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Ask HN: What can be done to prevent a climate catastrophe?
338 points by andrewstuart 39 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 499 comments
It seems to me that governments can be counted out of taking the leadership needed to solve this within 12 years. If anything they seem to want to act against solving this issue in some cases.

So what can we do so our children don't live in some ghastly hothouse world?

The scientists have told us its our final chance.... not to start within 12 years, but solve it within 12 years.

I feel like the young people need to take charge of the world because the older generations have had their chance and not fixed it.

Maybe corporations are the ones who can be pressured to take the lead.




Fundamentally it is a political problem, not a technological problem. We need high carbon taxes, we need to end fossil fuel subsidies, and we probably need to change our economic system to something that addresses the tragedy of the commons.

But we’ve seen in recent years how technology can influence politics. I’d quote a tweet from Tristan Harris from the other day [1]:

> In an hypothetical world, if Facebook were re-designed entirely into a global coordination tool for billions of people to take the most meaningful and significant steps to fight climate change -- what would it look like?

1: https://twitter.com/tristanharris/status/1049177712227573760


Yes, it's a political problem. And one solution is to build nuclear power plants. We need a few thousands of these worldwide to get around 70 % of energy production from fission, then solar, wind and hydro can cover the rest. I really don't understand why we're not doing this.

25 % of emissions are from electricity [1], and 21 % from industry. Industy would quickly start using more electricity once it became cheap. Transportation (14 %) will take time to electrify, and the 24 % of emissions from agriculture and forestry is harder to remove (increase meat prices, thus lowering demand and production).

China, India, UAE and South Korea are building lots of reactors now.[2] I really hope Europe, the Americas and Africa follow.

We have a solution! Yes, it costs money, let's do it!

[1] https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emiss... [2] http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and...


I'm also in favor of nuclear power, but you have to admit that there are valid concerns. Nuclear waste is unsolved as long as we don't build breeder reactors. Uranium supplies aren't limitless either. Without breeders we'd run out quickly. Thorium is unproven tech. Safety is a concern, both engineering (do you really trust for-profit companies not to skimp on safety?) and proliferation of nuclear materials (how many people does it take to break into a nuclear power plant and steal enough material for a dirty bomb? Which nation states do you trust enough to use nuclear power without building bombs?). Nuclear power is also quite expensive because of all the regulations you need to make it safe.


Yep, unfortunately nuclear power is about 2x more expensive than e.g. gas, and more expensive than even renewables. The solution here would be to make CO2 expensive enough.


"Fundamentally it is a political problem" -- Agreed.

What if the whole problem is that of "growth"?

Here's one possible chain of thought. I don't fully subscribe to this, so please feel free to poke holes in it:

1. The biggest polluters tend to be commercial enterprises

2. They are aware of the environmental impact of their actions, but are reluctant to stop

3. They are staffed by (mostly) normal human beings, but they continue because they are heavily incentivized to show continued growth

4. Businesses can no longer reach a "steady state" -- they must continue growth or be considered failures

5. Growth appears to be demanded by stockholders

6. Stockholders need growth for return on their investments

7. Investments are necessary because of... inflation ?

Ergo, stop inflation, slow down growth?


Yes. 100x Yes. See Herman Daly on Steady State Economics. Also see https://newleftreview.org/II/111/troy-vettese-to-freeze-the-... for a critique of Daly's proposals as being not radical enough.


No, it doesn't work out that way.

First, in order to determine what people will do, the relevant word is not "need" but "want".

#6 is that stockholders want growth of return on their investments (because, hey, extra money is good for them). And they'll want that growth to be as big as possible, no matter what the inflation is; so stopping inflation won't remove the pressure for growth.

On the other hand, if you want to force people to be satisfied with what they have and not strive for more, well, that's against a lot of our psychology, it's not going to happen - compared to that, getting all the governments to do what needs to be done (while still striving for as much growth is feasible given the restrictions) is easy.


Nope stockholders need return on investment. Sorry. You can't skip that.

The problem if you kill this is that it breaks the asset allocation "algorithm" that is capitalism. If we don't have return on investment why wouldn't we spend all our money on, say, gold toilet seats ?

Or to put it a bit glib: Why do we need factories to "feed starving children" more than we need gold toilet seats ? Return on investment.


As a stockholders my incentive is to increase my net worth. I do this by investing in companies that produce profits and grow. Now if inflation was to be lowered to 1% or 0% why would I stop being interested in growing companies and getting richer?

And while increasing regulations on climate change would be costly, it's a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of stopping GDP growth and would harms tons of individuals who would find it harder to find a job and provide for their family.


Richer only for the sake of being rich? After certain threshold, more money doesn't change your lifestyle much, does it? Yes, you can get better, faster cars, but that is just greed in particular, ignorance in general. Hint, you don't NEED that.


I think you misread my comment. It was not about need but about incentives. Specifically that changing inflation doesn't change incentives. And removing growth from an economy is far more expensive way to prevent climate change than something like a carbon tax.

If you are arguing the easiest fix to climate change is to convince everyone to stop being interested in increasing their material wealth. That seems like a hell of an uphill battle. Orders of magnitude harder than passing a really high carbon tax.

P.S. getting rich is usually not the terminal goal, but a means to financial security for the middle class, and status for the upper class.


Fundamentally, it's a consumer problem. Consumers don't want to pay more for using green power, or eat less meat, or use public transit instead of a car, buy an electric vehicle, or other things that restrict their comfort or degrade quality of life. Such restriction/degradation would be perceptible and short-term, while the climate threat is not perceptible and is long-term. Nobody really cares if the average temperature of the World ocean increases by 0.5 degree in 10 years. Most people see climate activism as fearmongering.


It's a coordination problem. If the diffuse damage of pollution instead was totally concentrated on an individual, people would be very focused on reducing their carbon foot print.

Right now our best technology for dealing with coordination problems are government and treaties.


I would argue that the only reason those none green things are cheaper is because of unpriced externalities. Externalities that industry isn't going to price in themselves, which means it becomes, again, a political problem


I think the only answer is for green tech to become cheaper, or at least better and more desirable, to an extent that it can overcome all those unpriced externalities.

Consider lighting. When efficient lighting started to take off, it sucked. CFLs were expensive and worked poorly. People avoided them unless they were forced into them or really wanted to be green.

Now, LEDs are awesome. They’re still more expensive up-front, but the breakeven period is really short. They look great. I use them everywhere, not for environmental reasons, but because they’re the best practical choice.

Electric cars are another example. Used to be they were a sacrifice, unless your driving needs fit into a really narrow niche. Now they’re really good. They’re still not cheap, but people who can’t afford them often wish they could, and the prices will come down. Similar to lighting, I don’t drive an electric car to be green (although it’s a nice bonus), I drive it because it’s practical and convenient.

It shouldn’t have to be this way, but I think it does. Maybe it’ll work out anyway. It’s looking possible.


But things can change quickly if aktivists start to be perceived as credible. Germany decided to get out of Nuclear within a year of Fukushima (not the best move in hindsight, given Germanys reliance on coal at the moment...). We need to make climate change more credible in all the ways we have available to us. The easiest step is to start talking about it... get yourself some knowledge about the basics [1] and talk about the topic with confidence. Climate change IS REAL, solutions need to be FORCED ON THE POLITICAL LEVEL and consumers can/should reassure politicans that THIS IS THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE. Steps to take now:

1. Search for a local group enganged in the topic or set up a FB or Meetup event and start doing local talks in Bars. It‘s literally a 30 min effort in preperation plus having a nice time at a bar. Just did that this week and probably doing it again soon.

2. Donate money to effective climate charities, for example, the Coalition for Rainforest Nations [2] or the Clean Air Taskforce [3].

[1]: https://founderspledge.com/research/Cause%20Report%20-%20Cli... [2]:https://www.rainforestcoalition.org (donation page seems to have a problem at the moment...) [3]:http://www.catf.us


Very well put. We have the tools to fix this problem, we just need the will.

I wrote a lot more on this recently, with ideas that people on here can use to help influence better outcomes: https://unop.uk/how-to-help-with-a-big-global-problem-as-a-t...

It's a shame that the big technology companies aren't using their influence and reach to help.


I don't think it's the big technology companies - I doubt there's any large corporation the shuttering of which would not benefit the environment. I'd like to see more measures such as making a factory take its intake water downstream of where it discharges its waste water - you can bet that waste water will be clean. Otherwise we are reliant on the supposed goodwill of CEOs, which has manifestly failed to deliver thus far.


> I doubt there's any large corporation the shuttering of which would not benefit the environment.

Tesla.

Tesla has done more tangible work towards removing carbon from the atmosphere than probably any other entity in history.


> Tesla has done more tangible work towards removing carbon from the atmosphere than probably any other entity in history.

Think you might be over-egging it here - think about the shift from coal to less co2 intensive sources (e.g. gas) for power generation at national scale, which has happened in many countries. I suspect that's responsible for some fairly gargantuan savings in co2 compared to Tesla, which is still a small minority player.


This is true, and many more companies too. What I was getting at though was that tech companies have lots of influence but choose not to address this challenge and instead focus on advertising or other areas.


If we can get renewables cheaper than fossil fuels and get reasonable energy storage politics won’t be a problem.


I thought that all we had to do was develop non-combustion energy sources cheaper than fossil fuels, and everything else would fall into place. I think that's still mostly correct. But I underestimated how long people who are economically dependent on fossil fuel industries, and their political allies, could delay the transition. I think that those sorts of delay-and-obstruct tactics are going to ensure we far overshoot CO2 targets before (hopefully) beginning to correct them. That's even while the technologies of low-carbon energy continue to advance at a rapid clip.


Moving energy production to renewables is the easiest part. Much more difficult is the part where we need to do something about the few billion (and rising!) gas-guzzling personal automobiles. Electric cars are simply not going to be the solution in the timeframe that matters. In the EU traffic is the only major CO2 source that continues increasing. The third big problem is agriculture, specifically meat production. Two to three billion new people who have traditionally been mostly vegetarians are now hungry for meat, and the planet simply cannot afford such a thing.


This absolutely can be a problem, because infrastructure needs political approval. Worst case is a ban on renewable generation to protect fossil fuel profits, for example.


As soon as renewables become more profitable than fossil fuels any (personal) economic incentive politicians have to subsidise the fossil fuel industry will switch to the renewable industry. Even the most corrupt politicians you could imagine are not so hell bent on destroying the planet that they would refuse bribes from their friends in the solar industry.

The real political incentive behind fossil fuel subsidy comes down to technology and economics. The reality is that every nation is dependent on oil and gas and without them their economies would be destroyed. The real reason politicians fear a real push towards cleaner energy is that it will increase energy prices enough to trigger nationwide riots and protests.


You are correct but if we can get to the point that economics drive green energy the political opponents will have trouble stopping it.

There is a tipping point in there that we could be prevented from hitting, but I really don't think that will happen.


Agriculture, deforestation are major emitters not directly linked to fossil fuels.

Cement industry, heating are large consumers of fossil fuel that are seeing very little advances compared to electrification of the transportation sector.

So just because renewable electricity starts to dominate does not mean our carbon footprint goes to zero.


Bhutan is a great example how countries could look like. It is the only carbon-negative country in the world and they measure Gross National Happiness instead of Gross Domestic Product.

https://www.ecowatch.com/this-country-isnt-just-carbon-neutr...


Bhutan achieves this by importing most of what they use from countries that produce the carbon. Obviously this doesn't scale.


I'd really hope that a poor, primarily agricultural country is not actually a great example of what this could look like.


Are you aware of this country's recent past ethnic cleansing...?


How is that related to their carbon policies?


It's probably not relevant to their carbon policy, but it's a valid qualifier to the first sentence which proposes Bhutan an otherwise unqualified "great example".


It is probably relevant to the success in implementing the policy. States that brutalise segments of their populations tend to have an easier time convincing the others to fall in line.


It seems strange to praise them for their Happiness quotient when they may well have arrived at that by shall we say, unsavory methods.


It's only a political problem if you make it one. Better politics requires less technological innovation, and better technology requires less political innovation.

The political barrier suddenly becomes much less intimidating if an extremely efficient way to such CO2 out of the atmosphere manually was found tomorrow.


Thermodynamics kind of forbids efficient ways to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere. Unburning coal takes more energy than you got from burning it.


Source? Carbon capture and storage (CCS) seems to be a thing for sure.


If global warming is a political problem not a technological one we’re screwed. China and India aren’t rich yet, never mind Africa and all those people want a nice middle class house or apartment and a two week international holiday per year.

Here’s hoping for a technological solution or failing that gradual and non-catastrophic climate change.

Change in CO2 Emissions per capita 1990-2016 https://twitter.com/naytadata/status/1049675803007602688?s=2...


It is a political problem, but technology can change it dramatically. A cheap and safe energy source like Thorium-based nuclear power and self driving electric cars would tilt the table.


So I'm honestly not as concerned about this as I once was.

Don't get me wrong: the climate is going to change, arguably we're in a mass extinction event already and people aren't going to suddenly start acting in the collective long term welfare of humanity.

One of the things I like about futurism is the levelheaded optimism and pragmatism you tend to get. And I'll call out Isaac Arthur as a well-known example of this.

Think there's too many people? You can easily show that the world could easily produce enough to feed a population 10 times what we have now in the very near future, thanks largely to automation.

Think we're dumping too much CO2 into the atmosphere? We no doubt are but that problem basically goes away immediately if we ever get economic fusion power. Even if we don't, the plummetting cost of wind and solar may solve that anyway (by "solve" I mean that as soon as non-fossil fuel power production is cheaper than fossil fuels it becomes economic to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and turn into hydrocarbons).

Too expensive to get to space? Eventually the cost of this will go down to dollars per kilogram.

Worried about how we'll produce all that power? When getting stuff into orbit is sufficiently cheap it'll become economic to put solar collectors in orbit and beam energy back to Earth.

And all you need for this kind of optimism is the kind of technology we're widely expected to have this century.

So it's kind of sad that a lot of the larger fauna is doomed but you're not going to change people's appetites for rhino horns, fish bladders, tiger oil or pangolin dishes. Then again, maybe future genetics can restore some or all of those species.

The Earth has also been a lot warmer than it is now so I have trouble believing the doomsday scenarios of runaway climate change that'll turn the Earth into Venus just because the Earth has been here for 4-5 billion years, has been hotter than now and hasn't become Venus yet. We also seem to have a pretty poor history of predictions when it comes to climate change too.

Fundamentally this also seems like a "betting with the Mayans" type scenario too. Either the doomsayers are right and we're screwed. If so, you'll be right but who cares? We're still screwed. You're probably better off just hoping things will work out because, honestly, I think there's a pretty decent chance they will.


Ah, techno utopianism. It ignores reality in many ways, here are two.

First, if we have clean energy, are we going to shut down fossil fuel plants that have already been built? If not, then fossil fuel will just become cheaper as demand drops, making burning fossil fuels attractive again. Countries currently plan to reduce their emissions, but none are planning to reduce their fossil fuel exports. They just hope it will show up on another country's emissions balance sheet.

Even if we did develop super cheap clean energy, that would only reduce emissions in the future. Past emissions hang around for centuries and contribute to warm the planet (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jan/16/greenhou...). We would need to pay huge amounts to sequester that CO2 and I don't see anybody volunteering to foot that bill.

This paper summarises both issues well: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal...

Both are just aspects of the fundamental issue - although technological solutions perhaps could be developed, there is no political or economic will to do so, and no indication that will change.


> First, if we have clean energy, are we going to shut down fossil fuel plants that have already been built?

That depends entirely on how cheap the alternatives are. Fossil fuel mining is not zero cost in itself, so there is a minimum price it can’t go below.

Indeed, quite a lot of coal plants are being shut down — they can’t compete as the fuel itself is too expensive. This is not universal as not all coal is the same price and transport costs are also relevant, but it is happening.


10$ for Saudis, 25$ for shell, 50$ from the Artic sea.


Per what, barrel of oil?

If that’s what you’re quoting (I’ve not seen any recent attempts to calculate the costs of oil extraction), each barrel has ~1.7 MWh of energy. By way of comparison, PV solar records are around $0.02/kWh = $34/BOE.


>Countries currently plan to reduce their emissions, but none are planning to reduce their fossil fuel exports. They just hope it will show up on another country's emissions balance sheet.

That's not how markets work, at all. Oil has an extraction cost, and once the price falls below the profitable threshold, the production will absolutely shutdown.

This highly visible with the boom/bust cycle of the more expensive extraction areas (dakotas, canada, etc).

So as demand continues to drop due to competition from cheaper energy, oil supply will start to collapse as well because none of it comes for free and taking it out of the ground will become a money losing proposition.


> First, if we have clean energy, are we going to shut down fossil fuel plants that have already been built? If not, then fossil fuel will just become cheaper as demand drops

This is untrue. If cost to extract >> market price, then existing operations may well just be shut down. To quote Hemmingway it would likely happen "gradually then suddenly".


> The Earth has also been a lot warmer than it is now

Key here is rate of change, and what humans can survive. We are changing the climate many many times faster than ever before. Nature does not have the time to adapt. And the wars, famines and mass displacements coming from ecosystem collapse is like nothing we've seen in human history. Think we have a problem with a few million migrants? Try a billion or two!

P-T Extinction event "The Great Dying" took on the order of 100 000 years to elevate CO2 and still killed off 96% of marine species and 70% of land vertebrates. The largest mass extinction ever(?) We're going strong in that direction over a few hundred years.

And a very hot earth will have large areas that are not survivable by humans, by traditional crops and food animals, and so on. Storms and floods massively more powerful than we see today.

Frankly, how can you not be afraid of that future? It's very likely your descendants won't survive it.


Earth will be fine.

Life on Earth will be fine, but that life will be different to the life we have today.

The only thing not fine is whether humans survive what they/we ultimately have brought about.

But in there is a kind of beautiful justice that the universe has in it's self-correcting algorithm... if you create imbalance, the imbalance will correct in time but perhaps to do so it kills you.

If we care about the human race, it means to care about the whole ecosystem and all other life on Earth. But the evidence of behaviour by people and governments is that they only care for themselves as individuals and not the wider human race, and other life on Earth.

I no longer see hope for significant change in the behaviour of humans, and I've shifted my view to believing that what is needed to provide massively long-term stability in the ecosystem for life on Earth is another mass extinction that includes humans.

Which sounds depressing, but doesn't feel it. I'm positive about life on Earth, just not about humans.


> Earth will be fine. Life on Earth will be fine...

TBH statements like these really grate on me. Yes, Earth will be fine in the same sense that you'd be fine if you surgically removed your arms, legs, eyeballs, ears, and tongue and then were fed intravenously and your waste disposed of for you. You might live a long life and have lots of nice dreams.

The reality is that we are in early stages of kicking off a cascade of effects that could wipe out the majority of the food web on Earth--let's say, everything larger than your finger. Yeah sure, insects and microbes will reboot it all--in a hundred millions years, if ever. Wonderful!

To make such flippant remarks about so profoundly annihilating the bioversity of this very special planet is not helpful in the dialogue.

Let's please work on this problem seriously.


I’d love to see a credible source suggesting that climate change has any kind of remote chance of wiping out all life on earth larger than a few cm.


It's not just climate change, it's the combined effects of a lot of different things, not the least of which is overfishing, deforestation, loss of habitat, and selective destruction of ecosystems.

So far we've really only scratched the surface, but there have been hundreds of local mass die-offs (billions of individual animals each). https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/01/150113-mass...

The Great Barrier Reef is about half dead now. In two years. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/since-20...

But look at what happened at the end of the Permian age. 96% of species were lost. It was due to CO2/methane causing climate change. https://cosmosmagazine.com/palaeontology/big-five-extinction...

(btw we still have no idea what caused the extinction at the end of the Triassic).

We're basically on the way to combining all of these causes of mass extinctions in a super-short timeframe that may mushroom into one super-massive extinction.

And as far as what-if's go, if climate change sets off a global conflict, and there's a nuclear war, forget it.


All those things are horrible. None of them have the remotest chance of wiping out all life larger than a few cm.


Phytoplankton seems to decline due to warming[1]. If this trend continues we're going to have a bad time. Phytoplankton produces at least half of the oxygen we breathe and is key to the oceanic food web.

[1] https://www.nature.com/news/2010/100728/full/news.2010.379.h...


I worked a bit around the data, and I am very sceptical about humanity ability to produce enough CO2 for The Climate Change. Volcanic activity was, is, and will be the main contributor to the CO2 pool. Humanity is not the geological force, regretfully.



Ah, Forbes always was an authoritative source on climate change. I am not in the mood for battling over the authors who are unable to consider 250 000 underwater volcanoes. You know, 250 000 underwater volcanoes cannot be wrong.


That's a nice cherry-picking over the sources you're doing here. From Scientific American, quoting USGS:

> According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the world’s volcanoes, both on land and undersea, generate about 200 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, while our automotive and industrial activities cause some 24 billion tons of CO2 emissions every year worldwide

But I guess you're more knowledgeable on the subject than the US geological survey?

> On average, human activities put out in just three to five days, the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide that volcanoes produce globally each year

https://www.usgs.gov/news/human-activities-produce-more-carb...


So you‘re biased against one source and ignore all the others given here?



> The only thing not fine is whether humans survive what they/we ultimately have brought about.

Humans will be fine, as a species. But the human and economic costs will be large.

Compare it to the Hurricane Katrina: most people in New Orleans weathered it fine (i.e. by evacuating the city). The city itself also survived mostly okay (it's still there). But the economic cost of cleanup was huge; and while most people survived without injury, many did not for various reasons.

The choice of "spend a bit of money now, save a Katrina later" versus "save money now, have a Katrina later" is pretty clear. Unfortunately in the case of Katrina we didn't have much of a choice, but for climate change we do. If we invest resources now we can save a lot of problems later on. Or we can spend our resources on other things now, and pay a huge price later.

Alarming "zomg we might all die" stuff isn't really all that helpful or likely to convince politicians or businesses to actually do something. It also invites the "meh, the earth has been warmer" counter-argument, which is missing the point. I think more level-headed risk analysis which lists potential costs/benefits is more useful.


If the main argument is economic costs, then this turns the discussion from a global to a localized problem, whether the required actions or sacrifices justify the local risks.

For example, is it worth for some country to "invest", say, $100 billion in reducing emissions - which, at least unilaterally, won't be sufficient to prevent the effects of climate change but just mitigate them - or can they achieve better mitigation by a comparable investment in reinforcing their shoreline, updating or relocating buildings, etc?

If USA had to vote on whether to spend (or lose by restricting growth) $1 trillion of USA resources to prevent $10 trillion of future losses in SE Asia, then I'd assume that such proposals would be swiftly declined; spending our resources on other things now and having someone else pay a huge price later would be considered a quite good deal by many governments, as the countries that most need to take action are not the same countries that will bear the harshest consequences.


> If the main argument is economic costs

Economic, human, and ecological costs. I am not hugely in favour of reducing everything to economics (although it's definitely an important part).

I also don't think that it's as simple as "$1 trillion of USA resources to prevent $10 trillion of future losses in SE Asia". Globalisation means that "local" economies aren't really all that local; so problems in e.g. SE Asia will also affect other parts of the world.


Humans are the ultimate adapters. Heck, we can survive in the vacuum of space, the highest peaks and some of the lowest parts of the ocean. We live in deserts and rain forests and tundra and remote islands.

Humans will survive. They will adapt. It may not be in the same numbers and lifestyle as today, but the human race will likely be here for a very long time.


Human societies can have individuals doing all that. Stable, large societies. The astronauts can survive in the vacuum of space because of technology, and they can get to space because of technology - technology that is backed by hundreds of thousands of people all across the greater economic machine that built the rocket and the space suits, and supplied and fed everyone involved.

As individuals, we're not much more interesting than any other animal. It's our technological civilization that makes us interesting in the grand scheme of things, and that civilization is both hard to bootstrap and extremely fragile.


Without our technology, we can still run farther and longer than any other species, use our delicate fingers and opposable thumbs, control fire, and make and use tools and solve relatively complex puzzles. As a species, without our tech, we are head and shoulders above most species.


Sort of. But fire and tools are technology, the very lowest tier. Our ability to stack technology, to use tools to build better tools, is what makes us interesting - as long as we actually make use of this ability.


> Humans are the ultimate adapters.

Well yes, nearly ('extreme' perhaps: 'ultimate' sounds a bit magical), but that's the problem. Darwinian evolution has created a creature than can avoid most sources of population limits that permit ecosystem stability. This same creature has the flexibility to repeat the trick in all regions on the planet, crashing one after another.

And then although our species is (for better or worse) remarkably resilient, agricultural civilisation is far too new to be able to make similar claims about it. The 21st century signs aren't good. It's hard to imagine major climate collapse convulsions not resulting in ongoing wars, probably nuclear.

So yes, literal extinction of humans doesn't seem likely. Some people may enjoy the idea of a dystopic 'The Road' style rag-tag dog-eat-dog existence (though they're probably mostly pale wormy teens who in real life panic when out of reach of a screen). But the breakdown of a planetary society of 7-12 billion (depending on how far into this process we can jury rig nations to hold together) is going to be nothing but a litany of sorrow & pain.


Humans have survived fine these extremes only because there is normal ecosystem outside from it. Now imagine that after climate collapse the vacuum of space, top of the peak or bottom of the ocean is the only environment we have. You don't even have a single remote island with reasonable nature. No, humans will not survive it for long.


Humans cannot survive in the vacuum of space. Check the twin experiment NASA done lately.


“The planet has been through a lot worse than us. And we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are!”


Nice, dark if not nihilist summary.

Have to agree with you there. Things will probably get much worse before they get better. Now there are 2 possible attitudes, either depression from obvious lack of adequate action, or acceptance of what's about to come will come, whatever it is.

By acceptance I don't mean ignorance, by all means promote moral, 'green' solutions, recycle, vote for sane people who at least pretend to care (I am looking at you, US). Or do gazillion of other things that help, and avoid those which don't. I know I do my part, however insignificant.

But change is inevitable. Even though on paper we can still avoid most dark stuff, we won't. Mankind as a whole will react properly only when it really will start to hurt, globally, and rich won't be able to comfortably escape or hide from it.

Some will die because of this. Some will profit from it. On enough long-term scale, it won't matter unless mankind will go extinct which I don't believe will happen.

Do I like it? Not at all. Can I change it? Same answer. Am I content with it and not waste my time, energy and mood on being depressed about it? Absolutely.


Sounds like a job for Thanos (the last avenger movie) ;)


>We are changing the climate many many times faster than ever before

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080619142112.h...

The ice core showed the Northern Hemisphere briefly emerged from the last ice age some 14,700 years ago with a 22-degree-Fahrenheit spike in just 50 years...


The temp has definitely changed faster than this before and the hundred years people are worried about wouldn’t even show up in geological historic records.

For a recent example look up the younger dryas on Wikipedia. It seems like the average global temp moved about 5 degrees over a few decades.


“””The Younger Dryas … was a return to glacial conditions which temporarily reversed the gradual climatic warming after the Last Glacial Maximum started receding”””

Closest I can get to supporting your client is that the local temperature of Greenland went up a lot at the end of that period. Not global. And given the article talks a lot about global thermohaline circulation, extreme local variation is not surprising.


It is a bit of an educated guess because we can’t know the global average, but most of the local temps that are estimated moved in the same direction. The ones in Greenland were larger than most though.


Wikipedia — which you chose to suggest as a source — Does not at first glance provide citations for other locations. Can you please do so?


Sure, the text of this reference at least agrees with my claim of a general trend: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/abrupt-climate-change/The%20Younge...


Thanks.

I can’t follow the link from there to (Brauer et al. 2008) as that link is paywalled.

The Greenland graph is essentially vertical, but the Cariaco graph looks like it’s relatively spread out as well as being much smaller magnitude — though even then, the delta is double the current estimated maximum sustainable excess over pre-industrial temperatures.


Primates first developed when earth was 14°C warmer:

http://gergs.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/All_palaeotemps_...


How is that relevant?

Areas where more than a billion people live today will become uninhabitable to humans if they warm up by 14 degrees. Actually, much sooner than that.


They will. However, areas, where almost no one lives today, will be inhabitable instead. There's plenty of barely inhabited space on Earth.

That will be a giant migration crisis, on an unprecedented scale, sure. Maybe even a world war. Nothing good, not in slightest. Something best avoided at all costs.

Yet, the point is, if this won't be avoided - humanity as a whole is still not in danger. We're not going extinct if Earth will warm up. The world will change drastically, many millions will die, ecosystems will be shattered - but H.sapiens aren't going to disappear as a species.


I wouldn't be surprised of most of the western world will wait until the "Areas where more than a billion people live today will become uninhabitable to humans if they warm up" start taking drastic anti-climate-change sacrifices first. If they aren't willing to sacrifice economic growth to mitigate those consequences, then no one will.


Yeah I can totally see that kind of logic coming. But if everyone just waits for someone else to do something, nothing will change. That is the most likely outcome, I think.


But why? Why can't we adapt to those environments using technology? This is what the OP comment is saying.


Because our technology doesn't magically appear out of nowhere. Even the simple DIY "lifehack" you can assemble from $5 worth of RadioShack parts has huge supply chains hidden behind it, staffed by hundreds of thousands of people. On top of that, all those supply chains are full of circular dependencies. A chip needs a fab. A fab needs computers. Computers need chips... and screws. Screws need metal and precision manufacturing machines. Precision manufacturing machines need computers and screws. Metal mining needs computer and screws. Etc.

If the climate situation gets to the point of crashing global supply chains, say goodbye to all modern technology. Whatever's left will degrade quickly, and we'll be back to preindustrial levels, but with no easily accessible dense energy sources to bootstrap another industrial revolution.

This is why I keep saying that the most important goal right now is not to protect the planet, not to protect the human species, but to protect our technological civilization. If it collapses, we'll still be there (albeit in reduced numbers). But our civilization won't recover for millennia.


That's a common trope in Science Fiction. But modern technology is different from the Iron Age. It uses vastly less energy for the same result; its honestly simpler in many regards than what came before.

Sure there are dependencies, and some technologies will collapse and become unachievable for generations. But others are essentially free of dependencies - the germ theory of disease, the staff system, democracy, air travel, bicycles. Easy to bring back or keep, and with tremendous benefits.

I've always been sad that post-apocalyptic scenarios have no bicycles, and no biplanes. They just postulate people being the same as people were in the stone age, maybe with some recycled trash thrown in.


That's a fair observation. In fact, applying modern scientific and engineering knowledge to tech built from ground-up is something I'm interested in[0]. The post-collapse life would be better thanks to all this knowledge (as long as people keep copying books instead of burning them), but I still maintain we'd end up in a pretty dire situation.

Consider that food production is very much dependent and looped with all the existing supply chains. As some say, modern agriculture is essentially pouring petroleum into the ground and harvesting crops that grow from it. Could we use our scientific knowledge to get better results than preindustrial people did with the same tech level? Sure. Will it be enough to feed even 20% of current population, especially given the battered climate? I doubt it. And the way I see it, a lot of our "social technologies" - as well as more "physical" ones - seem to depend on population size and density.

Speaking of science fiction tropes, I read an interesting book once - "The Windup Girl". It featured a post-climate-change world with depleted fossil fuels and collapsed technology, that still sort-of worked thanks to machines being powered by mechanical work (with spring systems for storage and special breeds of animals providing muscle power). I wish more books and movies would go into this territory.

--

[0] - not just because it's what we'll need come climatepocalypse, but also because I believe there are many unexplored "low-tech/hi-science" solutions that could let us achieve similar results in many areas of life, while using much less energy, or with much less dependence on existing infrastructure. For instance, I feel that mechanical energy storage (springs) and gliders are underexplored and underapplied, since energy today is too cheap to bother.

--

EDIT and a tangent: I am really interested in the possibility of combining gliders with computers and sensors to enable extremely energy-efficient (if not time-efficient) flight. If anyone knows of work being done in this space, I'd love to get some directions or resources about it.


I'm on the same page. The easiest thing to do once the collapse comes will be to give up and die instead of change - and maybe 80% is too conservative an estimate of the number of folks that will take this route.

Farming is more of a 'trickle petroleum into the ground and harvest crops'. Its one of the most efficient of technologies now. With good timing and no-till and ammonia fertilizer, even eroded clay hillsides produce bumper crops. It is a fragile technology tree but much simpler trees could be forged, having a good whack of the same benefits.


RE the 80%, I expect the food shortage pressures to cause immediate wars that would quickly help shed the excess population. I fully expect to die in such a conflict (or be forced to eat a bullet to avoid the pain of starvation).

RE farming and other technology trees, it might be worth it to hedge our bets by trying to develop such simpler tech trees right now. In the worst case, we'd be making life much easier for the survivors. In the best case, maybe we could reapply some of those ideas to further reduce energy waste.


Just come to my place in the country, here in Iowa. That's what all the family are expecting to do. It's our gathering place. Remote from centers of population, food production facilities and stores everywhere, inhospitable enough to discourage refugees (winter), personal firearm ownership the norm. And our family includes doctors, soldiers, farmers and managers. Kind of the perfect mix!


Thanks :). Would love to come and help you fortify. Alas, it'll involve catching a flight from central Europe before shit hits the fan.


All about the timing. Maybe make a dry run before it gets that far, work the kinks out? Honestly, you'd be welcome.


I'd be happy to. Can you send me an e-mail?


Ideas get lost too. The way out of the dark ages was made by monasteries who saved libraries. It still took forever to recover.

Maybe we’ll have a rennasaince. Maybe we won’t; but Paper Books will be critical


Are we going to adapt all the world's flora and fauna to the changed conditions too?

If so it's simply cheaper to entirely fix global warming. If not, what are we planning on eating?

We're already seeing species can't react quickly enough to changing conditions. Flora especially takes time to move. If it's only humanity that is adapting, isn't the point rather moot?


The principle species that can't react quickly enough is Homo Sapiens, sadly. At least lower mammals don't have to deal with denial and demagogues.


Most of the people who live in places that will become uninhabitable, can either not or can barely afford clear water and food. They will not be able to afford hi tech solutions. Since Humanity does not help them now, it is not reasonable to assume that we will help them in the future.


They're not saying that these people will survive, just that the human kind will survive


One immediate reason is our physiological limit (see wet bulb temperature), which is achieved at air temperatures as low as 45 degrees C depending on humidity.

Another is sea level rise. For +14C that's on the order of +30 meters as currently predicted.

And of course such drastic changes don't come alone. Weather patterns will change, food production will be threatened, governments will be destabilized, wars will happen.

We can tech our way out of some of this but who's to say that we will be given enough time and resources. The universe doesn't owe us anything.


Coral reefs and their ecosystem lie at a precise depth - where water clarity, temperature and sea floor cooperate to provide enough sunlight and energy to allow corals to grow. A change in sea temperature of a degree or two, or a rise or fall of a few inches, and existing coral reefs collapse. And it takes centuries for them to regrow.

Many things are like that. And we don't have decades to wait for the Earth to become congenial again, we need to eat every day.


Sure.

What about industrial civilization?


> Fundamentally this also seems like a "betting with the Mayans" type scenario too. Either the doomsayers are right and we're screwed. If so, you'll be right but who cares? We're still screwed. You're probably better off just hoping things will work out because, honestly, I think there's a pretty decent chance they will.

I think you are fundamentally missing the point of the question. The question is what we can do to prevent climate change, not how we should align our beliefs not to worry about it.

> So it's kind of sad that a lot of the larger fauna is doomed but you're not going to change people's appetites for rhino horns, fish bladders, tiger oil or pangolin dishes. Then again, maybe future genetics can restore some or all of those species.

This perfectly exemplifies my problem with this attitude.

You call this "levelheaded optimism", but you're basically throwing your hands up hoping for someone to apply some sort of sci-fi solution to the problem at some point in the future. Calling for Jurassic Park to restore extinct species is the opposite of levelheaded. To say that there's nothing we can do about it now is really just thinly veiled defeatism and not at all optimistic.

Meanwhile, for example, the demand and supply of rhino horns is decreasing overall, not because people are content with speculating about how someone else in a future generation will solve the problem, but because deliberate action is being taken to change the attitudes towards rhino horns, campaigning to educate people about the medicinal myths surrounding them, to destroy smuggled horns and to protect the animals from poachers.

If the people engaging in these actions had just laid back, convinced that someone will be able to beam rhinos from a parallel universe by 2100AD anyway, they'd probably have been extinct by now.


I think the biggest counter to that optimism is that while those necessary technologies are being developed, civilization will perhaps be going through major disruption that causes lots of suffering and death. Humans will almost certainly not go extinct, and may even get some great technological advancements out of the ordeal, but at the scale of human lives there will be a lot of suffering.


Oh sure. No argument. My point isn't that it should happen (it shouldn't) or that I don't care (I do). Not that there isn't and won't be suffering (there is and there will be).

My point is that this is unfortunately what human nature is and I don't see any great change tool that unless we get to some kind of post-scarcity situation but I'm reasonably optimistic about that.


“Humans will almost certainly not go extinct”

I wish there was a prediction market where I could bet against you on this outcome...


If you are a human, you will not be able to collect your win anyway.


While I appreciate your optimism, it comes at the risk of failing to take personal action. The general sentiment is that people are uninterested in, or incapable of, making meaningful lifestyle changes , and that some future technological developments will transcend the Earth's carrying capacity to sustain us while cleaning up our collective mess. While there may be some shades of truth to that sentiment, it is still within our power and responsibility to live sustainably.


That's better than taking action that is actually meaningless and thinking you've done something (e.g. the CA unsolicited drinking water ban or people unplugging inactive phone chargers). People who do things like this to get their virtue signaling credit do even less to make meaningful changes because they "already helped".

There are things you can do to take personal action. The ones that actually matter are usually disruptive (e.g. eliminating your daily commute is orders of magnitude better than eating local). Most of the mainstream 'sustainable living' tips are just a drop in the bucket designed around minimizing disruption and maximizing showing off.


This is a good point. Optimism is good for motivation but it has to result in action and not be simply ignoring a problem. Pessimism paralyses people into inaction but by understanding the psychology we can change that.

I wrote a series of posts on this recently with more to come. Far more than I can fit in here. It's a classic tragedy of the commons but there is hope.

https://unop.uk/how-to-help-with-a-big-global-problem-as-a-t...


> The Earth has also been a lot warmer than it is now so I have trouble believing the doomsday scenarios of runaway climate change that'll turn the Earth into Venus just because the Earth has been here for 4-5 billion years, has been hotter than now and hasn't become Venus yet. We also seem to have a pretty poor history of predictions when it comes to climate change too.

This is disingenuous because humans have been around say 2M years, and those hot climate years were >5M years ago. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geologic_temperature_record).

We don't need Earth to have Venus conditions for it to be a big problem for us.


And before someone replies with "How can you possibly say that", you can do both - be optimistic about the future and also change your own personal habits and become educated on the topic in general anyway.


Sounds very optimistic, but also depends on a lot of "if"s and "maybe"s. Fact is that while a lot of hard problems do get solved by new innovations, not all of them are, and systems do fail catastrophically sometimes.

Who knows what the future will bring. I have little doubt that the planet and human species will survive in the longer term, but the ecological, human, and economic costs will be huge. It's a stupid gamble: the benefits to ignoring climate change are small, and the dangers are huge.

It bothers me to no end that even in Europe many parties that acknowledge that climate change is real and a serious problem (basically everyone, only the US/GOP is a mainstream source of climate denial) kind of ignore it because "zomg the economy might shrink 0.001% the next quarter". It's spectacularly short-sighted, and it's one of several examples where our democratic system is failing massively in addressing serious problems.


You don't have to turn the Earth into Venus. You just have to raise the Earth from 283 Kelvin to 285 Kelvin, and you'll get massive flooding and ice melt which technology won't be able to wave away. Look at hurricanes today, they are deadly, where is the tech saving us from them?


The thing is, hurricanes are remarkably not deadly compared to the scale of social change that preventing climate change would require.

For example, in the currently worst recent hurricane years, cars killed something like 10 times more people in USA than these hurricanes. If we got people to drive half as much (which would help but not be sufficient), then the most impact on deaths and injuries would come directly from the change in habits, not from the effect on global warming.

If we're not willing to drastically reduce driving so as we'd save some of the 40000 USA road vehicle deaths/year (and we're obviously not), then why would we be willing to drastically reduce emissions just to save some of the 2000-4000 hurricane deaths/year?

The same goes for massive flooding. OK, Bangladesh will plausibly get many deaths from the sea level rise. USA? Not so much; it can probably afford a massive infrastructure investment to do Netherland-style dams for all densely populated coastal areas.


Cars, weather satellites etc... We can evacuate a hurricane, we can't evacuate the planet.


> Too expensive to get to space? Eventually the cost of this will go down to dollars per kilogram.

You speak of this as if space migration is going to be scalable.


The likely end result of orbital systems looks something like this: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=LMbI6sk-62E

The thing about the that is that it's not high tech. It's an engineering problem not a science problem. A massive engineering solution I'll grant you. I'll also concede that there are going to be a lot of steps on between.


That is your answer? Some crazy science fiction colossal international space structure that will require all countries of humanity working together to build?

The future is going to be very mundane. Conventional reusable rockets are going to be enough. The fuel cost of a launch is orders of magnitude lower than the cost of whatever satellites you're bringing into orbit.


> Worried about how we'll produce all that power? When getting stuff into orbit is sufficiently cheap it'll become economic to put solar collectors in orbit and beam energy back to Earth.

I used to be a big believer in this. But, from a pure waste heat standpoint, if we ever have to worry about having enough area in Earth's surface for solar panels, we have much bigger problems.

We are nowhere near that point now, but given a small but steady exponential growth in the energy supply, we'll get there in a couple hundred years.

However, space based solar power could help with intermittently of solar/wind if battery tech doesn't outpace enonomic orbital launches.


It all sounds great, except for:

1) We don't have enough time to wait for those solutions to be implemented.

2) Climate lag. We're now only seeing the consequences from the emissions from the 80s. Since then we've emitted a lot more CO2. Not only we need to reach zero emissions asap, as in in the next decade, but we also need to reach strong negative emissions very soon.

Don't get me wrong. I think if all humanity was focused working towards that goal it might be possible to get a shot at this, but I don't see that happening anytime soon.


> When getting stuff into orbit is sufficiently cheap it'll become economic to put solar collectors in orbit and beam energy back to Earth.

Can we have that before 2040 please

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/07/climate/ipcc-climate-repo...


> Fundamentally this also seems like a "betting with the Mayans" type scenario too. Either the doomsayers are right and we're screwed. If so, you'll be right but who cares? We're still screwed. You're probably better off just hoping things will work out because, honestly, I think there's a pretty decent chance they will.

Exactly. You can spread doom as much as you want and it won't help. You won't get a critical mass to listen to you. They won't change their behavior based on some event that will most likely happen in the far future. Sad, but true.

As a species, we don't have a history of planning and preventing. Instead we have always been adapting to change as things happen. This is essentially the same.

If technology caused a problem, technology can also solve it.


> If technology caused a problem, technology can also solve it.

Sometimes. If it's economically viable. Sometimes many decades later.

Take PCBs as an example. Their absurd longevity means nearly all of it is still around, causing a long list of harms, and will probably continue for decades more. Long after production ceased.


Gentle reminder: op of this thread mentioned Isaac Arthur and futurism in general as a source of inspiration as to how one can positively think about things like climate change.

In that context:

* Economic viability is a matter of time. Have commercially viable fusion reactors? You better recalculate your econ viability all over.

* PCBs: Nanotechnology, robotics, AI


We keep trying to shift accountability from ourselves to technology. It is our responsibility to change our lifestyles now. Not in a generation when some hypothetical technical savior may emerge and deliver us from danger.


It's our technology. We made it. We are responsible. I don't see your point.

What do you want people to do? Stop living their lives and give up tech? To what level? Can we keep the wheel?

That's not how things work in reality.


Previous civilisations have given up the wheel. The Japanese did, then in the Middle East the wheel went by the wayside where animals rather than wheels suited the compact cities.

Just saying that because some people don't understand that there are good reasons to give up those clumsy wheel things, they ain't the bees knees.

In the post nuclear war movie 'Threads' there is a quick loss of education and language in the nuclear winter years. A girl is shown with a record player and records, this scene is about how the girl has no idea what this is for, the very culture of music is not conceivable, it has been lost.

All tech is given up in the apocalypse. As is language and civilisation. It becomes a life of harsh survival. Violence becomes the universal language that everyone understands, that's it.

This is still an outcome our politicians have not gone to rule out for us. With our taxes we pay for tens of thousands of nuclear weapons to be pointed at us.

If we just give up the cult of militarism then we will be fine.


A climate change "Threads" with the same impact and production values might be a really helpful thing. 35 years later there's been nothing else like it, despite its almost unbelievably low budget.


This seems like a psychological defence against anxiety/depression rather than an actual foundation for real action.

You're looking at big, broad patterns and assuming they will work out on the huge scales necessary for civilisation to continue. Other people are looking at the big broad patterns and assuming that cascading failures will make problems accelerate.


No, it's not.

It's a mindset and a positive attitude that is constructive instead of spreading fear and doom, which does not yield any positive outcome at all.


> spreading fear and doom, which does not yield any positive outcome at all.

That's not true. You are keeping saying that in several of your comments. There are many examples where things have changed because of

  Spreading fear and doom -> Politicians pass laws -> Industry is forced to react -> New technologies developed/deployed/...
What you and some others here are proposing is basically to wait that things crash and then directly jump to the "New technologies" part. Like a child waiting for christmas.


No that's not what I propose and I also don't think that's what op proposed.

If you read the comments again you will see that all that was said is "you won't change the outcome this way", which means that political action alone is not enough.

Look at what's happening currently. All that fear and doom may lead to political decisions, but have they changed the carbon level in our atmosphere? You try to regulate something without looking at the overall outcome. If you want to do something, it's much better to do something positive, e.g. passing subsidies for renewable energy tech.

I think it doesn't make sense anymore to discuss this here. HN is not a good place to discuss different opinions which could be interpreted as being political. The people with the downvote power decide what's valid and what's not.

It's sad as otherwise we could have a fruitful discussion here.


> If you want to do something, it's much better to do something positive, e.g. passing subsidies for renewable energy tech.

Okay, that makes sense and, even better, also works sometimes. In fact, renwable energy is a good example where incentives can trigger changes (see the solar market in Europe). However, there are also many examples where incentives have not worked, although running for decades, because people are too lazy or because the financial incentives are not big enough. People and (by design) the industry are waiting that the goverment pays and says "please, please, take that money and prevent that we destroy human life for next 100000 years".

At some point you have to say "fck you, stop that behavior, otherwise you will kill us all". In my opinion, we are very close to that point with the CO2 level. In contrast, OP seems to suggest that we should continue and hope that some miracle in technology will help us, because saying "Stop that, you idiot" doesn't work, right? The market will fix it and regulations and deep states are bad, right? But the fact is that regulations have worked many times. See leaded petrol, asbestos, catalyzators, pesticides, and basically all laws that we have had in Europe for the protection of the environment in the past 50 years. I am not a child waiting for christmas, but an adult who knows that the parents bought the presents.


This is different. It's not asbestos or pesticides. What differentiates it is that it's slow death by heating up. Some time in the future. Not now. You can't even measure the success of your political regulations with regard to global carbon emissions on a conceivable time scale. Success is directly measurable for the things that you named. That's not the case here.

I don't get why it's necessary to start a left vs. right, regulations vs. non-regulations war on this. This is effectively destroying the discussion about real solutions.

I got a completely different impression of op's comment. Namely, that we as humans cannot control everything, but there's ways we can get real progress when we combine our talents to come up with great technical solutions.

I doubt that we will be able to turn the clock back, and I wouldn't want to participate in trying.

That doesn't mean that we cannot do something positive via political means meanwhile. I'm just saying that evidence suggests it doesn't solve the problem on a global scale and hence is obviously not the whole solution.


I think it doesn't make sense anymore to discuss this here.

Personally, I'm impressed with the overall quality of discussion in this thread. It's going a whole lot better than most other discussions I've seen online. There's a certain irony that you are against "doom and gloom" arguments, but fail to see any hope for productive discussion. Stick around, keep discussing, and make it incrementally better.


Indeed I fail to see any hope for a productive discussion involving different opinions on HN if I see people scrolling down to the bottom of a comment page to put another downvote on an already greyed out post.

It's becoming an echo chamber.

I am happy to continue a discussion, but not here.


I don't see how believing it will all work out fine and not worrying is constructive, yet spreading fear (which might actually encourage people to act) is not.


I did not say that you should not worry. Still, spreading fear can yield very dangerous decisions.


How is it constructive to say that there's nothing we can do about people's appetites for rhino horns when there's 70 years of evidence of that not being the case? It's not positive, it's an overall defeatist attitude thinly veiled in sci-fi speculation.


This is such a beautiful and fresh perspective. Too often there is a cheap optimism that doesn't quite feel genuine - laziness and ignorance feels like the easy alternative route.

But sometimes a brand of pragmatic, disciplined optimism serves to inspire without diminishing the urgency or importance of the matter at hand. This hit that mark pretty well.


> Think we're dumping too much CO2 into the atmosphere? We no doubt are but that problem basically goes away immediately if we ever get economic fusion power.

That's an enormous "if". Fusion research has been underfunded for decades, we don't even know if we can sustain it, and for a reason I don't get, many ecologists are anti-nuclear. Plus fusion won't solve everything. You won't put a sun core into your car nor your plane, not in the next centuries.

> Even if we don't, the plummetting cost of wind and solar may solve that anyway (by "solve" I mean that as soon as non-fossil fuel power production is cheaper than fossil fuels it becomes economic to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and turn into hydrocarbons).

Oh, you mean the unreliable power sources that sometimes provide electricity, sometimes don't?

> The Earth has also been a lot warmer than it is now

Well yes but 5°C is also the difference between an ice age and a hot age. We're currently in a hot age and the 4°C increase we're heading to are not very engaging. (Remainder, during ice age North America down to NY and Northern Europe down to Paris were covered by enormous glaciers. So what will the climate be in 4°C?). https://xkcd.com/1379/

Also in human history the Earth has never been this hot.

> Too expensive to get to space? Eventually the cost of this will go down to dollars per kilogram.

Ha. To escape Earth gravity you still need to spend 6.2*10^7 J/kg. That's gonna be a long time before we get to 1$/kg given that rocket propulsion is extremely costly (and as far as we know can't rely on atomic energy either). We're still at ~25 000 $/kg. And anyway recent studies show that the human body is unlikely to bear a trip to Mars, let alone the health issues caused by weightless environment.

Edit, source: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/09/26/1807522115. Basically the study suggests heavy ion irradiation is dangerous for the digestive system. The only thing is I'm not sure about the number of mice they used.

> We also seem to have a pretty poor history of predictions when it comes to climate change too.

I mean it's not as if oil companies conducted their own research and reached the very same conclusion in 1977. Oh wait. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/exxon-knew-about-...

I'm sorry but you're just burying your head in the sand, making the problem someone else's.


>> And anyway recent studies show that the human body is unlikely to bear a trip to Mars, let alone the health issues caused by weightless environment.

citations please..



That shows health effects (which we already know exist) - why does it support the claim that the human body is unlikely to reach mars?

My understanding is that without shielding about 5% of the voyagers will get cancer, and that many people consider this a reasonably acceptable risk. Does this make that number substantially worse?


It's also affecting nutrient absorption. I don't see any quantitative number about this in the paper but it's been mentioned several time as having an impact.


> And anyway recent studies show that the human body is unlikely to bear a trip to Mars, let alone the health issues caused by weightless environment.

Could you link to an article or study about this? I don't believe that humans will ever reach other stars, but if even Mars is too much, oh well.



> nor your plane

Agreed with car - not sure I agree with plane.

Currently we have fission powered submarines and boats. Putting a fission reactor in a plane would be somewhat suicidal, but a fusion reactor would be mostly safe. A large plane is similar in scale to a submarine.


There was a US project to produce a fission powered plane, starting in 1946: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aircraft_Nuclear_Propulsion

There were recently some rumours about the Russians producing a nuclear powered cruise missile.

I'm not sure a fusion powered plane would be any less crazy. At least with D-T fusion you have a MUCH higher neutron radiation requiring more shielding. OTOH if the plane crashes there's less worry about nuclear waste spreading over the landscape.


Safe maybe, but still restraining fusion is not something as easy as restraining fission. I'm still betting it won't happen in the next 150 years, even though I'd love to be proven wrong.


Well, having done some research into this recently, the tech world has something it can do right now. Switch to sustainably powered Cloud and move to renewably powered/offset Data Centres.

e.g. Google (100% carbon neutral), Azure (100% offset), AWS (Oregon, Montreal, Ireland, Frankfurt regions are 100% carbon neutral)

Cloud/Data Centres emit around 2% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (bet you didn't know that).

There is also research showing that we're going to increase our Data Centre usage by 5x in the next 7 years.

So change that 2% to something much much higher... because that much compute requires that much more energy and we don't have the worldwide renewables infrastructure at scale to cope with the extra capacity.

https://bit.ly/2024wp

https://www.change.org/p/sustainable-servers-by-2024

* Sign the pledge please * (if you agree with it of course)

It's almost the simplest thing we can easily do, and it should put pressure on tech companies to switch to renewables.

If we believe the tech industry is an innovator and a force for good, why not start with the means of production - the energy industry?

Sign up... switch... go!

PS I wrote the whitepaper with Anne Currie - we have not been paid for the work and was entirely voluntary. I used to work for AWS up until June this year.


Agreed, this is one for commercial votes ($). We're a rich industry that uses loads of electricity, most of which is fossil-fueled. We need to choose to run our servers 100% carbon neutral and that would make way more difference than individual action. That will get more spending on renewable generation. Our industry has the money and we can personally just choose to host somewhere carbon neutral (as mentioned, Google, Azure or the 4 sustainable AWS regions: Oregon, Montreal, Ireland, Frankfurt right now)


I wonder what percentage of CO2 comes from programmers commuting to work.


Go remote! the planet, along with your family, sanity, and happiness will thank you!

Every working programmer today can stand up, walk to their boss' desk, and have the conversation about going remote, even if only part time (for now). If they say no, ask how you can work towards that in the future, and if they don't relent, find a different job (don't immediately quit, obviously; now you have leverage in knowing that you want another job, but don't need it quite yet). When doing your job search, the first question you should ask is, "is the position remote friendly?"

Let's change the industry's culture from the ground up.


Stupid question; when saying 'go remote' you mean working from home right?


Essentially, but the joy of working remote is being able to work whenever you happen to be, whether it be on the road (I thought I saw an article about this but I fail to remember the author) or in your home office


This is a great point. This summer, I took my family for a week of beaching, boating, and snorkeling. I also worked the full week ... of course my boss knew what was up, as I'm up front about everything. But it was great being able to just modify my schedule, go snorkeling in the morning, come back, work, dinner, and then work a few more hours at night. All you gotta do is make sure that the place you're staying has wifi.


yes ... mostly :) I'll give my own example ... I work for a team/company in another state. So on most days, yes, I work from home. However, part time, I go into a local co-working space. This gives me a chance to get out of the house, socialize with other technical people IRL, etc etc. If I didn't have a co-working space available, I would probably try to band together a few folks and rent a small office somewhere to similar effect.

So, while for many people yeah it means working from home ... it doesn't necessarily have to mean working at your house :D


A couple of others:

Hetzner: https://www.hetzner.com/unternehmen/umweltschutz/?country=en

OVH also has an energy efficient data centre in Quebec powered by a hydroelectric dam.


Thanks! Just read the white paper. Super interesting. Just signed the petition


> Cloud/Data Centres emit around 2% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Is it just from electricity or the total operation? What about manufacturing and hardware replacements/maintenance? Is significant?


So it is relatively difficult to get exact data and all we can really get from the information supplied is electricity usage. That, plus the mix of electricity in the Data Centre location gives an approximation (again, it's an educated guess) of carbon emissions related to a site. Efficiencies are actually an irrelevance due to the rapid increase in usage swallowing up any gains caused by efficiencies.

Oh and the 2% from Data Centres is a conservative estimate. It's probably higher. We simply don't have the data because it's not required to share it.


In my opinion, the large corporations behind fossil fuels have too much of an economic clout. The governments around the world are dependent on them for a considerable amount of their respective national economy. So yes you are right about government not doing much about this.

Ultimately, unless there is a relatively quick mass extinction event, no government is going to be bothered into action. Climate change and the devastation it's going to cause, is going to play out slowly over the years. The most affected would be the poorest of the world. They are going to die first. The rich will have enough resources to be able to not only survive, but also thrive on these events as new business opportunities are going to be created.

Ultimately, Earth maybe a very different place 100 years from now, but the rich of today are surely going to have their descendants living quite comfortably.

The only thing an individual can do is to strive to get as rich as possible, because that is the only security that's going to save you and your family in the bleak future that lies ahead of us.


Large corporations have too much economic clout because our economic and political thinking is pre-rational and not fit for purpose.

You can't do rational planning on a planetary scale when your political frameworks are explicitly tailored to maximise short-term resource accumulation without limit for a micro-minority.

We're not going to win this one without a revolution - not just the usual violent class swap that lops off one aristocracy to make room for another, but a moral and cultural revolution in how we plan for the future as a species.

I'm not optimistic, because IMO it's too big a challenge, and we literally don't have the brains or the culture for it.

But I'm open to being surprised.


In democracies we can't all just throw up our hands and blame it on the political class and big business. If the ordinary people of the developed world really wanted something done about it, as a higher priority than anything else, there is no gun held to their heads preventing them from voting for that. We are all benefiting hugely from the cheap energy reaped from fossil fuels, whether we like it or not, and in the main the fact is we like it.

Imagining that 'large corporations' are reaping all the benefits and could bear all the cost of weaning the global economy off fossil fuels is jaw droppingly naive. The massive costs of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels would bear down heavily on all of us, and especially the poor and the third world. Can we imagine China elevating hundreds of millions of people out of poverty over the last 30 years without fossil fuels?

I'm no climate change denier, far from it. You're quite right that the costs will be severe, even catastrophic, but there is no easy answer to this.


Indeed, there's no gun to our heads preventing us voting for taking serious action on climate change. There doesn't need to be.

Imagine I'm a voter in, say, the US or the UK. There is no major party I can vote for that will, if elected, take serious action on climate change. In both nations there is a Green Party which probably would, but it has a firmly established track record of getting approximately zero votes; the only way in which voting Green has ever had any visible impact on US or UK policy is that a bunch of people voting for Ralph Nader in the 2000 US presidential election is part of why we had President Bush instead of President Gore, which is probably not an encouraging precedent to most potential Green voters.

And, of course, voting Green also means voting for all their other policies. Which doesn't matter if you regard climate change as the only important issue, but since you probably don't, you might find them unacceptable on other grounds; and since lots of other voters definitely don't, lots of them are going to be voting not-Green even if they care a lot about climate change ... which means that, once again, the Greens are not actually going to win, and the only real effect of voting for them is to give you less influence on which actually-electable candidate wins instead.

So no, in practice we don't have the option of voting for taking serious action on climate change. We have the option of voting for a big package of things, one of which happens to be serious action on climate change, in the knowledge that (even if a sizeable majority of voters wants serious action on climate change) voting for that package won't actually result in a government that will try to implement it.

It may be that those of us who care about climate change should be voting Green even though it predictably won't help in the near future, in order to "send a message" that might change the political landscape in future elections. Or that we should be putting pressure on the actually-electable parties to change their policies, or starting new parties, or something. But none of that means that we have a realistic way of getting action on climate change just by voting for it.


This isn't how policy making works though.

An excellent example is Brexit. The Brexit referendum existed solely because of UKIP and UKIP have only ever won 2 parliamentary seats. And those were both for sitting MPs that had defected.

However, UKIP did get 4-odd million votes, plenty of local councillors, MEPs etc. In other words, they clearly had a lot of support for their flagship policies and that caused the main parties, that had UKIP voters in their constituencies, to take notice. Unfortunately.

This has also, to a lesser extent, been the case with green issues. The Greens increased their vote from the 80's onwards and the main parties started to adopt green policies accordingly.

So, in the UK at least, there are well worn paths to get policies, like climate change action, to the top of the heap.

I'd argue that there are a few reasons why they're not top of the heap today:

1) Other things are deemed more important. Clearly Brexit is one. Whether you agree that it should be more important, or not, it's fairly undeniable that it's true.

2) The folk that have expressed most interest in green issues have tended to not be very engaged in formal politics. <30s predominantly. That changed somewhat in the 2017 election primarily because of Corbyn (though Greens did particularly badly). So it may be that green issues become more important as a byproduct of other changes.

3) There's a strong argument that UKIP's popularity was, in large part, due to Nigel Farage. He may well be a cock but he's a cock that was on TV a lot reinforcing his message. I mean, I like Sian Berry (no idea who the other bloke is) but she's no Nigel Farage.


This is a good analysis of the situation.

>(no idea who the other bloke is) Jonathan Bartley [0].

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


Depressingly pragmatic. While building resilience is certainly worthwhile, we can still fix this and should try.

I think individual actions can add up, particularly when we use the magnifying power of tech. I wrote a lot on this recently and I can't fit it all in a comment so I'll just link to it.

https://unop.uk/how-to-help-with-a-big-global-problem-as-a-t...

It boils down to a three step process:

- Understand

- Organise

- Amplify

There's a post for each and more to come.


When you say 'fix' do you mean 'prevent a two-degree shift' or 'transition to an zero-net-emissions economy'? Or do you mean we can avoid some survivable threshold higher than two degrees?

I agree that useful action is possible and important, but I'm starting to feel that our last chance to avoid catastrophic climate change was sometime last decade or the one before.


I mean both, first 'prevent a two-degree shift' then 'transition to an zero-net-emissions economy' and finally even negative emissions. This was almost solved in the 1980s and wasn't but that's a sunk-cost fallacy. The chips are down and we are where we are, so let's roll forward and get this solved.


Well, as comfortable as you will be able get with global wars, refugees, food shortages, etc. going on.

Governments and countries are not very stable under these conditions. Probably shouldn't expect your wealth to crisis proof your life in this scenario. Won't hurt but we'll all be much better off organizing to avoid this future.


>> Well, as comfortable as you will be able get with global wars, refugees, food shortages, etc. going on.

I think the crisis will be contained to the poorest parts of the world. Especially the tropics. This area is going to be the first to bear the brunt of climate change related problems.

I dont foresee Global wars happening. The politicians are too smart for that. They will try to contain the damage to the extant that the richer countries ( US, Europe, Australia ) are not affected much. Ofcourse there will be shortages as global supply routes are going to be disrupted.

The most thought provoking scenario here is going to be what will happen with China. Maybe not being a democracy will prove to be a blessing in disguise for it. Having a pragmatic group of men leading the country is the best option in the face of upcoming doom. China may shed a lot of weight ( population), but it may just survive, because of its largely monoculture and more or less obedient population.

I see much of Africa, SouthEast Asia to completely gone by the next 100 years. They will be left alone by the rest of the world to fight the battle of survival, and the odds wont be great.

MiddleEast is already ravaged, but they may continue to survive because they have oil.

Most rich countries ( the leaders I mean ), may not be very displeased with the fate of the poorer nations. Because as far as they are concerned mass deaths in poorer nations is only going to reduce the carbon emission load on our planet.


Somehow I doubt that people in these countries will sit on their hands while dying off.

Mass migration will definitely happen, and might even be supported by their governments and armies. India, Pakistan and China have nuclear weapons to wave around.

US will likely be better off than Europe thanks to the oceans and a big army / navy. But it will not be a good time for anyone if it comes to this.


> Because as far as they are concerned mass deaths in poorer nations is only going to reduce the carbon emission load on our planet.

But the wealthier nations are the ones producing majority of the carbon emissions.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/02/worlds-r...

Seems like you're counting on poorer countries to die off so you in the the richer nations can survive when it's the richer folks causing the problem. Like the resource loss from these continents wasting away won't affect them.


A part of the climate change calculation is that the poorer countries are actively improving their standards of living, and that means rapidly increasing their energy demands.


People in regions bearing the brunt of the change aren't just going to stay there. There will be mass migrations of possibly hundreds of millions, and no wall is going to stop them.


It's somewhat plausible that some of the potential targets of migration will choose to prevent this with military force, including nuclear weapons.


"The politicians are too smart for that"

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/oct/09/austr...

Good luck with that.


Mass Migration blows up your entire scenario.


Or migrate northwards, or upwards in elevation (latter might not work as well due to decreased precipitation). UK's latitude and natural moat are looking like pretty useful attributes, at the expense of losing considerable amounts of low lying coastline.


Sorry for painting a negative picture, but when poor countries are destabilised they create conflict for otherwise stable western countries too. Simply because it creates an opportunity for bad actors to gain strategic power.

For example, without becoming too political, it seems a plausible strategy for Russia to try and control migration from the east to gain influence over the EU.

Depending on the hyperbole, similar conflicts could become war scenarios where your wealth would not be enough to protect you.

Considering this, getting rich is certainly a good advice, but might not be enough. We need to work on de escalating the situation even without any altruistic reasons, if you want to maximise your personal survival chances.


> In my opinion, the large corporations behind fossil fuels have too much of an economic clout.

It's easy to blame the big corporations. It's also about the governments facilitating alternatives and about eventually, literally every person buying into that.


Don't wait for others to do things or take decisions. That's going to be an uphill battle if you really want changes quicker. Start with yourself, and then push others (including friends, family, colleagues, corporations, politicians, etc.). A lot can be done if people take up changes on their own instead of waiting for politicians or corporations or "those other polluting countries" to "just do something" about it.

Here are a few things you can do yourself and encourage those you know personally to follow:

1. Eliminate/reduce throwing or wasting food. Don't buy anything you wouldn't finish eating.

2. Eat only plants, or make plants the largest part of your meals while eliminating or reducing the consumption of animal products. Make sure you read up on nutrition and/or join some support groups.

3. Walk as much as possible and avoid fossil fuel based transport for yourself. Or try cycling. If necessary, take public transport.

4. Promote and use renewable sources of energy, like solar and/or wind, wherever possible.

5. Have fewer children or delay have children a little bit. This may have some other side effects depending on where you live and how the population demographic looks like.

If you think of yourself as committed to this cause and yet you see issues or barriers with the above, that's only a sign of how these things seem impossible to others who don't care enough. Work with (and on) yourself first.

Don't be shocked or surprised: you will see a whole lot of apathy all around you. People will even try to discourage you from doing anything and try to convince you that whatever you do just doesn't matter. Stop looking at them or listening to them.


I used to bike everywhere. It cost me personally. I showed up late sometimes. Wet. Disheveled. Sometimes didn’t go because the distance or weather.

While I’m all behind the “be the change you want to see” method, I sincerely believe that it can actually take you out of the fight.

While I’m bicycling on the way to a meeting someone is there a few mins early / or gets two meeting in, and they are able to lobby more. Or do more. And have more of an impact.

Or said allegorically, we need more sheep in wolve’s clothing to take on the wolves in sheep’s clothing.


> Have fewer children...think of yourself as committed to this cause...People will even try to discourage you...Stop looking at them or listening to them.

This sounds a lot like a cult religion to me.


There's no way we're going to make a meaningful positive impact on the climate without doing things that make people uncomfortable. The sooner we start, the less dramatic that discomfort will be


Well, think of any kind of mass change that you believe is beneficial to humanity and I bet you'd have a similar set of points that seem cultish.


Don't worry, it's not going to spread.


I like polar bears so it's sad to see those go. It will be disturbing to see coastal cities founded next to sunken cities. Storms are fun but only when they're occasional. I already miss the insects.

We worry about losing languages, cultures, artwork to the unyielding entropic horror named time. Not because we have a pragmatic need for them. But the future is scary when you can't bring the past with you. My culture is my security blanket.

Maybe my kids are going to grow up in a world not defined by technology but by the change in daily regimen of existence. Humans adapt really well to just about anything, so I bet my kids will feel right at home. They'll roll their eyes on cue when I insist that the future wasn't supposed to be like this.

I've always kind of wondered how someone as liberal as me can possibly turn into an old curmudgeon. Maybe this is how. Maybe I'll be disquieted not by being overrun by the creep of new gadgets, but by looking around and seeing a completely foreign anthroposphere.


Polar bear populations are fine, sea level had been rising at the same rate for much longer than we've been industrialized, storm rate isn't changing, and where do you live that there are no insects?


> where do you live that there are no insects

Relevant paper. 75% recorded decline in insect biomass:

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal...


Polar bears can swim all summer while they wait for the ice to return.


I'd be surprised if you have any evidence for this. Adult bears can swim surprisingly long (many days, not months), but cubs cannot and die.


Well, we _could_ build a world where the majority of people:

* Live in a very well insulated flat in the city that isn't made of concrete

* Have meat and dairy only as a luxury item

* Use solar and wind power for your heat pump and AC

* Ride a bike or walk to work, or take electrically-powered public transport

* Use non-luxurious sea transport to go on foreign holidays

we'd be about there. But boiling today's young people for the sake of cheap gas has proven more politically feasible.


People on HN seem to believe the default state of humanity is driving everywhere and living in the suburbs, when that's only true in particular parts of the US for the last 80 years or so. A frequent question I see about not owning a car is "well how could I possibly get groceries otherwise??" The only way we can address our individual footprint and our isolation crisis is to build real towns and cities again, but I'm doubtful.

Don't have a lot of hope for this one, people are willing to tell others to change their patterns but will rarely change their own. That way, you get woke points but don't have to do anything. Plus that Tesla looks GREAT in the driveway, especially when you consider that climate change is all everyone else's fault.


"People on HN", to me, seems like it should be "People in the US".

There are plenty of urbanists on HN. Anecdotal, but I swear if I post something like "your free parking is just welfare for car owners" it will be upvoted most of my workday, and then downvoted as Americans come online. But I don't have hard data for this (wonder if HN has a way to pull the comment score history over time...)

For what it's worth, my Brompton looks pretty cool at my desk, too, but that's less visible.

And yeah, all new cities are garbage. Absolute dystopian nightmares of design where letting your three year old play in the street is a death sentence. Never mind that when cars were new a NYC judge decried the possibility of kids being banished from playing in the streets, which of course was perfectly normal.


> Maybe corporations are the ones who can be pressured to take the lead.

Yes. They absolutely will. But only after they have the right incentives. Those incentives can be created over night by having governments put in place a carbon tax.

It gets even worse. If a large group of people reduced their energy consumption to help climate change it has the consequence of reducing demand and therefore energy costs will come down. That will make green energy cost uncompetitive and slow down the transition to green fuels.

This change really does need to come from government. So get politically involved.


> If a large group of people reduced their energy consumption to help climate change it has the consequence of reducing demand and therefore energy costs will come down. That will make green energy cost uncompetitive and slow down the transition to green fuels.

Another way to look at it is, as more people demand green energy, the supply will increase faster to meet demand. As the supply increases, economies of scale reduce the cost, making it more competitive with fossil fuels while at the same time wind and solar efficiency will increase further reducing the cost per unit.

Eventually the supply with the lowest cost will win and the others may become obsolete.

Whether or not that can happen fast enough is another question. Taxation of fossil and subsidizing of renewables seems like a logical conclusion. The likelyhood of a massive win-win solution of that nature with no game theory cheats on a global scale seems much less probable than innovating our way out of it.

I don't think government on a coordinated global level can do it. It would be like diverting the same level of national resources as a war into a peacetime effort. Would need a way to demonize climate change so it becomes a common global enemy. But on the other side of demonizing is half or more of humanity, so it is really a new level of war over new types of resources being shoreline, water supply, and probablilty of destruction or famine by natural disasters.

I hope for no war and don't believe all that will happen. But it could. And I think investing in time, money, and peace seems like a valid approach to get behind vs trying to get government to do it.


Haha, sure! :D Carbon tax. Sounds legit! Here's what's gonna happen: Corporations just jack up prices accross the board according to the tax, and then everybody else gets to pay. And then nothing changes. It'll be like the sugar tax in Norway. Do you really think people are buying less sugar over here because of it? Get real! :D We're well past incentives. The change has to be law, and the law has to be protected with the threat of force. (Force sounds so much better than violence, don't you think, but all this is gonna end in the latter, eventually, if we just let it slide, because when people get hungry, they also get desperate.) And where people don't respect the law, force has to be actually used. However, nobody in their right mind is willing to do that as long as we're boiling frogs... So I guess we'll just die then. We had a pretty good run, though. :)


> It'll be like the sugar tax in Norway. Do you really think people are buying less sugar over here because of it? Get real!

I can't speak for Norway, but in the UK the sugar tax has had a huge impact - a _majority_ of soft drink manufacturers have significantly reduced sugar in their products, to avoid them becoming unaffordable, and it's had a very noticeable effect.

The UK tax is still pretty new so it's difficult to get hard numbers on that, but sugar taxes in general are fairly well studied and have been very effective worldwide. https://www.nature.com/articles/sj.bdj.2018.603 has a good summary, some highlights:

* "Overall 21.6% decrease in the monthly purchased volume of the higher taxed, sugary soft drinks"

* "People living in Philadelphia were 40% less likely to report consuming sugary drinks every day after the tax policy"

* "Mexico's 10% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages implemented in January 2014 is said to have led to a 5.5% drop in sugary drinks purchases by the end of that year and a further 9.7% fall in sales in 2015, yielding an average reduction of 7.6% over the study two-year period"


Consumers are definitely sensitive to prices. In the US in the couple years before the financial crisis gasoline prices spiked to above $4/gallon. This had a dramatic effect on buying habits, with a marked shift to more fuel efficient vehicles. And it hurt SUV happy US automakers to the advantage of more fuel efficient foreign companies.

In Europe, gas prices are 2 to 3 times what they are in the US. As a result, cars are dramatically smaller and more fuel efficient. Transportation patterns are dramatically different, with many fewer miles driven per person.

It's Econ 101 that people adjust their spending in response to price changes. It varies exactly how they do so for different products, this is known as elasticity.


Since consumers have limited amounts of money, increasing the cost of everything will lead to less consumption, which will lead to less carbon being emitted. Furthermore, any company that can produce the same product with less carbon emissions will be at an economic advantage.


We are past the point where we we can fix this with discussions & civil discourse. Not to say that we shouldn't try. But a leaflet campaigns and discussions aren't going to reduce emissions. The best solution would be not to have kids (too late for me) and adopt instead if you must, not to own a car, try to own as little as you can (it will make you happier too). Plant stuff, pick up gardening, go offline and go outside to reconnect with where you come from. Anything that contains batteries is probably toxic. Most shit we don't need we just are brainwashed into thinking we do.

An interesting read is Technological Slavery The Collected Writings Of Theodore J. Kaczynski, A.k.a. ' The Unabomber' which has been mentioned in Bill Joy's famous post "Why the Future doesn't Need Us" and my guess is that despite his infamy he might be heralded as some kind of "hero" in 50-100 years time.

Humans and society is in deeper in trouble than we think and stand "no chance of being saved". If you are of sound mental state, I suggest Thomas Ligotti's "The Conspiracy against the Human Race"

https://www.wired.com/2000/04/joy-2/

https://archive.org/details/TechnologicalSlaveryTheCollected...

https://www.amazon.com/Conspiracy-against-Human-Race-Contriv...


Personally, I don't feel like me rescinding my earthly possessions and refusing to procreate will do anything to help anyone, other than maybe quench my own conscience.

That whole approach is referred to as hair-shirt environmentalism, I believe. Bruce Sterling once observed that if you're trying to combat Climate Change solely by minimizing your individual impact, the logical conclusion would be to stop living altogether.


No, of course not, you just need to convince others that it's good for _them_ to do it. It's like elections: your single vote is nearly worthless, convincing others to vote the way you want is not.

Although I believe what GP meant is that nothing _anyone_ can do will improve the situation, so do what you can to prepare, e.g. learning to grow vegetables would be quite useful in case of food shortages.


from the Joy article,

> Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control.

doesn't that describe our financial markets already?


>> The best solution would be not to have kids

Many countries use immigration to stop population falling. The increased co2 from 1 person moving from a developing -> developed country would pretty much cancel this out.


Practically speaking, the single biggest area of low hanging fruit is clean shipping. Right now the largest 15 cargo ships emit more greenhouse gasses than all the cars on the road combined. The US could take the lead on this issue by modifying the Jones Act, a peculiar piece of legislation that forces maritime commerce between US territories to use US ships with an American crew. If the Jones Act were modified to include incentives for zero emission ships it would heavily incentive investment in this critical area. This single change in legislation would reduce the cost of goods and services in Hawaii and Puerto Rico, increase trade, and provide a powerful economic carrot to reduce carbon emissions.


The largest 15 cargo ships emit more sulphuric dioxide than all the cars on the road combined. That is not a greenhouse gas, and actually has a cooling effect, although it’s not healthy locally.


So I looked into this more and you're right that it's sulphuric dioxide that I was thinking of. CO2 emissions from shipping are 800m tons per year and, if taken alone, would constitute the 6th heaviest source of carbon emissions in the world.


How are you dividing up other sources such that shipping would be the 6th heaviest source? At roughly 2% of total global emissions, it seems like you'd have to lump other sources together in a strange way to come up with that ranking.

For example, looking at: https://www.c2es.org/content/international-emissions/

Taking shipping as a separate thing, it would rank 7th in the chart of total emissions and 6th in the chart of energy-related emissions, but only because those charts only contain 6 and 5 entries respectively.


There's a good Planet Money podcast all about the Jones Act: https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2016/08/05/488869138/epis...



What can be done to prevent a climate catastrophe? Start an economical catastrophe.

We need to immediately, and meaningfully, move away from oil, gas, and other carbon heavy industries in any way that we presently have the means to do so.

If everyone who is presently in the market for a new vehicle could afford to buy an electric one, we'd probably be in better shape. If every household could put solar panels and take a load off of the grid, we would be moving in the right direction.

The problem is these technologies are new, and expensive, and they can't be effective at solving the problem they set out to solve without mass adoption.

Mass adoption won't even _begin_ to happen until the average person can pick up a used Model 3 for around $10k. Where populations heavily use mopeds and motorcycles we need a flood of affordable electric alternatives. Both of those scenarios are at least a decade out.

If we need to solve this in 12 years we're screwed. Best bet is to move somewhere cold and inland. Then at least you can be somewhat comfortable while the whole thing goes down. Although the process of moving the world's economy away from oil (to whatever extent that can be achieved while still producing plastics etc.) is going to make life miserable no matter where you are.


Electric cars tend to put out less CO2 compared to gasoline cars only if you drive them for more than 5 years and don't replace the battery.

https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2015/11/Cl...

And yes, 12 years is nothing. Countries could start replacing all cars with electric ones for free right now, CO2 would just go higher and higher.

The answer to this environmental catastrophe is not manufacturing new cars. If we would have stopped buying and using cars 40 years ago...

https://mayerhillman.com/transport/key-publications/


> Countries could start replacing all cars with electric ones for free right now, CO2 would just go higher and higher.

How?

I wish people would stop fixating on this magical 12 years figure. It's not a countdown. If we keep our current carbon emissions the same for 12 years we'll see 2 degrees of warming. If we do nothing. If we continue to do nothing after that point it doesn't stay at 2 degrees. It gets hotter and hotter, and the effects get worse and worse. If countries start replacing cars with electric ones for free now, and we still don't reach zero emissions in 12 years, we might see 2 degrees. But we might avoid 3 degrees, or 4 degrees.

We don't have 12 years left and then game over. We have 12 years until things start to get really bad. And then the UN will come out and say we have 12 years left to act to avoid 3 degrees, and we'll all have these same fucking stupid arguments on the internet again in between news bulletins about famine and the various migrant crises.


Electric cars are not massively more expensive than regular cars, for those of us in touch western countries. A tesla is, but a nissan leaf is not. And sure not everyone can afford electric vehicles and solar panels, but if everyone who could afford them made the switch we'd be doing a lot better with our co2 emissions


Give money to Democratic candidates challenging Republican incumbents, right now.

If we believe in evidence-based science, then all evidence points to Republicans being anti-science. You don't have to be a committed lifelong Democrat to see that the current Republican party is fighting climate change efforts at every turn and needs to be displaced in order for political progress on the issue to happen.


Maybe trying to win over republicans would be better? The culture wars don’t help this issue.


Fox News is the a major barrier to that happening. There are those on the right that believe in climate change and think that we need to take action but they are vastly underrepresented on Fox. With that being the case most Republican voters will believe that its a worldwide leftist conspiracy and few Republican politicians will dare defy this orthodoxy.

That's why we have Republican congressional leaders saying things like people can't change the climate only God can (Inhofe), that sea level rise is caused by rocks falling into the ocean, and that increasing atmospheric CO2 levels are the result of more people exhaling.

Short of one of Murdoch's children changing the Fox line, only losing elections will change this behavior.


The issue here is that this more or less blames the messenger and not what I see as the root cause.

For a long time (1980s-2000s for sure), major fossil fuel companies and other extraction industries -- famously ExxonMobil and Koch Industries (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ExxonMobil_climate_change_cont...), but quite a bit of others as well, have spent a lot of time funding and backing climate change denialism. The extraction industries tended to align to the Republican side, so these scientifically unsound opinions have tended to trickle up through conservative think tanks (eg Heartland Institute) and eventually down to the populist outlets (like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and the like).

It does seem like that some of the oil companies are kind of weakly coming around to the fact that climate change is not something you can simply misinformation away. Maybe the lawsuits against extraction companies (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/20/can-clim...) are helping here. Regardless, it is not nearly enough to me at the moment. This is the pipeline that needs to be shut off in order for the message to be clearer on the right wing side in America.

Unfortunately, the concept of climate change denial has taken hold on the "conspiracy theory" side of American politic, so the concept is going to be floating around out there for a while (there are 18th century conspiracy theories still active after all). But what I'd hope to see if the extraction industry misinformation stops is that the more rational side of conservative American politics realize that this is a problem. Unlike most of Europe, it is difficult to think of many conservative politicians and personalities in the United States who are not denialists. (Arnold Schwarzenegger's one of the few I can think of immediately that is strongly convinced that climate change is a huge problem.)


[flagged]


Nowhere did I suggest banning. I said it was a barrier to change because it ill informs its viewers.


What would win over republicans? I mean, if the survival of human civilisation isn't enough, what can you propose?


Well there is a lot of false information out there about climate change and it's probable influence on the planet. Things have gotten out of hand with how polarised this issue is. Many people on the right don't believe in climate change. A little of this is because the time scales were off in some early predictions such as An Inconvenient Truth. This was a good wake up call to many but it also exaggerates the rate of change to the point that many of the predictions should have already had massive negative impacts. This leads people to think they've been lied to. Screaming at them and telling them they're ignorant climate change deniers does little to encourage this. To think they don't care about the survival of the human race is not accurate. They just don't think it's at risk. IMHO the truth without the us verses them stuff is the key. I think 13 Misconceptions About Global Warming by Veritasium on YouTube is a perfect example of this. Yes it's easy to get mad at people when the fate of the world is on the line but that's not as productive as trying to understand them and reaching out to them.


This seems a bit like the Y2K problem. Even if we collectively get our sh*t together and manage to avert the worst effects of the crisis, there are always going to be people who will wonder what all the fuss was about.

And conspiracy theorists will have fodder for the next 50 years.


jogjayr, you are probably right. But if enough of the voting public can be convinced they might be able to help effect change.


Stop crying wolf (about this issue at least) for a start.

1. Guardian: "President Obama has four years to save the Earth" (2009)

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/jan/18/jim-hans...

Barack Obama has only four years to save the world. That is the stark assessment of Nasa scientist and leading climate expert Jim Hansen who last week warned only urgent action by the new president could halt the devastating climate change that now threatens Earth. Crucially, that action will have to be taken within Obama's first administration, he added.

2. The Independent: "Snowfalls are now a thing of the past" (2000)

According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”.

“Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,” he said.

https://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/11/12/one-of-the-longest-ru...

You can read more about the endlessly repeated warnings about "tipping points" that never come in this fairly partisan but well-researched blog article: https://wattsupwiththat.com/2018/10/08/the-ever-receding-cli...


Regardless of the end times arriving for President Obama, he surely had as much meaningful data available as we do now regarding climate....and what did he do?

Eventually we will have a Democrat President...get ready for a deafening wave of silence when that President does as little or maybe even less than our current one. Rest assured if that President is elected during a recession, putting people to work will override climate concerns.


Republicans (and the equivalent rich conservatives in other countries) believe that climate change is happening anyway, and that anyone who doesn't try to make money off it is an idiot. They don't buy the survival of the human civilization bit - they think it'll affect only poor people, and that the rich will be safe. And honestly, they're right, at least for what we'll see in their lifetimes. Poor people are going to die in their millions in the coming decades, and rather than seeing themselves as the cause of this they see themselves as protecting themselves and their friends and families against it by insulating themselves with money.

That's my theory anyway.


if the survival of human civilisation isn't enough, what can you propose

Tell them the magic elves demand doing your bidding? Because both things are on the same level of rationality? Civilization, as such, is in no danger.

...

To OP: The problem will solve itself if the population of the world goes down enough, whether naturally or through some actual catastrophe. Indeed most of the world's birth rate is low enough that we are well on the way of a solution. Look up which parts of the world still have massive population growth and then see how many liberals you can get on board with trying to reduce that. Good luck.


i hope population of the world goes down a lot in your region in particular


> If we believe in evidence-based science, then all evidence points to Republicans being anti-science.

I am conservative and tend to lean-republican. I am not anti-science. Please stop generalizing.


I'm not saying you personally are anti-science, but Gallup surveys in 2018 point to 35% of Republicans believing that global warming is caused by human activities vs. 89% of Democrats. [0]

It's difficult to attribute something as vague as pro or anti science to a large group of people. I wouldn't want to get into that flame war on HN. However, OP has a point that Democrats are more likely to be concerned about the real impact of climate change.

[0] https://news.gallup.com/poll/231530/global-warming-concern-s...


I should definitely have specified that I mean Republican elected officials. With them, I will stop generalizing when this stops generally being true. Can you point to Congressional Republicans, House or Senate, who've voted for positive legislation related to climate change and environmental protection? Have you written to your representatives encouraging them to vote as such (and in other pro-science ways)?


California is majority-run by Democrats with a Democrat Governor who isn't seeking re-election (so he can do whatever he wants)...

When asked if he would stop offshore drilling, Jerry Brown responded that he refused to put that many people out of work.

This is in a state where Democrats have effectively no opposition

The idea the Democrats are even one iota different on climate is ridiculous and dangerous. If Democrats won't act when they have majorities, a sympathetic electorate and no opposition, when will they act?

Please show me ONE piece of real evidence or instance where a Democrat willingly sacrificed REAL economic gain to achieve a climate goal...and before you mention solar, wind or carbon credits, keep in mind the US only engaged these policies when it was economically feasible to do so. Show me where a Democratic put a voter out of work to save a polar bear.

By the way if you look at where US wind assets are, it's primarily "red" states

Shall we mention All Gore? Asks me to live in a tent while living in a 12k sq ft mansion and traveling on a private jet..

Lastly, all of the evidence on climate we have now was available to Obama...what did he do? People act like it has been decades since a Democrat lived in the White House. Where was the indignation three years ago?

I expect this comment to just be downvoted without reply...


I like how you've qualified your demand, i.e., "show me ONE piece of real evidence or instance where a Democrat willingly sacrificed REAL economic gain to achieve a climate goal". My Magic 8 ball predicts you'll argue any cited examples don't show REAL sacrifice.

http://environment.law.harvard.edu/2018/06/california-cafe-s...

https://www.politico.com/story/2018/09/10/california-renewab...

I'll punt it back to you. Can you please show me ONE piece of real evidence or instance where the Republican Congress did _anything_ positive regarding climate change?

Also, I won't claim (and didn't) that electing a Democratic majority is sufficient to address climate change. It's just necessary, because only when Republicans realize that they'll continue to lose on climate change that we'll make real bipartisan progress.


This is a bullshit comment. For more on what Governor Brown has done, please see: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/09/jerry-b...

For some examples of Trump efforts to roll back GHG limits of the Obama Administration, see: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/11092018/methane-flaring-...

I mean, the man does not even seem to believe that climate is changing.

It is not necessary to demonstrate that someone was put out of a job to do any of this.


I've mentioned it here before, but my favorite is crushing and spreading olivine rocks: http://www.innovationconcepts.eu/res/literatuurSchuiling/oli...

It's a natural process and we just have to mine as many rocks as we dig up oil. We just need to catch up for the last few hundred years where we only dug up oil and no rocks. Just US $200 billion per year to offset all of humanity's carbon emissions. If I was a billionaire I'd already have started developing robots to mine and grind up rocks for accelerated weathering.


I wrote a trilogy of long posts on this topic very recently so I'll just link to that.

https://unop.uk/how-to-help-with-a-big-global-problem-as-a-t...

In summary, it's not somebody else's problem. It's our problem and we need to take responsibility and fix it. We already have all the core technology required to solve this and we just need to make it happen. Everyone can help, particularly the talented crowd on here.


> Everyone can help, particularly the talented crowd on here.

I've been thinking about that for a while, is it possible to have a positive impact on the environment writing software?


Bret Victor wrote on the subject: http://worrydream.com/ClimateChange/


This was the main inspiration for the posts and I refer back to it. Software is everywhere and can absolutely make a difference. Hopefully this will inspire others too.


Don't forget that the small things add up -- small things on their own won't change the world, but they change the lifestyle of one family at a time, and it helps both a little in the short run, and more as children raised in climate-aware homes grow up. If everyone starts making small changes, it will change demand, which changes markets, which changes politics.

Some small examples:

Walk to the grocery store every other day instead of driving once a week.

Use mass transit. Recycle. Use products made from renewable, recyclable materials.

Go ahead and put up a solar electric system, even if the costs aren't perfect, nor is the tech, or even always the carbon offset.... but it moves demand in the right direction and sends a message.

Turn down your heat in the winter, and your AC in the summer. Turn lights off when you leave a room. Be aware of your energy burn. As another commenter said, don't write or use cryptocurrency.

Produce and buy local goods.

And for cryin' out loud -- VOTE, for people who will be on the right side of this issue.


Walking to the grocery store means you live within walking distance. That means zoning codes that allow a grocery store in your neighborhood. Most do not allow that.


True, but "Walking distance" is a nebulous measurement at best. How far can you walk? I walk 1.5 miles to my grocery store. Most of my neighbors say that is not within walking distance, but clearly that is a personal judgement, because I do it. And if we are talking about what changes we can make to our lives, expanding your perspective on "walking distance" is not a bad place to start.


Electric bicycles and boards have absurdly low energy consumption.

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