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Alaska’s Permafrost Is Thawing (nytimes.com)
209 points by DiabloD3 on Aug 25, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 139 comments

My understanding of the attempts to bring back the mammoth from extinction is partially driven to preserve tundra permafrost. The mammoth removes the insulating snow layer.. seems like there might be easier ways, but it might work...


News like this piques my existential dread over things like the "Clathrate gun hypothesis".

I really would not like to check if that hypothesis is true the hard way.

I think we can all agree that the conservative thing to do is carry on like we are and see if we destroy the planet.

We wouldn't want to waste our time and do something productive like encourage renewable forms of fuel would we? (via things like taxation which could account for the real external costs of fossil fuels). That would be ridiculous. Let's just keep using these things that will run out and are clearly bad for our environment. There's just no point to making the world a little better if it's going to hurt those oil and gas companies!

(sarcasm of course)

What should we do? What should I do? When I look through my window, nobody cares. I do waste sorting while none my neightbors care, what should I do? I don't throw waste on the street and nature while most of my compatriot don't care, what should I do? I try to use "clean" and expensive resources like eletric cars while "bad" resources are cheaper because my government keep promising to make taxes on these but don't do anything, what should I do?

Why should I waste my time trying to change the world, thinking about it when I'm just a randon civilian that have barely enough to donate to an ONG? Why should I waste my life for other people that don't care at all and enjoy theirs?

You collectively organize to make changes at a government level rather than a local one? That's why governments exist - You can't do anything mate. You must organize.

> Why should I waste my life for other people that don't care at all and enjoy theirs?

You are legit asking the question every single public servant has ever asked ever. How much do you actually care? If it's enough, then do something about it and get in government. If it's not, then so be it: you'll have to deal or try and elect politicians who show they actually recognize that our current methods are atrocious.

> my government keep promising to make taxes on these but don't do anything, what should I do?

Elect different politicians. If they can't get enough votes, try and convince people around you. If that doesn't work, run yourself.

I know this may sound condescending - not my intention at all. I've just had the same thought process and my only real conclusion was:

1.) I could be apathetic and not care. This is what most people do. This works fine - I can be happy. 2.) I can work my self to death to try and improve things. If it doesn't work, at least I know I tried. If it does work, then I have succeeded.

Just depends where your priorities are mate. Some people don't have option (2) at all. It's your call now.

Personally I think that governments have been irresponsible and shifted these policies onto the people because they're unpopular. No one wants to be the guy instituting a carbon tax because there's plenty of anti-carbon tax rhetoric out there ready to annihilate you. Something you can do right now is start getting rid of that rhetoric. Informing yourself so you can take on those arguments with people might be another option

The most efficient things you can do are 1) vote, 2) contact your elected representatives 3) donate money, say 3% of your income. These steps will have minimal impact on your personal quality of life compared to their impact on the world. Personal lifestyle changes like using an electric car are secondary - as you mention, it's better to change the incentives.

Re. vote, too often people forget (in the US) to vote in the primaries of the dominant political party in their area. Given how gerrymandering ensures that a given political party nearly always wins a given region, voting in the primary is your best option to vote out the crazies.

Read Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. It has a few high-impact suggestions that you or someone you know might be able to put into action.


That's never the preferred answer. That's the trivially achievable answer, given the sheer bloody-mindedness of the body politic, and the difficulty in really, truly convincing even a small portion of the population of existential risk when they haven't already lost family members to said risk. It is literally the least we can do, while still doing something.

The fact is, I can't fight global warming with my own actions. Collective actions are required, and they need to be fairly substantial sacrifices on the part of society. Coordination problems on a national/global scale are just not a thing we're good at solving without force of arms.

Enterprises that cost trillions of dollars are a thing we have the luxury of affording; All we would need to do is get supermajority agreement on the subject.

Nope, what you're forgetting is that most people are in no position to advocate for such extreme measures and have any chance of success. Politics is the art of the possible. Advocating for things that have some chance of happening makes sense.

I put this in another thread, but this study claims the last rapid warming phase 11000 years ago had nothing to do with frozen methane releases, and human caused methane releases now are probably underestimated, does not address the possibility of frozen methane releases causing warming phases millions of years ago. https://scripps.ucsd.edu/news/natural-methane-time-bomb-unli...

I've become convinced that decisive action will never be taken as long as it requires a decrease in the standard of living (that is, less energy use).

I am out of ideas for how to convince the world to drastically draw down our fossil fuel use. Everything has been tried.

It has become a cliche that our problems cannot be solved by technology alone, but this one really may be up to technology alone. Human nature is not going to change.

My stance is that if society has decided it's serious about CO2, it is necessary to put a whole lot more effort into next-gen nuclear than has been done so far. Even so, small companies like ThorCon, Terrestrial Energy and others are making good progress. The next step is a plan for a major, worldwide rollout of (mostly modular) nuclear reactors.

That avoids the issue of a possible decrease in the standard of living, and provides an affordable mechanism that doesn't involve coal for India, Indonesia and other countries that need to build out their electric grid.

Lots of good info here: http://thorconpower.com/news

Video from ThorCon CEO making his case: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4xjQWBw7i0&feature=youtu.be

One of the problems with thorium nuclear reactors is that they seem to be a perpetual "10 years" thing, and even with a huge increase in development funding we're probably 20+ years from viable commercial builds - and a lot further from getting a significant percentage of energy from them. By the time that can happen we're likely to see huge changes in renewables and even bigger changes in energy storage and usage efficiency.

Thorium may end up as a good viable option eventually, but I suspect that it'll probably never be more than a niche option for as long as most of us are likely to be alive.

Oh, and that 20 years? "Hi regulatory body, we'd like approval to build a brand new type of nuclear reactor in your state, close enough to a major population center for transmission losses to not be too high. What do we need to do to make that happen?"... And that's before you get to the billion+ of construction costs even if the new reactors only cost 10% of current designs.

Why wait for next gen nuclear?

I will eat my words if in a few days South Texas Nuclear generating station melts down (because its being hit by a category 4 hurricane as I type this).. But right now the technology we _HAVE_ is sufficiently safe.

But not sufficiently cheap, compared to alternatives.

Fossil fuels are cheaper than nuclear only if you treat the (huge) environmental effects as costing nothing.

Our nature can change at evolutionary time scales.

Our ability to 'do things' used to be so limited, but is now growing quickly.

The gap between our nature and our ability to change the environment around us is, I think, the root of many of our problems.

There's a great Documentary[1] about the recent mass Coral Reef bleaching too. Our leaders who do nothing about this and those of us who elect them are screwing up royally.

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6fHA9R2cKI

It will take focused, continual political will to invest some of our vast stores of capital in technologies that preserve our standard of living yet have a smaller carbon footprint. Elon Musk and co are proving that we can build luxury and eco-friendly at scale.

Entrenched, monied, existing political ties to fossil fuel and extraction industries still exert control. I'm not willing to take the position there's nothing we can do until we've fully shaken them off the backs of our political system.

Do you see the population clamoring to reduce fossil fuel use, only to be stymied by lobbyists? I don't. I don't see the people clamoring at all.

I agree completely that tech investment is a much easier political sell than reducing the standard of living.

Just because you don't see people doing it now doesn't make it impossible.

People passively use fossil fuels because they are the norm. It will take investment from both our government, from private industry, and from grassroots activists pressuring both to make the norm clean and sustainable.

Scientists, celebrities, activists, and politicians have been screaming at the public for decades about this. They have used logical and emotional appeals. They have appealed to data, to our common humanity, to our long-term prosperity, to our duty to our children. None of it has worked. What exactly do you propose?

The "norm" is whatever is cheapest. That is what we have to do: make renewables cheapest.

I think we're talking about the same things. I'm just trying to make the case for how we should make renewables cheaper. The existing non-renewable oil & gas norm historically depended upon heavy investments in infrastructure:

1. Interstate expressway system

2. Oil and gas pipelines

3. Fracking R&D

3. Direct tax subsidization of private refining and exploration.

We need that level of effort applied to renewables development.

It seems we already have a large chunk of the tech as well (nuclear, wind, solar, biomass etc), but still seem to stick with fossil fuels for reasons of convenience(?).

No, we stick with fossil fuels because they are cheaper (at the scale we need). More expensive energy -> less energy use -> lower standard of living.

This is what I was alluding to about technology. If we can make clean energy significantly cheaper to use at scale than fossil fuels, then the world will use it.

More realistically, we need to make it cheaper to build new renewables than to keep using existing fossil fuel sources.

Anything can be made to seem superficially 'cheap' if corruption is used to enforce subsidies on populations.

Fossil fuels are only 'cheaper' because governments have become irredeemably corrupted by fossil fuel interests, so none have to face public liabilities for the damage caused by their products. The apparent 'cheapness' is a consequence only of fraudulent accounting. This is a specific case of the more general 'Pollution Paradox', viz. "The more polluting a company is, the more money it must spend on politics to ensure it is not regulated out of existence" (George Monbiot).

No, fossil fuels really are cheaper than competing energy sources. No corruption needed!

You think they are cheaper when the actual physical consequences of CO2 emissions are priced in? No-one else does, including the fossil fuel companies. They haven't invested the vast sums they have into lobbying and science-interference out of charitable inclinations towards lobbyists, amateurish scientists and think-tank careerists.

> More expensive energy -> less energy use -> lower standard of living.

This makes 2 assumptions which I find to be false.

1) Any drop in the standard of living is bad. e.g. I don't need to be freezing in a store in the middle of summer.

2) Less energy use necessitates a drop in the standard of living. e.g. using energy more efficiently via lights and insulation.

1) I agree, but most of the population does not agree and will vote accordingly. This isn't about what's rational - taking a hit to our standard of living to stave off catastrophe is definitely rational. This is about what the masses will support and vote for.

2) Efficiency gains can help, but shaving off some excess here and there will not prevent a climate catastrophe. It will take drastically less fossil fuel use. I don't see that happening unless technology makes renewables cheaper than fossils. It's hard, but it's possible.

>No, we stick with fossil fuels because they are cheaper (at the scale we need). More expensive energy -> less energy use -> lower standard of living.

So why aren't we using nuclear?

People got afraid of it and replaced it with fossil fuels. Near term visible risk vs. long run invisible risk. Also, cost overruns and regulatory issues played a role I think.

We could conceivably swap out carbon for nuclear though. Just not carbon for [more expensive energy source]. People get antsy even when economic growth slows. A drop in the standard of living is political suicide.

I don't think we're very well psychologically equipped to deal with this.

That and the expense of initially building nuclear energy facilities. Even though it's cheaper once it's built, the initial capital cost can be daunting.

A large part of the capital costs is satisfying all the environmental studies and inevitable lawsuits. The core technology is pretty cheap (concrete and pumps).

Nuclear power is literally orders of magnitude cleaner/safer than anything else, and yet the fear mongering continues and the idealistic environmentalists are pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere with every NG turbine installed to backup the wind/solar plants. Just the other day I heard a talking head repeatedly referring to "the old dirty coal and nuke plants".

I think you're right. Assuming everything we think we know about carbon, methane, and global warming is true, we're sunk. And there's nothing we can do about it. The party's been great.

You cannot solve social problems with a technical approach.

You can sometimes solve social problems with a technical approach.

I wonder if an expert could chime in on why this land (and carbon) would not be taken up by larger, more developed plant life, such as larger shrubs or trees. It seems conditions would be ideal: fresh, bacteria rich soil, high CO_2 levels and plenty of water.

There was an article posted here two days ago [1], that states that

Some scientists, however, held out hope that there would be a key offsetting process: As the Arctic warms, it might also stow away more carbon as it becomes greener and supports the additional plant life, particularly in tundra regions. This “Arctic greening” is indeed occurring, but the new research suggests that the permafrost losses in early winter are more than enough to offset that.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15083989

This is a good question that is being actively investigated.

I think the idea is that the C stored in the permafrost has been accumulating for thousands of years, and yet could release in just 10s of years. So even if there is increased vegetation growth (which is predicted), there is unlikely to be enough rapid growth to offset the release of thousands of years of accumulated C.

Full disclosure: I actually work for a modeling group with the University of Alaska Fairbanks/Institute of Arctic Biology that is investigating these sorts of questions.

Are you also modelling outlier scenarios including mass planting (by hand or plane or drone or whatever) and if so.. do we have any hope?

Thank you for your answer. My reason to come back to HN is to read these kind of expert insights.

I'm not an expert, but my impression is that the problem with that is that these green house gasses are going from being long term sequestered to getting into the carbon cycle. When they get locked into plants, that's a very short term sequestration - when the plants die or are eaten, they decompose and the carbon goes right back into the atmosphere. Basically, plants aren't a great way to lower the average atmospheric CO2 levels.

Which begs the question, how do we do long term sequestration? Could we, for example, split CO2 into pure carbon and O2, and then bury the C as graphite (which I believe is not digestible to any organism)?

That´s sort of what´s already happening.


Part of it is a question of time scale. Increased greening is happening to some extent and will likely increase, but that's a response that will take hundreds or thousands (or more) of years for enough changes to matter, and the intervening time period may be very inhospitable to most life that we're concerned about.

In some ways it's almost like healing - if you're young(ish) and get severely burned, lingering scar tissue may be almost indistinguishable by the time you're 70 but that doesn't mean it has no effect on you in the years in between.

Extended periods of winter darkness maybe?

stuff grows huge in the summer though

I find it odd that all the reported consequences of global warming are negative. Why wouldn't a modest rise in temperature do some good in at least some ways? I suspect that that would not advance the demanded panic, and is therefore ignored.

As others stated the negative consequences most likely outweigh the benefits (by far). Just for those who want to enter their weekend joyfully here is a list of possible positive outcomes:

* Siberia and Alaska become huge new areas for plantations. * Siberia and Alaska become habitable, wonderful nature reserves with Mammoths roaming about. * Due to rising CO2 levels plants grow faster and bigger * Due to rising temperatures the earth gets much wetter[0] * If you are lucky you might even witness the re-greening of the Sahara (not predicted by most simulations though?) * improved access to minerals on the ocean bed * increased fishing near Arctic * ice-free shipping lanes.

To limit your euphoria: the situation is much more dire for the Oceans. Also the system gets more chaotic with consequences spelled out and unforeseen.

[0] A parcel of air that is near saturation may contain 28 grams of water per cubic meter of air at 30 °C, but only 8 grams of water per cubic meter of air at 8 °C.

The good aspects aren't ignored, they're just relatively small.

Rapid change creates problems even when the net difference is superficially zero. For example, if I knocked down your house, but built two better houses in the middle of Nunavut, you'd probably still be unhappy, and it would still cause problems for your life.

The environment is adapted to the current situation so any swift change is bad. There might be some scattered good things but as the assumptions that much of human infrastructure is built on changes then there are obviously going to be trillions more in damages than benefits.

Do you really believe there is a conspiracy amongst the experts who study these things? Are there other areas of science in which scientists conspire to withhold information? If not why would you think this is the unique area of science that withholds information?

Even a cursory literature review will show you that there are almost no positive articles published regarding climate change, and it is patently false that not a single place or peoples on this planet could benefit from a warmer climate.

There may not be an explicit conspiracy, but there is an emergent, cultural force which has lead to the politicization of sciences, and I imagine you are aware that scientists have quite a bit of leeway in what they choose to study/report.

Anecdote, I know, but I say this as someone who went to school with future climate scientists, and their minds were made up long before they made it to grad school.

Whether you think climate change is catastrophic or not, you must agree that there is not enough skeptical literature available, and that makes it difficult for me personally to swallow the narrative without hesitation.

Yes there is a paucity of articles on the benefits of climate change. Is it because of conspiracy or because the effects are overwhelmingly bad?

Overwhelmingly physics grads enter grad school believing that the Earth revolves around the sun. There's a lack of articles in physics journals to the contrary. There's a lack of skeptical literature.

The lack of articles touting the benefits of climate change do not indicate there is a conspiracy nor should one think that there should be such articles in any but a small amount. This is especially so given the political climate in the U.S. where people are skeptical of climate science.

This phenomenon is circular. There is a void of publications on the subject, therefore, scientists and laymen begin to believe that there is no second side, and, combine that with politics, we end up with a seemingly settled science when, in truth, the process has not been scientific for at least a decade.

It is also absurd to be so certain about our potential impact on something as complex and chaotic as climate. Especially considering we also rely on trends on the order of millions of years, and we are making a judgment based on many orders of magnitude less time. Is it a bet worth making? Sure, in my opinion, but without some published skepticism, climate science may as well be propaganda when it comes to convincing people to act.

"It is also absurd to be so certain about our potential impact on something as complex and chaotic as climate."

This is where you are wrong. You may not understand it but the science is solid. It is well known what happens when too much green house gases occur. The physics is indisputable.

It is never only about physics when we talk about impact of climate change. Even if you talk about catastrophic runaway warming, it is caused by ecosystem-level feedback loops.

The question raised is what are the possible net-good feedback loops? Will flora benefit from it widely and expand everywhere? Will that be a good thing?

To paraphrase: This is where you are wrong. You may not understand it but the science is far from solid. It is not well known what happens when ecosystems react to too much greenhouse gases. "The physics is indisputable." is a hollow statement.

disclaimer: I am for active prevention of such things occurring, just for strategic reasons like "we don't have a clue what we're doing and we are apparently doing SOMETHING". But to claim it is obvious and "indisputable" sounds like dangerous propaganda to me.

I was responding to this statement:

"It is also absurd to be so certain about our potential impact on something as complex and chaotic as climate."

It is possible to be certain about impacts on climate. Increase CO2 in the atmosphere by a factor of a trillion. There will be runaway warming in the immediate term. This is known and well understood. I'm not claiming we are near this point but the suggestion that we can't know some effects because climate is hard is absurd.

Certain aspects can be certain, sure, but overall effects are beyond our understanding. We just have too small sample size ...

But while we disagree on what we know you're right that it's not clear cut and one can argue we already know quite a bit - e.g. those immediate effects is something I can imagine we have good grasp on, I've not studied that in depth as most debates are about ultimate consequences.

Thanks for new PoV!

No, but there is a huge bias in reporting favoring bad news.

What evidence do you have that there is such a bias? Have you considered the possibility that the prevalence of bad news as you call it is indeed the truth? That the absence of good news might be because the positive effects are dwarfed by the negative?

Let me rephrase, and maybe you'll agree.

If one million people in a city don't get murdered, and one does get murdered, whose fate will be reported as news?

The murdered one of course. And the reporting will be truthful. But that doesn't mean most people get murdered.

This is not at all relevant to the discussion. The one getting murdered is newsworthy and noteworthy. The many that do not is not newsworthy.

Rapidly increasing the temperature of the planet will have devastating consequences. Write news articles on its few benefits is not newsworthy in light of the impending devastation.

I note that now you're agreeing with yostrovs who originally asked "Why wouldn't a modest rise in temperature do some good in at least some ways?".

I never disputed this or implied otherwise. It's quite clear from what I have written that I acknowledge there will be some benefits. It's equally clear from what I've written that the lack of articles on this is not indicative of politics or some other nefarious reason.

Do good for whom? Sure, some species might benefit even if it's a disaster for humans.

Well, there were a few times in the last few hundred years of warmer global weather. And those coincided with good economic times for humans. Perhaps global warming would be detrimental to other species more than humans, as humans adapt well, particularly to more pleasant environments.

I don't think that's true. The two big changes in the past thousand or so years were the Medeival Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. Both were more regional than global, and the Little Ice Age coincided with the Industrial Revolution, which of course started extremely good economic times.

Certain parts of the world/USA that are not suitable for farming now would become suitable for farming if they are not currently occupied. Parts that are not suitable for crops would either no longer be suitable for crops at all or need a different crop selection.

We also theorized that changing the global temperature affects weather patterns like a spring so that extremes in temperature changes/weather patterns will accompany the rising temperatures, and see it happening so it's a pretty solid hypothesis. This is overall a negative except for fans of extreme weather.

Is there a site out there that details what the actual scenarios are and how to survive them (if at all possible)? I mean if there is a giant methane burp from the ocean floor, can I and my family survive by wearing gas masks for 7 days? I honestly have NO IDEA. Just curious if anyone has gone through this methodically and developed survival plans.

If we get to 6 degrees global warming, it's probably into the mass extinction realm. (As in the Permian–Triassic (P–Tr or P–T) extinction event)


humans have already caused a mass extinction. so it would be like....double secret mass extinction.

The best way to keep a secret is to make sure that everyone is dead.

My favorite bit about this is from a lecture by Daniel Dennett. 10K years ago, Humans and their associated animals (livestock, pets) accounted for less than 1% of the land animal biomass. Now, we account for 98% (mostly cattle).

This has had a drastic effect on the biosphere.

Should that be 98% of land mammals? Because I think the insects still outweigh us by quite a lot.

I looked it up as the 98% felt quite wrong. Amazed to see the amount earthworms made up.


I had no idea either. I guess earthworms are mostly beneath (heh) our notice.

>can I and my family survive by wearing gas masks for 7 days?

Methane isn't poisonous, the only way it can kill you is by displacing oxygen. Gas masks can't filter it, you would need an oxygen mask. Sheltering in place is slightly more practical: sealing doors and windows, using CO2 sorbents to absorb CO2, and oxygen canisters to replace consumed oxygen. Would be pretty expensive-- I wouldn't bother unless you lived next to Lake Nyos: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Nyos_disaster

Methane out-gassing is not a short-term catastrophe, it's a long-term one.


Not to pick on you but this is the sort of question that click baity articles generate because they don't actually explain the context, only the scary bits.

Unless you are living on the permafrost then you won't see a problem. When people and livestock have been killed by sudden outpouring of gas it has been in situations where something else constrained the mixing with the regular atmosphere, or if you are in the path of the dumping of a large gas reservoir[2].

Generally the dumping of these gasses back into the atmosphere will not be the thing that kills you.

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

This was released recently but not sure if this is the exact same scenario you are talking about or if it is just a probability update on the worse case scenario based on similar studies of the phenomena.


I often wonder if this type of thing is an answer to the Fermi Paradox, that complex societies inevitably destroy themselves by failing to solve fatal problems requiring collective action.

I don't buy it. Even if we do fuck this up royally and cause a mass extinction event (which seems increasingly likely), humans will survive. There may (probably will) be a loss of population, but it's the sort of thing humans can definitely recover from given time. At the timescales of the Fermi Paradox this shouldn't be an issue. It's barely a blip.

The Fermi paradox still applies if, every time society reaches a point of advanced development, it sets itself back to the stone age by triggering an extinction level event.

The problem with this answer to the Fermi paradox, along with many others, is that it can't just be "very likely". It has to be essentially 100% likely. And while I'm sure a lot of people are ready to believe "very likely", "literally zero civilizations out of millions manages to survive ecological catastrophe", despite those millions of civilizations having fundamentally different mental architectures, ecologies, circumstances, time scales, and difficulties in spreading out into space is really a tough sell. You're really telling me the sentient Bee People of Madeupertrus XIII, whose singular queen dominates all decisions on the planet in the universal hive mind, couldn't figure out they needed to stop burning anthracite coal if they wanted to live?

Personally, I think "it's just inevitable that all civilizations die from ecological collapse" takes some of the emotional frisson out of the doom and gloom as well; if it's just that inevitable, you can't really blame anyone, can you? If it's inevitable, it isn't really "fossil fuel's" fault (after all it is likely that many civilizations never even had fossil fuels, or lacked an oxygenated environment or similar that makes combusting them so easy), or careless use of farm land, or anything else... it's just the inevitable workings of the impersonal universe.

As with many other putative answers to the Fermi paradox, I don't think this one is powerful enough to explain it.

>despite those millions of civilizations having fundamentally different mental architectures, ecologies, circumstances, time scales, and difficulties in spreading out into space is really a tough sell

Absolutely, which is why I said "an answer" as opposed to "the answer".

Only, we won't be going back to the stone age. Ever. Even if the tech is wiped out.

We know all this stuff is possible and it is unlikely that everyone that knows something will die, just as it is unlikely that all print resources will be taken away.

Cars and cell phone towers will still likely exist. Televisions, radios, computers. The remains of power plants will stand.

We'll continue to wash our hands after shitting because we won't lose germ theory.

Sorry, but there is no going back to the stone age. At worst, the tech of today becomes the goal of humanity after our numbers rebuild.

So the solution to the Fermi Paradox is that nobody ever learns from their mistakes?

We can't learn from our own mistakes now.

What makes you think, 2,000 years from now, our ancestors will look back and a) remember what happened accurately, and b) learn from it?

I can imagine someone in the future saying "No man, that wasn't humanity's fault... the earth just goes through natural cycles. Or maybe it was just the sun."

In short: I think you're denying our contemporary and historical reality if you think that, in the future, we'll do any differently.

Edit: As an aside, I want you to reflect, for a moment, on our ability to understand human society even just 500 years back. Even at a time with decent written records, there's still entire disciplines focused on trying to understand how those people worked and lived, and enormous amounts of disagreement on the same.

Now imagine we fast forward, say, 2,000 years after we've destroyed modern society and started to rebuild in earnest. An enormous amount of information about who we are is now locked up in optical, magnetic, and solid state storage, and the technology to read that information will be destroyed right along with the rest of us. Much of the rest is stored on paper that doesn't have the long-term archival properties of something like vellum.

Why do you think our ancestors will understand us any better than we understand people in the middle ages?

Unfortunately we only get the one free gift of fossil fuel energy accumulated over millions of years.

Insuring that we don't make the same mistake again? Development would be slower if you have to start with renewables, but it's not blocked entirely.

There's some historical arguments that without fossil fuels, the industrial revolution doesn't happen and we'd never get beyond that block.

I.e. if man/animal labor is more effective than crude machines, then societies never make mass investment into crude machines and don't prepare large numbers of people working with said machines, so there's no stimulus that might ever reach fancy machines that might be actually useful. We'd have the same fate as the medieval Chinese society, which invented lots of nifty tech centuries before Europe, but didn't go beyond that to the industrial revolution for social reasons until the progress elsewhere forced the social reasons to change.

I think the consensus is that the industrial revolution would have been impossible without fossil fuels.

It would have been impossible to power steam engines with wood instead of coal? I get that it is less efficient, but wood burners certainly existed back in that era. Every train would have needed a balloon funnel and there would have been far more significant logging operations and probably deforestation problems, but it doesn't seem completely impossible.

It would depend on how often the "in-tribe altruism / out-tribe selfishness" trait crops up in other intelligent species.

Exactly, and to me that leads to the question of whether or not selfishness is required for a civilization/society to advance.

not much of advance if shortly after we all drown trying to come up with costing models for lifeboat usage

This is veering off topic but your example is one of the reasons capitalism strikes me as a transitional system. It only makes sense to weigh the cost of something like a lifeboat or healthcare when the inputs are scarce. When the inputs become plentiful there's much less of a reason to be so miserly.

The most convincing answer to the Fermi Paradox I have read is that we are not seeing space faring civilizations because all planets have dysfunctional political systems and had to cancel their space programs under citizen pressure to 'solve problems at home first'.

Another is that a sustainable civilization doesn't evolve to the point of being visible.

What is the likelihood of our precipitating a "methane gun" event?

100% ? IIRC we might have prevented it with serious changes a couple years ago, but now it's going to happen and is already happening.


FWIW, the folks in askscience say that the research as of one year ago does not suggest any catastrophic clathrate gun that would actually be triggered by current rates of warming.

If that's true, then my understanding is that 4 degrees of warming is inevitable, and 5 degrees is likely. 6 degrees probably isn't ruled out.

Do you have children? I have a teenage son. A heretofore normal lifespan for him will bring him to the late 21st century.

I can hardly think about what things will be like then.

When my daughter is the age of my grandmother, it will be the 22nd century.

That's incredibly sobering.

... and I'll probably be 20 years in the grave.

unfortunately it's been thawing for a very long time just like the permafrost in siberia. it only comes back up in the news once in a while. it's exponentially increasing global warming

Does this mean we will have more agricultural land in Alaska over time? This might be a great news in that sense.

But I thought climate change was a ruse perpetrated by liberals looking to find another way to tax? Just think of the jobs that would be lost if we were to take actually decisive action about this!

So are we made at China for continuing to use both barrels on the environment? Trump, for being in office a few months? Or is this existential hate we all have for ourselves?

In his book "The Beginning of Infinity", David Deutch gives a hypothetical example of a technologically advanced space ship arriving to an empty spot in space, a cube the size of the solar system. It is such an inhospitable spot, and yet this civilization can create everything to live there. There are billions of tons of hydrogen atoms in that "empty" space, hence fusion is harvested, new elements created, etc etc. The point that Deutch is making is that problems are inevitable, and they can be solved by use of knowledge. It's not the end of world, people.

We don't have that level of tech, you may as well have provided a story about merlin or gandalf.

It may well actually be the doom of civilization as we know it, and should be treated as the existential threat it might be. We should be funding science, legislating environmental protection and doing whatever else we can think of until we have magic or know this is safe.

+1. Besides even if we had the tech and knowledge, we need the resources, time, dedication and will to apply the solutions. Not to mention the ability to carry it out, and together no less.

I know that we should be funding that stuff but unfortunately trying to go through tradtional grant-based funding routes is going to be much too slow; what you need to do is start private companies on your own and rapidly grow their value and use that as a starting point for global geo-engineering solutions to global warming

Billions of tons of H2 that take more energy to harvest than you will get out of them...

Resource availability isn't only about the mere presence of a resource, but that it can be extracted and used efficiently. The laws of thermodynamics are a stone cold bitch.

> "It's not the end of world, people."

I have greater hopes for my 11-year-old than conservation of mass.

Your 11 year old is already growing in the most prosperous and safest times ever in the human history.

By the violent crime statistics this is the point in time. But that has no relation to global warming or our (in)ability to deal with it. It might be too late or it might be no problem at all, but the current best research indicates it is going going to be a huge problem.

It is almost as if you are intentionally missing the point.

Well, I intentionally miss all the doom and gloom and doom and gloom.

You make it sound as though wishful thinking and impossible are benefits.

Please don't complicate an already difficult situation this is a place where simple trolling for fun can and does cause real harm. Climate change deniers will point at trolls like you and claim to have more people on their side than really exist.

And past performance guarantees future performance ?

Also, bear in mind that an overwhelming majority of the people who invented all this good stuff (scientists) agree that we're approaching a cliff.

I would not pretend knowing what happened thousands of years ago. We only have glimpse of what happened before the roman empire. Maybe societies were less technologically advanced but happier and wiser ? Hard to tell.

Parochial or primitive societies are not fun places to live in. Stereotypes, superstitions, myths, homophobia, chauvinism and oppression of women, oppression by the church, tribal wars, are all attributes.

Again, that's how we picture them in our head, but we have very few informations of what really happened at that time. Pretending we know from a few remaining artefact's is quite a stretch given that the truth is already very distorted when information from the same day arrive to you in the form of photos, videos and track records.

You've also just described modern times, unfortunately.

Our current era is pretty much that, plus the germ theory of disease, plus near-lightspeed communication technologies and rapid material transit.

If we dropped you off in the middle of interstellar space, what do you suppose your chances would be of solving the inevitable problems?

Nothing is the end of the world, unless it is.

Problems are inevitable and we can solve them by using knowledge.

Douglas adams said it best:

“What to do if you find yourself stuck in a crack in the ground underneath a giant boulder you can't move, with no hope of rescue. Consider how lucky you are that life has been good to you so far. Alternatively, if life hasn't been good to you so far, which given your current circumstances seems more likely, consider how lucky you are that it won't be troubling you much longer.”

Plus you can know everything about how to move a boulder, if your context doesn't let you apply the knowledge, it's game over.

What to do if you find yourself stuck in a crack in the ground underneath a giant boulder you can't move, with no hope of rescue.

Cut off your arm, then sell the film rights to it?


Well, at least half of that sentence is true.

No, it's not the end of the world. Just the end of humanity, probably.

I like that, Albert Bartlett, in this excellent video:


says something like:

Well, you have 2 columns. On the left one the nice ways to solve the problem. On the right one the nasty ways. The good news is that nature will always find a way to solve the problem. The bad new is that if we don't use the solutions from the left, nature will use the ones from the right.

This video is amazing and should be mandatory reading before one is allowed to offer their opinion on anything remotely related to exponential growth.

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