole equation so complex that I really do not feel comfortable saying that an electric vehicle is certainly better or equal to a fossil-fuel one, it would very much depend.

I'm writing this as a long time renewable energy nut that would very much like to see our dependence on oil reduced to manageable proportions and not for something like transport where we have other alternatives. Even so, if this is all to succeed then the best way forward is to be realistic rather than to hype EVs and the reality is that right now people claim their EVs are 'green' when in fact they are to a large extent turning decentralized pollution into centralized pollution.


Do you know if anybody ran the numbers? Centralized coal plants might still be more efficient than micro-petrol plants in every car?


It would certainly be an interesting thing to know. Back of the envelope for ICE is ~20% from tank to wheels, From coal plant to wheels of an electric vehicle you'd be looking at line losses first, then AC/DC conversion losses (5% or so) in the charger, battery loss during charging (Ri of the battery comes in to play both ways), again during discharging and then probably a better figure for the drivetrain of an electric car versus an ICE based car because it is much simpler, but the motor would still lose some energy to heat due to its internal resistance (another 3% or so).

Thermal efficiency for a coal plant is ~35% give or take (depending on how new the plant is) so that would be your starting point.

Charge/discharge losses for a large (20KWh) pack that I used were around 25%, a modern EV might do a bit better but probably not that much better (because the internal resistance of those cells they use is quite high).

Putting all that together:

    .33 * .75 * .95 * .97 = ~22%, and ~24% for a high 
    efficiency coal plant.
With line losses un-accounted for because they vary very much depending on the location of the plant and the consumer.

So it's actually pretty close, better than I expected.


Would you like to run some more numbers? You only did 'tank to wheels', I'd like to see oil deposit to wheels and the similar calculations for coal deposit to wheels.


Thanks for running the numbers. My recollection relied on "Sustainable Energy without the hot air". The bit about (electric) cars is available online at https://www.withouthotair.com/c20/page_131.shtml (and the author comes to similiar-ish conclusions).


Oh, solar is happening. My caveat was about any large scale move to nuclear definitely not happening.

Right now new fission power is not economic because of enormous capital costs---but most of that is quite negotiable. Nuclear could be much cheaper, if we only held it to the same standards as eg gas. (I am not even proposing holding it to the same standards in terms of life lost per Joule as coal---coal is aweful on that metric.)


This, indeed, hits the nail on the head. It is not an anti-technological rant, but a proper rant against technology as an end in itself. Big-picture thinking -- on the scale of the Earth and a timespan longer than one life -- inevitably overlaps with the spiritual; which is to say, how we live our lives; and the manner of our living is exactly what is having dramatic effect on the ecosystem now.


This is a really good summary of part of the point Harari was making in Homo Deus. Awesome book, Harari does a great job of explaining complex ideas for a wide audience.


Its the "economy" and the lack of vision and vigor of politicians to change it. As long as our policies and laws are still in favor of the economy we are doomed.


Ecologically superior altneratives are in favor of the economy though, at least from the industry - think electric cars, alternative energy sources, nuclear fusion research, etc. A lot of those need to be encouraged or paid for by the governments though. They already discourage e.g. fossil fuel usage for consumers by raising high taxes for gasoline - where I live, taxes make up three quarters, if not more, of the price of gasoline.


The economy and the environment are not diametrically opposed. Policies in favour of one do not have to contradict the other.

Efficient, sustainable energy and transport will bring huge economic benefits to countries that are net fossil-fuel consumers.


Do we have an alternative working model? What we have now, works to a certain extent, but is perhaps not sustainable. The risks, the potential cost of (radical?) changes is to high.


I would say it is the best model we came up with so far, while it being a model with tremendous flaws. It works for humans to gain progress with what we consider as progress, probably mostly growth in wealth and health. The biggest problem is, that it is fully based on exploitation of nature (which includes human beings) so far. That exploitation is unfortunately exceedingly dangerous to ensuring our vision of progress can endure.

Considering the article, I don't think it is useful to for example try to minimize a human footprint. If that is the goal we might as well drop dead to achieve it. The question is more around what kind of footprint it is. Does it allow us and the nature ecosystem to still evolve in a way it works towards our goals or not. The universe will not give a damn about the rearranging of atoms we do, but as we depend on how those are arranged to live, we have no choice to care or not.


I doubt there is a working model, but The Venus Project by Jacque Fresco is very inspiring, moving towards a resource based economy. Our current economy is flawed to the extent that it will destroy us if we don't replace it with something better for our planet and humanity overall.


If you believe that then we are doomed. Luckily I think you are wrong. There is a lot of money to be made on sustainable technology. Wind power, for example, is booming.


well said. feeling it exactly same. i'm convicted that next generations will despise today's lifestyle.


We have to expand nuclear power. Many don't like it but at this point we have no other choice. Let solar drive the phasing out of nuclear reactors instead of coal power plants! Sadly in my country (Sweden) nuclear is not only taboo but it's illegal to perform research of the subject.. Laws passed by a severely misinformed "green" movement...


The problem with nuclear (at least in countries like the UK and USA) is not so much public perception or misinformation but the cost, particularly once eventual decommissioning and long-term waste storage costs are accounted for.

It's increasingly difficult for nuclear projects to compete with things like renewables, inter-connectors, and carbon-taxed gas turbines. The one project that has gone ahead recently in the UK (Hinkley C) did so only with a significant government subsidy (ie guaranteed inflation-linked strike price).

Renewables (wind turbines, solar panels, storage technologies, etc) all tend to benefit from commoditisation and economies of scale, so their costs keep coming down. Nuclear costs, on the other hand, keep spiralling upwards.


There's "small modular reactors" [0], which could solve this problem. Renewables are where they are from years of research and investment, we should offer the same to nuclear.

I don't follow the whole landscape, but I remember reading about Toshiba 4S getting a contract in Alaska, but having to abandon it because the cost of just certifying was cost prohibitive (because the regulations around giant nuclear don't apply to it). And that sucks.

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


Yes, but as this article shows, there are much higher costs coming up for us. If we came to a consensus that this technology is important and devoted resources to this, we would see a lot of improvements in these parameters.

The problem is that neither the market nor governments work well for these long term decisions. We are spending lot of resources on trivialities due to our short term mindset.


I think Reason077 is arguing that it is quicker and cheaper long term to invest in wind/solar rollout and storage solutions than nuclear. i.e. it is a better solution all round.

It is a valid point. Once batteries are cheap enough, it solar and wind become an obvious solution, with little political backlash.


Too expensive, too slow.

We're having this conversation with Hinkley Point C in the UK. It's going to get subsidised more than wind power and it's going to take a decade to build.

If you start building reactors now, then in a decade you end up with a bunch of eternal liabilities that are more expensive than renewables+storage will likely be by then.


Most renewables are not reliable power sources, the wind blows when it blows. That is why a diverse power strategy is needed, including nuclear.

When you say the amount subsidised, what is your source, and what do you mean by 'more'? Do you mean more in total, or per kwh generated?


The subsidy per KWh from Hinkley Point C is roughly equal to to the current market rate for electricity because of the guaranteed price needed to build the plant, so the electricity effectively costs twice as much.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jul/13/hinkley-poin...

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/07/13/hinkley-point...


Holy crap: "In October 2013 the Government agreed a deal with the French state-owned energy giant to guarantee it a price of £92.50, index-linked to inflation, for every megawatt-hour of electricity the £18bn nuclear plant would produce over a 35 year period."

That's madness. The same madness, IMHO, inherent to most 'targeted' energy generation subsidies. Although, it's a little hilarious that they've managed to get themselves into a situation where their own subsidies will be competing with one another (i.e. subsidising some other non-nuclear generator will reduce wholesale electricity prices, forcing them to pay out more because of their guaranteed 'strike-price' for Hinkley).

However, just reading that Guardian article, there's some pretty questionable thinking going on at the NOA if their quoted statements are representative:

Supporting early new nuclear projects could lead to higher costs in the short term than continuing to support wind and solar. The cost competitiveness of nuclear power is weakening as wind and solar become more established,” according to the report, titled Nuclear Power in the UK.

I don't understand this fixation on short-term costs (and yes I do understand that money has a time-value). Given climate change is a long-term problem, and we're probably going to be generating electricity well into the future, why are short-term costs in any way relevant? Also, despite being depressingly common, weasel phrases like 'the cost competitiveness of nuclear power is weakening' really have no place in a government report on a matter of this importance. Is the financial case presently stronger or weaker for nuclear? And which option maximises net social welfare? Those are the only relevant questions in my mind.

“The decision to proceed with support for nuclear power therefore relies more on strategic than financial grounds: nuclear power is needed in the supply mix to complement the intermittent nature of wind and solar,” it added.

Meaning it is a financial issue? No matter how you choose to solve the intermittancy problem, they all cost money. Very sizeable amounts of money. Pumped-hydro plants and HVDC lines don't exactly grow on trees.


So maybe we should reduce energy use, now, instead of contemplating vague solutions decades into the future.


It as never been illegal to perform nuclear research in Sweden. Between 1988 and 2006 it was illegal to perform preparatory actions for building nuclear power plants (in addition to actually building them, after the 1980 referendum vote). It was commonly referred to as "tankeförbudet" (a pejorative term, close to "illegal thoughts"). The law was removed 2006, one of the reason was this common misconception.

However, ABB created and exported (among others) the BWR90+ during the nineties, proving your statement wrong. You can read about it in the newspaper about how it iw popular to study nuclear power again (article from 2010). http://www.dn.se/nyheter/politik/karnkraft-hett-pa-universit...


In France we have much nuclear energy, yes it doesn't create much CO2 but the downsides are severe: expensive, long cycles, energy has to be stored in dams anyway. Nuclear incidents get concealed regularly. Leaving nuclear energy is expensive itself.

It seems solar and wind are better investments.


IMHO part of the problem is that globally the entire field of nuclear energy was underfunded. Sure, the Chernobyl disaster was horrifying, but it is as if humankind stopped trying for aviation after first passengers were killed in an accident.

If all the money that were poured into anti-nuclear propaganda and research of unstable and extremely low-yield [1] sources like wind and solar we might have had clean nuclear power by now.

[1] http://www.rebresearch.com/blog/nuclear-vs-wind-and-solar-la...


Nuclear is over. Regardless if you're for it or against. It just is, at least in democratic countries.

After Fukushima it is political suicide to promote nuclear. The politicians will not vote for it. You'd need supreme political capital to expend on lobbying for it and the ROI is just not there for them.


Is the radioactive waste problem solved?


That waste problem was already theoretically solved in the 1950s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_breeder_reactor

It is mostly because of military influences (proliferation risk) and environmental activism that these solutions have never been fully developed and deployed.


There are actual risks with handling really dirty waste and turn it into really dirty fuel - you can't just hand-wave away that as "environmental activism."

It's much more risky than just leaving the waste in a pond cooling for 20 years while hoping that you will be retired before someone actually have to get rid of it.


Of course there are risks -- but are those risks really of a different order than having to build nuclear storage containers that will hold for thousands of years?

I'd say that activism has left us with the most undesirable outcome: we still have ancient reactor designs producing unmanageable waste, and every solution to actually reduce that waste has become politically unfeasible. All that we've done is create massive amounts of technical debt that will burden generations to come.


Are they wrong though? proliferation risk seems to me an important point. Also are risk of theft, attacks on facilities and transportation, leakage due to natural disasters, and of course: bad politicians doing "unavoidable" cuts. Moreover, even with FBRs you get Pu-contaminated MSO (http://e360.yale.edu/features/are_fast-breeder_reactors_a_nu...).

Once you take all these issues into consideration you just need to extrapolate and see how nuclear accidents will happen once in a while.


It's much less of a problem than the CO2 problem


It's a non-problem, compared to various other chemicals we deal with in industry. Nuclear waste is relatively easy to store and there isn't a lot of it. Yes - it's nasty, toxic stuff, but we know how to handle it.

Having to store some of it isolated for 10000 years is a concern, yes, especially if you look at the average lifespan of human civilizations. But we already have ways to reuse the waste (fast breeder reactors), and we could likely figure out many more - but reluctance to fund nuclear research and applications, driven partly by the fear of "the waste", is not helping here.


The main benefit - IMO - is that it's relatively compact, lightweight, and solid compared to CO2. If there was a cheap and simple way to condense CO2 into a solid, we could stuff that into the ground instead. But CO2 would have to be stored indefinitely - we will probably see the catastrophic effects of what happens when stored CO2 is released in the atmosphere (permafrost, ice and ocean sediments are releasing their stored CO2 atm). Actually, fossil fuels can be considered to be stored, solid or liquid CO2 already, accumulated over tens or hundreds of millions of years.

On that scale, putting something away for 10K years seems relatively trivial and safe compared to CO2.


> If there was a cheap and simple way to condense CO2 into a solid, we could stuff that into the ground instead.

Make charcoal from wood?


Sure, but also we need to keep planting and cutting down a shit ton of trees to make that actually capture already released CO₂.


Yes. Breeder reactors take care of radioactive waste.


Does anyone have any numbers on what battery prices need to get to before Wind/Solar are cost competitive with nuclear? Double internet points if you account for direct/indirect subsidies given to both Wind/Solar/Nuclear (including if nuclear would have to purchase insurance for accident cleanup and a secured deposit for decommissioning costs, and likewise for solar's environmental damage from manufacturing).


Totally agree. But is this an issue in Sweden? I thought most of your electricity was from renewable energy already.


It's 45% nuclear and 45% hydro [0] according to Dagens Nyheter, an old and reliable news paper.

[0] - http://www.dn.se/ekonomi/vattenkraft-och-karnkraft-ger-sveri...


Or Wikipedia, which has similar numbers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_sector_in_Sweden

Note that this is the production. Consumption is a bit different because Nordic countries share the electricity market and the grids are connected. Consumption could use hydroelectric from Norway or wind from Denmark or nuclear from Finland, or from Russia via Finland.

For a picture of the market just now, look: http://www.statnett.no/en/market-and-operations/data-from-th...


Yep. Anyone who has bothered to look at the numbers would likely agree with you. To that end:

- Here are my numbers on German solar & wind capacity factors (nuclear generally achieves 90% by comparison): https://gist.github.com/anonymous/f1a6d064890d67fbfc98d66dbd...

- Sketchier numbers for India: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14085871

- The view of the Brookings Institute in 2014: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2014/...

Their base-case assumption is a $50 per tonne price on co2 emissions, and they use a 'costs avoided' methodology so that things like cost of system stabilisation (e.g. grid batteries due to intermittent generation) are factored in as well. The paper concludes:

Assuming that reductions in carbon dioxide emissions are valued at $50 per metric ton and the price of natural gas is not much greater than $16 per million Btu, the net benefits of new nuclear, hydro, and natural gas combined cycle plants far outweigh the net benefits of new wind or solar plants. Wind and solar power are very costly from a social perspective because of their very high capacity cost, their very low capacity factors, and their lack of reliability.

For example, adjusting U.S. solar and wind capacity factors to take account of lack of reliability, we estimate that it would take 7.30 MW of solar capacity, costing roughly four times as much per MW to produce the same electrical output with the same degree of reliability as a baseload gas combined cycle plant. It requires an investment of approximately $29 million in utility-scale solar capacity to produce the same output with the same reliability as a $1 million investment in gas combined cycle. Reductions in the price of solar photovoltaic panels have reduced costs for utility-scale solar plants, but photovoltaic panels account for only a fraction of the cost of a solar plant. Thus such price reductions are unlikely to make solar power competitive with other electricity technologies without government subsidies.

Wind plants are far more economical in reducing emissions than solar plants, but much less economical than hydro, nuclear and gas combined cycle plants. Wind plants can operate at a capacity factor of 30 percent or more and cost about twice as much per MW to build as a gas combined cycle plant. Taking account of the lack of wind reliability, it takes an investment of approximately $10 million in wind plants to produce the same amount of electricity with the same reliability as a $1 million investment in gas combined cycle plants.


Rocky Mountain Institute criticized Frank's paper and showed that it had many incorrect or outdated assumptions:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/amorylovins/2014/08/05/sowing-c...

http://www.rmi.org/Knowledge-Center/Library/2014-21_Frank-Re...


Thanks for this, I will most definitely have a read (and, if their criticisms are valid and consequent, will shut up about the BI Paper).


Thanks for that summary - if I'm right, the summary is that solar is 29 times as expensive as fossil fuels, and wind is 10 times as expensive.


No problemo. And yeah, that's how I read it, bearing in mind the usual caveats like: all costs (mining to site remediation) being accounted for, technological and price changes over the past 3 years etc. etc. I think 'cost avoided' is a good measure; LCOE is so sensitive to assumptions and accounting trickery that it's basically meaningless (see: Lazard).

Brookings seem to have made a fair effort (best I've seen thus far). It makes sense that combined-cycle gas turbines would pip nuclear power (in most scenarios examined) as they produce highly dispatchable electricity (i.e. their output levels can be changed very rapidly in response to fluctuations in demand for electricity). You can forecast and 'plan ahead' with nuclear, but the ramping times are currently too slow. So you either overbuild, rely on a limited amount of grid-level storage or throw a more responsive form of generation into the mix (i.e. gas turbines).

Most of the cost of nuclear is in building the plant, after which the variable cost of generation is tiny (i.e. you just run it full-bore all the time, since oversupplying doesn't carry a high cost). Coal probably has a similar cost profile (maybe with slightly higher relative variable costs), although on a smaller scale and in a relatively under-regulated market: the WHO estimates pollution from coal-fired generation, not taking into account climate-change, kills ~1m people per year, whereas nuclear containment buildings must be built to withstand a plane crashing directly into it.

But the really big take-away for me is that, if we want to mitigate climate change efficiently (which I'm starting to think is the same as saying 'if we want to mitigate it at all'), we really badly need to place a price on carbon emissions (and their equivalents). It sucks that both extreme sides of the debate don't seem to want this: vested interests will obviously oppose it, and 'extreme greens' seem to think it's some sort of immoral conspiracy designed to allow financial markets to make money off climate change (if we're talking 'cap and trade').

Those who don't like market-based mechanisms such as 'cap and trade' should consider the other side of the coin: it creates the opportunity for direct action on your part. You could buy emissions permits on the open market and then sit on them, permanently lowering the emissions cap. You can finally 'put your money where your mouth is'.


This is very simple, but something most of the HN people won't be able to do.

STOP FLYING!

Passenger numbers have gone up in a step change with CO2 count over the last 50 years, contrails compound the effect. The sad thing is - you will all look at this message and think. Why should I have to change? Why me, surely someone else must fix this?

Don't wait for governments, don't wait for industry. Make individual choices that affect the output now and we will see a reduction (eventually).

The psychology in this tells us not to lose hope, but to look to technology to solve the issues. But we must act responsibly in the meantime.


What's the alternative? As an EU company, if I need to do business in the US then I can't say "let's schedule a meeting in a year while I go on a boat cruise". Virtual meetings only work to an extent -- they lack a human interaction touch. I suppose I can take a train if I go on holiday somewhere in the EU, but insane prices for international trains as well as other shenanigans are not making it an attractive choice.


I told you, you are symptomatic of the short-termist attitude that persists - we must carry on whatever the cost.

The alternative is that you make do, because this is a serious situation, far more serious than a business deal.

Ironically, your future income and the income and quality of your children's lives will be directly affected by your actions today. But, people just put it away in their minds, file it under "well, can't possibly do that" and forget about it.

If the worst that can happen is some scary figures pop out of the news now and again, what's the point in changing?

We will all look back in ten years and say, we had a chance to do something, but we didn't.


You make the sacrifices, you go out of business and are replaced by someone who doesn't who will continue flying. If anything you have only made the situation worse for you.

It is a prisoner dilemma of the grandest scale that has origins predating multi-cellular organisms.


That's easy for you to say but if I don't make money today then there may be no tomorrow to worry about.

My point is that this can't just be a thing that an individual decides. We need country-level or international-level cooperation. Prisoner's dilemma, as others have pointed out.


> What's the alternative? As an EU company, if I need to do business in the US then I can't say "let's schedule a meeting in a year while I go on a boat cruise". Virtual meetings only work to an extent -- they lack a human interaction touch.

That is one way to look at it.

Supposing we said, physical meetings only work to an extent -- they pollute the atmosphere. Therefore there is no alternative but to make virtual meetings work.

I put it to you that virtual meetings would work well - if the technology isn't quite there yet, it would be rapidly improved - if we took the attitude that we have to make them work, instead of taking the attitude that we have to travel.


There's another alternative - the slow boat. You can get from Europe to the US for around $700 on a cargo ship. The biggest difference is that it will take around 5-7 days one way. Most programmer's productivity wouldn't suffer too much from this, though managers or business owners might.


I guess we need better VR. Then it is not necessary to go over in person.


I read in a local science magazine that (paraphrasing) no matter if all the cars were electric - as long as people keep flying, the amount of benzine produced would stay roughly the same, since making kerosene for the planes requires such huge amounts of raw oil. Benzine and other oil-based fuels were said to pretty much just a side product of kerosene production


Not sure, because refineries can crack larger hydrocarbons (kerosene) into smaller ones (gasoline/benzine) based on demand.


As a % of CO2 emissions, how much is flying?


According to this site about 2-3% of the global emissions. http://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2015/09/evolving-clima...

Seems like something other than flying might be a better target to reduce carbon emissions.


I'm not sure if I trust the numbers, but it looks like airplanes produce about 1.5% of the total global "CO2 equivalent" GHG emissions.

https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emiss... says that transport is 14% of total global GHG emissions.

And http://www.atag.org/facts-and-figures.html says that airplanes are 12% of transport emissions.


I certainly don't trust the numbers. There is common sense right?

If we stick water vapour and co2 above the weather layer in the atmosphere, it will act like a pane of glass in a greenhouse? Right? You can't rain anything down from 35000ft can you?

Look at the warming graphs/animations, most warming happens in the northern hemisphere (where most planes fly), since about 1970, which is when air travel became popular accross the northern hemisphere.

Call me crazy (I know it's dangerous to make assertions without 150% of the facts) but that seems to me like an obvious thing that would affect warming. Please don't reply with some fact based rebuttal - hasn't helped so far.


So you don't trust the numbers? And you say don't reply with fact-based rebuttals? You seem to be saying that your opinion is fact-free. That's... not very persuasive to the rest of us.

I'm more likely to trust the numbers than someone who says "don't reply with facts". Yes, there is common sense; numbers can be misleading. But common sense can also be misleading; don't cling to it against all evidence.


All the numbers we have heard about causes, haven't altered the overall increase in the PPM co2 number. I don't trust that we won't discover more about this situation. My hunch is flying is one of the biggest feedback mechanisms, because of where it happens (high in the atmosphere), how it interacts with the ecosystem (contrails), and the sheer volume of fuel used daily (economic vested interests).

I see contrails every day above my head, they fill the sky on some days.

There is a problem with the sky, the coincidence seems striking to me.

Like smokers in the 1930's being prescribed cigarettes - common sense should be able to indicate a truth that is yet to properly emerge.


This should be some interesting reading for you if you haven't read it already: Some scientists believe that from the days after 9/11 (when everybody was grounded) that planes and their pollutants actually have a cooling effect on the planet; they reflect sunlight more into space.

[1]http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/space/contrail-effect.html


I did read that at the time, and it is interesting. But as James Lovelock says - one of the first people to alert us about rising co2 - smoke or soot is the only countermeasure we have now, but it is a very short term fix and the other gases mixed with it lead to rapid longer term warming.

Water vapour from planes (contrails) have a complex effect and is not yet fully understood see:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/airplane-contra...


If the current state of security screening and customer service hasn't changed people's behaviour, not much will.

Unfortunately, for a lot of people there are no viable alternatives.


It's an addiction, like smoking. Except far far more damaging to all life.


Not even nearly as bad as long commutes and having to drive everywhere, thanks to poor infrastructure decisions made by the US in the 50s and 60s.

But, unlike transport, where you at least have an alternative (live in the city, ditch the car), if I have family on another continent, flying is the only way I can see them.

A poster above you posted a source that flying is responsible for around ~3% of global emissions, but you nonchalantly relegated it to the realm of "fake facts". Your fanaticism is helping no one here.

Regardless, both flying and personal automobiles powered by fossil fuels are a luxury that will soon be done away with, regardless of your appeals to conscience. Fuel will simply become too expensive (as we run out or introduce a carbon tax).


Those aren't fake facts. They are facts. I don't really dispute their legitimacy, they could be absolutely correct and I could be wrong. It's my own view, you don't have to hold it for me.

However, this is not either or, which fact is correct or not, this is a sum game. We all add to the problem.

Have those facts true or not, helped in any way to reduce the carbon output. 2-3% might seem insignificant - it may be the 2-3% that tips us into a runaway climate.

So, move near to your family, help save 2-3% per year. I did.

Anyway, making yourself feel better by arguing with me, proving me wrong won't alter the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Stopping flying will. You have a choice.


Well said.

But, given the choice, I would rather remove my 2-3% of emissions by cutting meat consumption by 90% and/or driving.

Your original post was just yelling at people to stop flying, as if there were no other ways to alter a personal consumption pattern. That's what people took issue with.


No. I didn't. I didn't say stop flying instead of stopping eating meat. Do both. Go for it.

I'd say stopping eating meat will be a lot harder for people than stopping flying.


I generally get funny looks and the feeling that people are imagining me with a toothbrush mustache and a comb-over when I suggest this:

Wouldn't population control to an extent help slow the rate of emissions? Caps on births or higher taxes on family sizes, etc.

I know political/moral/ethical issues would make it impractical but I don't think any potential solution is worth ignoring.


Not only is this too totalitarian, it's too late. Most western countries are already at stable or slightly declining population levels.

It's worth reducing fertility in poorer countries, but this is best done by carrot rather than stick: education and job opportunities for women, and decent free baseline healthcare with contraception included.

One of the main obstacles to the latter is US religious conservatives.


"decent free baseline healthcare with contraception included...One of the main obstacles to the latter is US religious conservatives."

I should imagine Catholic church's condemnation of birth control is the larger political issue in countries that are not US.


The US global gag rule, which has been in effect under every Republican president for decades, blocks foreign aid funding to any organization that mentions abortion. I think it was estimated to cut aid spending by $9 billion when Trump re-introduced it this year (especially as he expanded it from the old policy of health-related organisations to all organisations).


I had no idea such a gag rule existed. Does this affect distribution of contraceptives in some twisted way as well?


It affects the distribution of contraceptives very directly. It means that no organisation that ever talks about abortion as an option for women can receive American funding. Doesn't matter if their primary work is providing contraception or providing childcare, if you tell women they could get an abortion, or you lobby a politician to make abortion more available/safer, you lose funding. https://www.globalfundforwomen.org/mexico-city-policy-global...


Of course it does. Many organization that provide contraception also provide abortion services, and therefore are ineligible for funding.


Though if you really wanted, you could provide contraception without providing abortion services (it's a policy that these two are often combined, not logistical or economic or any other necessity.)


You have to avoid ever mentioning abortion as an option, not just avoid providing them yourselves. There are tons of places that only offer contraception which are affected by this rule. There are organisations which don't even offer medical services but which support the availability of abortion, and they also lose funding under this rule.


upvoted! I've heard that ppl in poorer countries would calculate percentage of how many children will grow up to adulthoods... so even though they might be contributing to the global population rise, they can't be blamed... kinda sad :(


When debugging performance problems you always search for the biggest bottlenecks not the minor ones, so what are the biggest contributors to CO2?

I don't think the problem is the number of people living on earth but how modern society is making people live, for example some big contributors are high meat consumption (cattle methane) inefficient transportation (big suvs with just the driver inside sitting in traffic jams) consumerism that drive all those factories to produce mostly useless products that break easily to be soon replaced etc.

We need to change or habits not our numbers, this is the source of the problem.


Agreed, we should tackle the biggest sources first. And meat production in particular is one of the biggest contributors. Scale back the subsidies for these types of farms and replace them instead with taxes. Consumers will change their habits once they are faced with the "real" cost of meat.


You just lost the entire vote that put Trump into office and about three quarters of the country. Keep in mind those subsidies generally flow to investors in real estate, too, so you're losing more voters than you think. They had a real reason, once; the real problem is inertia and campaigning, which is what makes them stick. Hard to go to Iowa and tell them that billions of dollars are "being taken from family farms," which is exactly how it would be portrayed and oh by the way your Whopper is going to double in price too, and somehow still achieve office.

Solve that problem. Then we get somewhere.


If meat is taxed extra, then it is not the real cost is it?

Anyway consumers would stop purchasing organic meat or meat from places that cared about animal welfare before they stop eating meat.


Slap extra taxes on meat and forbid any advertising for meat or meat-containing products. Boom.


> forbid any advertising for meat or meat-containing products

Who needs that pesky First Amendment when there's dietary habits to tackle, right?


On the other hand, who needs nation-states when they're submerged under water and their populations decimated?


You'd obviously need to involve the first world countries for a meaningful impact on consumption.

Please name a single first world nation-state that would be either submerged under water or have their population decimated (i.e. an expected casualty rate of 10%).

I believe that even Netherlands would stay above water by continued investment and extension of their current water control practices. For the first world, any coastal areas that actually do become underwater will likely simply result in an expensive migration, with actual deaths from storms/etc measured in the hundreds at most.

Countries like Bangladesh are in a different position, for them it makes all sense to reduce emissions, but they can't change much.

The expected worst case change in the first world is not impactful enough to warrant major changes in the country regime; if huge reductions of emissions are more expensive than some resettlement (and, generally, won't be enough to prevent the need of resettlement anyway), then we don't reduce global emissions but invest in mitigation of local consequences.

And actually, one answer to "who needs nation-states when they're submerged under water and their populations decimated?" is that the first world would actually want their nation-states to be strong and shield their people from the consequences of other nation-states becoming submerged under water and their populations decimated.


Do you really think the first world it going to just stand by and watch 100's of millions of people in places like Bangladesh just die?

No - the little bit of upset the west is feeling absorbing Syrian refugees should be a wake-up call that we can't just wall ourselves off from other peoples' problems.


Yes, I believe that a consequence of whatever "upset the west is feeling absorbing Syrian refugees" will be that the west will not be willing to repeat that and will handle the next major source of refugees in a much more isolationist manner.

Governments all over the first world are clearly more resistant to accepting immigrants than a few years ago.

One can definitely argue that for moral reasons we shouldn't wall ourselves off from other peoples problems, but the first world certainly does have the capacity to try and it seems that it also has the political desire to do so. If you ignore the words of major governments but look at their actions, we are seeing investments in capabilities to do just that, both military capabilities and economic ones - as automation replaces offshoring, the first world is now agains slowly getting less dependant on third world labor.


Keep in mind that it is a perfectly reasonable position to both:

a) agree with you and GP (though perhaps not to such a dramatic end), and

b) slap on the brakes when discussing constitutionally perilous endeavors that could ultimately harm us more than this discussion can forecast; what else can I forbid or do in the name of existential issues?

That I'm in the apparent minority here based on voting is far more alarming than I'd like it to be. Am I being interpreted as pro meat or something and riling the vegetarians? When I see the words "forbid" and "advertising" next to each other in such proximity I'm compelled to point out it's a bad idea. How am I the only one on this side? I'm all for evolving the Constitution, but fiddling with the First is not where I'd start and suppressing meat advertising has the potential to become much worse. That's my only point and I cannot express to you how alarmed I am that it's controversial.

If you're coming at me this hard that the First Amendment is malleable enough to save us from perceived world doom by forgetting it when it's convenient, let's turn around and have a conversation about the Second, then, shall we? Two can play that game. Either the Constitution is infallible or it isn't. Tell me which it is and I'll debate accordingly.


Interesting set of values there. I've got to say that being in a country where certain classes of advertising are forbidden and the rest is subject to (pretty minimal) accuracy regulation feels like it makes me freer and happier rather than the other way round.

Cigarettes and prescription drugs may not be advertised in the UK.


I'd actually prefer that, too. Especially prescription medications: there have been awful studies about correlations between patients asking their doctor (as the ads say) and getting that specific Rx even when unnecessary.

I also don't know how to get there constitutionally without somehow differentiating advertising from speech (the Court has declined every opportunity, which should be obvious from the term of art "commercial speech") or relitigating Central Hudson. I also don't know whether yielding on the Constitution in cases like these compromises my values. See where I'm coming from? All it takes is one case of ignoring the First or Fourteenth in particular and getting away with establishing some bad precedent. That's a future that would concern me greatly.

I've seen some folks arguing for jailing fake news authors here on HN. Ignoring parts of our Constitution feels good to think about in order to address a squeaky wheel. The ramifications of where that steers the whole cart over potentially decades must be carefully studied, however, some amendments far more than others (the First being one of those).


I see where you're coming from on this, but I think constitutional originalism and the alleged legal purity of the Supreme Court has long been compromised - as can be seen by the extent of the fighting over who gets nominated to the Supreme Court.

See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posadas_de_Puerto_Rico_Associa... (I don't really know US constitutional law, but this is linked on wikipedia!) - arguing that advertising can be restricted in the US under some circumstances.

(The extent of US TV censorship should also be considered here, along with the great "community standards" fight over internet censorship way back in the Clinton era)


> Either the Constitution is infallible or it isn't. Tell me which it is

Even the constitution does not consider itself infallible, or it would not include instructions for its amendment:

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

That said, forbidding advertising of meat is obviously an extreme proposal, not least because of things like this:

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/aug/05/synthetic-me...

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/06/21/482322571/sil...

http://www.memphismeats.com/


These are fair points. I think there exists a certain degree of silent desperation in the population. Climate change is basically just dismissed as obnoxious or phony by the current administration and many in power. The Trump WH seem willfully ignorant, in particular..

To be honest, there are probably many Americans who are less attached to maintaining America's legal foundation - and would accept the laws of any other free society - than they are to taking action against climate change. I don't mean this to say to "throw out the constitution", and I agree we shouldn't remove things that grant us stability.. But what does even the totality of the rule of law mean in the face of the laws of physics?

To be fair I probably derailed the thread from the topic of advertising's nonexemption from 1st Amendment protection..


Ok, meat calories will need to be replaced with something. Or are we going to eat grass?


Given that it takes 10,000 calories of feed to make 1,000 calories of beef, you're still talking about a massive reduction in the number of vegetation calories produced.


Is it calories or mass? I.e. cow eats 10kg of grass to produce 1kg of beef, we eat 10kg of beaf to gain 1kg of weight? And in any case it does not really answer the question.


My recollection is of calories but I cannot find a source for that right now. Regardless, my point was that if you grow plants to feed to cattle to feed to humans you are taking more resources than if you grow plants to feed to humans. However, it is complex - it depends a lot on the landscape.

http://www.economist.com/blogs/feastandfamine/2013/12/livest...


You also can't ignore the energy cost of running the farm and transportation.

I suspect that it may actually be more efficient to skip pesticide applications and harvesters, and use domesticated insects to harvest grains and fly those food calories directly to a local processing facility.

Certain species are already natural grain harvesting machines. Certain species are already natural pest predators. Those could be exploited and bred for a purpose. Humans plant the corn. Domesticated insect-predator insects patrol the fields and protect the corn from unauthorized eating before it is ready to harvest. They return to the hive, breed for the next season, and get eaten. Domesticated harvester insects then mature, fly out to eat the corn, and then fly back to the hive, breed for the next season, and get eaten.

Whatever is not eaten directly by humans can be fed to farmed fish or poultry.


One calorie of vegetables is a lot less carbon-intensive to produce than a calorie of meat.

As for meat replacement alternatives to help people adjust to a diet with less/no meat: Plant-based meat substitutes (these have become a lot better in recent years), in vitro meat production (still a few years off), or just more beans/lentils in the diet to replace the lost protein.


let them eat cake!

Seriously though - I suspect the majority of american calories already comes from a grass (corn & derived products)


Adding more RAM to a server won't fix a memory leak.


>We need to change or habits not our numbers, this is the source of the problem.

So you say, doesn't make it true. The source of the problem is every person; increase the number, worsen the problem.


No, it's no good blaming the poor for a problem the rich world has created.


You're right. Household CO2 emissions are nothing compared to commercial / transport.

Just look at airlines. As a random example, Qantas Airlines, in the 2015 financial year, burned $3.9 billion AUD worth fuel! (About $3 billion in USD).

Source: page 15 of their annual report: http://www.qantas.com.au/infodetail/about/corporateGovernanc...


Actually, you are be sorely wrong. Aviation is ~2% of human CO2 emission, and 12% of transport CO2 emission, versus 74% from roads. Judging from the streets and highways, most of that 74% is coming from household vehicles, and most of the rest is pretty much driven by household consumption.


The numbers seem to be very unreliable, though. Over here (Finland), reputable sources (such as WWF and State Statistics Center) give drastically different numbers for aviation emissions.

A reason could be that in some statistics, only domestic flights are included, and international aviation belongs to no one's statistics.


One the one hand, I find it amusing to have programming analogies to complex social and economic issues.

On the other hand, this analogy (and others) are pretty useful. Makes me think sociological discourse would benefit from using logical systems as a frame of reference.


You are describing USA


I recently read Dan Brown's Inferno - not a great reference work by any stretch, but some compelling arguments are made along the lines you suggest.

I suspect there is a lot more to it than just limiting the numbers of babies born. If there are more resources per person (a consequence of fewer people) then we will likely see the resources used per person go up.

Anecdotally - American cars are terribly inefficient with respect to fuel consumption. This is I think partly due to the low cost of fuel. In the UK, however, the cost of fuel per litre is almost double that of the US, and consequently people gravitate toward much more efficient vehicles.

Additionally - China has been a huge polluter for quite some time despite one child policies though admittedly it's partly because the global economy outsourced their pollution to China to a degree.


Sadly, I agree that an "Oh, more for me!" mentality would probably be the prevailing sentiment.

Only a philosophical shift brought on by a serious downturn in circumstances would cause people to reconcile their presuppositions of reality with actual reality and by then who knows if the problem would be reversible.


Population control would have to begin with the US, which on a per-capita basis has more than double the emission than any other nation or region (China, European union, etc). More than 8 times the rate of populous nations like India and Indonesia.

How likely is that to happen, especially in Trump's America?

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


The US has double the per capita emissions of the EU on a cumulative basis since 1970, but Australia and Canada have similar per capita emissions over this period. Canada, especially is accelerating its CO2 extraction relative to the size of its economy and population.

In a globalized system, where these extractive activities are global commodities, it seems to make sense to index emissions/extraction against economy size. Otherwise you get the unhelpful result that Bahrain and Qatar are the source of the problem (in a material sense they are, but not in a useful sense). This [1] list of emissions by GDP is a nice start, and it seems that Canada and Australia, the other two members of the wealthy New World Anglosphere, are neighbors to the US on this metric.

Is there a good way of accounting for national economy specialization when assessing contribution to the emissions problem? China looks very inefficient according to this metric, but much of the world is essentially outsourcing its emissions to China. Is it useful to compare China to a country whose GDP is based largely on financial services? Which nations give the best bang for the buck in dirty industry (my suspicion is that Germany does well here)?

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


>Population control would have to begin with the US, [because opinions]

I don't think there's a rule for that. Is it in the Scripture (because I know that less well)?


In 1950 global population was 2.5 billion people, now 7.5. That's 3x in 67 years. Technological advances can help us increase the amount of people we can sustain, but eventually there is going to be a limit.

The limit will not only be because of CO2. There are other situations that need to be managed.

Population is increasing, and the lifestyle of individuals is rising, making each person have a larger cost on the environment.

Topsoil, the soil we grow our food in, takes long to regenerate and we are depleting it faster than it regenerates.

Overfishing cannot be stopped. Fish will be gone soon, and we largely depend on it. Fish as food, fishmeal for animals and fish oil as fertilizer (fish emulsion).


The increase in global population is not necessarily exponential. A lot of it can be explained by increases in life expectancy, and those increases seem to have - for now - a relatively fixed limit. Longer life expectancy does not increase the number of children each person has (for the most part, leaving ageing rock stars to one side).

Greater wealth seems to also have discourage people from having children if the birth rates in wester countries are any indication.

I think we can do more to tackle the specific problems you mention through regulation and better policy, whereas a falling global population on its own would do little or nothing to combat them.


I did not say growth was exponential, I only pointed out what growth has been in the last years.

It is reasonable to expect growth rate will decline. Right now a billion people is predicted to be added every ~13 years. Even if the growth rate declines, population cannot continue to grow forever.


We are already past the peak child. Fish will no go anywhere, it will just be farmed more.


Not sure how you arrived at the conclusion but I disagree.

Ocean acidification from CO2 absorption, plastic pollution (including microplastics), overfishing, the destruction of the species that influence the oceanic carbon cycle and the overall increasing frequency of harmful algal blooms...

Not a good forecast for the continued survival of fish.


Or build denser cities where the average inhabitant consumes much less energy.

A lot of the waste in America comes from sprawl, causing everyone to build bigger houses and own bigger things, but most importantly, rely on fossil fuels just to get around every day.

Of course converting the US to high density is probably too late.

The US is also the biggest target market for Chinese made goods, which means a lot of the non-fossil fuel pollution you see in China is really just externalizef American pollution.


I understand peak child has been reached and the only reason the population is still increasing is that people aren't dying young at the same rate they used to. I think there are bigger gains to be made by changing other things, and they can be made much faster than a slow reduction of population.


>I understand peak child has been reached

This is certainly not true on a regional basis, and I can hardly say with confidence that stagnating population levels in Europe really warrant African families having upwards of 10 children on average when the land can hardly feed the current population as is.

We are talking about huge numbers here if African population really does increase by 3 billion during this century. FWIW, I'm not going to stop driving and start walking so someone else's children can do the pollution instead of me and it levels out.


Your numbers are out of date. There's not a single country where the TFR >= 7. Most of Africa is under 5. That's still too high, but the numbers are dropping, and they are especially dropping in countries with increased development and urbanization.


This is certainly not true on a regional basis

Fortunately, it's a global problem.

As to the rest of your comment, I understand that people have fewer children when they trust that their children aren't going to die young, and that's the direction we're headed in.


You're right, it would help. Unfortunately, probably the most effective method [0] of achieving population control (short of actively killing people) is accelerating economic and social development in poorer countries. At the moment, economic development seems to be correlated with increased co2 emissions intensity.

The insane optimist in me tends to think that as we develop cost-effective methods of generating electricity without the co2 we will also have greater capacity to aid economic development in third-world countries. So on the upside, there seems to be a 'virtuous cycle' in here somewhere.

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_transition


Most civilised countries already have a < 1 growth rate, which means they'll have populations smaller and smaller as time goes by. So if you want to decrease the global population, you'll have to target essentially Africa.

Just check the distribution of growth rates across the world:

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


No. China's one child policy only slowed growth.[0] Even if you halved the population immediately the co2 levels in the atmosphere would continue to increase despite outputting less.

[0] -https://www.theguardian.com/world/datablog/2015/oct/29/impac...


A government with the power to population control probably would control us in other ways too. If you're going to tell people how many kids they can have, you might as well tell them what jobs they can work, what religion they can have, and just about anything that achieves your agenda.


Population will be reduced naturally as competition for natural resources causes wars.


Not to mention famine. At this point, it seems inevitable that billions of people are going to starve to death before the end of the century.


Populations already are stagnating in developed countries. It would be much more efficient to block/tax things like beef imports, petrol cars, foreign goods/foods.


Then the most practical hack is banning meat and dairy industry.


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