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Cheap renewables won’t stop global warming (2018) (stanford.edu)
151 points by acidburnNSA 25 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 145 comments

Project Drawdown [1] deserves a mention in any discussion in this field. They are a substantive research enterprise trying to map what can (technically, not politically) be done to reach the point where CO2 ppm start to fall in the next 30 yrs. Good thing is: it can be done. Bad thing is: the incentives aren't there right now. Bill is right, energy isn't the largest component. It's food and (delta) people that need to change the most. Step away and we need all measures to work and succeed in concord, including energy.

There's a podcast for you to have a taste for the quality of the modellers and what they are up to in the next fase. [2].

My 2 cents is a CO2-tax would align incentives quite painfully. All we get in return is the drama of creating an artificial pool for a unlimited 'resource'. The cost of all measures is quite affordable, on a global, long-term scale.

[1] https://www.drawdown.org [2] http://www.thedrawdownagenda.com/about/

I think you are right that Drawdown is doing good work, and trying to compare things that are quite difficult to compare. At the same point, the HN community should be aware that the data and models are neither open nor clearly identified, which means that we essentially have to just trust their conclusions. I work in this space [1], and when I see results with five significant digits (!) for prospective assessment it makes me very curious to see how these results were generated.

For an alternative, see the Big Open Network of Sustainability Assessment Information (BONSAI [2]; disclosure: I am chair of the board) which is trying to do similar work with open data and open science.

[1] https://chris.mutel.org/ [2] https://bonsai.uno/

That's a very good point. We recently had Chad Frischmann on a company seminar. I remember him talking about releasing the models. I'll try and reach out to see an ETA. We do need science and not well intentioned belief.

From a CO2 standpoint wouldn't it be good to stop subsidizing immigration to the first world? It's not just delta-population it's people moving from a low consumption environment to a high consumption one.

Won't do a thing. Developing nations are, well, developing. They're steadily increasing their energy use wholesale. Immigration is just a rounding error; a small amount of people who want to get slightly ahead of the progress curve of their home countries.

Is it possible that the outflow of people from a developing nation reduces population pressure in that nation such that population there increases?

More effective is educating women, getting them in the workforce and providing birth control. All will result in pop. stabilization.

Where did you get the idea that immigration was subsidized? It's often extremely expensive.

This is a good summary but since 1996 immigrants are generally eligible for the same government subsidies as citizens. https://www.nilc.org/issues/economic-support/overview-immeli...

"The average household headed by an immigrant (legal or illegal) costs taxpayers $6,234 in federal welfare benefits, which is 41 percent higher than the $4,431 received by the average native household. The average immigrant household consumes 33 percent more cash welfare, 57 percent more food assistance, and 44 percent more Medicaid dollars than the average native household. Housing costs are about the same for both groups." https://cis.org/Report/Cost-Welfare-Use-Immigrant-and-Native...

That does not take into account that said immigrant had their education paid for by another country and starts paying taxes on day one. Tax payers have to prep local population for 20 plus years before they start contributing.

Do you think they are paying more in taxes than recieving?

Having worked in the landscaping industry I know that paying under the table is not uncommon for immigrants.

The first link plainly states "After these laws’ enactment, most lawfully residing immigrants were barred from receiving assistance under the major federal benefits programs for five years or longer."?

Is this really "subsidising immigration?" I mean, immigrants have costs too, and most of the few remaining things they are eligible for are emergency assistance of one sort or another. What this argument turns into in practice is "people who have resided in the first world for years as workers who hit economic trouble should starve or be deported".

Hardly anyone comes to the first world to live off public assistance. It's either a matter of survival/safety or a search for opportunity.

> Hardly anyone comes to the first world to live off public assistance. It's either a matter of survival/safety or a search for opportunity.

This is objectively wrong though. If they were to use the actual law for refugees, they have to seek asylum in the first country they arrive in, yet they all travel onwards to the EU, to the 4th or so European country, and they do get on welfare and live off public assistance.

If they were seeking safety, they would stay in the first country, Turkey. But obviously, Turkey does not have generous free packages, so they - as you said -, search for opportunity to receive free stuff, i.e. move to far away countries where they would be eligible for welfare (public assistance).



63% non-citizen households are on welfare. This is not hardly anyone.

Note: I realize that the statistics above are concerned with the US and not the EU, but it refutes the quoted statement.


This does not necessarily apply to immigrants from other European countries migrating to the UK, for example. They are the ones searching for opportunities alone[1], and not safety. There are many definitions of safety, and in this case I was referring to safety in terms of fleeing from war zones, and as far as I am concerned, those European countries these people (from this example) are migrating from are not a war zone.


[1] Of course one could migrate to another country simply because they offer more free stuff. I do not deny that.

On the other hand, in Germany:

> In April 2018 more than half, at 55%, of the recipients of unemployment benefits had a migration background. According to the Federal Employment Agency (German: Bundesagentur für Arbeit) this was due to the migrants lacking either employable skills or knowledge of the language.



Note that they may take into account people from other European countries, too, i.e. not refugees.


> I mean, immigrants have costs too

Do immigrants who work have a cost? I could migrate to the US from a non-warzone and I believe it would not cost the US anything, but would make money off of me.

Safety and opportunity, perhaps? I'm not entirely sure that Turkey will count as "safe" in the medium term either, especially not for non-Muslim refugees. There are several million Syrians there already.

> receive free stuff

I do with people who said things like this had to live on the actual level of public assistance for a month or so. It's really not a lot. £37.75 a week in the UK, just under £2k a year, not including housing.

Yeah, I edited my first post. There are many ways to define safety and I really do not wish us to talk over each other so these definitions need to be laid out before we proceed into a preferably non-heated argument. :)

I agree that Turkey does not necessarily count or be perceived as safe to non-Muslim refugees. I am not sure of the percentage of such refugees either. Regarding safety, I can only assume that it is safer living in Turkey than living in an actual war zone, even if you are a non-Muslim. So since Turkey is not a war zone, if you are looking for a way out of a war zone, for safety, then you will settle down in the nearest safe place, unless of course safety is not the only criteria.

I would also like to say that Syria is safe outside of certain areas thanks to the Syrian army and Russia liberating it from the "moderate" rebels (terrorists). If I am wrong, do not hesitate to correct me.

Asylum is to protect someone from immediate harm, they do that by going to the nearest safe place, otherwise, if they want to pick and choose, unfortunately they need to apply for a visa like everyone else and likely would not be entitled to public assistance (free stuff) down that route, so it is not attractive to them. Especially considering the migrant-intent visas or dual intent visas have a high threshold for skills which they likely would not meet and would have to rely on the other visas that prohibit seeking permanent residency, so instead these people from non-war zones just go to whatever country they want, burn their fingertips, and apply for asylum in the place that gives them the most free stuff. EU knows this, hence why they are now paying said economic migrants a way back home where it was safe in the first place.

People are fleeing safe countries, to very specific countries based on their high benefits payout. Such as: being in some areas of Syria is safe, travelling to Turkey, safe, travelling all the way up the EU area to France where they were safe at all points, endangering everybody on a raft to illegally enter the UK, etc. There is no other reason than welfare. If they had family in that country, they can apply for a visa on that.

We also have to note that "immigrants" and "refugees" are not exactly the same thing, but seemingly have used it interchangeably. :/

> The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) is a non-profit organization and think tank[3] "that favors far lower immigration numbers and produces research to further those views."[4]

Looks like the report in your second link is more propaganda than science.

Do you have any evidence to back up that statement?

In any case, I do not think that UK records the information in terms of non-UK and UK citizenship (or from European countries vs non-European countries), but if you can find it, please let me know.

Per capita, Developed countries produce a lot more CO2 than Developing and Undeveloped countries.

Given the Developed countries have the money and the means, the best thing from a global CO2 standpoint would be if the Developed countries led the way on reducing their emissions.

My gut feeling is that people entering a middle class lifestyle in their own countries far outnumber those doing so by migration. I might be wrong though.

The current paradigm in the US was to encourage immigration from the third world and then provide them subsidy for living expenses and making a bigger family. The goal of this appears to me to be about increasing consumption in the US and I would think this enables a much higher level of CO2 emission vs what would be generated under the different economic conditions in their home country.

But still, people who do so are far outnumbered by those entering middle class in other countries. It's not about migration. Fighting global warming by limiting economic growth is simply not going to work.

My idea of a solution to global warming is no solution: accept that the global warming will happen, discover its consequences, and make them a part of economic planning on both government and corporate level. Make people educated about it. That's it.

I also agree that other countries are improving their economic situation and increasing consumption there adds up to global warming, not migration.

what regards "no solution" this is so shortsighted that it's even difficult to decide where to start in disagreeing :)

it's easy to say "screw it, let's see what happens" but take this angle: let's say EU will make everything to reduce climate change effects, but other regions not. In event of radical climate change people will start migrating to more safe regions, including EU, so EU will pay partially price for those regions who did not do any effort to reduce climate change. I don't want to pay price for sea level rising just because USA wanted to gain some short-term gains.

also trading your life safety for economic gains sounds ridiculous.


> enforcing worldwide policy for CO2 reduction

This is what things like Kyoto were intended to be.

> Machinegun the boats

This is the kind of thing we executed Nazis for at Nuremberg. It's called a crime against humanity for good reason.

To not tackle population increases is to acquiesce in the suffering of greater numbers of humans as global warming really kicks in. Population control is the kind thing to do.

Population increase is already tackling itself except for the Sub-Saharan Africa where people produce almost no CO2 anyway coz they are dirt poor. It is safe to say that increased consumption decreases reproduction rate by itself simply because people have other things to do.

I don't think there's any country in Central or Southern America that's a third world country (except for Haiti?).

And for me, as an outsider, it seems ridiculous to consider the US as a country of "subsidies for living expenses". Isn't the US notorious as being basically the only developed country without a welfare state? :)

>And for me, as an outsider, it seems ridiculous to consider the US as a country of "subsidies for living expenses".


>Isn't the US notorious as being basically the only developed country without a welfare state? :)

The US spends $10,203 per capita on public expenditure. That's dead set with Switzerland ($10,412), not that far behind Finland ($11,858), and much higher than Canada ($7,352).


Glad I could help you become a little less ignorant :)

If it's the same situation as for pharma in the US (the US spends a ton on it, medical expenses are way higher than in most of the world), my "ignorant" comments are still warranted. I've never seen as many homeless people in France or Germany, for example, as I've seen in the US. I have seen fewer even back in Romania.

I'm glad for your expenses, but you're not getting your money's worth.

A major component of the homeless issue was Supreme Court decisions making it extremely difficult to involuntarily commit mentally ill people into residential treatment and compel taking of medication for their conditions. A good summary can be found at https://mentalillnesspolicy.org/ivc/involuntary-commitment-c...

This has led to a spiral self-medicating with alcohol and illegal drugs and of dealing with the mentally ill through the criminal infrastructure or through rampant homelessness.

There are other drivers of course, but I believe the vast majority can be traced to the inability of the state to force treatment on those who are obviously ill.

Sure. It would also be better, from a CO2 standpoint, for developing countries to stop developing.

These are obvious non-starters. It’d be rich people saying “fuck you, got mine”.

Would it really be better? It takes money to do all of things people want to do to reduce CO2. That's what developing produces.

I think a lot of people view money as a way to buy stuff. That's true but they'd be better off view money as magic. Making it creates problems but on the upside: magic.

But you're also moving people from a low productivity environment to a high productivity one.

Better option regarding both CO2 and immigration, IMHO:

* Global programme to drastically reduce birthrate.

* Global development programme based on good governance and actual results, not just "sending money".

Global programmes to drastically reduce birthrate already exist. They accomplish it by educating women.

Considering the growth of the world's population they don't seem to be accomplishing much...

totally agree here

there should be a global program to give welfare payments for those willing to participate in a birth control program

How is this different from eugenics?

Unless you believe that poverty is genetic, encouraging the poor not to have children has nothing to do with eugenics.

Birth control has nothing to do with eugenics.

It depends how you do it. Giving money to the poor to not have kids kind of sound like eugenics.

Educating them (especially women), giving them contraceptives, etc., is the positive approach to this, in my opinion.

Nothing to do with eugenics. Eugenics is about selection to improve the gene pool.

The issue here is to make those who have a lot of children have less children. Giving money, and contraceptives, and free sterilisation, and education should all be done.

I agree that giving money, contraceptives, free (voluntary) sterilization and education would be a good idea, but to make the money contingent on either sterilization, the use of birth control or even a promise to not have children would have a disproportionate effect on the underprivileged and would lead to the effects of eugenics based on economic station.

Edit: Please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsory_sterilization#Affec...

> Funding of welfare mothers by HEW (Health, Education, and Welfare) covers roughy 90% of cost and doctors are likely to concur with the compulsory sterilization of welfare mothers. Threats to cease welfare occur when women are hesitant to consent.

You seem to be looking for imaginary excuses and reasons not to do anything...

If we don't make things happen, education by itself might take 20 years for the first results. We need to change things very quickly. We're already very late and made things worse by improving survival rates without enforcing birth control.

Well, the thing is, someone has to actually do it. I, for one, don't want to be the one that imposes how many kids someone can have. So knock yourself out if you want to do that ;)

You seem to be looking for imaginary crusades. There are already a number of organizations who are actively helping in effective and thought-out ways. Planned Parenthood is a great organization which provides actual help rather than fear based, reactionary responses.

I don't understand the point of policing birth control. Just introduce a flat child tax instead of handing out child benefits.

They keep out of it from a human rights perspective and I agree. It obviously would help, but what's the end state in that world? Haves and have-nots? That's quite Hunger Gamian / dystopian.

An important note is that they use a global perspective rather than individual perspective in their solutions. While food is a bigger issue than energy when taking a global perspective, it comes down to the fact that a lot more people eat food than uses energy. For the individual a change in energy will create a bigger impact than a change in diet, assuming the person is using energy in the first place (ie transportation, travel, heating, appliances).

Or to put it in an other word, if we can get the full population of earth to stop eating meat it will do more good than getting the few percentages of the population that benefit from burning fossil fuels to switch to more Eco-friendly alternatives. A single flight with a plane represent quite a few eaten goats of C02 for people living in the poorest places in the world, but there is a lot of people in the world.

As Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh could have said, making the transition to a plant-based diet may be the most effective way an individual can stop climate change as long they already go by bike and don't travel beyond the range of said bike. They should also make sure that heating isn't created through coal, oil, or gas. Heat from burning garbage is an complicated issue, but I suspect it should also be avoided.

On the delta people, is the current projected sigmoid good enough or way too slow?

That's one in the podcast. Some African countries do the full demographic transition within a decade (!). That means bringing girls from the home to school, increasing their wealth creating capacity and hence less and later children. That's very hopeful. Let's say that with all the (religion based) wars for parts of Africa and Asia things are looking less hopeful. You can only include females in human capital when there is relative peace. I think their focus and girl development for the ultimate goal of less CO2 ppm was the first time I grokked some of the more modern gender discussion which I usually cannot relate to (mostly because of terminology and fervour, not for a lack of basic instinct of trying).

Is there any work being done on developing low carbon foods that people actually want to eat? It seems to me that the real obstacle to more sustainable food is that most people don't like eating it.

If by developing you mean already exists, then yes. We already know what foods are high carbon, and it is mostly animal agricture, specifically ruminants due to their high energy input to calorie ratio, and methane emissions.

We also know there are tons of ways to eat plant based. Have you had Ethiopian, Chinese or Indian dish without meat? Ever subbed meat for beans in a burrito? A great homemade black bean burger, or a snack of hummus? It's easier than ever to eat plant based and cook a whole planet's worth of cusine without resorting to processed fake meats

Good point. Maybe it's more of an educational thing. I'm currently trying to reduce the amount of meat that I eat and until someone told me, I honestly didn't realize that rice + beans = a complete protein.

I know this sounds dumb, but a lot of the difficulty I'm having now is figuring out how to structure plant based meals when I'm used to the structure "a piece of meat with some vegetables on the side or as toppings". Its not so much that I miss meat as much as it is that I feel like my meal is missing something and I'm not sure what non-animal thing should fill that role.

I agree with everything you've said. We really need fewer people and won't get there fast enough. This planet can only sustain about half the people we already have.

We are acidying our oceans at an alarming rate and the consequences will come like a tsunami. We're on pace to completely drain the Ogallala Aquifer in the very near future and our main food production capabilities will disappear along with them. The C02 tax will happen but it will be built into very limited food and drinkable water supply and their absorbent prices. We will slowly starve ourselves out first from the poorest countries and the richest ones last. It will be a very painful process. Thanos would be a mercy.

This contains a link to the actual discussion [1] which I highly recommend watching. Bill demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of energy systems, guided by one of his favorite authors (Vaclav Smil) who recently wrote the incredible and humbling book, Energy and Civilization [2].

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1EB1zsxW0k

[2] https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/Energy-and-Civilization

Another really interesting conference [1] about energy, economics and physics. Bill Gates is right and the path to reduce our greenhouse gas emission won't be easy.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGt4XwBbCvA

It didn't sound particularly sophisticated to me. For instance, he asks the rhetorical question, what kind of battery is going to power Tokyo at 22 GW through a cyclone?

One way to answer that question is to ponder the following question - if we can reduce the price 90% of the time by say half, how much are you willing to pay for power in the remaining 10% of the time?

There are a multitude of technical solutions.

But you can only see them if you actually look for them. If you're down in a nuclear 24/7-constant-output-except-for-one-refueling-month-per-year pit, then you can't.

Cheap renewables are going to be favoured by the marked forces. Yes, we need to solve the gaps, but will just have to do so. Nuclear can't do it, so there's really little room for nuclear in the future.

That's not a rhetorical question at all. To do that you need 22 GW of storage that's only used a few percent of the time. Why are we going to price gouge everyone to pay for reliability when we could just build reliable energy sources in the first place? Show me the battery that can do 22 GW for three days.

As for cheap renewables being favored: check out this other thread about Californians banning new solar installations in the desert [1]. As we ramp wind and solar from 3% of total energy (not just electricity) towards 100%, you can bet you'll see significant NIMBY stuff at work. Plus, what are you going to do with the waste from all the gargantuan retiring solar and win farms and chemical battery systems?

You mention that nuclear can't do it without substantiating it. Care to expand on why that'd be impossible? France and Ontario are doing pretty well in the decarbonized world at the moment thanks to nuclear. [2]

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19277653 [2] https://www.electricitymap.org/

Just repeating "building nuclear is much cheaper" doesn't make it so. Nuclear is safe. It has some very admirable technical qualities. But it's difficult to find examples of reactors built quickly and at low cost any more[1]. South Korean reactors built in South Korea seem to be the last good example.

South Korean reactors in UAE are behind schedule. China takes 6 years to build reactors in China and their costs aren't very transparent due to opaque government and censored press. Russia takes even longer to build reactors in Russia and abroad. India takes a decade+ to finish a reactor. France can't build their new reactors swiftly or affordably, either in Finland or in France. We all know how Westinghouse's AP1000 has fared in South Carolina, Georgia, and China.

Ontario experienced drastic cost overruns building the Darlington reactors in the first place and rejected new Darlington reactors a decade ago because the projected costs were too high.

The Ontario government put its nuclear power plans on hold last month because the bid from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the only "compliant" one received, was more than three times higher than what the province expected to pay, the Star has learned.

Sources close to the bidding, one involved directly in one of the bids, said that adding two next-generation Candu reactors at Darlington generating station would have cost around $26 billion.


I have some hopes that small modular reactors will eventually break out of the rut of disappointment that recent Western reactor projects have furrowed. I'm not trusting anybody's cost/schedule estimates until some SMR projects are actually in commercial operation.

Finally, if NIMBY is a legitimate obstacle to renewable projects, it's also a legitimate obstacle to nuclear projects. (I think that NIMBY is not a good reason to block either renewable facilities or nuclear plants, but I'm not King of Earth.)

[1] You might think that requiring swift completion on top of affordability is excessive, but my view is that Western projects that aren't fast will become expensive as well. Even projects that never get within earshot of the NRC, like building transmission lines or refurbishing bridges, are very predictably expensive if they stretch beyond 5 years.

I met Vaclav Smil 3 years ago in Zurich and talked with him. He told me, he doesn't believe in climate change. I find that very odd. His books might still be good so.

He must have changed since then. He sees the effects of climate change quantitatively and worries a lot about them. I've discussed this with him several times. At this point he's extremely tired of writing quantitative facts and seeing the world basically ignore the magnitude of the challenge of the energy transformation we're up against. He's skeptical that we'll be able to get our act together for the thing we need. Here are some of my shorthand notes from last time I spoke with him. It's clear that he believes in climate change.

We've detached ourselves totally from the material world. Everyone is a money massager or investment banker. But point is that everything has been made by someone somewhere. Primary iron (electric arc furnace, in US is recycled) 1 billion tonnes of coke per year to make primary iron in China. 1.6 B tonnes of steel. Cement: 4.2 B tonnes/year with the worst possible fuel. 300 M t plastics. And ammonia. Without these there are no roads and buildings and metal. These are fundamental pillars of civilization that have no non-fossil sources. Carnegie melon made 5 g of iron by reducing with hydrogen. So how do you replace 4 pillars of civilization in scale with something non-carbon? DR Congo have lots of hydro. There could be a lot of hydro building there. India has some coal, they will burn all of it. Indian coal is low quality. Until at least 2047 coal will be primary source of India energy. You don't want to think about future of energy in Africa. If you have 0.5 Billion in Nigeria. If you want sleepless nights, think about Nigeria. Cleave it any way and it will have half a billion. No reliable electricity in the capital. To answer your question he has no idea, it's a nightmare. Lots of cleavages. One big river is drying out. Sunshine isn't going to carry the civilization.

Great interview. Really sounds like for the next 25 years (where China will increase energy capacity by 2x and India 4x) better nuclear fission plants will be the only viable choice for a source of energy that doesn't increase co2 emissions

Posting this from Australia, being +50 and having lived through one of the hottest summers I can remember.

Strangely enough today we officially went into Autumn yet that too feels like Summer across most of Australia.

This leads me to believe that in fact the world has seriously under estimated climate change.

For what little it is worth, my last 10+ years of lived experience here in Australia has seen things getting hotter and hotter.

My take on the situation is the IPC have actually got it wrong and there are way more, unidentified positive feedback loops in play, meaning the global climate system is actually showing signs of accelerated warning.

Here in Australia we are now in Autumn and the temperature is +10 above average, making it feel like the middle of Summer.

Time will tell, if in the next few year's we once again manage to break this current Autumn heatwave record. I suspect it will.

> Here in Australia we are now in Autumn and the temperature is +10 above average, making it feel like the middle of Summer.

Thing is, when they say global average of +1 or +2 degrees C, people have a hard time mapping that to how that works out.

If you measure 4, 5, 5, 6 the average is 5. If you measure 1, 2, 9, 9 the average just increased to 5.25. So very hot summers can be "masked" by colder winters.

"unidentified positive feedback loops in play"

Ocean acidification, thawing tundra, burning lands.

We could stop all human activities tomorrow and those processes will continue to accelerate, releasing ever more greenhouse gases.

And if the oceans warm much more, methane clathrate will be released. We could easily hit 2000ppm. Conditions not since since the Eocene period.

We need to actively secure and capture CO2 and methane to stabilize our climate, much less reverse the warming.

climate science is very conservative indeed.

No one mentioning carbon extraction technologies here?

Just adding less CO2 to the atmosphere is not enough to stop the trend, we actually need to undo what we've been doing all these decades and need to massively invest in carbon extraction technologies. Trillions of dollars, probably - about the same amount of what we spent on the Iraq war, so I'd say it's not undo-able.

I've read about this neat process for extracting CO2 from the atmosphere. You place a ultra compact box in the ground containing it's own building instructions and tooling for separating CO2 in to oxygen and building giant structures of the carbon. It's apparently called photosynthesis.

You're joking, but producing biochar is actually a decent way of doing carbon capture that doesn't require any fancy technology. You even get some energy out of it. Unfortunately you'd need to plant absolutely massive amounts of trees to put a dent into the trillion tonnes of CO2 we've released in the last 150 years.

Also algae could be neat allies. But there we are playing with fire, maybe GMO algae can be engineered to be supper efficient, but at the risk of compromising marine ecosystems.

The fern Azolla already did this once! linky --> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azolla_event

There's a lower-tech way to get algae on board - feed them the micronutrients they're limited by in the ocean, which is mostly iron:



It is far cheaper to reduce the emissions of CO2 by switching to carbon free energy to a sufficient level that atmospheric CO2 stops rising (~25-50% of current level, different sources give different numbers), than to extract CO2 from the atmosphere.

You are now talking about the cost of the technology, but that's not the complete picture. Switching to carbon free energy will probably work, but it will take longer to get to where we want to go. If it takes longer to stop climate change, there will likely be higher costs in undoing the effects of it. There are already severe droughts and highly unusual weather right now, if it takes us another 20 years to undo what we've done, who knows what kind of extreme weather we will see?

However, if we can prevent (more years of) extreme weather and rising sea levels by extracting CO2 from the atmosphere, then the total bill for the whole project will be lower because we don't have to pay for undoing the damage.

Additionally, who says that money spent on climate change prevention is money wasted? I'm fairly convinced that these investments will actually create jobs, in addition to preventing disaster.

Bill mentions it at the 15 minute mark [1]. He says he's the biggest funder of various carbon capture technologies, liquids, solids, you name it. He then explains that it's 2 orders of magnitude non-economic and will have to be 10x the size of the current fossil industry to succeed at the rate people are saying is needed.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1EB1zsxW0k&t=900s

MIT Technology Review published a piece on one possible CO2 extraction solution just a few days ago. Besides being somewhat expensive, it also needs to occupy substantial physical area.


> “Electricity is just 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Gates. “There is no substitute for how the industrial economy runs today.”

That’s why...

Electricity may be only around 25% (it's actually a little more than that for the US and almost half globally), but cheap renewables don't just affect the share currently from electricity, they also (by way of emerging use of electric vehicles) attack the share that comes from transportation, which together with electricity is over half in the US and close to 70% globally.

US: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emis...

Global: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/carbon-dioxide-co2-emissi...

Don't forget space heating also.

There's a lot of things that can be electrified, that currently aren't.

Funny thing, space heating is probably the last thing you want electrified, instead investing in heat (re)capture and building design.

Air conditioning including plain old ventilation is the hard one to tackle and is already electrified.

By heat recapture do you mean heat pumps and insulation?

I (personally) include heat pumps in the heating category, and yes most houses are probably under insulated. Insulation can lower the air con load also.

I think the point is that electric transport is not limited by the cost of electricity, so it will largely happen or not happen independent of whether power generation is low carbon. Yes, conditional on transport being electrified, reducing the carbon cost of electricity increases in importance. But the latter is not enough on its own.

What percent of that transport is planes and boats?

With abundant clean electricity, running planes on synthetic fuels (that only release what had been captured during production) would be a no-brainer. The only reason ships are not massively tapping into wind is because the refinery waste they burn as fuel is so cheap thanks to our enormous use of higher grade crude oil derivatives.

You just wrapped my mind around. Of course a sailing super tanker would be hard to manage, but why on earth don’t we use solar + wind conversion to propel them, that should be obvious.

Originally, a main reason for cargo ships to abandon sails was more efficient dock logistics. Construction of cargo sail did not stop until well after the more speed sensitive military and passenger applications had converted to steam engines, even to steam turbines. Late cargo sail like the giant American schooners got by with surprisingly small crews (though it could be argued that they were too thinly crewed for reliable operation).

Modern concepts like https://skysails.info/ hardly interfere with deck access at all.

The difference is energy density. You can propel a large ship much faster on fossil fuels. This is why every Navy rapidly switched to coal and then oil and then to nuclear. For cargo, economies of scale in shipbuilding want big fast ships. And international commerce likes things to be delivered quickly. Sure you can go back to sails and solar, but it will be many orders of magnitude less powerful than fossil fuel or nuclear powered shipping.

That's a bit stupid, really. We can substitute many GG producing activities with carbon free electricity.

Some examples:

- Heat pumps for space and water heating, instead of gas, heating oil etc. Cooking on an induction stovetop instead of gas.

- Electric transport (cars, buses, trains.... maybe hyperloops to substitute for airplanes)

- Electric heating for furnaces, kilns etc

- Production of industrial chemicals via electric processes, eg hydrogen (hence ammonia, methanol etc) by electrolysis instead of steam methane reforming

etc. etc. With electricity, you can even reform CO2 into useful products (eg methanol, synthetic hydrocarbons, dimethyl ether), replacing current CO2 producing processes with ones that utilise CO2. (And if you are interested in supporting this, I would like to hear from you as this is my current area of work).

I had an interesting conversation with my wife's friend's son who is a buyer of natural gas for a large electronics company in Japan. He told me that they generate all their electricity on site with gas. The main reason is that they need gas for heating furnaces and things, they need the waste heat from the generators and they need the electricity. While they could replace quite a lot of the things they have with electric alternatives, it basically means rebuilding the entire factory from scratch.

It made be realise that it's going to be a bit of a long haul for getting industry away from greenhouse gas producing energy. BTW, this also largely explains why Japan's auto makers didn't have a massive problem when the nuclear power plants shut down after the Fukushima disaster. It's a bit depressing to think about it...

> Cooking on an induction stovetop instead of gas.

Congratulations, you have banned Chinese food. I’m reasonably confident most professional chefs and a lot of amateurs would be very, very angry if you tried to ban cooking with gas. People aren’t actually willing to make sacrifices to their own personal quality of life to fight climate change as we’ve seen many times with carbon taxes or with the yellow vest movement in France.

> with carbon taxes or with the yellow vest movement in France.

I believe the main problem with yellow vests was that they balanced raised diesel tax by eliminating wealth tax. Had they instead reduced income tax in the lowest bracket for example, people might have been much less angry.

Actually induction woks are amazing. You can get them as hot as gas. Here's a really bad Youtube video showing some guys testing one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUuu6nRT29Y

They aren't cheap though. I seriously want one :-) But your general point is well taken.

Well, not sure anyone would actually mind working with induction woks, but if you really need "natural gas", you can generate that using electricity as well. And not only can you do that, it's actually a thing that's being done right now, as a method of storing surplus renewable energy: You simply use it to generate methane and feed that into the existing natural gas distribution infrastructure for storage, and as a side effect you displace some fossil fuel.

Not really. Induction boils water faster most times - there are multiple videos showing this, my link is just one of them. I'm pretty sure you can get quick and very hot with the induction tops. If you specialise in wok-type food, i'm pretty sure they will be customised to be even better.


My understanding is the preference for gas is more about being able to instantly adjust the heat and see it rather than the raw heat output. I also haven't used an induction top in a long time so maybe this is better now.

Being able to instantly adjust heat works great for induction devices; you can go from 0 to 100% and back to 0 pretty much immediately, the only limit is the heat inertia of your pan/pot/wok/whatever.

Being able to see that heat is different - yes, gas flame is more visible and intuitive.

Thanks for clarifying, didn't know it was so instant.

I'd say that resturant-grade induction stovetops perform as good as or even outperform gas.

In addition to what others have said, you could still use biogas or synthetic derivatives when you really have to. It becomes more expensive and people do not like that but I would not call it a ban.

>Congratulations, you have banned Chinese food.

No, I have not. Stop being silly.

As far as I'm aware, Chinese food is cooked in pans, not over open flame.

But, you've banned the kebab shop instead. They will have to use the slower heated stone frying. ;)

What about less dense social poles ? it seems history liked to have big poles for jobs or industries that everybody would migrate to, especially since we have cars and highways .. Maybe a more organic + local mindset..

Huge swathes of the world are currently transitioning from fossil fuel powered transport to electric. This statement seems to ignore future trends that are already upon us.

The longest range Teslas have 100 KWh batteries in them. Our house of 6 people uses about 8-10 KWh per day.

It's not just cars too - every transportation system is in some state of transitioning now, even boats and planes (though very early stages there). All of the trains in the Netherlands are powered by wind energy.

Civilization is electrifying, so cheap renewables are only becoming more effective at mitigating CO2 emissions.

The weaknesses of our technocratic mindset on HN are so apparent whenever this subject comes up.

This is not a technical problem. We know the threat, we know what we should do, but we can't actually get it done.

This is a political problem.

And to my eye, it's a particularly intractable one. In democracies, in order to make the huge sweeping changes required to avoid the worst of climate change, you need the population on board. And they are not on board for those kinds of changes. You can scream and wave your hands all you want about CO2 taxes and smaller houses and not eating meat, but as soon as you start hitting people in their pockets hard to encourage other actions, they'll just vote you out of office instead. There will always be another politician who is happy to tell the population that they don't need to put up with this crazy sacrifice, there are better ways, etc. So either you get voted out of office or you just cave to the pressure.

Humans are going to suffer from climate change, a lot. And even then, I suspect technology is what will save us, not billions of people deciding (for the first time ever) to make great individual sacrifices for the greater long-term good. It's the ultimate collective action problem, and we are not up for it.

This isn't a political problem, all problems are technical, because we are only ever going to solve problems politically.

It's a little off IMHO to argue that energy storage affects fuel usage only in electricity. The most visible company in the business right now is Tesla which primarily goes after transportation. Together, electricity and transportation account for 56% of US emissions:


Another large chunk of emissions come from burning fuel for heating, at least 11% (commercial/residential heating slice) but probably about half of the industry slice as well comes from local energy generation. This tends to be harder to replace with batteries because of the form of energy desired, e.g. you can't replace an acetylene torch with electricity.

If we very generously assume that most modes of transportation excepting airplanes and snowmobiles can be run on batteries, and gas heating can be replaced with electric heat pumps, the proportion of emissions affected by these two technologies could be around 60-70%. That's not a complete fix, but it is a big piece of the puzzle. However, the technology turnover is extremely difficult and expensive, which I think is the bigger problem hiding behind "renewables".

You can replace an acetylene torch with gas electric arc welding and cutting. It is done, but is currently more expensive (not a whole lot mind you).

The problem is not manufacturing but mostly smelting and refining. (Including recycling)

You need huge sustained and peak energy input for that, renewables do not deliver it.

There are many pieces to this puzzle. Energy Storage is a hugely important piece to solve.


^ This is a proposal that we consider the ocean as a source for relatively affordable pumped storage.

These conversations inevitably turn towards population control. Here's the thing: we started this process of global warming when we had a lot less people on the planet, and it would continue even if we cut the population in half. If the science is correct – and I personally think it is – we have something like a decade to get onto a different trajectory. While reaching sustainable population levels in the long term is in vital, population control is not going to address the crisis in the next ten years. Even if we cut the population in half. And, how on earth would you even do that without throwing the world into turmoil?

There's no escaping the fact that the developed world emits more carbon per capita than the rest of the world. To me, it's obvious: the developed world needs to become drastically more efficient with carbon, and it needs to do it yesterday. We need to lead the way, and we need to pay for it. It makes no sense to put this on the backs of the developing world – who are already suffering the consequences of our emissions.

If I had to put it on a bumper sticker, it would be: "It's Agriculture, stupid." Conventional agriculture damages topsoil, and destroys forests, which are two of the most effective carbon sinks we have. When you combine that with the amount of petrochemicals involved in conventional farming, along with fuel burned freighting food halfway across the world on a daily basis (how are those out-of-season cherries?), we're just beginning to come to terms with just how big of a contributor our food system is to global warming.

Here's my list of what we should be doing:

1) Carbon tax

2) Eating less meat, and less out-of-season produce

3) Repairing soil and forests through conservation and more sustainable farming

4) Letting people work remotely to cut down on car and air travel

5) Massive public and private investment in infrastructure

6) Universal access to family planning

No, sadly, no. None of the above.

Here’s an uncomfortable fact few know about and even fewer are talking about:

If humanity, and all we have ever created, evaporated from the planet tomorrow, it would take 50,000 to 75,000 years for atmospheric CO2 concentration to come down by 100 ppm.

Source: Ice core data going back 800,000 years. Look it up and see for yourself (sorry can’t link right now).

I initially misread your comment and thought you were arguing something entirely different.

If what you’re saying is that simply removing humans from the equation wouldn’t change atmospheric CO2 for a long time, I think we’re actually in agreement there. It supports my point that population control isn’t how we’re going to get on a different trajectory in the decade or so we have.

But I don’t think it addresses the ideas of effective carbon capture. Soil carbon capture, for one, is incredibly promising. Reforestation is another.

Lesser consumption will.

Poverty for all! Smaller houses and apartments, heated less, wearing more clothes in winter and less AC in summer, all combined with a collapse in international travel. That’s a real vote winner.

Technological solutions, megadeaths to reduce consumption or dealing with climate change. These are the only realistic options. China and India aren’t staying poor.

Compare the US and Western Europe. Europe has lower Co2 emissions, smaller houses, and still maintains quality of life.

No doubt you could go much further along that road.

And what's wrong with wearing more clothes in the winter?!

All but 13 US states are richer than the Netherlands.All but six are richer than Germany. All but five are richer than Belgium. Only Mississippi is poorer than France or the UK. Every single US state is richer than Italy.


There is no way you are going to get Americans to voluntarily reduce their standard of living outside of a war. That applies to Europeans, Australians, Canadians, Chinese and everyone else too. Americans aren’t special.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wearing more clothes in winter but it is a consistent vote loser, like all the other realistic proposals for individual action on climate change. This past winter I wore plenty of extra clothes but people like being able to walk around inside in a T-shirt and pants. Everywhere they can afford to they do it more or less as soon as it’s affirdable, maybe with a thirty year generation gap.

"There is no way you are going to get Americans to voluntarily reduce their standard of living"

My point is you don't have to reduce your standard of living (quality of life). Does the average American have a better standard of living than the Average European, and is it so much better that it accounts for the much higher carbon footprint?

I've never voted for anyone on the basis of wearing more or less clothes. Id hazard a guess that most voters wouldn't identify it as a top 10 issue. Plus didn't Jimmy Carter tell people to wear a sweater?

> Does the average American have a better standard of living than the Average European, and is it so much better that it accounts for the much higher carbon footprint?

Yes. The only countries with higher average individual consumption than the US are Norway and Switzerland.


The only country with bigger houses than the US is Australia.


Jimmy Carter wasn’t re-elected.

You've mentioned gdp, consumption and house size. None of those directly translate to quality of life, although I agree they are strongly correlated.

The average European living in a city may not have a car, that is not the same as the average American who lives in a city and doesn't own a car. European cities are have a lot better public transportation, so you don't need a car.

In my experience houses in the city tend to be smaller than houses in the country. But the city is where the wealth is created, so it doesn't seem to me that larger houses should be an indicator of wealth in and of itself. I'm undecided whether living in the city with a smaller house but higher income would lead to a higher quality of life versus living in a bigger house in the country, but with a lower income. I suspect its probably down to personal preference.

I love Europe for the reasons you mentioned, but it's a different culture. Most Americans have no interest in living a European-style life and would see it as a huge decrease in their quality of life, especially if it were forced on them.

Which means it's effectively impossible to do, because as soon as you try, they'll vote you out of office. Short of suspending elections, I don't see how democracies make the level of changes needed until we're actually suffering badly from climate change. But historically it doesn't seem like the types of people who become tyrants do so because it's the only path available to save the society from itself.

And still Norway have close to half the per capita Co2 footprint and Switzerland close to 1/4 of what USA have https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_di...

Not sure what this number tell other than that we all in developed countries need to reduce our footprint, but some more than others

> And what's wrong with wearing more clothes in the winter?!

Likely house lacking enough insulation - this is what is wrong.

Well insulating the body is more efficient than insulating a whole house. Also each person can choose their own individual comfort level.

I'm not averse to building insulation either though.

What, should I wear gloves too? That'll make typing really pleasant. When I'm working in a room that's less than about 17°C–18°C, my hands tend to get very cold, as do my feet.

You can wear gloves if you want, as I've tried to make clear I don't think theres anything wrong with wearing clothes indoors, I do personally draw the line at jumper and thicker socks in winter. There's nothing wrong with building insulation either.

If your hands and feet are getting cold at 17-18c you're obviously blessed with a better climate than I.

I suppose I was being a bit confrontational there.

Insulation and air sealing makes a huge difference, especially in cold climates like where I live, where it often gets down to -25°C or colder in winter. I live in a basement with very old, leaky windows, so the floor never really warms up. When I'm at my computer I tend to not move much, and in that position there's poor blood flow to my hands. I turn up the electric heater when I need to (electricity is very expensive here), but I normally rely on the gas stove at the other end of the house.

I actually have no problem being outside when it's cold, and even prefer it over summer. The difference is that I don't stand in one position when I'm outside. When I'm outside I'm shovelling snow, turning a wrench, or walking.

Don't worry about it :)

If you get to -25c you get colder winters than me. It surprises me that you get cold at 17-18c, I wonder if its a draft, or you have poor circulation (Raynauds disease ?) Or maybe it because I have kids, so never actually get the chance to sit down.

Without properly insulated home you got all issues with water condensation etc.

Setting temperature is almost orthogonal. delta T is not much different between 17-18 and 24 if it is -10 outside.

Define properly insulated?

When my house was built it has 1 inch of loft insulation. Now as far as I can tell there weren't condensation problems, but that wouldn't have been enough to keep the house warm through winter so you would still need extra heat/clothes/both.

I do for the record now have over a foot of insulation in the loft and still require extra heating, and I put a jumper on.

IMO the choice is between choosing to reduce consumption or being forced to by megadeaths, probably we only have a little choice in the degree in which either happens. Technology may help a little with the first.

At least some people consider that it's plausible to choose between other people far away reducing consumption or those other people far away experiencing megadeaths.

I mean, megadeaths in poor third world coastal regions won't necessarily force people in New York to reduce consumption. If (for example) sea level rise starts threatening New York directly, then it can afford Netherlands-style solutions that somewhat mitigate the local consequences.

I just don't see how anyone will choose to lower consumption even to save themselves. Just look at how China is cannibalizing their environment for short term growth.

> Poverty for all!

Not need to be so dramatic. Upgrading one's iPhone every other year instead of every year hardly constitutes poverty.

I believe that fighting climate change vs quality of life is false dichotomy. We can do both. See this comment for example https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19267752

I absolutely despise America’s car centric planning and do not plan to ever live there. I too would much prefer to live some place where you can bike all over the place.

Good luck convincing Midwesterners or Texans who think nothing of driving someplace for four hours that a massive gas tax is worth it. Good luck convincing everyone in the suburbs to abandon their homes to move into a city. Good luck convincing people used to taking two holidays to the suna year that they can have one every two years.

What I think or you think does not matter. What the median voter thinks matters and if you try to make them consume less outside of a war they will vote you out.

So, moral equivalent of war is the only option then?

You can't just call something a war and make it so that people are willing to sacrifice for it, even if you think the threat is equivalent (or greater) to that of actual warfare. See the war on poverty and the war on drugs for an example. Do you really think Americans would have turned their lives upside down to win the war on poverty?

You leave Dave Mustaine out of this!

Populations tend to saturate their environments by increasing both overall numbers and resource consumption per capita. Increased efficiency and new ways of living can only offset this.

If you and everyone in your country decreases their consumption and number of offspring then the slack will taken up by others until the environment once again bears as much as it can.

And less trade with countries who use mostly carbon intensive energy sources

The US has almost the highest per capita CO2 emission rate followed closely by Canada. The countries higher on that list are American Middle-Eastern allies and several tiny nations.


Great point, we should also discourage immigration to the USA and Canada to keep the population in those countries down.

Yep, Elon Tusk should've stayed in South Africa.

Yeah we should cut out China and India and all developing countries!

Well if renewables become cheap....

I understand what you're saying, but it's acceptable to take a stand against sweatshops, child labour etc. Why not against pollution?

Please do. Highest per capita CO2 emission rates belong to the US, its Middle Eastern allies and Canada.

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