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Scientists have signed the largest-ever warning about Earth’s destruction (qz.com)
122 points by endswapper 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments

If you are serious about fighting climate change, what is the single most effective place to spend money?

My guess is: education for girls in Africa.

Why? Carbon emmissions per year come down to

(energy use per person per year)(carbon emitted per unit energy)(number of people).

In developed nations, all of these terms are stable or declining. In many developing nations, and Africa in particular, population growth is still exponential. Relatively small changes in the exponent of that growth have huge impacts on future carbon emission.

The pattern of decreasing fertility rate as modern societies develop is called "demographic transition". One of the biggest factors driving demographic transition is increased education levels for girls.

So to get the biggest multiplier on future carbon emmissions, look for the fastest growing term of the equation (population); look where it is growing the fastest (sub-saharan Africa), and look for the best way to reduce that growth (education for girls.)

[1] https://www.wu.ac.at/en/press/press-releases/press-releases-...

This depends heavily on technological forecasting. There's a decent chance that, by the time those countries reach the level of development where their carbon footprint is a serious concern, they'll have skipped over fossil fuels and gone to solar, similar to how they skipped wired telephony and went to cell phones.

(Of course, education in poor countries is beneficial and worthwhile regardless. But if you have to decide between investments in education or public health in a poor country, I've gotten the impression there's lower-hanging fruit in public health.)

A country with a 3-4% growth rate is doubling its population about every 20 years.

For that country's carbon footprint to just remain stable, they will have to halve the amount of carbon emissions per person every 20 years.

This means that these countries will need to completely replace their infrastructure with technology and processes that are twice as efficient every 20 years, just to keep their carbon emissions stable.

I just don't see any way for technology and infrastructure to outpace population growth that fast.

Most realistically with population growth this high, there is probably going to be an explosion of carbon emissions regardless of how much green technology is rolled out in parallel.

"Don't mind us, those over there are much worse!"

Even if your assumption is true, it doesn't negate the fact that [some people] in the western world need to stop spewing/believing inane lies about global warming, so we can all start doing our part, as a society and as a system.

Africa, really? The place that always gets screwed over. Slavery, colonialism and now artificially limiting population growth? I think tropical diseases like malaria and ebola already already limit population growth in Africa rather too well. Africa does the least per capita CO2. They transport trees by bicycle. They don't burn heating fuel because they don't have to.

> I think tropical diseases like malaria and ebola already already limit population growth in Africa rather too well.

No, population growth across Africa as a whole is accelerating:

In the past year the population of the African continent grew by 30 million. By the year 2050, annual increases will exceed 42 million people per year and total population will have doubled to 2.4 billion, according to the UN.


Exactly. Education empowers girls to select better husbands, start their own businesses, and then push for better education for their own, fewer children.

A virtuous circle. And the same that's at work in all more-developed countries.

Is everyone seriously discussing how to lower the fertility rate in african girls as a way to fight climate change?

I previously wrote "racist". This is worse. I don't know the word for what this is.

Is telling someone "hey don't have so many kids, it's bad for the environment" bad? I think you're mistakenly throwing a hidden "by force" in there.

Nobody is forcing African girls to have fewer children. If you'd like to discuss, I'd love to hear your argument on why you think that giving African girls more choices than "bear four kids by the time you're eighteen" is bad.

> If you are serious about fighting climate change, what is the single most effective place to spend money?

No where, to fight climate change the single best thing to do is curb your consumption and save money. Don't buy new gadgets every year, don't go on holidays far away, don't buy expensive meat, take public transport if possible, don't buy a huge house, don't use air-con. Do all that and you've prevented more carbon emissions than a small African village will ever produce and you'll save money.

It's a great theory but how do you know that education causes lower fertility, and isn't just correlated to lower fertility?

I'd wager getting out poverty causes both education and fertility to improve and that is the real driver in this study.

Malthus lives on. What a tragedy.

It's not all about population and food supply. Ecological collapse will impact humanity just as effectively - and that is linked to population growth.


Yes.. Suggesting one should contribute to organizations funding education for women in poverty-stricken African countries is super racist... /s

The article says, "Earth's destruction" but it doesn't really mean that. It's more about the extinction of humans and other life.

How quaint. I have a sneaking suspicion that long after we've choked ourselves out of existence there will still be plenty of life flourishing. Nature will find a way without us. We'll just be a little nasty blip on the geological scale of time.

Could not resist mentioning "Save the planet" from Geroge Carlin:

The planet isn’t going anywhere. We are! We’re goin’ away. Pack your shit, Folks, we’re goin’ away. We won’t leave much of a trace either, thank god for that. Maybe a little styrofoam, maybe, little styrofoam. Planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake, an evolutionary cul de sac. The planet will shake us off like a bad case of fleas, a surface nuisance. You wanna know how the planet’s doin’? Ask those people at Pompeii, who were frozen into position from volcanic ash. How the planet’s doin’. Wanna know if the planet’s alright, ask those people in Mexico City or Armenia, or a hundred other places buried under thousands of tons of earthquake rubble if they feel like a threat to the planet this week. How about those people in Kilauea, Hawaii who built their homes right next to an active volcano and then wonder why they have lava in the living room. The planet will be here for a long, long, long time after we’re gone and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself ’cuz that’s what it does. It’s a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed, and if it’s true that plastic is not degradable well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new paradigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn’t share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allows us to be spawned from it in the first place: it wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it, needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old philosophical question, “Why are we here?” “Plastic, assholes.”


For something related, see "A letter from Gaia to humanity on the joy of expectation" I put in another reply below.

Heh, thank you, I liked that.

I wrote something related around 1992 when I was in a PhD program in Ecology and Evolution: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/openvirgle/qDQaaLewHKY...

A letter from Gaia to humanity on the joy of expectation

Don't cry for me. When I let you evolve I knew it might cost the rhino and the tiger. I knew the rain forests would be cut down. I knew the rivers would be poisoned. I knew the ocean would turn to filth. I knew it would cost most of the species that are me.

What is the death of most of my species to me? It is only sleep. In ten million years I will have it all back again and more. This has happened many times already. Complex and fragile species will break along with the webs they are in. Robust and widespread species will persist along with simpler webs. In time these survivors will radiate to cover the globe in diversity again. Each time I come back in beauty like a bush pruned and regrown.

Be happy for me. Over and over again I have tried to give birth to more Gaias. Time and time again I have failed. With you I have hope. I cannot tell you how happy I am.

Your minds, spacecraft, biospheres, and computers give me new realms to evolve into. With your minds I evolve as ideas in inner space. With your technology I can evolve into self replicating habitats in outer space. Your computers and minds contain model Gaias I can talk to; they are my first children. Your space craft and biospheres are a step to spreading Gaias throughout the stars.

Cry, yes. Cry for yourselves. I am sorry those alive now will not live to see the splendor to come from what you have started. I am sorry for all the suffering your species and others will endure. You who live now will remember the tiger and the rain forest and mourn for them and yourselves. You will know what was lost without ever knowing what will be gained. I too mourn for them and you.

There is so much joy that awaits us. We must look up and forward. We must go on to a future - my future, our future. After eons of barrenness I am finally giving birth. Help me lest it all fall away and take eons more before I get this close again to having the children I always wanted.

If the scientists don't convince people, I hope the massive droughts in some places, flooding in others, superstorms, and other massive weather pattern shifts will.

In the US, there's still a large group of people (or maybe just a vocal group) that cover their ears and won't listen to anything climate-change related, even in the highest places of our government.

I hope a healthy dose of "this is what climate change looks like" will scare people into believing. Even if you don't want to believe that humans are the cause, we still need to do something about it, and fast (something besides blaming everything on homosexuals).

Yet if your house gets flooded or blown away by a hurricane, the insurance company won't blame global warming- instead they literally claim that it is an "act of god"


It's interesting how a lack of accountability over the weather is so deeply ingrained into our culture like this.

I don't think that is necessarily true. I think the 'large group of people' do not deny that climate change exists. I find they come to a conclusion somewhere in the ballpark of: Sure, natural climate change exists, but manmade climate change is an insignificant factor in this, and/or humans have little ability to overpower natural climate change and turn it around (cooling it, even if we're in a naturally warming stint). Misinformed, perhaps, but rational.

Not unlike the apathetic feeling that causes people not not show up at the polls.

Convincing people this is real is only the tiniest first step. Even amongst über-liberals who fully acknowledge climate change is real—and that we're causing it—they're still eating their steak dinners, driving their cars, drinking bottled water, and flying to vacation in far-away lands. Until we each do our tiny parts of reducing our consumption, Earth's temperature will continue its steady march upward.

Getting political consensus here would be nice. But individuals can lead by example by living more sustainable lives.

The causes of the problem are not evenly distributed. I could eat steak dinners for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and not contribute 1% of some awful industrial-scale disasters.

If I have the personal will to devote an hour a week or $20 of my budget to sustainability, that energy is inordinately more effective when spent pressuring my boss to upgrade our fleet of derelict 4 mpg coal-rollers that do hundreds of miles a week, or writing a letter to my congressman to tryto convince him that global warming isn't a scam, rather than enduring the inconvenience of carpooling so that between my wife's 25mpg and my 30 mpg cars we can save 30 miles a week.

I can contribute a tiny part through personal life changes, or a big part through advocacy, with the same effort.

> Until we each do our tiny parts of reducing our consumption, Earth's temperature will continue its steady march upward.

Now we're getting into the meat of the problem. If everyone worked less, got less money to spend on stupid plastic shit, drove less in our cars, threw away less perfectly edible food, and spent more time with the people we care about, both we the people and the planet would be better off.

But for our debt-fueled micro- and macro-economies, it would spell utter disaster. Financial crisis writ large. Housing market would go to shit. Banks would default. The state would get less taxes, so deficit would skyrocket. Meanwhile national debt, which is measured relative to GDP, would blow up much quicker than the deficit since GDP would drop sharply.

So nobody will ever actually make it happen.

Warming seems to be the most pressing issue that is causing the climate changes you mentioned. And, I think we can all agree it's probably too late combined with we don't really know what to do. Unfortunately, reducing our energy consumption is not a realistic option (because universally, humanity will never act accordingly). Which leaves me asking...

When does Mr. Burns' Sun Blocker [1] become the most realistic opportunity for us to actually control warming?

[1] http://simpsons.wikia.com/wiki/Sun_Blocker

My brother works in the North West of Western Australia, as a geological surveyor. He said to me that they're having an 'apparent temperature' today of 48.9 degrees C - it's over 40 degrees in the shade where he is right now (Koolin Island, roughly 9,000kms north of Perth). It's so hot today that their rubbish dump just spontaneously combusted and bins on their site are doing the same thing.

When that starts happening in major cities, hopefully people notice before large numbers of the population have severe health problems from it.

Remember folks, weather isn't climate unless it fits our narrative.

There are people who continue to deny the reality of climate change even while they're literally up to their neck in flood waters.

We need a Pearl Harbor or 9/11 level event to drive people to action. However, the back-to-back world-wide coral bleaching events didn't do it, and the back-to-back record breaking storms in both the Atlantic and Pacific this year didn't do it.

By the time it gets destructive enough that effective mass action becomes possible, I fear it will be too late for us.

It's frustrating that no matter how strong the evidence, a large proportion of Americans insist there is nothing to worry about.

I have thought a lot about this and come to the conclusion it is to a great extent due to theological beliefs. A large proportion of Americans are evangelical Christians who believe the Bible is the literal world of God, and furthermore believe that the Bible says that unregulated free market capitalism is the right economic system.

So when scientists claim that unregulated capitalism is causing damage to the world that in turn is harmful to the human race, these people assume that this claim is wrong and the scientists are really atheists trying to undermine Biblical religion.

As for the libertarians and conservatives who just make scientific arguments, it seems to me they are assuming that the Earth was created such that unregulated capitalism can't possibly harm it,at least not in a way that would harm humans, no matter what new technologies corporations introduce, and on how large a scale. So they have a sort of implicit theology.

This is great. Their link to the 15000 signatures is broken. Hard to verify what type of "scientists" these are.

"Supplementary data are available at BIOSCI online including supplemental file 1 and supplemental file 2 (full list of all 15,364 signatories)." https://academic.oup.com/biosci/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/b...

This will again go without noticeable action.

Why? Because nobody cares enough (or believes deeply enough) to make radical lifestyle changes.

Al Gore still have several huge houses. Leanardo DiCaprio still takes solo jet trips across the ocean. The richest people (of all political persuasions) continue to live lives that don't reflect an austere lifestyle at all.

Why should anyone make sacrifices if nobody else does?

So, a mere 0.14% (!) of the approximate 11 million scientists has signed. Lets be honest here: not a whole lot really...

(ps: down-voting this post doesn't change this fact...)

> of the approximate 11 million scientists has signed....

A.) Is there a citation that accompanies your statistic?

B.) Does this number account for the type of scientist? Are you lumping non-Earth scientists (say, fiber optic researchers) in with your assesment that 15K is not a large number?

A) Digest of Education Statistics, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d08/tables_3.asp#Ch3aSub... (although, the specific table has since been removed, reason unknown).

B) I just like to point out the hypocrisy (ref. OISM where 32,000 scientists where considering a "not a very compelling figure, but a tiny minority" (https://www.skepticalscience.com/OISM-Petition-Project.htm, together will all the left-leaning media's "breakdown" of this petition).

UN representative Christina Figueres has already stated in Brussel a couple of years ago that "global warming" has nothing to do with climate, but economy (i.e. "anti-capitalism"): https://www.investors.com/politics/editorials/climate-change...

And as a reminder: consensus !== science.

B) if you follow the links, you can find the supplementary data with the complete list of people who signed:


the OSIM data is less informative, would be interesting to compare trustworthiness:


15,000 doesn’t sound like many. What’s the p-value?

Best way to fight climate change, eliminate all vaccines. The human population will plummet thus ensuring we have reduced the amount of waste. Human remains can help bring nutrients back to the soil. Other species will be able to repopulate naturally.

This won't happen, because we want to live forever or that very least certain technological elites are trying to make that happen. We want to have all the latest technology regardless of the transportation costs (shipping containers). Be able to eat that latest restaurant. I could go on.

Climate change is real. How much is man-made? I don't know and I don't really care. On a personal level I attempt to keep my carbon footprint low, though I drive to work and eat meat daily - I bought half a cow and whole pig and store them in a deep freezer. At the same time I have had the same flip-phone for 3 years, and the prior to that I didn't have one. Have one TV in my house and a record player.

Reduce your consumption to your needs and a few wants, rib-eye steaks. Earth will prosper long after we are gone.

No vaccines, great idea. You first.

You can continue researching to ensure everyone lives as long as possible or let nature naturally take its course.

The enabler in the USA for continuing to believe that there is no link between pollution emissions and more pronounced extreme weather is the lack of education surrounding statistics and its analysis.

At this point I just ask what scientific statistic a person would need to hear in order to consider changing their mind. Unfortunately, I haven't ever gotten an informative reply indicating knowledge of the field, and am still open to hearing what exactly it would be.

Edit: Granted, at this point, most people on both sides seem to have given up learning about the fundamental literature driving this debate. See John Oliver's "It Just F*ing Is" on his recent show.

Typical exchange:

"Climate change is bullshit! I demand to see evidence of it actually occurring!"

<is presented volumes of data>

"I don't recognize these sources! These were payed for by liberal media! I demand to see real data!"

Rinse and repeat.

Simple solution. Put money on mouth and bet against them. Use new earned money to force them to comply.

If you want to be correct, its more like "we've looked at your model and talked to the people that created it, and everyone that worked on it agrees that the debate is being driven by politics rather than science. We've found that emissions of the sun are responsible for 98% of the current climate change, that carbon is the smallest factor in the other 2%, and you are being set up for a global taxation system that is designed to establish control over everyone under a false premise."

That's a (much) better argument than the "God wouldn't let this happen" straw-man often argued against by climate change activists. The "Climategate" emails make it particularly compelling. The air of corruption and decay around academia and academic publishing in particular have legitimately eroded trust in those institutions, and thanks to the nature of climate change the data is highly indirect and difficult to independently verify (compare the discovery of climate change to the discovery of Saturn's moons, or the ideal gas law!)

Truth is, although I strongly tend to believe climate change claims, I still feel some strong skepticism. I know my way around math, statistics, chemistry, and physics, but I couldn't tell you what measurements you actually can do to support climate change assertions. How do you measure the average temperature of a region, let alone the world, over a long period of time?! I've always felt uneasy about archeologists drawing conclusions from a single bone fragment, or even cosmologists drawing enormously long chains of conclusions from star spectra, but in those cases a) the measurement itself is obvious, b) the reasoning is obvious (even if you disagree with it) and c) it doesn't really matter all that much. Climate change, though, suffers from a) measurements that aren't obvious, b)reasoning that isn't obvious, and c) is incredibly important and we can't get it wrong. And moreover, if you express these doubts, the vast majority of climate change activists will just get angry with you and either stop talking to you at all, or point to letters with lots of eminent signatories saying, "it all makes sense to us, the evidence is overwhelming, we're really smart, so trust us."

Argument from authority isn't good enough, and the intuitive argument isn't good enough, either. Yes, we live in a thin skin of biosphere and we are releasing CO2 into the atmosphere at a huge rate in absolute terms. But I don't have an intuition about the relative rate, especially when compared to natural processes (which are vast). We cut down forests at a prodigious rate, which hurts capture, but I don't have an intuition about the amount of this either. I would love it if someone took these concerns seriously and wrote a book about it.

(For the record, I think there are other "good enough" reasons to change our behavior. Rampant consumerism isn't good for people or the planet in more obvious, directly measurable ways. Plus, even if the odds are low for a global catastrophe, it is better to be safe than sorry.)

In theory, rational skeptics should be convinced by reading things like the IPCC AR5 (https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/SYR_AR5_FI... - pdf), or the even more recent NCA (https://science2017.globalchange.gov).

Alas, many skeptics, even on HN, prefer to make general armchair-physics arguments despite the information already out there, condensed and edited, and backed by peer review and hundreds of citations into the literature.

Annoyingly, sometimes these skeptics even then complain that there is not enough information to really be sure, as if they have looked.

The link lacks answers to the basic, first-order questions I've asked regarding methods, particularly methods that yield historical background to currently observed phenomena. Also, your attitude of contempt, and continued reliance and argument from authority, shows weakness. After all, if you really knew what you were talking about, the answers to my questions should be easy.

Which link lacks this material?

> At this point I just ask what scientific statistic a person would need to hear in order to consider changing their mind.

None. Your are trying to use reason to influence an emotional behavior. It won't work.

The day geeks understand, accept and practice this simple truth, everything will get easier. For everything. Love. Work. Politics. Raising children. Everything.

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