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We Just Breached the 410 PPM Threshold for CO2 (scientificamerican.com)
255 points by hownottowrite on Apr 22, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 247 comments



Does anyone have ideas on how a mid-career software developer can switch gears into the clean energy/climate change industry, to do something to help?

I've come to think that climate change will be humanity's defining moment, and that we'll all be suffering greatly come mid-to-late-century. I want to do what I can to put my professional skills to use in helping. But I'm not sure where to even begin.


I co-founded a SaaS data startup ten years ago, focused on international development. Most of our work is currently climate mitigation related (water, agriculture, poverty reduction) but also used in sustainable energy, like tracking small scale biogas production. The whole international development field is a USD 130 Bn/year industry, and there may be another USD 100 Bn coming in climate mitigation/renewables. They have mostly really poor key indicator tracking, monitoring of projects etc.

Most of the work in none-industrialised countries have really poor data tracking systems, so that is where we thought we could make the biggest impact. But some of our tools are even starting to see traction in Europe.

There is plenty to do in this field. Unfortunately there is an uphill struggle even educating people that they need to use data to drive decisions, but it is happening. Happy to answer questions.


How did you contact customers, learn more about the field? Did you have prior experience in the field?


A couple of the co-founders worked in the sector already and had a broad network which we tapped into. I didn't have prior experience, but I did take a break before this and studied for a degree in environmental science, which is also how I found those co-founders. Went to a policy conference a few times which deals with water issues and was frustrated about how primitive the IT use was, expressed it during a Q&A session and met one of the co-founders as a result.


If in the US I'd suggest getting politically active. It will take long enough even according to the pessimistic models (assuming we don't hit some doomsday scenario like the clathrate gun) for things to actually get noticeably bad [1] that a lot of people will choose short term profit over long term fixing the climate.

That means that to seriously get things done soon is going to require government action, and that means politics.

Regardless of whether you lean to the left or the right, register as a Republican and participate in the Republican primaries or caucuses for your local, state, and national offices supporting those Republicans who acknowledge that climate change is a series problem and that the government needs to play an active role in slowing, stopping, or reversing it.

I say register as a Republican, even if you would normally be something more to the left, because right now the Democrats are much more likely to nominate candidates that acknowledge climate change and the need for strong government action. The Republicans do have some people who believe that, but they currently rarely get nominated.

What we need to see is general elections where it is both the Democrat and the Republican that are on the right side of climate change so that no matter which party wins the election we get a government that will do something about the problem.

[1] Generally what most places will see is that bad things that already happen there will very slowly happen a little more often, and get a little more bad. But in many places there will also be good things that start happening a little more often and get a little bit better. It will take a generation or two before these changes have become big enough and frequent enough in most places that it will really be noticeable to the people there that yup, their climate has changed.


[flagged]


There is nothing deceptive about trying to take over a political party. It is in fact exactly how political parties work. The Tea Party accomplished a partial takeover of the GOP in 2010, and Bernie Sanders is working on the Democrats still.

Political parties belong to whoever tries the hardest to run them.


I envision DNA scientists be able to produce a much efficient plankton/ trees.

Trees are only 2-4% efficient at converting solar energy. What if we discovered the secret of chlorophyll and we're to be able to make trees 10x more efficient.

Trees that trap co2 and heat and give us hydrocarbon rich oil, hydrogen, water and oxygen.

Suppose we could improve tree efficiency 20x, those trees would also grow fast. We'd be able to control the thickness so we get lumber ready trees for building. The trees would possibly be with dark and make some sort of flat canopy trapping sunlight efficiently.

I have hope that we'll discover this secrets and a future generation will invent something ground breaking


So you are admitting that this is politically rather than scientifically driven?

Okay then.


Infiltration? Espionage? lol seriously? The Republicans shamelessly flaunt their positions and policies.

Dishonesty and deception? Again, lolwut. Parties are collections of people, they do not stand for specific ideas. Anyone that gets on the Republican membership list is, by definition, a Republican. Example A: Trump.

Signing up to a different party sounds exactly like what you're describing. Open the door to intellectual conversations with people from different social spheres, force confrontations between real person with real beliefs instead of strawmen.


I don't know how you expect me to take you seriously with "lolwut." But I'll give you the benefit of the doubt once.

> The Republicans shamelessly flaunt their positions and policies.

What is the point of this statement? Do you mean to say that Democrats don't do that? Or is it okay that they do, because you agree with them? In which case it's entirely hypocritical to say that, criticizing your opponents for doing exactly what you do, and a form of intellectual dishonesty.

> Dishonesty and deception? Again, lolwut. Parties are collections of people, they do not stand for specific ideas. Anyone that gets on the Republican membership list is, by definition, a Republican. Example A: Trump.

If I, as a citizen, register as a member of Party A, and vote in their primaries for candidates that lean toward my preferences--and then, come election time, go to the polls and vote for the candidate of Party B, as I intended to from the beginning--am I participating honestly in the political process? Or am I pretending to be a member of Party A so I can influence Party A to reduce the difference between the parties?

If a government sends an operative to another nation, to secretly work for another nation's government, and influence them to lean toward the policies they prefer, is that "getting on the membership list" of that "collection of people"? Is it honestly participating in the diplomatic process? Or is it infiltration, a form of espionage?

If a corporation sends an employee to get a job at a competitor and send back copies of plans for the competitor's competing products, is that merely "getting on the membership list" of that "collection of people" at that company? Or is it industrial espionage?

> Signing up to a different party sounds exactly like what you're describing. Open the door to intellectual conversations with people from different social spheres, force confrontations between real person with real beliefs instead of strawmen.

Either you misunderstand the point and we are talking past each other, or you are the one tearing down strawmen.


> If I, as a citizen, register as a member of Party A, and vote in their primaries for candidates that lean toward my preferences--and then, come election time, go to the polls and vote for the candidate of Party B, as I intended to from the beginning--am I participating honestly in the political process? Or am I pretending to be a member of Party A so I can influence Party A to reduce the difference between the parties?

Political parties do not exist in the governing structure of the U.S. As proof, I'll ask you to please go read the Constitution, then come back and point out the parts about political parties. No rush; I'll wait.

Back? Ok, so now hopefully you realize that in the U.S., we elect people, not parties. Partisan primaries, as elections funded by the government, should not even exist at all--they are a corruption of the system.

So hand-wringing about how people vote in primaries and interact with political parties is silly. Political parties can't be corrupted. There is nothing pure to preserve.


I'll see your condescending lesson on the Constitution and raise you a trip to the Capitol, where you'll see the very real, tangible divisions between the two major parties.

You seem to be confused about the argument. It's not about what should be, it's about what is.

> So hand-wringing about how people vote in primaries and interact with political parties is silly.

It's not silly, it's an observation about how the game of politics is changing with the change in the scale of our social interactions. It's so much easier to coordinate large groups of people to infiltrate and manipulate intra-party matters than it was a few decades ago.

That's exactly what the OP was advocating: not rational engagement with the members of a party, convincing them to adopt a better view, but pretending to be one of them so as to vote in their primaries, to deny them use of candidates which are most threatening to one's own political goals. It's like a Sybil attack on the political process.


> If I, as a citizen, register as a member of Party A, and vote in their primaries for candidates that lean toward my preferences--and then, come election time, go to the polls and vote for the candidate of Party B, as I intended to from the beginning--am I participating honestly in the political process? Or am I pretending to be a member of Party A so I can influence Party A to reduce the difference between the parties?

Seriously? There were many registered Republicans who voted in their primaries and then ended up voting for Hillary over Trump. Were they being dishonest? Or did they just look at the two options given and make the choice that they feel best reflects their values?


Did they fully intend to vote democrat before they voted in the republican primaries?

The key point here is that the description has someone voting in party A's primaries for the sole reason of limiting or altering the choice others get to make. "As I intended to do from the beginning" is a key part of the description.

You however are describing I think people voting in the primaries to try and get the candidate they want to vote for into power. When that fails they take a different approach.


> for the sole reason of limiting or altering the choice others get to make.

Isn't that the only reason to vote in a primary? The whole point of a primary election is to choose who becomes your party's official candidate on the ballot for the general election, and the only reason to do that is because it limits or alters the choice that voters get to make.

If John Doe is running, and I want him to win, and I only care about my choice, I'd skip the primary and vote for him in the general. If he doesn't make it onto the ballot, I could write him in. If I vote for John Doe in the primary, it's because I want to affect other voters.


I think there's a crucial distinction between a) participating in a party's primary as a member of that party, generally intending to support that party's candidate, and b) participating in a party's primary, pretending to be a member of that party while actually a member of the opposing party, and having no intention of voting for that party's candidate in the actual election. The latter is dishonest manipulation of the political process, tantamount to sabotage.


I tend to agree, but that's not the same as the bit I quoted. The problem is not that you are trying to affect what other people can or will choose (because that's the whole point of a primary), the problem is that you are subverting the intent of the process, which is to allow members of that particular group to collectively limit their own choices.


Thank you for actually understanding my point. :)


> What is the point of this statement?

I think he means that it's not spying or infiltration when the data is already there for everyone to see. It's about influence on one area that will affect the whole human species, not just one country, and people (esp politicians) are still very misinformed about the issue. It's about informing everyone, just the opposite of spying.

> am I participating honestly in the political process?

You make it sound bad, but it's a much better proposition than what it is actually happening: People don't discuss politics, they fight it. It's not treated as a complex set of opinions that have to be reasoned over, but as a sport teams [0].

Furthermore, the way the voting system is designed, there won't be true parties in a specific position, but they're always reduced to two catch-all options with a very wide and overlapping set of opinions among their members, basically resulting in everybody be unsatisfied with the result [1].

And the point of the parent is that, since politics are broken, one can contribute to work around it from within. In fact parties evolve this way. The party of Obama was white supremacist related to KKK, and the party of Trump was Lincoln's which freed the slaves of the south. That sounds backwards, doesn't it? It's as if politics wasn't made of two opposing opinions, but of hundreds. (edit: snowwrestler above said it better, parties are not elected, are not part of the constitution and there's nothing inherently wrong or dishonest in trying to change them from within)

Climate change is not inherently anti-republican or anti-capitalist. The debate is whether to believe it or not, and it is absurd because there is a lot of evidence that it is happening. Humans heavily relied on a stable climate for ~15,000 years to create civilization and still relies on it.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pS4x8hXQ5c

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7tWHJfhiyo


> I think he means that it's not spying or infiltration when the data is already there for everyone to see.

You're not thinking clearly. It is infiltration because the person in question is pretending to be a member of Party A while actually being a supporter of Party B. The person is intending to deny members of Party A the ability to vote for the candidate of their choice in the actual election, forcing them to nominate a candidate that is closer to Party B's platform.

The scientific "data" you're talking about is completely beside the point.

> It's about influence on one area that will affect the whole human species, not just one country, and people (esp politicians) are still very misinformed about the issue. It's about informing everyone, just the opposite of spying.

Again, you're not thinking clearly. Informing people entails honestly discussing your views with them, presenting them with evidence and attempting to rationally convince them of the superiority of your position. In the context of a party primary, that could entail picketing with signs, having a non-violent protest outside, handing out pamphlets to those entering, etc. But that is not what the OP advocated. The OP effectively advocated abandoning that approach and instead opting to deceptively manipulate the political process, undermining the ability of others to honestly participate in it.

You seem to be letting your presuppositions cloud your judgment. You seem to be convinced that those who disagree with you are simply "still very misinformed," and so you're justified to "inform" them by whatever means necessary. (Apologies if this is mischaracterizing your view; please correct me.)

> You make it sound bad, but it's a much better proposition than what it is actually happening: People don't discuss politics, they fight it. It's not treated as a complex set of opinions that have to be reasoned over, but as a sport teams.

You seem to be missing my point. The OP is advocating exactly fighting over discussing. He's saying that, since enough people can't be convinced of his opinion, that those who agree with him should infiltrate the opposition's parties and deny them the use of candidates that disagree with him on this issue by voting down those candidates before they have a chance to be nominated. That's underhanded and dishonest, even a tactic used in espionage.

> Furthermore, the way the voting system is designed, there won't be true parties in a specific position, but they're always reduced to two catch-all options with a very wide and overlapping set of opinions among their members, basically resulting in everybody be unsatisfied with the result.

This is true. So what?

> And the point of the parent is that, since politics are broken, one can contribute to work around it from within.

There are two different ways to work "from within." See below.

> In fact parties evolve this way. The party of Obama was white supremacist related to KKK, and the party of Trump was Lincoln's which freed the slaves of the south. That sounds backwards, doesn't it?

No, it's not backwards, it's the historical reality. And, in fact, many people, including prominent blacks, consider the Democrats' policies to be against the black community's interests today. Of course, such people are derided as "Uncle Toms," rather than engaging seriously with their views.

> (edit: snowwrestler above said it better, parties are not elected, are not part of the constitution and there's nothing inherently wrong or dishonest in trying to change them from within)

Again, there are two ways to work from within. One is to recognize that a party is closest to your own political views, to join it, and then work to convince its members to advocate views closer to your own. Another way is to recognize that a party is closest to your own political views, join it, and then go to the opposing party's primaries, pretend to be one of them, and vote against candidates that are farthest from your own political views. This is the crux of the argument.

> Climate change is not inherently anti-republican or anti-capitalist. The debate is whether to believe it or not, and it is absurd because there is a lot of evidence that it is happening. Humans heavily relied on a stable climate for ~15,000 years to create civilization and still relies on it.

You seem to be missing the point. This thread is not about climate change. If you still think it is, that suggests that you're advocating an ends-justify-the-means approach, which is, again, the whole point: that one side is advocating participating dishonestly, because they think it's justified.


You're missing the point too. Your argument is that it's dishonest. Honesty is a moral concept, therefore subjective.

But we'll assume you're right and that such action is objectively dishonest. An ends-justify-the-means approach means there's good parts, bad parts and a price to pay. The price is eternal remorse for such action. Now let's see the good and bad parts:

Good:

- We get science and belief out of the political whims. Science is not a competition. Science exists to serve us all equally.

- People learn about the issues instead of believing baseless tweets.

Bad:

- We're making the candidate think they have chances to win presidency, displacing other candidates of the party... I guess? I can't really think of a negative side to this. Nobody's hurt in the process. We're not breaking any law. The party still has the same overall views.

And the price to pay is based on one's feeling, not on any real consequence or law. It's not ends-justify-the-means. It's just "wrong" because you feel like it is.

And everyday politics are already much more dishonest than this.


I'm afraid I don't follow your line of reasoning at all.

> You're missing the point too.

What I mean is, you're missing my point. Maybe I'm missing yours too, in which case we're talking past each other and should try to get on the same page.

> Your argument is that it's dishonest. Honesty is a moral concept, therefore subjective.

My argument is that the democratic process is built upon certain requirements of integrity or honesty. If these are undermined, the democratic process is undermined, and therefore the ability of the people to rule themselves is undermined.

My observation is that certain groups of people think that their undermining the democratic process is justified, because they think that their ends are worthy, and that their political opponents are unworthy of participating in the democratic process.

That, of course, is enormously arrogant, and dangerous to the long-term stability of the government. And by doing that, they endanger their own ability to participate in self-rule.

> An ends-justify-the-means approach means there's good parts, bad parts and a price to pay.

I think the "price to pay" includes "the bad parts." Of course, what belongs in which category is subjective.

> We get science and belief out of the political whims.

This is where I begin to not follow you. What do you mean? Everything we do is based on beliefs. Science is based on beliefs as well. Maybe by "beliefs" you mean "religion," in which case you should use that word.

> Science is not a competition.

Again, what do you mean by this? The scientific process is not a competition, but the practice of science in the world certainly involves competition at many levels.

> Science exists to serve us all equally.

Again, what do you mean by this? I think you are confounding ideals with reality. Science is essentially a method, a set of steps. It is up to the practitioner to apply it in a useful, ethical way.

> People learn about the issues instead of believing baseless tweets.

Again, not following you. By what means does this happen? This thread has been about (further) corrupting the political process by participating dishonestly. Are you saying that by doing that, people "learn about the issues instead of believing baseless tweets"?

> We're making the candidate think they have chances to win presidency, displacing other candidates of the party... I guess? I can't really think of a negative side to this. Nobody's hurt in the process. We're not breaking any law. The party still has the same overall views.

I'm rather floored by this. Do you actually not understand how corrupting the democratic process hurts everyone? You can't think of a negative side? There's not a law against it so it must be good? I feel like you're proving my observations correct...

> And the price to pay is based on one's feeling, not on any real consequence or law. It's not ends-justify-the-means. It's just "wrong" because you feel like it is.

I'm not sure if you're being facetious, casually dismissing my arguments as "feelings," or if you really believe that. If the former, you're being quite rude; if the latter, then I wonder if it's even possible for us to communicate, because you must be either unable or unwilling to comprehend what I'm saying. Unfortunately, it does not seem uncommon for those on the political left to dismiss their opponents arguments so casually.

But if you are here for honest, rational discussion, then I look forward to your reply.


> If these are undermined, the democratic process is undermined

Assuming it's being undermined, I need an explanation of how.

> and that their political opponents are unworthy of participating in the democratic process

When was ever suggested the opponents are unworthy of participating? They will hear the fight for climate change and they can react appropriately. Either joining the cause or explaining why it shouldn't be joined. The kind of dialog the political system needs.

> Science is based on beliefs as well.

Last I checked, it was based on proofs and data.

Belief may be a catalyst to start the process and elaborate a hypothesis, but just that. If one gets stuck on belief, it's not science.

> Maybe by "beliefs" you mean "religion," in which case you should use that word.

I mean beliefs, like climate change being a hoax. That's not a conclusion of any study. That's a lie someone made up for political gain.

> The scientific process is not a competition,

That's what I mean. People don't decide what's the truth. Or at least they shouldn't, because the truth doesn't change when you change your beliefs.

There may be competitions against teams for a specific goal. But science is inherently non partisan, and the goal benefits us all.

> It is up to the practitioner to apply it in a useful, ethical way.

And what is unethical about preparing for a likely event that affects us all? What is ethical about preventing it?

> Again, not following you. By what means does this happen?

People believing Trump when he said climate change is a hoax.

> Do you actually not understand how corrupting the democratic process hurts everyone?

We have different meanings for "corruption". In my definition, it involves favoring a candidate for hidden interests. HIDDEN interests. Because the people wouldn't approve. Dishonesty. But if I go and tell everyone what I think about climate change, how is that dishonesty? How is that lying?

You see my point? Yes, I do agree honesty is important. But also subjective and I don't think this would be remotely dishonest.

And then you dare to talk about corruption, which caused this very issue we want to solve!

> casually dismissing my arguments as "feelings,"

Because it's a subjective interpretation. Dishonesty implies lying. And it would be a "lie" that offsets actual damaging lies wildly spreading around.

In any case, assuming it's unethical, we might be facing a dilemma, where we have to choose to deviate a train to kill one person (a very bad one and condemned to death, but a person after all), or not to touch the lever and kill 100 innocent people.

I think you're doing the latter by inaction, and condemning the former because it's unethical.

Vote is secret for a reason.


There is an interesting set of choices to make if you switch gears. You can work to reduce impact, reduce existing, or survive change.

If you want to focus reducing impact then for CO2 there are many sources for it in developing nations. The US EPA (quick, archive it before it goes away!) lists these for the US[1]; Electricity (35%), Transportation (32%), Industry (15%), Residential & Commercial (10%), and others at 7%. Any endeavor which is cutting into transportation or electricity generation specifically will be most impactful but there are places like better LED lighting for business (reduce commercial electricity consumption). Pretty well plowed but they can always use the help.

To act on reducing the existing gas levels perhaps the best place will be sequestration exercises. Generally it helps to have a Chemistry background here because many of the sequestration techniques consist of converting CO2 vapor into something that holds on to the Carbon. There are more mechanical solutions (pumping gas into mines) and there are biological solutions (growing plants rapidly and then burying them) as well. From a software perspective I would imagine the biggest use would be control systems software as these are essentially industrial processes that folks are trying to automate.

Finally if you're looking at living with it, then there things like modelling immersion maps for the coastal areas and helping cities plan to migrate to higher land. There are efforts to design more weather tolerant living structures to survive larger and more sustained weather events, and storage and recycling systems to maximize the use of local resources which may become scarce in a different climate.

[1] https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases#c...


Interesting. Do you think there is a role for tech in things like preventing further deforestation of existing natural environment?


Directly or indirectly? There are groups that use satellite data to analyze deforestation and identify countries that are not living up to treaty obligations, or within those countries identifying illegal deforestation activity[1]. However I suspect the 'tech' side of this is much less manpower intensive than the 'enforcement' side of this.

[1] https://www.wired.com/2015/04/using-smart-satellites-to-moni...


Hello, please read up on Advanced Silicate Weathering, it is a feasible carbon sequestration technique. It is probably the best option that we have to get the carbon cycle back under control.

http://www.greensand.nl/content/user/1/files/rog20004.pdf

The idea is you crush and spread silicate rock dust, it produces cations and goes into the ocean, and then reacts with and absorbs carbon from the atmosphere to produce a carbonate mineral that fertilizes ocean life and de-acidifies the oceans.

Requires crushing hundreds of cubic km of rock per year, and spreading the product in damp jungle climates and coastlines.


I published "A Biohacker's Guide to Climate Change" with you in mind: http://titojankowski.com/a-biohackers-guide-to-climate-chang... (First draft, would love to know what to add)

I was curious about climate change. To start I cut out all the noise. I looked for things I could see, touch, and plug into. Put those tech skills to work! There are plenty of opportunities, where you have the most value is bringing your expertise to bear. Email me: tito@impossiblelabs.io



This is a good link. I particularly liked the ending paragraph about motivation - I think it's all network effect. If my friends and people I look upto were working on environmental engineering then maybe I too would jump into it. Unfortunately, none of my peers work in that area hence I spend time thinking about new buzzwords and technologies instead.


Your question inspired a blog post! Climate Change 2.0, How to Hack Your Way In To The Climate Change Revolution http://titojankowski.com/climate-change-2-0-how-to-hack-your...

If you find this topic interesting, join the Google group Climate Change 2.0: A Call to Adventure https://groups.google.com/forum/?nomobile=true#!forum/climat...


> How to Hack Your Way In To The Climate Change Revolution

This is just a list of (mostly) ill-informed questions rather than "Thought-Provoking Climate Change 2.0 Ideas", and certainly don't answer acabal's question, or the address title of the post.


Thanks for the feedback! You're totally right it could be better with more relevant ideas and especially a connection to programming opportunities would be cool. Any ideas or thoughts that you'd add to a revision to be more relevant? It's a work in progress!


You might want to work on a way to make a convincing argument to the general public. Because the echo chamber here notwithstanding, where I live nobody really believes there is a climate problem, or at best they give it lip service while they drive their new Escalade to Starbucks for a $5 cup of coffee.

I think that in reality we will not see people changing behaviors unless and until there are real observable climate changes that are affecting their lives. And even then I have my doubts.


I don't think complaining about people buying $5 cups of coffee at Starbucks is helpful for making a convincing argument. When you make statements like that, you give people the impression that your true motive is to attack capitalism and that raising environmental concerns are simply an underhanded tactic to do so. I understand your point about driving, but the brand of coffee and the cost is irrelevant and complaining about it is counterproductive.

There's no reason we can't address climate change and have $5 cups of coffee at Starbucks (although I prefer $2 cups of coffee at Dunkin Donuts).


I think it's the driving is the bigger problem (Starbucks exists in many walkable countries too).

But yeah, you're right, highlighting the Starbucks is a bad plan here.

Highlighting all the ways in which being good for the environment is good for business is definitely a plus.


For the Conservative crowd, we need to characterize renewable energy as energy independence.


And carbon taxes as reducing regulation.


Carbon taxes are also cutting subsidies.

Given the external costs, big users are being subsidised by everyone else.


Also, war is peace, ignorance is strength, and freedom is slavery.

Good luck with that.


How are you going to spin that?


It's a strategic regulation that replaces multiple tactical regulations. Therefore, carbon tax leads to fewer regulations.


Which regulations does it replace?


Cap and trade, in California, at least. https://www.forbes.com/sites/chuckdevore/2017/03/02/californ...


Depending on how far it's taken, the carbon tax could replace every other regulation of carbon-based green house gas emissions.

However, our contemporary Republican part uses "anti-regulations" as code for "anti-government, anti-law enforcement", so I doubt carbon tax will get any play.


There is a nice essay about that, by Bret Victor: http://worrydream.com/ClimateChange/


You could pick a solution area you feel attracted to from the Drawdown book (http://www.drawdown.org) and see how you can contribute. The Drawdown team has spent several years computing and ranking the impact of over 100 solution areas that can combine to reduce CO2 while also providing other benefits (so called no-regret solutions)

You may find that high impact solutions are in areas you may not be thinking about but that energize you, like the fact that educating girls beats out rooftop solar power (which is also a very high ranking solution).


Nice, I've been looking for something like this!

Do you happen to know what this kind of work is called? I'd like to find more from other fields and distribute them at my local college.


Stay where you are, command a higher salary, donate to environmental causes.


Use your intelligence to get a degree / study in the relevant earth science fields along with physical engineering study. Work towards geoengineering. Full control of all the earth's natural systems (climate, evolution, aging, lifetime of the sun...) is humanity's destiny, best get working on what we can now.

Of course political activism is available, but the question then is where to push on that front. Enough people are working on awareness, probably not enough are working on amending the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity and London's Convention on Dumping of Wastes at Sea to allow and encourage geoengineering on an international scale in the first place. Something as simple as dumping lots of iron in the ocean ("iron fertilization") could be all we need to do in the short term, but there's a lot of resistance to it. If I were interested in this path I'd focus on removing that resistance politically and/or scientifically.


> Does anyone have ideas on how a mid-career software developer can switch gears into the clean energy/climate change industry, to do something to help?

I'm in it right now. The best thing to do right now is to exert as much political pressure, because half the workplaces you're thinking of joining are in the current administration's crosshairs.


Computers use a lot of energy (that 1000 watt power supply). Consider choosing more environmentally friendly options. Use a lower level language like c instead of python or JavaScript for a program that will be run by many people and machines. An order of magnitude or two of energy savings is possible. Use and build command line interfaces instead of conversational interfaces. Google recently said as to why they built TPUs, "If we considered a scenario where people use Google voice search for just three minutes a day and we ran deep neural nets for our speech recognition system on the processing units we were using, we would have had to double the number of Google data centers!". Avoid that shiny new framework that makes older laptop fans run at full blast. Just because you don't see the smoke doesn't mean that your programs aren't burning a ton of fossil fuels.


Actually, software engineering does affect climate. By choosing slower but high-level languages and abstract/generic code over optimized/low-level code, the servers and datacenters consume more energy(cooling, electricity, the amount of servers used) creating a greater fossil fuel demand. http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/global-warming-data...


> Does anyone have ideas on how a mid-career software developer can switch gears into the clean energy/climate change industry, to do something to help

It's easy.

- Stop flying.

- Eat less meat.

- Buy less stuff.

- Use less energy.


This is not a personal responsibility problem, it's a societal priority problem.

Living "virtuously" only changes your own impact. We need to change impact globally.

We need to make jets that run on biofuels or synthetic fuels. We need to change our energy systems to be carbon neutral. We need to help the developing start using carbon neutral technologies directly, without going through a fossil fuel phase.

These are the things that will stop climate change. Changing one's own impact does very little.


We need to make jets that run on biofuels or synthetic fuels.

That's an issue of sustainability, not climate change. Those subjects are related but not interchangeable. I don't have the latest data, but I do recall various biofuels having a greater carbon impact than various fossil fuels a few years ago. If the situation has changed, great. But we need to remember that sustainable resources and climate friendly resources are not necessarily the same thing.


be the change you want to see in the world


Yah that doesn't work.

What works is "force others to change".

We're not going to solve global warming without forcing everyone to change. It's not a personal problem, and in fact, you can have small-scale cases of large carbon footprint.

It's not a problem if Leonardo DiCaprio is flying a private jet. It's only a problem if a lot of people are flying private jets.


Everyone could fly private jets if we had a carbon neutral cycle to manufacture and fuel them.


The reason that works is that it shows others what is possible and what it is like, eventually converting others around you.

In the case of climate change, austerity living may actually be counterproductive towards convincing others.

The change we need in the world is both technology and attitude.


If austerity means living a miserable life, you have a point. But it is also possible to lower our environmental impact AND life a more happy life, because consuming does not actually makes us happy, while spending less can give us more resources (time and money) for doing meaningful things of our lives.


I was surprised by "stop flying" so I ran a calculator [0], not the most authoritative-looking thing in the world but it's trying to sell me offset credits, so if anything it's an overestimate.

Using 160kwh/month from PG&E for my 600sqft apartment, driving 12 miles/weekday on a mix of compact hatchback and small-displacement motorcycle, and flying round-trip across the country roughly once a year, I apparently have a carbon footprint of 1.59 metric tons.

That's less than 8% the US average, and below the long-term worldwide target of 2 metric tons.

That single trip home for Christmas has more carbon impact (0.63 metric tons) than an entire year of motorcycle commuting (0.49 metric tons)!

I'm also making no deliberate sacrifices or trying at all to live a low-carbon-emissions lifestyle, it just kind of happens by default when you're living in the Bay Area (small dwellings, low HVAC requirements, short drives because the freeway is even worse than public transit for long distances, etc). So... put "live in or near a big city" on that list?

[0] http://calculator.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx?tab=8


I got involved with this bi-partisan group. I would like to do even more, but this was a good start for me. http://citizensclimatelobby.org/


Apply for software jobs in companies working on that stuff eg. Solar City / Tesla?


This is very bad (albeit completely unsurprising) news, but I really don't see that the word "threshold" is appropriate. Is there some special bad thing that happens once 410ppm is reached, that's qualitatively different from 400ppm? Nope.

The article itself is quite clear about this: e.g., it quotes one climate scientist as saying "These milestones are just numbers, but they give us an opportunity to pause and take stock and act as useful yard sticks for comparisons to the geological record." I suspect it's the usual story: journalist writes reasonable article, sub-editor puts needlessly overexcited headline on it.


How we communicate climate science and its relevance to our world is just as important as the science itself. In my opinion, if labeling it a threshold in media intended for non-scientist audiences captures attention and calls readers to action, great! Frankly, we need to be "overexcited" about CO2 and stop sitting on our assess.


This is how you end up overstimulating and oversaturating headlines and making people distrust science.


Point taken. I would add that fossil fuel companies and mainstream politicians are doing more to cause people to distrust science than headlines like this, however.


Those "people" are already over-saturated on things like "facts".

You can't appeal to everyone.


> if labeling it a threshold in media intended for non-scientist audiences captures attention and calls readers to action, great!

There's not a lot of things that I could personally do, and that really bums me out. While my life choices already contributed to at least one person not polluting the planet a lot (as an example, I don't drive a car and I don't use gas for heating), I don't see much more I can do about it.

I know I get my electricity from a coal plant, and I can't really save on electricity more than I am now. Recycling is something I'm doing as thoroughly as I can, but it's a bitch in a city where there are only two locations where I can dispose a recyclable waste.

I can't really do much more, and I'm not even reducing the waste at all. I'm just living my life avoiding to pollute the earth even more.


Let me get this straight, you're saying that people should purposefully mislead the public?


It's actual scientists saying this.

> On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.

--Stephen Schneider in APS News, Aug/Sep 1996, p. 5 [0]

Note especially: "So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."

He necessarily implies that one must be dishonest in order to be "effective." This raises the question: effective at what? The answer is obvious: effecting their policy goals.

This raises other questions: If a policy goal requires dishonesty to garner public support, is it a worthy goal? Is it backed by sound reasoning and evidence?

Most importantly, why should the public trust such sweeping policy to a few people who have decided that they know better than everyone else, and are therefore entitled to lie to the uneducated masses, for their own good? Is that not authoritarian? Does not madness lie down this path, or are climate scientists immune to lapses in judgment and ethics and morals?

0: http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/199608/upload/aug96....


That is specifically a scientist that got heavily involved in the climate change movement. Not every scientist would agree with those methods.


Of course, you're right. The question is, how many climate scientists do?


To be clear, I'm talking about this specific headline and trying to make a case for using the word "threshold" to capture attention. It's (mostly) a semantic issue. I do not advocate misstating scientific findings.


That's good to hear, because whether people want to admit it or not, journalists misreporting studies constantly is one of the reasons why trust has eroded.


Agreed. It's time to get very very excited here. Well if you only care about yourself, then screw it. If you have an ounce of care for the next generation or the ecosystems of the Earth, then it's time to start doing everything possible to replace our power generation with renewables (solar & wind) and our cars with electric cars.

It won't cost all that much. Not doing it will cost a whole heck of a lot more.


Due to what's happening with Arctic methane I'm becoming more and more convinced that it won't just be the next generation's problem, it will be ours.


> It won't cost all that much. Not doing it will cost a whole heck of a lot more.

It's possible that it would change 3% year-over-year productivity growth to 0.5%. That "it" might be the difference between a marginally healthy economy and "lost generations" and political upheaval.

The "give us the flight controls now or regret it for eternity" position is not necessarily wrong, but there's a real lack of credible evidence with useful confidence intervals that any given combination of approaches will have net desirable outcomes. And there's a justified (I think) lack of trust in that approach.

The entire situation is dire, so why don't we see more of a "full court press" on responding to the effects of climate change as well? Investments into dikes and levees, building above sea level more aggressively, more aggressive weatherproofing, relocating populations from increasingly arid to increasingly temperate places, etc.?

People worldwide are clearly more and more cynical about centralized seats of power (Washington, Brussels, Davos, etc.), so why are we saying the solution to all this is more special interests (say, 'yes' to American batteries, 'no' to French nuclear tech), more regulation, and more bureaucracy?

Alternative plan:

If the problem is carbon in the air, just implement and gradually ramp up a (progressive) tax on that, provide a phased-in minimum income to offset general cost-of-living increases, and then just play with those knobs until emissions hit desirable levels.


The issue is, as I understand it, how to make a carbon tax "progressive". In particular, how to make it so progressive that the developing world will accept it (i.e., it won't condemn their poor to generations of high energy prices and much slower economic growth) but still strong enough to dramatically reduce future emissions growth.

Just imposing it on the developed world would help some, but any benefit would be at least partially offset by emissions-heavy industry shifting further to the developing (and higher emissions-intensive) nations.


Those are fair objections. Concerns I have myself, but the counterproposals seem scientifically unfounded to me: picking certain technologies (and inevitably companies and industries) and deigning them "the green future" based on our still early developments in science and engineering.

Worse, people are calling people with concerns about subsidizing, say, certain battery companies (at the expense of alternative approaches and competing battery companies) as "global warming skeptics" and "anti-science". As if subsidizing particular avenues of R&D is a scientifically objective question.


"It won't cost all that much."

You aren't a starving peasant in Bangladesh, dude.

Reducing energy consumption to any significant degree will doom millions of people to an unpleasant death.

And no, solar and wind won't do it. At least not earth-based solar. Space-based solar might do the trick, but the risks and costs would be extremely high.

There is exactly one feasible alternative to fossil fuels, and that is nuclear.


You don't get to say "The Earth will be fine" in one thread and then commiserate with a Bangladeshi peasant in another thread just because you find it convenient.

Choose your pick.


1. What makes you think that "the Earth" and "human beings" are synonymous?

2. You don't get to advocate the end of fossil fuels by spreading disaster scenarios while ignoring the very real human costs that would result from what you are advocating.


1. They are not, hence your stance is disingenuous. The death of millions would be a statistical blip in geological timescale. By saying "The Earth will be fine," you are saying you don't find millions of deaths and suffering to be important enough to warrant a solution. And then when someone proposes a solution, because you don't like it, you bring out your hypothetical Bangladeshi farmer.

2. If you want to talk about "real human costs" of climate policy, you might want to pick a country that is not built upon a coastal flood plain that is routinely flooded[1]: Bangladesh is going to be among the countries hit hardest by climate change[2].

It makes me suspect that you don't care about human costs at all. On the other hand it did help me writing this rebuttal, so I guess all is well after all.

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

> In 1998, over 75% of the total area of the country was flooded, including half of the capital city Dhaka. ... 30 million people were made homeless and the death toll reached over a thousand.

[2] Same page

> The difference between historical and projected average temperatures each season throughout the world has revealed that harvests from major staple crops could drop by 40 percent by the end of the 21st century due to high temperatures in the growing seasons.


"The death of millions would be a statistical blip in geological timescale."

Well, I actually do care about people. So, there's that.

"In 1998, over 75% of the total area of the country was flooded, including half of the capital city Dhaka. ... 30 million people were made homeless and the death toll reached over a thousand."

That's sad, all right. How many routinely died in famines before the advent of modern, high-energy, mechanized agriculture?

Hint: a lot more than a thousand.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Bengal_famine_of_1770

Try ten million. And that was just one such event. They were routine in the days before mechanized agriculture and mechanized food transport. Happened all the time. Note that the article tries to blame this on the British (and they do appear to have been rather callous), but the primary cause was the failure of the monsoon. Nowadays if a monsoon fails you can truck in food from somewhere else. You can't do that without fossil fuels or some equivalent. Not to any real degree.

"It makes me suspect that you don't care about human costs at all. "

I'm not the one who wants to sentence the bulk of the human race to a preindustrial scenario involving periodic mass starvation. So, no.


"Reducing energy consumption" does not mean nobody can use tools from post 1800, and it also doesn't mean that nobody can help after a drought. There's even a quote in your link describing it as a man made famine.


"Reducing energy consumption" does not mean nobody can use tools from post 1800

Until you actually demonstrate functional and economic alternatives, that is exactly what it means.


gjm11 says: "Is there some special bad thing that happens once 410ppm is reached, that's qualitatively different from 400ppm?"

Yes. Climate change proponents post articles such as the OP here and then cry "The sky is falling, the sky is falling and I can prove it! We're at the 410 PPM Threshold, just as we predicted!"


You're being downvoted, but dissenting opinions should be allowed, even when it comes to climate change. There is a reasonable argument to be made that climate change alarmism is not productive. I saw Bill Nye answer the question of 'what happens due to global warming,' to which he replied, 'people's qualities of life will most likely go down because people will fight over resources,' that said, right now we have a surplus of resources in a very real sense. We already basically have productive capacity to feed every person on earth, but it's politics and greed that makes people starve, not resources.

Whether the down-voters like it or not, climate change is a very real and scientifically established fact, but what that will do to people on the world is not a scientific fact. It's just what currently most people predict will happen (and disagreeing with this is feels like some kind of thought crime in the traditional sense--it's not science). The world is not going to end. Biodiversity and Biomass is decreasing. The Northwest Passage is being opened up. Iron fertilization will become a more likely policy to sequester carbon and increase biomass in the oceans. Sea levels will rise. Extreme weather patterns most likely will increase. Productive farm land may or may not increase. Russia actually may have a fair bit to gain from it. But the fact is, there is a lot we really don't know.

In the very long run our civilization will need to harvest as much energy from the sun as possible, but in the meantime we've done a pretty fantastic job of screwing up the planet, so it's a pretty good idea to stop emitting so much pollutants into our atmosphere, since we don't really know for sure, but we have a lot of reasons to think it won't be good. That's really the best argument to end climate change, but it's probably not convincing enough to change behavior in large numbers of people.

That said, the politics and bureaucracies around climate change have started to resemble the War on Poverty and War on Drugs--institutions which now exhibit bureaucratic intertia (have an inherent perverse incentive structure, and they rationally (evilly) place their own survival over that of solving the problems they're tasked with).


One thing that is universally ignored in this type of hysteria-promoting article is that all of the carbon in fossil fuels used to be in the atmosphere. Every atom of it. That's why they're called "fossil fuels".

Guess what? The earth was just fine.


And the Earth will be just fine after us humans have ceased to exist. As humans I think we should be concerned just a little.


Humans don't start to show negative effects until the CO2 level in air reaches at least 2,000 ppm (and some won't show any effects until about 5,000 ppm). That's around 4 times the "threshold" that the article is concerned about.

Humans will also be fine.


Yes, we'll be safe from the direct effects of CO2 increases. But the indirect effects could be much more severe. That's the interesting part of the problem, we don't have accurate models of all the side effects. Ecosystems are complicated and fragile.


"But the indirect effects could be much more severe."

Or they could make things better.

"That's the interesting part of the problem, we don't have accurate models of all the side effects."

In fact, we do know that the CO2 level of the earth's atmosphere has been much higher in the past, and that this didn't produce anything like the "all life on earth dies" scenario that the doomsayers keep touting.

"Ecosystems are complicated and fragile."

The ecosystem survived the Chicxulub event, dude. It's not going to be knocked out by 410 ppm of CO2.


The ecosystem did not survive the Chicxulub event.

"Ecosystem" is not shorthand for "life exists on Earth somewhere." An ecosystem is a particular state of the dependencies between life forms.

The ecosystem that existed before the big asteroid strike was thoroughly and rapidly destroyed; a new ecosystem developed afterward. That's fine from a general "life finds a way" perspective, but it sucked for the sauropods, who went extinct.

EDIT: if you want a sense of why the indirect effects of anthropogenic climate change might be bad, look at the social unrest reacting to a couple million people migrating out of Syria. What do you think it's going to be like when about a billion people have to migrate inland due to sea level rise?


By your definition "the ecosystem" never "survives", because it has been in a state of constant change since life first developed on earth.

"What do you think it's going to be like when about a billion people have to migrate inland due to sea level rise?"

Considering that even the worst-case doom-crying scenarios issued by the IPCC predict a sea level increase of the order of 1 meter over the period of a century (i.e., ~1 cm per year), your (and Hollywood's) suggestion of rioting mobs fleeing the tsunami-like rising ocean is just not based in reality.


Yes, ecosystems change constantly. An ecosystem is a state and the state changes as its components change.

The fact that this is news to you is a clue that perhaps you know less about this subject than you think you do.


Now you're just getting nasty, without any substantive response to my assertions.

Hint: that means I won.

You claimed that the ecosystem "didn't survive" the Chicxulub event because there were different organisms afterward. I pointed out that by that "definition" the ecosystem has never "survived", because it has been in a state of constant change since day one.

Rather than responding to this, you just got nasty.

I repeat: I win. Sorry.


I did respond: I said that you are correct that ecosystems are always changing.

The question is, what do those changes mean for individual organisms? Because that's what you and I are.

Changes to the climate and ecosystem are like changes to velocity. Whether the change is good or bad for people depends on the magnitude and direction.

I do think that your focus on who is "winning" an imaginary Internet slap fight is detracting from your understanding.


I think the "all life on earth dies" scenario is mostly a straw man. I mean, I'm sure there are some people speculating about such things and making comparisons with Venus, but so far as I can tell the overwhelming majority of people who are concerned about climate change are worried about much more modestly-bad scenarios.

So. Yes, the CO2 level has been much higher in the past. For instance, in the Cambrian period it was much higher than it is now. ... And, in the Cambrian, the surface temperature of the earth was about 7 degrees C higher than it is now.

As someone else remarked: no, "the ecosystem" did not survive the Chicxulub event. Life survived it, sure, but it wiped out the dinosaurs (other than the birds). That's kinda a big deal.


Let's be honest. Climate science also needs to decide if it will be anthropocentric or not. As harsh as it sounds, if science is not supposed to be anthropocentric, then it doesn't matter to science if humanity becomes extinct or suffers. By definition. So if climate science is going to make human suffering or survival the key important issue, it should completely discard any language that it's about the earth and environment, and discard any pretense that it's not trying to be anthropocentric.


Science is the process of learning how the universe works. It is not anthropocentric.

What we choose to do with that knowledge is anthropocentric because we are humans.

Science can tell us how fire works. We still have to decide what to do when our house catches on fire.


I'm being pedantic, but what to do with the knowledge seems to be a policy and political question, not a science question.


I agree.


>all of the carbon in fossil fuels used to be in the atmosphere... The earth was just fine.

A problem with that argument is that the sun was about 20% dimmer back then. Hence it may get hotter this time around.


> the sun was about 20% dimmer back then

According to wikipedia[1], the Sun increases in brightness steadily about 1% every 100M years, yet we had CO2 levels 10 times higher than now about 500M years ago.

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


I haven't seen any talk about the health effects of rising CO2.

I know there are studies finding a difference in productivity between 600 and 1000 ppm with just hours of exposure, so isn't it possible that going from 300 globally to over 400 has had some health impact over a lifetime? Is there a point where lower CO2 has no effect and how do we know that?


I doubt that increased atmospheric CO2 concentration is going to be a direct threat to human health. Humans have for a fair amount of time at this point, spent most of our time (and decision making time) indoors, where CO2 concentration grows far higher than atmospheric. In fact, reaching the 1000s ppm is already fairly common, and does not seem to have lead to major obvious health problems (although it does, as you identify, lead to short term cognitive decline).

The bigger problem is that in our quest for energy efficiency, we would further reduce ventilation, increasing the indoor CO2 concentration; but this can be countered with better ventilation (using a thermal exchange system so it is more energy efficient than opening a window). The reduction of indoor CO2 possible from this is probably greater in most places than the ~100ppm increase in background concentration.


The funny thing O2 is dropping faster than CO2 is rising, but for whatever reasons it's not really a subject of interest.


That's because it's easily explained. About half the O2 lost through burning of hydrocarbons becomes CO2. Other half becomes H2O. The latter doesn't increase its percentage in the atmosphere just because there's more of it.


Yeah, but my point is that lack of O2 is very easy to explain why it's bad of the health!


Silly point. O2 shortages are irrelevant- 210,000ppm to 209,800ppm O2 is far less of concern than 300ppm to 400ppm CO2.


And keep in mind that atmospheric pressure (and thus the partial pressure of oxygen) routinely varies by 10% or more due to weather, and people live at altitudes where the pressure is as low as 50% below sea level.


I don't know much about climate science, but won't plants multiply and grow faster until we eventually hit a new equilibrium CO2 level?

I guess the only danger is reaching thermal runaway before that happens? Then again, earth CO2 levels have been far higher in the past without signs that it killed off much life on Earth. Is rising CO2 that dangerous?

Don't humans already have effective ways to reduce surface heating by injecting dust or chemicals into the upper atmosphere? We've seen that throwing a bunch of dust up there reflects more heat and it sounds like something certainly within our ability to do.

I'm not a climate change denier, I'm just skeptical that the rising CO2 level is as dangerous as it's made out to be.


> I don't know much about climate science ... I'm just skeptical that the rising CO2 level is as dangerous as it's made out to be.

Respectfully, is this a mindset you apply to other aspects of your life?

Let's say you leased an apartment in a large building, and after an inspection, numerous structural engineers said the building was in danger of collapse. Would you say "I don't know much about engineering, but I'm skeptical it's that bad", or would you demand the building management take steps to correct the issues?


I see your point. To me it's like numerous engineers are warning me that the temperature of the building is going up quickly. When I ask any of them what to do they say we should stop producing heat.

I ask whats going to happen when the building gets hotter quickly and get 10 different answers. Somebody tells me the building has been much hotter in the past, but this is the fastest its heated up before. I ask if it's actually even bad that the building is getting hotter quickly and everyone says "Of course it is! It's never heated up this fast before!"

I sit back and wonder why I should worry about this building heating up if it's been much hotter in the past, or if it's even a bad thing. I also wonder why none of the engineers suggested opening the windows instead of producing less heat. It happens that the building is currently at a historically low temperature, and raising it could make the building more comfortable for many inhabitants anyways


I think you're stretching the analogy a bit too far there...

We know that increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 will result in higher temperatures (the mechanism is well understood, and the IPCC models have done a good job of predicting that over the past couple decades), we also know rising temperatures will result in rising sea levels (again, we have empirically observed this happening at rates consistent with our understanding of the mechanism). From there it's just math to figure out how much coastal land will be inundated over the coming century (which is just one of many implications of climate change).

You are suggesting various ways in which that might not happen, with no evidence supporting them, from the perspective of someone who doesn't have much of an understanding of climate science. Do you think it is more likely that you have outsmarted 97% of climate scientists, or that the experts are more likely to know what they're talking about than you are?


Strategy tip: Don't tell him to know his place and listen to the enlightened; send him the next set of links that will satisfy and maybe further stimulate his curiosity.

Without those links, your last paragraph is really a statement about your own approach to the problem, with a little condescension thrown in for his failure to follow the same pattern. It's counterproductive to your own goal of persuasion.

In any scientific endeavor (not just climate change), when a skeptic takes the time to engage, the response should be data, not appeal to authority.

Put differently, environmental scientists have a credibility gap in some segments of the populace, and it isn't possible to fix any credibility gap through peer pressure. You can only offer evidence, tailored where possible to the listener's level of interest and sophistication.


This is probably the best advice I have ever seen on this topic.


the IPCC models have done a good job of predicting that over the past couple decades

That's not my understanding. We had a warming "pause" from 2000 to 2010 (approximately). That was certainly not predicted.

Then scientists went back to look for an explanation of the "pause". Ocean temperature data was then incoporated, other data adjusted and the "pause" was no more.

I would characterize the climate modelling as constantly evolving. We don't have it nailed yet.


Yes, it's not settled. I suspect that the huge ramp up in SOx and particulate emissions from China played an important role. And now that China is cleaning up, reducing dependence on coal, and exporting less, the rate of global temperature increase will keep increasing.


The total energy trapped in the system was accurately predicted. The amount of heat trapped in the ocean was not so accurately predicted. The part that matters was pretty spot on.

Even more importantly, the net effects (sea level rise, etc) were well within the predicted range.


My understanding is that there is still a lot of disagreement about the adjusted data and whether it truly explains the pause.


I'm not arguing about higher sea level, temperatures, or CO2 levels. I fully believe that all of these are going up.

I think it's unrealistic to believe we can get the whole planet to reduce CO2 emission, so we should stop spending so much effort on it and find other solutions.

I also doubt how much rising sea level will actually hurt humanity. Even in the worst case scenario were talking about an inch or two a year. This is slow enough to easily build a wall, dredge to raise up land, or move buildings away from rising waters. Besides, who puts buildings five feet above the water? The vast majority of buildings would just flood more often. It's not like buildings on the coast don't already get hit by cyclones.


> I think it's unrealistic to believe we can get the whole planet to reduce CO2 emission

Why?

The problem with fossil fuels - especially coal, isn't "just CO2", it's all the ash that is killing people.

The problems with oil extraction isn't just the CO2 at the end, it's all the crude and junk stuff going (bunker oil), and the political power of the oil lobby, and how dictatorships are financed by these resources.

Sure, these are the factors that make it hard to change, even "locally", within the US.

> cyclones

Yes, and just estimate the cost of a lot more cyclones. It turns out to be a lot more than switching to non-fossil stuff. And that's why a lot of people think that it's not rational to try to continue the consumption of fossil fuels (in a way that leads to CO2 emissions).


A more realistic analogy would be if the engineer said it's very likely that the California coast will be hit with an earthquake sometime in the next 100 years, but we have no idea when, which city, or how severe it will be. The safe thing to do would be to stop building things there altogether, but we could also try raising taxes and adding building regulations, making it impossibly expensive to live and work there. Surely that will stop people from building and moving there. 97% of engineers agree that earthquakes can be troubling.


Someone replied to me and deleted it, and I don't want to waste the time I spent writing a response, so here it is:

No, that wasn't my claim. If I have a claim, it's that, instead of simply moving away, people keep building up an active seismic fault that's likely to suffer a catastrophic earthquake in the near future. Even high taxes (some of which funded the policy piece you cited) and massively increased costs of construction (such as proposed in the policy piece you cited) aren't incentive enough to stop.

This aspect of human behavior is worth remembering when someone suggests similar "incentives" to address climate change. It's trying to incentivize the same mindset that would rather build cities out of springs and pendulums than move to stable land.

We should face the reality that humans will eventually deal with the negative side of climate change using (not so?) metaphorical springs, levers, stilts, and who-knows-what, and it will be okay.

I don't click Forbes links, but from the URL it looks like it's about a hoax bill that was proposed for PR purposes. Not interested.


I have to admire the audacity of people arguing "The Earth has been hotter several million years ago," as if that's relevant at all.

If a storm cuts off gas, electricity, water, internet, and paved road access to these people, and the government says "What's the problem? People have been living without them for most of history!", these same people would cry bloody murder (as anybody else would).


In the 2016 election cycle, the libertarian candidate Gary Johnson gave a great answer to an interview question.

Someone asked him about climate change, and his reply was (quoting from memory, so forgive me if I get the wording slightly off): "As I understand it, in 11 billion years, the sun will expand and swallow the earth, making the issue of climate change moot."

Well, that's great because it's both true and absolutely nonsensical. And it's a great way to do absolutely nothing, policy-wise, for any problem. "What about police violence?" "As I understand it, in 11 billion years..." "What's your position on the student loan debt crisis?" "As I understand it, in 11 billion years..."


> I ask whats going to happen when the building gets hotter quickly and get 10 different answers.

You're right, and this is a common problem when you're in a leadership role. The information is imperfect. If this weren't true we wouldn't need leaders, we'd be omniscient. Often, reasonable people could disagree about the best course of action. The trick is to have vision, judgement, and a willingness to take risks and decisive action with good transparency.

> I sit back and wonder why I should worry about this...

You're in good company. Most of our leadership has been taking the same strategy.


I think the problem is it's bad for humans on Earth, not that it's bad for life on Earth in the long run. For sure if all humans died off, all non-human life would be much better off.


This is not an apt analogy.

> I ask whats going to happen when the building gets hotter quickly and get 10 different answers.

It shouldn't be surprising that there isn't one clear answer. Earth is a complex system, and it is changing in many ways right now.

> I ask if it's actually even bad that the building is getting hotter quickly and everyone says "Of course it is! It's never heated up this fast before!"

The pace of global warming is indeed a problem, as organisms cannot migrate or adapt fast enough. Forest ecosystems, for example, may not be able to migrate to cooler latitudes or elevations. [1]

> I also wonder why none of the engineers suggested opening the windows instead of producing less heat.

Not an option. Except for the sunlight streaming in, our planet is a closed system. A spaceship[2] may be a better analogy.

[1] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/09/130915-clima... [2] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaceship_Earth


> Not an option.

Actually, it is an option. Either we can take CO2 out of the atmosphere and put it back underground where it came from; or we could start doing climate engineering to increase the reflectivity of Earth (less sunlight in), using water vapor clouds at low altitude or aerosols at high altitude; or we could put up a big shade in space between us and the sun.

Are those expensive and difficult things? Definitely. But all of them are possible.


I guess I was thinking more literally: the Earth does not have large windows we can use to exchange air with the outside environment. Carbon sequestration doesn't remove CO2 from our "spaceship," though it may help.


Why would you want to completely remove CO2 from the earth and not sequester it? There is a bunch of useful carbon and oxygen in it that you can at least leave for future humans to use if its sequestered.


If only you would invest the same effort in trying to understand the arguments presented to you as you do in constructing shallow refutations thereof. I call bullshit.


Maybe scientists who spend their entire lives studying this stuff know more about it you. Maybe you should listen to them.

Maybe they aren't exact with their knowledge. Maybe even it'll be more out of control than even they are able to forecast.

What then?


You mean like the scientists and doctors who for DECADES claimed a diet low in fat was "heart healthy" and diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol would lead to heart disease, only for that to be rescinded in the last few years?


There are interesting parallels between oil companies meddling in climate science and certain food industries (particularly soda companies) doing the same thing in nutrition science.


I'd recommend you need to review the rules of HN. Would save you from downvotes!


Those structural engineers benefit from the millions of repeatable experiments in engineering over the past few centuries. It is an extremely well understood subject. Climate science, by comparison, has no repeatable experiments on the scale of a planetary atmosphere and is in its infancy. No-one knows with certainty the impact of 400ppm vs 410ppm so they have to rely on speculative models, so it's right to treat climate science as less reliable than structural engineering.


While it's undeniable that structural engineering has been around longer than climate science, scepticism should be based on performance, not simply the age of the field. The mainstream (IPCC) models have quite accurately forecasted global temperatures and sea levels over the past couple decades.

While climate science is a constant exercise in refinement (as all science should be), it's not a bunch of wild-ass guesses.

I don't know of anyone who claims there is anything specifically meaningful about 400 vs 410pmm, it is simply a new record.


Let's say you leased an apartment in a large building, and after an inspection, numerous structural engineers said the building was in danger of collapse. Would you say "I don't know much about engineering, but I'm skeptical it's that bad", or would you demand the building management take steps to correct the issues?

I like this analogy because it highlights the wrongheadedness of climate change denial. There is a key difference, however: to get the dangerous apartment building fixed involves a reasonable number of people and a reasonable amount of money, no matter how big or how unsound the building is.

Stopping -- let alone reversing -- climate change is orders of magnitude more difficult than that. It involves the coordination of billions of people in a task that goes against their short-term, individual interest. This is very hard to do [0].

[0] https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/02/22/repost-the-non-liberta...


> Stopping -- let alone reversing -- climate change is orders of magnitude more difficult than that. It involves the coordination of billions of people in a task that goes against their short-term, individual interest.

It is also extremely dangerous. Most folks engaging in the climate change debate are implicitly doing a cost-benefit analysis of action vs non-action (action implying governmental action). Non-action may involve rising temperatures and extreme weather. Or perhaps extreme whether has nothing to do with carbon emissions - consensus doesn't yet exist on that point. Or clean energy innovation like solar will become more cost effective and the problem will solve itself. Action on curbing emissions - e.g. carbon tax - could mitigate the problem. Or perhaps climate change inertia is too strong for anything less than complete ban of CO2 emissions to make any sort of dent. And instead something like a carbon tax could, for example, 1) slow down economies in developed nations, which means 2) lower purchasing power for people in those countries, leading to 3) fewer imports from developing countries, which further leads to 4) lower standard of living for folks in developing countries, including people starving to death.

So "climate change denial" is a strawman. Skepticism is not a monolith. These are complex issues.


I really wish that "climate change denial" were a strawman -- that everyone accepted the basic mechanisms and effects of AGW and just argued over the best policy responses. Kind of like how American politicians all agree that North Korea has nuclear weapons and just differ in their policy responses. There's some of that in the political debate around AGW -- some people might e.g. promote nuclear power while others favor renewables and yet others favor technology-neutral and revenue-neutral carbon taxes. But there is a large minority who assert that the whole problem is a hoax, and that scientists can't even prove North Korea (AGW) exists in the first place. Some of those people are in high government positions.


NK having or not having nuclear weapons is a binary choice.

AGW is multivariate. If temperature is rising, how much do we expect it to continue rising? If rising temperatures are due at least in part to CO2 emissions, then to what degree? How do we choose between the various complex climate models (indeed part of the reason we were so ill-prepared for Hurricane Katrina was that nobody considered the model that predicted the trajectory it ended up taking)? Are rising temperatures invariably bad? What if higher temperatures and CO2 increase forestation? Or maybe it increases biodiversity of harmful things, like diseases? Or maybe it decreases those things? Do CO2 emissions affect weather patterns? How so? Do we get more hurricanes? Do emissions affect water availability? How about acid rain? etc.


In the context of "Is AGW happening", your argument is not an honest argument, but an attempt to ask a thousand questions and try to drown the argument in the perception of uncertainty. In other words, FUD.

But let me try to answer them as best as I can.

> If temperature is rising, how much do we expect it to continue rising?

It will keep rising as long as we keep generating CO2.

> If rising temperatures are due at least in part to CO2 emissions, then to what degree?

Stop the "if", "at least", and "in part". Rising temperatures are due to man-made CO2, period. Other causes are rounding errors.

> How do we choose between the various complex climate models (indeed part of the reason we were so ill-prepared for Hurricane Katrina was that nobody considered the model that predicted the trajectory it ended up taking)?

You mean those that say the sea level would rise 50 cm, 1 m, and 2.5 m?

You don't have to know future trajectory of hurricanes in order to build a hotel in Miami. You just assume that a hurricane will hit it at some point in the future and plan for it.

> Are rising temperatures invariably bad?

Non sequitur. Of course it's not invariably bad. Some people made a fortune with the dot-com bubble, 2008 housing crisis, invasion on Iraq, you name it. The Earth has 7 billion people: basically no disaster will be invariably bad for all of them.

> What if higher temperatures and CO2 increase forestation?

...and?

> Or maybe it increases biodiversity of harmful things, like diseases?

Tropical diseases will most likely spread further, so yes.

> Or maybe it decreases those things?

I can't see how, but if that happens, well good. There must be at least a few positive effects of climate change. (E.g., the opening of the arctic shipping route.)

> Do CO2 emissions affect weather patterns?

Well sure.

> How so?

We're still figuring this out, I'm afraid.

> Do we get more hurricanes?

Probably.

> Do emissions affect water availability?

Yes. Google "receding glaciers".

> How about acid rain?

...how about acid rain what?

I'm surprised that you think "NK having or not having nuclear weapons" is a binary choice, after all. Does it have uranium or plutonium? How much? Is it reliable? Where can it be delivered? Would China back up NK or not? Is it invariably bad? What if it acts as a deterrent against regional war? Does it affect economy of North or South Korea? Does it affect the politics of South Korea? Will we get more military conflict or less? What about Japan?


You're arguing with a libertarian troll. Nothing good will come of it.

Regulation is bad, taxation is theft, no government is good is all you're going to get from him.


It's not a strawman. There are a frightening number of people who believe the issue is not at all complex, and that the whole thing is a lie made up by their political opponents.

If you can believe his words (doubtful), the current President of the US is one of these.


"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

-- ISAAC ASIMOV


While this is certainly true, it's unfortunate that we can't even have a productive conversation about this issue because we're apparently still stuck on disagreement over scientific consensus.


Not quite the same. Climate scientists are notoriously bad at predicting consequences of climate change - kind of like how meteorologists are often bad at predicting the weather.

Why is it okay to be skeptical of what meteorologists are predicting, but not okay to be skeptical of what climate scientists are predicting?

It's one thing to be skeptical of sciences that have stood the test of time like civil engineering and quite another to be skeptical of climate science, whose models are being updated annually in response to the discovery of new variables.

Note: I am not saying we should be climate change deniers, only that we should not blindly accept apocalyptic predictions as the gospel truth of what is going to happen to the planet if we fail to mitigate CO2.


> Why is it okay to be skeptical of what meteorologists are predicting, but not okay to be skeptical of what climate scientists are predicting?

Because you can predict that a slot machine will be a net profit maker for a casino without being able to predict the result of the next pull of the lever.

Of course climate models are continually updated as technology and data improves (as are the models used in structural engineering). That is how science works. Historically, though, the mainstream (IPCC) models have actually performed quite well.

https://skepticalscience.com/climate-models.htm


Why is there still a pop culture cliche of weathermen being terrible at their job?

Precipitation forecasts are usually accurate several days out and temperature forecasts are good a week or two out, in my experience. If I want to know if it's going to rain on Saturday I check the weather on Thursday and it's usually right. When there's a big storm comin', a local meteorologist does rolling updates with the latest data and it usually gives a consistent but evolving picture that matches up with what actually happens.

Are people disappointed by this? What are you wanting out of your weathermen that you're not getting?

I know the weatherman used to be a joke, back before satellites and computers, but I swear the cliche only survives as part of climate change denialism.


Yes they're usually right about whether it's going to rain or not, but often they're completely wrong about how much it's going to rain. They can tell you whether tomorrow will be warmer or colder than today, but the exact temperature still eludes them. Since the whole climate debate is about a matter of degrees, it's natural to be skeptical.


I'm also pretty satisfied with the forecasts on those numbers as well, within the bounds of what is reasonable to forecast. During big events, snowstorms and hurricanes, the local meteorologist will break the area I'm in into ~7 regions and give guidance like 'zones 5-7 will get 3-6" of snow, zones 1&2 12-18"' or '3-4 inches of rain north of 84'.


That's akin to demanding that all engineers accurately predict which piece of the roof will collapse first, where the pieces will hit the floor, how many pieces it will break up into and on which date.

The overwhelming consensus of experts is that its going to have an enormous impact. It's still worth studying when, how and where its effects will materialize first but that does not excuse inaction.


> The overwhelming consensus of experts is that its going to have an enormous impact.

How soon? Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" predicted apocalyptic consequences in as few as 10 years. 10 years later and it turns out the documentary had tons of erroneous assumptions. Oops.

> That's akin to demanding that all engineers accurately predict which piece of the roof will collapse first, where the pieces will hit the floor, how many pieces it will break up into and on which date.

If your model has poor predictive power, it's not a complete model. Engineers can accurately predict lots of things using standard models - for example whether a building will be able to withstand shear wind forces. Climate science cannot predict anything except "it will be disastrous with apocalyptic proportions at some non-deterministic point in the future" How is that a useful prediction beyond generating hype?


>How soon?

In a couple of lifetimes, which is still too soon, as reversing the trend will likely take far more effort. For a graphic description of how far we're venturing out of what we're used to as a species, see https://xkcd.com/1732/

> If your model has poor predictive power, it's not a complete model - for example whether a building will be able to withstand shear wind forces.

To continue with the analogy, we know the building can't withstand shear wind forces. We just don't know exactly how and where the pieces will land.


Well, here's my prediction: climate change is real, but 100 years from now it won't turn out to be as apocalyptic as the experts claimed it will be. People will start reducing waste once they start seeing real consequences and technological solutions will emerge as exponentially more people start thinking about the problem each year.

In the meantime, other factors will contribute to our downfall much faster than climate change ever could such as increasing societal divisiveness over politics, decline in nuclear families as the basic societal unit, selfishness, and abandonment of religion.


> Well, here's my prediction: climate change is real, but 100 years from now it won't turn out to be as apocalyptic as the experts claimed it will be.

What evidence are you basing that on?


Mostly intuition. I don't buy into hype as quickly as others because I've seen the scientific community in various diverse fields go through the hype cycle many times over many decades.

A new problem is discovered (i.e. the earth can't sustain the current birth rate forever). The problem is hyped up[1] in an effort to find a solution (abortions -> Zero Population Growth[2]). Many in the science community buy into the hype, crunch numbers, and make dire predictions. Public policies in the 70s change in response to this evidence. ZP deniers are shamed for having large families and rejecting scientific consensus. Decades pass and the predictions don't happen. People start examining the evidence with more scrutiny and with observed data in hand retroactively debunk a lot of the assumptions made. The hype dies and everyone forgets it ever happened. So I'm sorry if I don't instantly drop everything to make the hype of the day my top priority, but a lot of hyped problems don't last more than a few decades. If climate change is still being seriously discussed in 2036 (30 years after "An Inconvenient Truth" was published) maybe I'll take it a little more seriously.

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

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


Climate predictions made in 1989 versus today:

https://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v7/n 3/full/nclimate3224.html?WT.feed_name=subjects_climate-sciences

Climate models are actually better than meteorological models, but they predict things decades out.


[flagged]


I didn't equate them.

The analogy is that weather is extremely complicated, so much so that meteorologists struggle to predict what will happen in the next 12 hours. If climate is an order of magnitude more complicated than weather, why should the predictions suddenly be much more accurate? My local meteorologists get the prediction right maybe 70% of the time. You're telling me the apocalyptic climate predictions approach 100% accuracy and that I have no room for skepticism?


> If climate is an order of magnitude more complicated than weather, why should the predictions suddenly be much more accurate?

For the same reason a doctor can't predict if an individual patient will have a heart attack, but a public health researcher can accurately predict the overall rate of heart attacks in a population.

Forecasting weather is trying to predict a single event. That is by definition harder than predicting a trend of averages.


You are right. What if the scientists have not predicted the full effects of too much CO2 in the atmosphere? Ever consider that one?


Do they seem dodgy when you prod with questions? What are the engineers' motivations? Maybe they're exaggerating the threat to cover their ass?

(That's just an example for your example. I don't have an issue with structural engineers or anything.)


I take his point about predictions not factoring in any sort of human mitigation, though. It's pretty obvious to me that inventing ways to fight or even reverse global warming (basically, geoengineering) is going to become the defining scientific and industrial challenge of our (grand-)childrens' era. Think solid-state electronics or genomics but on an entirely larger, more urgent scale. Pretty much the only thing keeping me hopeful these days is that we've scarcely even begun to really try and combat this problem.


Mitigation isn't a big technological challenge per se. The big showstopper is the fear of the unknown unknowns; the remote possibility that despite our careful science and engineering, the cure ends up being worse than the disease. Because we only have one shot, and no "undo" button, large scale geoengineering will be put off for as long as possible.


Someone else in the thread mentioned releasing sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere to cause global cooling.

To me, the notion of getting the entire planet to reduce their CO2 production is laughable. People are still sold as slaves and dying of starvation in some parts of the world.

If global warming becomes a threat to humanity the only realistic solution is technological. It sounds like we already have the tech needed to cool the Earth as much as we want but we're still making a ton of noise about the impossible mission of controlling global carbon emissions.


So because someone simply mentioned using a single chemical to cool the atmosphere, you assume that it would work and that it would work at a large enough scale to fix everything? That sounds like a textbook case of believing everything you hear.


It's well known that large volcanic eruptions have caused global cooling for a few years that's severe enough to lower the temperature of earths surface several degrees.

I don't think anyone can deny that it's possible to cool the Earth by putting stuff in the upper atmosphere because we've already seen it happen during recorded history.


The Tambora phenomenon is well documented. But that does nothing to solve other problems like e.g. ocean acidification, and potentially causes many problems of its own. It's a really complex system and we need to spend way more time and money understanding it than we currently are.


Sulphur dioxide causes acid rains. This used to be a huge problem in Europe even, and stopping the burning of coal in Germany has more or less solved it. I wouldn't be so eager to release SO2 in the atmosphere.


We need to start mitigation research now, not pass it along to our children's generation. The reason for today's urgency in addressing global warming is that previous generations kicked the can down the road to us.


Respectfully, do you know more about climate science than shouldbworking?


Did I claim that anywhere?


Did I claim that you did?


Increasing CO2 does not necessarily result in more plants. The feedback cycles are complex and there are other limiting factors.

Imagine, for example, if the oxygen concentration was increasing instead. Would you expect humans to multiply faster and reach a new equilibrium because of it?

Concentrations have indeed been much higher in the deep past. The concern isn't destroying all life, it's damaging or destroying civilization.

There are theoretical techniques for blocking solar heat. It remains to be seen how effective or practical they would be in the real world. There is a lot of potential for unintended consequences.


Most plants use the C3 fixation cycle and are relatively CO2 limited. Maize uses the more efficient C4 fixation cycle.


Most plants are nitrogen limited not CO2 limited.


this is interesting- where can I read more?



I read that the era of nuclear testing noticably decreased surface temperatures for some time. If we can't figure anything else out we could probably settle for blowing up a bunch of cleanish lead wrapped nukes out in the ocean every couple months? It sounds terrible but if done right it would have little impact to life on earth


"The view that some scientists have that we need to manipulate the planet in order to fix it is another one that bothers me. We need to be wary of false solutions like geoengineering. I’ve just read a paper that outlines plans to pump cold water into the Arctic to try and refreeze the ice-cap. It’s totally mad! This old style of thinking believes the Earth operates like a machine, but that’s not how natural systems operate."

10 Things You’ve Always Wanted to Ask an Environmental Scientist -- https://medium.com/greenpeace/10-things-youve-always-wanted-...


Not researching geoengineering is at least as dangerous as attempting it. Geoengineering is definitely going to be attempted--nay, ordered--long before Manhattan, Mumbai, Shanghai, etc. are under a foot of water. Whatever we've managed to figure out, no matter how stupid a solution it might be, is what's going to get tossed at this problem by the same ignorant politicians that got us into this mess. So we might as well make it a good one.


That seems unlikely. Nukes are pretty small on the scale of the earth. Things like plutonium concentration went up significantly because the natural level is so low, but I doubt they did much for aerosols.

A clean nuke detonated over the ocean would do nothing. The whole point would be to produce vast amounts of dust i.e. be dirty.


These geoengineering ideas sound more dangerous every time I read them... At some point, if it hasn't happened already, this is going to become a dangerous cult that threatens our species.

You really believe this? We should blow up nuclear bombs in the ocean every few months to avoid a possible temperature rise an order of magnitude smaller than experienced during the yearly cycle.


The era of nuclear testing did significantly increase the amount of background radiation in the world. There is not a form of above-ground nuclear explosion that will not have worldwide environmental impacts.


Life on Earth will be fine. The problem is the survival of our own species. It heavily relied in ~15,000 years of stable climate to flourish, and we're cutting that stability short.


"Fine" in the sense that life survived the previous extinction events too. In the sense that Europe was "fine" after the world wars.


It's not a foregone conclusion that a stable climate is more conductive to a flourishing society than a challenging one.

Northern Europe, Japan and North America are roughly the most developed areas on Earth. They also have some of the most natural disasters and harshest weather.


Two of these three have low dense population. And harsh weather in those areas are not indicative of how tough will climate change be. After all, it has been about as harsh since humans inhabited those. But climate may get worse all over the world. A lot of people will have to migrate from coastal cities, both rich and poor.


One thing I thought about a while back related to this. Predictions show that increased energy in the atmosphere results in stronger storms. Storms are not preserved in the historical record, so how bad will they be? The relationships between temperature and energy tend to be supralinear...

Has anyone looked at common species from warm earth periods to predict storm severity? I remember reading that palm-like trees used to be the dominant type. These trees still are in island areas mostly because they are extremely resistant to storms. They have few leaves and thick trunks.

Are we setting ourselves up for a future where average wind speeds are 5x higher and hurricane-like storms devastate the landscape every year or so?


Possibly. The problem is, we don't really know and it's a very dangerous experiment to figure out (by doing nothing and waiting). We at least know that if the ice keeps melting, the pace will only accelerate because it releases trapped CO2 and the change will be much faster.


Sure, CO2 levels and temperature were a lot higher, 50 million years ago. But the problem for people is that global climate change will mess with stuff that we depend on. Such as the existence of major port cities. And growing food. And more generally, other species can't adapt as fast as our culture could. So we're looking at a major mass extinction. Which we'll also need to deal with, to the extent that we depend on disappearing species.

And sure, we could inject sulfur oxides into the stratosphere. That would create haze that would reflect sunlight. And it wouldn't wash out very quickly. There would still be some acid precipitation impacts, but probably not as bad as we saw in the 60s. However, that would be a huge endeavor, and would take considerable energy.


So far the biggest effect of higher CO2 levels seems to be increased foilage and crop yields http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/grl.50563/abstrac...

I don't see how this would be expected to reverse when concentrations continue to rise


That's an effect of increased CO2, sure. But it's not going to be very helpful if your farmland becomes a desert.


> won't plants multiply and grow faster until we eventually hit a new equilibrium CO2 level?

As I understand it, we increase production much faster than plants can increase consumption, since plants need other things to grow that we aren't pumping into the biosphere in ever-increasing amounts.


CO2 impacts more than plants. For example "Rising CO2 levels reduce protein in crucial pollen source for bees"

https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2016/Q2/rising-co2-...


There's also ocean acidification.

http://ocean.si.edu/ocean-acidification


Please have a look at the following (copied from a recent comment of mine):

Most recent study of methane flux/storage in the ESAS:

http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/373/2052/2014...

Arctic temperatures are estimated to rise 1.9x compared to global average:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2005GL025244/full

During HCO the arctic is estimated to have been 4-6C warmer than baseline (yearly average):

https://epic.awi.de/38441/1/Beierlein_2015_Holocene_page1.pd...

That's not all that much. We're now already at 400ppm CO2, and recent unmitigated projections to 2100 (538ppm) simulate an arctic yearly average of ~ plus 8C:

http://climatenewsnetwork.net/arctic-is-set-to-reach-13c-by-...

So, are you willing to play the russian roulette game with the arctic methane? The PETM boundary showed a global average warming of 5C, mostly from arctic methane at a time where there wasn't even a large ice shelf, so with significantly lower capacity:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleocene–Eocene_Thermal_Maxim...

That would be in addition to the CO2 induced warming, mind you. That should make it quite easy to see how we're likely triggering a rapid warming to +8C (global average) or above. Rapid means it could come within a single decade since methane is that potent.

At that point, vast amounts of land on earth becomes uninhabitable from the heat aspect alone, never mind food production - you'll have mass migrations that top anything human history has ever seen. I suggest reading up on history as well, especially the late bronze age collapse which seems very interesting in its modern relevance.


Not an expert on climate either, but I own an aquarium so have a decent experience with artificially high CO2 levels. It's a common trick to inject pressurised CO2 to aquarium to speed up growth in planted freshwater aquariums. It works great for plants, but only if you provide them sufficient levels of other two necessary components: light and nutrients. If either of those is lacking plants will actually suffer, become unhealthy or algae will take over. Nature is all about balance, so you better increase all variables or not touch anything. Increasing just one almost always generates instability which can easily cascade into a disaster for farmers and the whole ecosystem. And it's such a dynamic system with so many variables in play that it's impossible to account for all possible side-effects this can create.


>I'm just skeptical that the rising CO2 level is as dangerous as it's made out to be.

You are not alone,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gDErDwXqhc


Liebig's Law of the Minimum describes why you can't count on plant growth to save us.

Any given plant's growth is constrained by something. Might be sunlight, water, phosphorous, nitrogen, or potassium. The last 3 are of course the main ingredients in fertilizers.

If a plant needs phosphorous to speed its growth, adding nitrogen won't help. And vise versa. What ever the Liebig Minimum, that's what you have to add to increase the growth, and you have to add enough of it for another factor to become the Liebig minimum.

Very few plants out there are CO2-constrained.


The current level of atmospheric CO2 is not unprecedented, but the current rate of change of atmospheric CO2 is. Couple that with massive ecological decimation and biodiversity due to human habitation and it is clear that our current predicament is geologically unprecedented.


I don't think we have the resolution from the ages of 4000ppm to determine if the rate of CO2 change was comparable to now.

If you have any links to sources that show otherwise, that would be appreciated.


Plants won't help us, just as cows are not making the problem worse.

It doesn't matter how much plants and algea grow, when they die, they send the carbon back into the atmosphere and ocean. We have to sequestrate the carbon and totally remove it from the ecosystem.

Sequestration is what took millions of years, when major events buried large swabs of living matter in the ground "forever".


On a species level we'll probably survive it, but that doesn't mean it won't be disastrous at the individual level. Suppose, for example, that a natural disaster reduces the human population by 50$ over a few decades. Humanity survives, but the deaths of 3-4 billion people would be pretty awful.


Over the next few decades, over 4 billion people will certainly die, regardless of global warming. Whatever kills them, death isn't usually pleasant.

I don't see why death from climate change is worse than death by any other means.

Maybe you mean that we should minimise the number of deaths, which implies our ideal global population isn't much less than the current level. That's debatable.


I made it clear that I was considering a catastrophic population decline. Nitpicky arguments about death never being pleasant seem like an elaborate way to avoid addressing that and I don't know why you would bother.


That was not my point; I thought it was your point. You said people will die and that would be awful, not the decline in population.

I highly doubt the population will decline by so much, but there is nothing inherently bad about it. Even one billion people is plenty for a healthy global society.


Reducing the human population by 50% will undoubtedly reduce our CO2 output by 50% as well. It does speak to one possibility of how equilibrium could be restored. A rather drastic solution to the problem, and one which most would hope to avoid.


>On a species level we'll probably survive it

This is an arrogant assumption. Another assumption, one I find more realistic, is that we're driving full-speed towards the cliff.


If a cautiously qualified probabilistic statement is your idea of arrogance then you might want to adjust your disapproval thresholds. I've been making pro-environment arguments since the 1980s and I don't care to be lectured to about some imaginary complacency that I don't actually feel, thank you.

I'm really quite annoyed by your comment because I've already been through years of climate deniers telling me how 'arrogant' I am ot think humans could change the climate/derail God's plan/whatever, so I don't need pro-environment people calling me arrogant for a cautious assertion lifted out of its context, where I went on to talk about the likelihood of disastrous outcomes in the same sentence.


If this is true then I presume you are devoting all your waking hours to preventing it?


I'm sure somebody else will take care of it.


Even if the effect is negligible on CO2 levels (as I suspect it would be), I too am curious how much extra plant, algae, etc proliferation we should expect for each 10 ppm increase in CO2.


Not all plants are on land. Algae blooms are becoming a huge problem for a few reasons and increasing CO_2 is one of them.


erratic and extreme weather patterns is going to be catastrophic for all plant life. we're fucked if we don't do something about this.


An error in the third paragraph, which states:

It stood at 280 ppm when record keeping began at Mauna Loa in 1958.

CO2 was 280 ppm at the beginning of the industrial revolution.

"The first monthly average carbon dioxide reading at Mauna Loa was 315.7 parts per million (ppm) in March 1958." [0]

[0] https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/2015/06/02/am...


There is an aspect that is perhaps not very well communicated.

Higher the environmental CO2 level, more of it you need to dilute the air in the confined environment (i.e. buildings) to the desired level.

This means that you have to move more air that will require more energy directly but also indirectly through higher heating/cooling need.

It will also decrease the comfort due to more tangible airflow.


I'm interested by your comment, but I can't figure out what you are intending to say. Why do you need to dilute CO2?


Mostly because you do not want to die into CO2 poisoning when inside. :)

Every building has some designed air change rate with the outside that will keep its habitants alive and comfortable. This can happen through so called natural ventilation or through controlled ventilation.

As far I know, the common standard for the commercial buildings is 800 ppm (parts per million (1)) CO2 in the air. It is assumed that this level of CO2 would on average provide environment where people do not loose their productivity due to the air quality.

This is what I mean by diluting - part of the CO2 rich air inside is replaced with the less CO2 rich air from the outside.

Because habitants are producing CO2 with some rate, you have to replace the air with the rate that can keep up with this CO2 production rate.

If the air outside has higher levels of CO2 then more of the replacement air is needed and the replacement rate must be higher to keep the projected inside CO2 levels.

Replacing air faster will require more energy.

Disclaimer: I am not a ventilation engineer, I just got interested of this topic during the home renovation.

(1) Air contains about 21% of oxygen that is 210000 ppm of it. It follows that when the air feels "stuffy", it is not due to lack of oxygen but due to too much CO2 in it.


Interesting. What would the benefit be of complicating something as simple as ventilation.

However, 400000 to 410000 is a very small percentage incresse


in plain english (from article): "Right now we’re on track to create a climate unseen in 50 million years by mid-century."


The states hit hardest by climate change are the ones cheerleading the burning of more fossil fuels. It's utterly bizarre.


They've been told by well-funded industry groups and politicians that all their woes are due to excessive regulation.


I hear a lot of grief about the EPA in places where coal is winding down, and yet it's not the EPA that's killing coal, it's rampant fracking that's shifted the industry to a whole new method of energy extraction. If there was lots of natural gas in West Virginia I bet I wouldn't hear a peep of complaint about the EPA.

If we can't smack some sense into people we're doomed as a species.


It would be of value to overlay actual global temperatures over the graphs given in this document such as these..

https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Five_Myr_Climate_C...


How do we measure the average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, given all the disparity and local extremums?


The article describes an in situ (ground based) measurement, that is sample based.

You can get CO2 concentrations from satellite remote sensing, as well. Usually they use spectral analysis of CO2 emission/absorption lines in the infrared. This is a passive measurement, but active measurements with lasers are used in ground based and airborne measurements now.

These measurements are of CO2 within a given (vertical) column of air -- where the infrared light came from -- whereas the Mauna Loa measurement in TFA is localized to air moving past the sample station.

One starting place for CO2 data is: https://co2.jpl.nasa.gov

This summary of Los Angeles area ground based measurements hints at some of the complexities of integrating these different data sources: https://megacities.jpl.nasa.gov/portal/collection-network/ .

Other pages on that site indicate the extreme spatial and temporal variability of CO2 in an urban setting. That's why the comparatively pristine Mauna Loa site is so important.


This article cites a measurement from Mauna Loa Observatory.


Satellite I believe. CO2 absorbs certain bands in the infrared range. You can probably use optical spectrometry to measure relative concentration.


This post is intended for folks upset and concerned about the state of the climate, that are unsure about how to make an impact, but are very interested in doing something; it does not directly discuss the article (sorry dang.)

First off, I suggest you disregard politics and convincing your friends: Telling the ignorant masses to change their firmly held opinions and way of life is a waste of time. Do not delude yourself into thinking you'll get 5 billion poor folks (there are about that many) to not use coal power, or to not get gas scooters/cars. They will all do it - unless we provide a better alternatives. So your first action is to help make electric cars, solar power generation, and batteries as good as possible, and that means you go work hard as an engineer at one of these companies. Not an elec/mech/whatever engineer? Stop thinking so small; you have the internet, teach yourself enough to do a thesis level project and start applying. You can do this.

The second, more dire action is to help with Carbon Sequestration (taking carbon out of the atmosphere). What you need to do is replicate the Elon Musk model of directing the Human Colossus [0] towards Accelerated Silicate Weathering [1] - That is, crushing and spreading silicate minerals along all coastlines and wet tropical climates. There are two links; the first covers how Elon Musk uses commercially viable businesses to fund research and advanced engineering to create leverage. The second link covers the science behind accelerated weathering; The abstract is that the oceans naturally uptake carbon from the atmosphere by reacting C02 with cations in the water that come from dissolved silicate minerals. This uptake de-acidifies the oceans and produces food for ocean life; for us to collect all the carbon produced in the USA last year, we would need to crush about 60km^3 of silicate rock (which is in abundance) and spread it along coastlines.

To successful sequester enough carbon to save the ecosystem, this might one of the best options we have.

The way you go about this is you copy Elon's model and make a business crushing rock. Thus, you must make mining machines and get into the mining business. Take a software based approach and use electric vehicles if you can. Vertically integrate, hire more engineers, get more clients and build a lot of machines. I think that's a good starting point.

Anyways, I've thought a lot about this and if you are concerned then these are the two things you ought to focus on. Don't try and convince people! We need engineering solutions not talk.

[1]http://waitbutwhy.com/2017/04/neuralink.html [2]http://www.greensand.nl/content/user/1/files/rog20004.pdf


Show this to any conservative who claims that global warming has nothing to do with human activity. I guess it's just a giant coincidence that we live in the time of the highest CO2 concentration in millions of years? And the highest disappearance of species?


"Millions of years" is an eyeblink in the history of the earth. In fact, the CO2 level has been much higher than this level in the past (like, orders of magnitude higher). The earth was fine.

And no, this isn't the era of the "highest disappearance of species". Not even close.

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


Modding stuff down doesn't actually change the facts, you know.

CO2 levels:

http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/Carboniferous_climate.html

The sources are all linked from this site.

Note that the CO2 level in the Cambrian was around 7,000 ppm, or about 17 times the level that this article is having hysterics about. Note that even during the Jurassic (when there were plenty of large land animals and a flourishing ecosystem) the level was about 3,000 ppm (7 times higher than the articles "threshold"). I repeat: the Earth was fine.

2. Extinction. The Wikipedia article I linked has a chart showing the proportion of species that have gone extinct during previous mass extinction. Note that the currently touted "mass extinction" is just a tiny blip.


* A CO2 level of 7kppm is not compatible with human flourishing.

* Consensus is that the elevated CO2 levels of the Ordovician-Silurian and Jurassic-Cretaceous periods came on over tens or hundreds of thousands of years, not mere tens or hundreds. This gave life a chance to adapt.

* Previous mass extinctions have been caused by things like complete ocean ecosystem collapse and massive asteroid impacts. Despite the fact that most of our current loss of biodiversity is mostly related to our homogenization of our surroundings, and not primarily climate change, it is certainly noteworthy and a little horrifying that it's reached a scale that comparison is meaningful.

People talking about worrying about the Earth are just using synechdoche to refer to humanity as we know it. I wish everyone would quit painting a strawman over this. The Earth will obviously be fine; I don't think any reasonable person will argue this point. Humanity's future is somewhat less clear.


"A CO2 level of 7kppm is not compatible with human flourishing."

Yes, that's higher than we would like. It's also 17 times higher than the level the original article is freaking out about.

"Consensus is that the elevated CO2 levels of the Ordovician-Silurian and Jurassic-Cretaceous periods came on over tens or hundreds of thousands of years,"

Link to this "consensus"? Thanks.

"it is certainly noteworthy and a little horrifying that it's reached a scale that comparison is meaningful."

Anything can be "compared". Did you look at the chart in the Wikipedia article? The current extinction rate isn't even a blip.

"The Earth will obviously be fine; I don't think any reasonable person will argue this point."

Really? So I've just been imagining all the people who are worried about turning the Earth into Venus? I mean, I agree that these people are unreasonable, but there certainly are a lot of them.


Regardless of all this, it's pretty clear what's causing this currently buildup of CO2. So why deny that man's activity is a major factor?

As for "the earth will be fine": yes the planet will still be here, but will humans survive this? In the past, these changes were far more gradual, letting life adapt.

As for "not even close", please show me a period when the rate of extinction was higher: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropocene


1. Historical temperature changes were often quite abrupt and of greater magnitude than our current one.

2. Life is anti-fragile, so I think you're really underestimating humans and animals in general if you think a few degrees is something we can't handle.


I think you need to prove both these assertions. They are quite startling responses to "we have produced a quick rise to the most CO2 in millions of years" or "we have seriously damaged the biodiversity of large animals on this planet". It's as if someone said "we set the entire rainforest ablaze" and someone said "Relax! Nothing to worry about, this happened a few times naturally in the history of the Earth."

Can you at least admit that humans are behind this rise in CO2? I mean, it's not like wind and solar energy generation is going to kill the economy. So why is this even debated so much?


"The highest level in millions of years" is just rhetoric. The Earth is billions (with a b) years old.


"As for "not even close", please show me a period when the rate of extinction was higher"

I provided a link. Here, let me link directly to the graph:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Extinction_intensity.svg

The so-called "Anthropocene" is at the extreme right of that chart.

Note that the extinction rate has been colossally higher not just once, but many times in the past.

Next.


Just in time for earth day!




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