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Permafrost collapse is accelerating carbon release (nature.com)
156 points by sohkamyung 55 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 120 comments



For those who haven't been watching this topic for the past few years: permafrost melt is the most probable factor for the possibility of a near-term extinction event.


Meanwhile politicians argue about plans for the minimum effort, longest timeline response to climate change, while not even putting into action that minimum when really we should be mobilizing for much sooner.


Pretty much as soon as temperatures reach the point where permafrost naturally starts melting, then they've also reached the point (or soon will) where local flora (including microorganisms) start soaking up all or most of any emitted CO2. (AFAIK, the same holds true for methanotrophs and methane, too.) So while everybody likes to talk about exacerbating factors here, almost nobody talks about mitigating factors, which are considerable.

Also, the scary picture shown is of the Batagaika crater, and while they state that the permafrost there has been melting since the 1960s, they fail to mention that this was initiated by tree removal at that location (not sure what the story is there), so hardly a naturally occurring event. Also, that's 50 years' worth of melting you see there, so hardly a speedy event, either, and certainly not something which happened practically overnight. All of those trees still surrounding the area are no doubt soaking up as much of any freshly-emitted CO2 as they can get, too.


I'm pretty sure it's well known that we're currently in one of the largest extinction events.


From another perspective, we are "one of the largest extinction events".


[flagged]


From the Hacker News guidelines [1]:

“Please don't submit comments saying that HN is turning into Reddit. It's a semi-noob illusion, as old as the hills.”

1: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


I was just darkly joking about the possibility that it's not all about us. That, for all the millions of other species going down, we're not that distinguishable from the Chicxulub asteroid. Some of them might even be conscious, on long timescales.


fear and panic do not make a strategy; taking the issue seriously is, from a risk-management perspective.


NASA testified to the US Senate in 1988 that "higher temperatures can now be attributed to a long-expected global warming trend linked to pollution". [1]

So, with more than 30 years of taking the issue seriously, what do you suppose we should do, from a risk-management perspective?

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-beg...


There's one big issue inhibiting any sort of productive change on this issue.

"A senior U.N. environmental official says entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2030. Coastal flooding and crop failures would create an exodus of ″eco- refugees,′ ′ threatening political chaos, said Noel Brown, director of the New York office of the U.N. Environment Program, or UNEP. He said governments have a 10-year window of opportunity to solve the greenhouse effect before it goes beyond human control.

...

The most conservative scientific estimate that the Earth’s temperature will rise 1 to 7 degrees in the next 30 years, said Brown."

All of that is accurately quoted with one exception. That article was published in 1989, the 'point of no return' was 2000, not 2030. And incidentally this year makes 30 years since that article was published. In spite of the "the most conservative estimate" showing an expected temperature rise of 1 to 7 degrees in these 30 years, we've seen the temperature increase by 0.62 degrees since 1989. [2] And global CO2 emissions have spiked far higher and faster than anybody could have imagined due in large part to China's ultra-rapid industrialization.

Imagine you could go back in time 30 years ago armed with all the knowledge of today, and had the power to do whatever you could to try to enact action on climate change. What would you do? I think the most logical thing to do would be to put out pinpoint accurate predictions. When you do this you'd establish a substantial degree of reliability in the field. And then when the predictions start looking increasingly dire, you'd have decades of accuracy to justify action.

And I think we can start this today. We need to focus on accuracy above any and everything else. When you want to enact global change you first need to establish yourself as a reliable authority. Then what we can do is look back and emphasize how accurate our predictions have been. But without reliability, we cannot expect predictions to actually drive any change that would be in any way inconvenient.

[1] - https://apnews.com/bd45c372caf118ec99964ea547880cd0

[2] - https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/


> The most conservative scientific estimate that the Earth’s temperature will rise 1 to 7 degrees in the next 30 years, said Brown."

This quote seems suspicious. The only place I see it is in this AP article, as a quote from this one person, and from a bunch of denialist websites that link to this article. I couldn't find any original source for the number (or any indication whether it is Fahrenheit or Centigrade, which of course makes a large difference.)

If the quote was from 1989 then it was presumably referring to the IPCC report of that year, for which Wikipedia quotes:

under [BAU] increase of global mean temperature during the [21st] century of about 0.3 oC per decade (with an uncertainty range of 0.2 to 0.5 oC per decade);

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

which would be 0.6 to 1.5C over 30 years, or roughly 1F-3F. So the 7 degrees seems to be nothing to do with the IPCC report, and it is unclear where it comes from (or even what unit it has, but since he is from NY it seems plausible that it is F rather than C). Perhaps he was misquoted? Or he was quoting extreme outer bounds of the probability distribution. Building a case of inaccuracy on one poorly attributed number seems excessive.

In reality, temperature trends have tracked IPCC predictions remarkably closely, and that fact is far more significant than a single poorly attributed quote.


Noel Brown was the director of the UN Environmental Program in North America. He's going to be sourcing whatever internal figures they're working with. And yeah, given that he is the directory of the program in North America, I expect you're right that he was referencing fahrenheit and not celsius. I assumed celsius as he was described simply as a "senior UN Environment official." Given he directed the program in North America and was likely being interviewed in this context for public consumption, I agree it was probably fahrenheit. This, however, does not really change the point. Hitting 1.2 when you claim that "1 to 7" is "the most conservative scientific estimate" indicates a general tendency of inflation.

The reason I chose this report was it was the earliest authoritative statement I could find on climate change that we could then test against reality. I'm sure you appreciate that this sort of hyperbole is not an isolated incident. Would it really change your mind if I dug up x more authoritative sources of predictions that were completely unrealistic? Even with the IPCC report we ended up barely squeeking by the bottom of their range which was 0.6.

So results are putting us at or below the bottom of most all estimates. Why is this? And going forward, why should we expect the results to be more accurate? I don't think these are particularly radical questions to ask. To be clear I'm completely in favor of mitigating against carbon emissions, even for reasons that have nothing to do with climate change. I enjoy the outdoors. Millions of internal combustion engines, fossil fuel driven refineries, etc do not do pleasant things to the outdoor experience. The only thing I'm not in favor of is people freaking out to the point that they think climate change is "the most probable factor for the possibility of a near-term extinction event." That's nonsense by any measurement and is counter productive to ever actually getting anything done, though you might help spur on a loony or two with a few screws loose.

[1] - https://archive.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/far/wg_I/ipcc_far_wg_I_s...

[2] - https://archive.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_i...


Again, why are you focusing on this one person when there is an entire report backed up by hundreds of scientists that has the actual numbers, which are not 1-7F? This makes no sense at all. So one guy misspoke, or was misquoted, or exaggerated. His stuff on the ice age was also nonsense as you pointed out yourself. The important thing is that the actual IPCC prediction was accurate - that is the real "authoritative statement" and can be read at length on line - that is what you should be quoting.


What I'll take away from this: the estimates given in the early days of the debate -- the IPCC was formed in 1988 -- were surprisingly accurate.


> Noel Brown was the director of the UN Environmental Program in North America.

He was the head of the New York Office. I'm not sure those two things are synonyms.


A quick search for 'Noel Brown unep director' will resolve any doubts, and incidentally also provides lots more information on him and other commentary he's provided over the decades.


> And I think we can start this today. We need to focus on accuracy above any and everything else

I'm not sure why the onus for absolute accuracy has to be solely on the side that's urging action against climate change. The opposition has no such regard for accuracy or even basic truthfulness - and they've been brutally effective so far in squashing action. Are you really saying numbers are the reason we haven't won this argument yet? Most people don't go by numbers, they go by their gut.

At least the climate change predictions have been in the right direction - temps have actually increased, just not by as much as they had previously thought. EDIT: It seems like the numbers weren't even that far off - other replies have pointed out the discrepancy is largely due to Fahrenheit - Celsius conversion. And climate around the world really has worsened.

> we've seen the temperature increase by 0.62 degrees since 1989.

Let's count ourselves fortunate, and not waste the time we've been given.


>I think the most logical thing to do would be to put out pinpoint accurate predictions. When you do this you'd establish a substantial degree of reliability in the field

they DID, dude. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97...


> And global CO2 emissions have spiked far higher and faster than anybody could have imagined due in large part to China's ultra-rapid industrialization.

This is not true. If anything, CO2 emissions were actually slightly overestimated:

The IPCC’s First Assessment Report (FAR) in 1990 [...] featured business-as-usual (BAU) scenario assumed rapid growth of atmospheric CO2, reaching 418ppm CO2 in 2016, compared to 404ppm in observations.

https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-how-well-have-climate-m...


> And I think we can start this today. We need to focus on accuracy above any and everything else. When you want to enact global change you first need to establish yourself as a reliable authority.

Is anyone making more accurate predictions? Most people that disagree with NASA seem to saying anything from it's fake news to blaming other sources. How do you explain the observed warming?

> The most conservative scientific estimate that the Earth’s temperature will rise 1 to 7 degrees in the next 30 years, said Brown."

Hard to tell without units but this line leads me to believe he was talking in degrees Fahrenheit and your comparing it to degrees celcius:

> The difference may seem slight, he said, but the planet is only 9 degrees warmer now than during the 8,000-year Ice Age that ended 10,000 years ago.


No, nobody is making accurate predictions right now and that's the fundamental problem. We want to enact change on future predictions, but the models we're using to predict things have a history that's shown them to be unreliable. Each time a prediction fails to pass it ends up undermining the entire system of climate modeling more and more. We can't expect national bodies to engage in anything other convenient changes based on predictions with a poor track record. This is why you need accuracy above all.

As for the temperature increase, I don't picture things in such a polarized fashion. I think there's little doubt that humans are contributing to climate change. But what really confounds this issue is that climate, even absent humanity, is a very unstable system. These [1] are the data from the ice cores over the past 800k years, so literally before humanity existed. And you'll note a regular and often quite extreme shift in temperatures. For instance check out the end of the ice age before our most recent one - about 130k years ago. In an extremely brief period of time the temperatures skyrocketed something like 14 degrees celcius. We then gradually made our way out of that ice age hitting unprecedented lows dropping some 15 degrees celcius before once again starting an extremely rapid rise about 12,000 years ago which we are now in. And we've yet to hit the 'normal' highs of times past. So even if humans did not exist, we would almost certainly be seeing rapid warming.

As for his comments referencing temperature, I'm also not entirely sure. His comment was somewhat unusual since the last ice age obviously did not only last 8,000 years. It also didn't end 10,000 years ago (though that's not too far off). And it would also be quite unusual for a UN speaker to use Fahrenheit. In this case, I think we can dodge this issue since 0.68C = 1.2F and that's given not only a failure to reverse carbon emissions but an unprecedented spike in them, so the point holds true in either case. Extreme CO2 increase = bottom or below the bottom of "most conservative scientific estimates" in temperature increases? We can't expect nations to engage in urgent action based on data like this.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_temperature_record#/med...

[2] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4.2_kiloyear_event


I don't understand why you are doubling down on your misunderstandings here. The actual increase that you yourself quoted falls entirely within the error bounds of the IPCC estimates. It doesn't matter that it is towards the bottom of those error bounds - the whole point of an error bound is that it is a range that captures the uncertainty. To argue about where in the range it falls is to fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of an error bound in the first place.

And the 'conservative estimate' is again a quote from the same person who made the dubious unverifiable 1-7F claim, so is also not relevant compared to the IPCC data. The IPCC range is their best estimate, so it is not a conservative range according to the IPCC report, which is what matters here.

It is sad that you are focusing on the words of one person who was not even directly involved in the study, while ignoring or misunderstanding the published work of hundreds of climate scientists who contributed to the actual numbers which have proved 30 years later to be accurate predictions.


This is a misunderstanding of ranges. Imagine you flip a coin 100 times and you only get 41 heads. Is this coin fair? 41 heads falls just within the 95% confidence interval for a fair coin over 100 flips, so you can answer yes in that regard. But things are not binary. It's all probabilistic. In other words, it's not like 40 heads = rigged coin, 41 = legit.

Your assumed interval is going to be a normal distribution. That means, if your assumption of it being a fair coin is correct, that you'll hit close to the perfect spot (50 in this case) disproportionately more often than you'll hit at the tails ends of your distribution. By contrast, now let's assume the coin was rigged to hit tails about 60% of the time. Now you'd be hitting extremely near that 41 constantly.

Climate predictions are annoying because we can only get one sample at a time on a time frame that generally requires years to decades, so it's really really hard to determine whether we're right or wrong. But what you can safely say is that the further you fall away from your expected value - the less probable it becomes that your hypothesis (of said expected value being true) was accurate. In other words hitting 1 on e.g. a range of 1 to 7 with an expected value of 3.5 is a much less likely scenario than hitting 1 on a range of 0.5 to 1.5 with an expected value of 1.


Having spent several years doing a PhD that was primarily statistical analysis, I can assure you I understand ranges very well. I certainly did not assume it is a normal distribution. There are going to be multiple sources of uncertainty including statistical and systematic errors which have different distributions. Taking all that into account they came up with an overall bound, and the actual number is within that range. That means the data are consistent with the prediction.

And you need to stop quoting that 7F number. That number is not in the IPCC report, which is the thing we need to be comparing against - it is an unverifiable number quoted from one person who appears to have made multiple other errors, as you yourself pointed out (eg ice ages timeframes).


Then of course you know what I said does not strictly require a normal distribution. That the distribution is not normal is perfectly well indicated by the fact that their variance is imbalanced. They have some sort of high skew distribution in expected outcomes. This leads to two points. The first is that there is no model where you would argue that falling at a tail end of your distribution, repeatedly, is supportive evidence of your hypothesis. That's invariably going to be strong evidence for the null hypothesis.

The second is that the IPCC paper was published in 1990. I was using the heat data starting from 1989, as that's when the article I referenced was published. Here are the correct temperature deviations for testing the IPCC hypothesis which starts with 1990 as the baseline:

---

1990 = 0.44

2000 = 0.40

2010 = 0.7

current = 0.8

---

Your argument, which I believe is flawed, does not speak positively of the IPCC data even if we accept it to be true. From 1990 to 2000 the temperature dropped 0.04 degrees, which is of course well outside their 0.2 to 0.5 bound. From 2000 to 2010 it increased by 0.3 degrees, which does hit square on their expected value. From 2010 to present we've seen an increase of 0.1 degree. Unless we see a substantial increase over the next couple of years, we're likely to once again completely fall completely outside the IPCC predictions.

If you'd like to aggregate the data we see a 0.36 increase over 28 years = a decadal increase of less than 0.13, once again completely outside the IPCC range. And of course as we increase the time frames involved, we should be able to tighten that range as variance is reduced, which means we're even further outside their expected results. However, I'd also emphasize that this isn't really radically different than if we hit a decadal increase of 0.2. We're looking at seeing a tail distribution over and over, or something a bit below the tail distribution over and over.

----------------

Okay, but that is all an aside. The reason I am focusing on the director's comments is because politicians and other individuals are not debating the minutia of distribution mathematics, variance, and other such things. They are listening to these well established individuals and their predictions. And so why wasn't the individual who claimed a 1 to 7 degree increase immediately remanded and demoted by the UN? At the minimum why was the AP not immediately contacted by the UN to issue a correction?

In my opinion the answer is because people are being intentionally hyperbolic, mostly with good intentions. The idea is that people won't do anything if you tell them that what we expect is somewhat hotter days and maybe an increase in extreme weather events. And that is probably a correct assumption. So instead they resort to hyperbole preaching apocalyptic scenarios to come, as our UN Director did. But this is an even worse idea since when these 'prophecies' fail to come true it breeds skepticism towards further predictions. Climate progress plays out the tale of the boy who cried wolf!

Though I do have to say even when we just look at the models, something seems to be going wrong. This [1] is an image from the 2000 IPCC report indicating expected temperature changes from 1990 to 2030. We're currently about 75% of the way through that time frame and sitting on 0.36. It's possible that next decade will see an unprecedented ultra-rapid rise in heating, but if it doesn't then we're again looking at yet another complete failure of prediction. I think there is a clear hypothesis to explain what is going wrong, but this is already an excessively verbose post!

[1] - https://archive.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg1/fig9-15.htm


Dumb question, but how can you assume the ranges offered are a normal distribution?


He was definitely using Fahrenheit because he was talking in New York, and most of the conversations on global warming in the American sphere was conducted in Fahrenheit until about 10 years ago.


We don't have time machines. Predictions can only be made with models, and the models aren't perfect.



To the meat:

> We estimate that abrupt permafrost thawing in lowland lakes and wetlands, together with that in upland hills, could release between 60 billion and 100 billion tonnes of carbon by 2300.


So 1-2 years' worth of humanity's emissions?

Only goes to show how we're the culprit here.


Carbon, not CO2. So 6 to 10 years. And if it's methane...


Is this unique to human caused climate change or does it happen each time earth heats up?


One of the considered hypotheses for the Permian-Triasic mass extinction event was the release of methane trapped in ice format (methane clathrates) -

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permian%E2%80%93Triassic_extin...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clathrate_gun_hypothesis#Possi...


That doesn't feel particularly relevant to the possibility of destruction of our species. Regardless of whether or not this has happened before, it is unprecedented in human history.


It is super relevant if it happened before because, even if no human witnessed it, there could be proxy data that shows how this unfolds. It could explain past sudden changes in climate change (and accompanying mass extinctions) that are not yet well understood for example.


Most sudden changes were long enough ago that continents were in a different configuration at different latitudes, so it's not very prescriptive. It's almost definitely played some role but past climate change has almost always been the result of a number of factors coalescing, we have to estimate it's effects on our specific conditions.


This is pure speculation. Configuration of continents has no affect on a warming ocean releasing large amounts of methane trapped as methane ice (methane clathrates).

You then set some arbitrary condition on us understanding the current configuration of continents and how that would interact with the release of methane clathrates based on warming. Sorry this is denialism mascarading as evidence-based requirements. The analysis must be risk based - without requiring absolute certainty. Currently, scientific consensus is there is a risk of large releases of methane from melting Arctic sea ice.


> This is pure speculation. Configuration of continents has no affect on a warming ocean releasing large amounts of methane trapped as methane ice (methane clathrates).

TFA is about permafrost and not all clathrates, the word isn't even mentioned in the article and if you bothered to look at a map (https://geology.com/articles/methane-hydrates/) you'd see they're virtually all on continental shelves or the continents themselves.


The recommendation for arboreal permafrost is to remove all the trees because grassland tundra hard freezes easier than forests, and this is necessary to maintain soil stability in the summer months. And to do so, reintroducing large megafauna herds that destroy trees are necessary, potentially with a mammoth/elephant hybrid; or with logging.

Interestingly, large managed herds of grazing animals is a solution to grassland health for avoiding and reversing desertification.


Reminds me of what Sergey Zimov has been trying to do in Siberia with his "Pleistocene park" [0], which afaik ties into attempts to bring back the woolly mammoth to act as the megafauna [1]

[0] https://www.lonelyplanet.com/news/2017/03/23/ice-age-ecosyst...

[1] https://gizmodo.com/scientists-could-soon-resurrect-the-wool...


Uh, removing trees is apparently what initiated the melting of the Batagaika crater, the scary effects of which are shown in the photograph. And allowing grazing will not only remove much of the remaining ground cover but will also cause soil disturbance from pawing and digging done by the animals, both of which may initiate melting.

It may be true, though, that there's a necessary balance here. Which is to say, that at least some surface melting may occur under conditions which also allow deeper freezing to occur.


Allan Savory talks about the use of intensive grazing as a method for combatting desertification in Africa [0]. Herd fertilize while eating grasses that would otherwise fall into senescence and create pockets of erosion.

[0]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpTHi7O66pI


Alas their experiment concluded without significant difference between the treatment and non-treatment zones. Basically the guy (and holistic grazing) is a quack(ery). :/

https://www.truthordrought.com/holistic-grazing-myths

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holistic_management_(agricultu...


Thanks for that, I believed this. I've got to stop trusting TED talks.


I loved TED Talks, but .. it turns out 20 minutes is rarely enough to get new and complex issues topped out with very unheard of solutions across. [0] And it became a ripe ground for crackpots and PR stuntfolk.

There are great and amazing TED talks, and Chris Anderson and the whole team seems to be able to pick great stories. But they probably lacked a scientific review panel back then. (They have a guideline nowadays: https://www.ted.com/about/our-organization/our-policies-term... and it talks about advisors and a science curator, etc.)

They would probably go a long way to supporting real proper 100% real world science by having a redactions list. (So a list of talks that turned out to be completely wrong or partially flawed.)

[0] topics like cosmology, quantum-computing-anything, artificial intelligence, energy (carbon capture, nuclear [especially thorium]), bio/sustainable/green/animal-friendly anything (recycling, food, plastics, construction, energy again), medical/health, and of course psychology (also behavioral economics) are all very much still work in progress, so accurately reporting on them would require at least 1-2 hours. unless we're talking about something very concrete like a picture of a black hole 53 million light years away reconstructed from petabytes of radio interferometry.


A practical plan for limiting carbon emissions:

1. Carbon tax 2. Import tariff at the border equivalent to the carbon tax on carbon used in production, plus an admin fee. But only on products from countries without their own carbon tax or equivalent.

1. This can be adopted unilaterally, but would probably work best if adopted by a group of nations at the beginning.

2. Does not require the near impossible task of requiring world wide agreement at the beginning. The hope is that it will encourage everybody to join the club eventually

3. Structuring as a tax rather than quotas mostly eliminates the fairness problem between developed / developing


The important thing is, that to make the tax a pure carbon-negative incentive, that the revenue from the tax should be simply paid back to the taxpayers (of course divided into equal parts).


Melting permafrost is the thing that terrifies me. For a long time now scientists have been warning of the potential bomb lurking there. But, my understanding is it hasn’t factored heavily in the IPCC reports because feedback loops have historically been difficult to quantify. Anecdotally, the trend seems to be that when it comes to Climate Change, things rarely break in our favor and those “worst case scenarios” seem to be coming up frequently.

I’m a pragmatist, I remain optimistic (foolishly, perhaps), but I think it’s fair to say that society isn’t sufficiently grappling with the potential catastrophe on the horizon. In particular I don’t think enough attention is given to the possibility of climate dynamics at some point rapidly flipping to some new normal.


This is an emergency; it's well past time we started acting like it: https://rebellion.earth/


Yeah - its about time someone started a focused group dedicated to climate change...

> There will be a Puerto Rico contingency to the May Day Protests in NY that will create a specific performance relevant to the fight against debt and the 121 years of colonialism against Puerto Rico more generally.

https://rebellion.earth/event/debt-is-a-hurricane-puerto-ric...

Well, looks like another well intention green movement has been hijacked


The biggest problem with this rebellion is that it advocates disruption in the countries doing the MOST to combat climate change.

I don't see any events planned in the biggest CO2 producers.


Are you Chinese? Start some events in China.

Otherwise, I'd suggest you stop whining and start helping.


It may well be an emergency, but inconveniencing [1][2] the very people you are attempting to persuade (the voting public) is not a strategy that is likely to work. In my opinion it will make them deaf to the underlying message (Although, I can provide no suggestions for strategies that might work!).

[1] e.g. preventing them getting to work or flying to a holiday [2] Extinction Rebellion Protests: What happened? - https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-48051776


> inconveniencing [1][2] the very people you are attempting to persuade (the voting public) is not a strategy that is likely to work

Funny. Seems like it's working, remarkably quickly, to me:

Michael Gove, the current Environment Minister, met with the protesters and accepted the need for urgent action, and other points. Far more than might be expected from the rather extremist position of today's Tory party.

The opposition have acknowledged all their points, and pledged to make climate emergency policy. They are currently trying to force a vote on calling a climate emergency in the Commons.

The organisers have turned up for interview on most of the UK's serious news outlets, including, I think, twice on the Today programme. Even those who've studiously avoided the topic are now talking about it.

Oh, and public opinion of ER appears to have risen since the Easter protests. On that basis, I sincerely hope ER continue, and can step up their actions to more locations and companies too.


If your first point of success is getting the Environment Minister to publicly commit to being pro-environment, you're working to a very low bar. It sounds like a problem that might be heading for a government committee rather than actual action.

This thing you call a 'rather extremist position' is a traditional position industrial societies have held since the industrial revolution in the late 18th century. Exploiting the environment for the benefit of the people. This strategy has worked out quite well so far - cities are more far popular places to live than jungles and fields.

Protesting can work - but there have been environmental protests for the last 20 years or so and have achieved much less than (1) big research spending on renewables and (2) using nuclear reactors. This is because apart from those two approaches, the environmentalists have proposed no solutions that don't involve committing the poor and middle class to reduced living standards. I'll spell it out even though I think it is self evident - we shouldn't put the environment ahead of the poor until we've exhausted every other option.


It's the current extreme right Tory party. One would normally expect their Environment Minister to pretend the protests and environment don't exist. Any admission is remarkable - but useless. For action we need a change of government.

We've already had a select committee on climate that was unequivocal about what action and urgency was needed.

> This thing you call a 'rather extremist position' is a traditional position industrial societies have held

No, that really isn't true. The extremist position is continuing regardless in the face of overwhelming evidence. Not acting back in the 19th before there was any knowledge or evidence is not really comparable.

It was Thatcher and Reagan that did so much to get the agreement for world phase out of CFCs in 1987. A more unlikely pair to promote such regulation I can't imagine.

Thatcher was remarkably well informed in the earliest days of climate science. Also one of the first to call for global action on climate. So despite being of an anti-regulation mindset she was happy to promote and implement strong regulation to save our skins. From her speech to the UN in 1989:

"What we are now doing to the world … is new in the experience of the Earth. It is mankind and his activities that are changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways. The result is that change in future is likely to be more fundamental and more widespread than anything we have known hitherto. Change to the sea around us, change to the atmosphere above, leading in turn to change in the world's climate, which could alter the way we live in the most fundamental way of all.

"The environmental challenge that confronts the whole world demands an equivalent response from the whole world. Every country will be affected and no one can opt out. Those countries who are industrialised must contribute more to help those who are not."

She lost interest, or time, for the environment later in her premiership as it became ever more inept on most issues, caught up with in-party fighting (often EU related), and stupid ideas like poll tax. Yet her early and mid term record on climate and pollution is better than any since.

> we shouldn't put the environment ahead of the poor until we've exhausted every other option.

The poor will be more severely affected by climate changes than anyone.

roenxi 54 days ago [flagged]

> A more unlikely pair to promote such regulation I can't imagine.

And that is your hint that you have misunderstood how the right of politics works, including the extreme right.

There is no lobby that wants to destroy the environment because they don't like it. If someone comes along with a credible threat to people, they act on it.

The issue is that the ozone layer burning away poses a very clear threat to people where the cost of inaction obviously exceeds the cost of dealing with it. Global warming poses a very real threat to the environment and a high likelihood of change. It remains opaque whether the costs of dealing with that change are higher than preventing that change. We can guarantee the academics have no idea on that one economically speaking; their record of forecasting in that arena is just as bad as everyone elses.

Historically, the proposed costs of preventing change have been enormous. And, personal pet peeve, the people advocating that it is an emergency seem to implicitly accept that the cost of nuclear is even higher than the cost of AGW. So it can't be that threatening to them.


> you have misunderstood how the right of politics works

lol. You know nothing of my politics, education, or my history over the last 50 odd years.

Edit: For the sake of clarity: In the late 1980s and 1990s, Thatcher - on the right of politics - often spoke in favour of massive global action on climate change, not just that UN speech. Trying to make the issue distinct from CFCs that she also spoke out against is stretching it.

> It remains opaque whether the costs of dealing with that change are higher than preventing that change

No, it really doesn't, unless you are seeking a precise figure in pounds, shillings and pence. We didn't have that for ozone either. Or the clean air acts, or mass public clean water and sewerage. Nor do we have figures for the respiratory diseases from internal combustion and other pollution, and the host of other externalities.

There's little substantive difference between the CFC issue and climate change other than the scale and the politicians involved. It's clear that those currently in power are doing far worse than a generation ago, whether left, right or centre.


> the people advocating that it is an emergency seem to implicitly accept that the cost of nuclear is even higher than the cost of AGW

You're mixing two groups of people and presenting them together based on your idea of them. Opinions about the risk of nuclear power and the risk of agw are orthogonal.


I'm doing a lot of hand-waving but the two topics aren't orthogonal nor are opinions.

I don't see how a person can be taken seriously if they are claiming there is an extreme risk from climate change and not fairly radically pro-nuclear. I've seen mass protests about climate change, they don't tend to be chanting "nuclear now".

The times might be changing now, but for most of the environmental movement's history nuclear has remained by far the most cost-effective choice. If they were serious about the risk of climate change then there would be massive pushes for nuclear power coming out of the green factions. I havn't seen it; only in isolated cases (tending towards engineers and scientists who care about the environment). The mainstream environmentalists tend to be in favour solar and wind.

If there is time to let perfect be the enemy of good enough then the threat can't be that urgent. The right wing is perfectly reasonable in dragging their heels. Look how successful that strategy has been so far; solar is almost economic on its own merits.


> but the two topics aren't orthogonal nor are opinions.

The topics are orthogonal. You can have independent opinions about either of them. There's a group with common opinions on both, but that doesn't mean you can't place yourself in in another position.

But you don't get all the choices you want. For some reason no party around me wants replacement with nuclear power as a policy, so the next best thing is voting for those who care about doing anything: green, or some independent. I know a green's councillor who's pro-nuclear, but runs with greens so she can make any difference at all.

I'm not sure what realistic option for a common person are you proposing that are better than "vote green and say their nuclear policy is shit"?


None of those are actual action that could be seen in the overall CO2 emission levels, though.


Sure, but I still find it remarkable that they have achieved the profile they have, yet haven't even existed for a year yet!

Surprisingly the UK has done remarkably well on climate over the last decade, compared to many. Emissions have steadily fallen.

Normally demos, regardless of scale, have politicians pretending they didn't happen at all.

I'm inclined to think all they need to do is keep at it.


> need for urgent action

funny because most contaminants in water and air come from China and India

what is the UK environmental minister going to do about that?

unless the rest of the world agrees on the need on both regulate local industry and heavily tax import from unregulated countries nothing is going to change for the planet situation

the rest are mostly feel-good measures that carry increased cost on the population without shifting the global scenario very much.


> come from China and India

Utterly irrelevant. Everywhere needs to take action to solve the issue, USA, China and India especially. Both China and India are investing heavily in renewables, though clearly they have some way to go. The odd one out, presently, is the USA. I expect that to change soon enough.

Doesn't matter who goes first, who does more, or when, just that everyone takes enough action.

You'll be able to level the same criticism against any of the first countries that start inching toward acknowledging and starting to change the system. Still doesn't matter. Even if it's not yet enough. Only the end result does. Maybe it will eventually come to sanctions and closing trade to nations that aren't doing enough.

Simply put, someone has to go first, the first step is never enough.


> someone has to go first

but that's the point, European countries have done a lot and the only result was most pollution intensive production was pushed abroad while destroying local productions chains, the lower classes and raising the cost of living to the point the middle class is unable to build the saving to promote healthy growth, meanwhile the planet is still as fucked as it were


China and India emit far less per person than any Western country while simultaneously producing the most carbon intensive goods for Westerners and having that counted on their tally.

Unless you are willing to flat out say that you think an Indian or Chinese life isn't worth a Western one this line of debate falls apart. Who produced the vast majority of emissions up until 20 years ago? It's rank hypocrisy.


feels like you all read only half of the comment before getting blinded by righteous outrage

the whole point I was making is that local policies end up with outsourced pollution, so it's an issue to be either tackeld internationally, which is unrealistic, or coupled with local protectionism, to the same effect of projecting the policy outward


The ER founders chose nonviolent civil disobedience (which of necessity 'inconveniences' people) following decades of empirical research (eg. http://cup.columbia.edu/book/why-civil-resistance-works/9780...) claiming to show that it's the most effective strategy for effecting fast & large-scale social change. I don't know the research well enough to assess it, but I'd trust it over lay guesswork (my own included!).

The only further point I'd make is that less 'inconvenient' strategies (organising, lobbying, campaigning) have already failed. They've been tried relentlessly for 3 decades, and it's a done deal: they didn't work. Our civilisation is accelerating its path to global destruction (of which climate change is only one component). Emergency last-ditch strategies are all that's left.


Wouldn't you agree that the disruption caused was a 'good investment' for bringing up the climate crisis higher up the political agenda?

Wales has declared a climate emergency and so has the First Minister of Scotland. Labour are going to launch a bid this Weds to do the same.

“Blaming Extinction Rebellion for causing disruption is like blaming a fire alarm for waking you up in the middle of the night”

XR's strategy seemed to work pretty well so far I would say.


Extinction Rebellion chose non-violent civil disobedience after looking at lots of research around the subject of social change.

They are being scientific about this and I think many people who are claiming it won't change minds haven't done the research as they did.

This is a very very smart and focussed rebellion. They aren't just guessing their tactics will work, they base them on what actually did work.

Listen to Roger Hallam talk about it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8c2f_JmzoWU


Revolutions have worked in the past. Even non-violent ones. But those are rare.


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I wish I could downvote this 100 times. I wonder how future generations will explain our decision to just stand in front of an oncoming freight train.

I remember growing up as a kid watching the intro sequence to the road warrior and thinking it was entertaining but pretty unlikely that we’d screw up that badly. But now it seems pretty prophetic.


>I wish I could downvote this 100 times

There's a reason we don't give people more voting power in politics, economics, etc., based on the strength of their convictions.

If you want to have people follow proposals and programs you espouse, package the proposals & programs properly. "Pay more taxes to maintain status quo" doesn't cut it. "Earth will be uninhabitable in X years" has been cried one thousand times too many and will never be believable.

"Cheaper energy and nicer cars and cleaner environment and happier dolphins and less waste" is great. Even better, the case makes itself: most people have already witnessed great improvements in all those through our lifetimes, and can easily imagine more of the good stuff.

A pale blue dot, if you can keep it.


Here's a question: What if I don't care about "future generations"?


A species that destroys its habitat will go extinct.

So I guess we’ll see if natural selection removes people like you from the gene pool so the species itself can continue to evolve or if the dynamics are too extreme and this is part of the great filter.


> natural selection removes people like you

natural selection pressure the species whole, what survives next is just those that were somehow more adapt to the new environment, it doesn't carry any punitive or karmatic meaning.

it might very well be that psychopaths will be the one surviving the first aftermath by virtue of their selfishness


That's the problem. Generally there are selective pressures against excessively selfish behavior but since climate change is relatively slow and distributed I'm not sure if that will apply in this case.

Maybe in this case selection pressure applies to entire species or planets and is one of the reasons we haven't detected any signs of intelligent life outside the solar system?


In that case, the chances of your genes, ideology, etc. surviving is pretty slim compared to those who do care.

It's not that not caring is "wrong", it just has a lower chance of beating natural selection.


> It's not that not caring is "wrong"

Er, actually that's just it. It's (to put it mildly) eccentric to think otherwise.


Most people alive have children or descendants, and therefore have an incentive to care. You're in the minority.


Not a problem at all. Just admit it so we can be honest about where your arguments come from.


I notice this quite often - people will be arguing completely logically but from a axiomatic starting point that I (and probably most people) would find abhorrent or misinformed.

They will obscure the axioms they're arguing from so as to not get immediately dismissed, and instead just look rational at a glance and intellectually dishonest when you ask too many questions or read too carefully.

Props to CzechTech for being upfront at least.


Admitting sociopathy (outside of financial & real estate circles) is generally a losing strategy.


I agree with you. I am 50, no children.

I have spent last 10 years travelling, sailing the ocean, hiking in jungles, diving in the reefs that would be extinct soon. I live in a climate where some moderate warming will make more pleasant.

I do not care what will happen beyond 20 years ahead. Maybe even less.

So why would I inconvinience myself? Why worry? People will get exactly what they deserve.

On the other hand somehow it doesn't seem right.


"People will get exactly what they deserve". What have children born today done to "deserve" the devastating consequences that are going to unfold? Your view is fascinatingly self-centered and ruthless.


> Your view is fascinatingly self-centered and ruthless.

Perhaps but I haven't seen any of my middle class friends taking their children to school on a bike or by public transport. And when I point that it is possible it is always "Meh, it is more convinient in my car and I am above that".

If people with children do not care why should I?


Caring about children isn't about arguing from premises. Indeed if someone claims to need an argument to care about children, it's a pretty good prima facie case for the existence of a psychological disorder.


The intro to The Road Warrior postulates that two great warrior tribes went to war and that the world's reliance on oil was fatally crippled as a result. Not a word about climate change anywhere.

When you were growing up, did you watch NASA's James Hansen saying in 2008 that we would have NO Arctic sea ice in summer by 2018? Was he correct? No?


> When you were growing up, did you watch NASA's James Hansen saying in 2008 that we would have NO Arctic sea ice in summer by 2018? Was he correct? No?

Got a full quote in context? You "skeptics" have a tendency to miss things like "as soon as" and "if this trend continues".


No, we tend to take what people say at face value. Even if they're fraudulent hacks like James Hansen: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1988&dat=20080624&id=...


> Hansen, echoing work by other scientests, said that in five to 10 years, the arctic will be free of sea ice in the summer.

That's not even a quote, let alone one in context.


Run along little gamma. He said it in front of Congress. It's in the Congressional record. There is boatloads of coverage of what he said at the time and his prediction, like all of his others before it, is complete bollocks.


How does your statement follow from the graph you link? It clearly shows the years 2015-present are more than 2 standard deviations below the average from 1981-2000.


The oil industry’s FUD has done its job here. I don’t completely understand how they managed to turn this into a partisan left/right issue but hats off to them for understanding how to play the system so well.

Lately I wonder if there are other intelligent species on other worlds that managed to deal with this problem like adults or if technological change always outpaces social and political maturity.


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Yes it is: https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/arctic-meteorology/climate_chan...

"Over the past 30 years, it has warmed more than any other region on earth"


Ask NOAA for their temperature records going back a century and see if it's normal and cyclical instead of their cherry picked data from 1979 onwards.


It would be problematic for an agency established in 1970 to get "their temperature records" from 1918. Unless you mean another specific agency that existed at the time, but I don't think that's likely. If you want research from NOAA and other sources, it's been linked already.


OK, ask them for their research going back to 1970 because strangely enough, they leave out everything before 1981 to give the impression that Arctic ice is on a downward trend.


You're assuming that they immediately started measuring it after forming NOAA. Do you have a good reason for this? I've found no reason to believe they have their own measurements from before what's currently presented.


The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has a 1990 report that uses NOAA data from 1974. It shows that Arctic sea ice is cyclical, as it's always been, and had a peak in 1979. SO NOAA was measuring sea ice extent at least as far back as 1974.

https://web.archive.org/web/20120428072521/https://www.ipcc....

Also, the third graph on page 202 shows that the Earth was MUCH warmer a thousand years ago than it is now, despite far less CO2. This isn't particularly surprising since carbon dioxide levels track global temperature - not the other way around - as the ice core data going back 800 000 years shows.

The 1985 Department of Energy report Projecting the Climatic Effects of Increasing Carbon Dioxide uses data going back to 1925 that shows, surprise, that Arctic sea ice is normal, cyclical and has nothing to do with CO2 levels.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236534420_Projectin...


> Also, the third graph on page 202 shows that the Earth was MUCH warmer a thousand years ago than it is now, despite far less CO2.

It's true, but doesn't prove your point. Specifically, we're still left with two options: what we see now is the same cyclic effect, or what we see now is caused by us and if we get another cycle on top we're screwed even faster. You'd have to show the inverse - that the production of lots of CO2 does not affect the cyclic process. (Or that the pattern of the current raise is extremely likely to belong to a cycle)


That graph literally shows the average for 1981-2000 and the last 4 years, which are consistently and significantly below the average.


You would have go back and look at the whole century to see that it's just part of the normal cycle.


You are making the claim so you need to show the evidence (especially since it contradicts accepted scientific consensus). Don't be lazy and force other people to do your work for you as you won't have a chance in hell of convincing anyone that way.

What you've linked so far shows that the sea ice level of the past 5 years is well below even 2 standard deviations under the average, which contradicts your claim. Not sure what you were trying to prove by posting that link.


I remember when it was accepted scientific consensus that plate tectonics was a crock of shit. Didn't make it any less true. If the data shows that the Arctic is doing fine, then I don't care how many climate alarmists say it's melting if it isn't. Tony Heller destroys the fundamental deception of global warming here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RwjYkYCXnU


>I remember when it was accepted scientific consensus that plate tectonics was a crock of shit. Didn't make it any less true.

No one is saying science is infallible. It's just the best explanation for what we're seeing so far, based on empirical evidence. Your argument that science was wrong about something in the past does absolutely nothing to support any of your claims - for that you need to post evidence.

>If the data shows that the Arctic is doing fine, then I don't care how many climate alarmists say it's melting if it isn't.

Your own link you posted contradicts this. I'm starting to think that you don't understand the contents of your own link, because it very clearly contradicts what you are trying to say.

>Tony Heller destroys the fundamental deception of global warming here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RwjYkYCXnU

This is a typical tactic used by climate change deniers. Ask for evidence - when they can't provide any, they distract and post something completely different and try to deflect.

I'll spend 10 minutes of my time watching that video after you spend a little effort and post a scientific paper that supports your original claim.


Here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236534420_Projectin...

Arctic sea ice is normal and cyclical and follows both short and long term cycles.


"sea ice extent" shows up 3 times in that 400 page paper, and those phrases where it's mentioned don't support anything related to your initial claim.



Not trolling. I genuinely believe that the evidence shows that a) carbon dioxide has nothing to do with warming and b) the world's climate is just fine. Your linked piece starts with the misleading graph from NOAA which conveniently starts at the peak of 1979, omitting all of the data we have since the 1920s showing Arctic sea ice is cyclical.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIEGo8E9s_8


the second graph shown in that denialist video says nothing about arctic sea ice in the way the NOAA data do, which go back only to 1979. They are data about ice anomalies, not ice coverage. Also, I can't find a source for that second, allegedly IPCC graph, so it may be as fraudulent as the video's argument.


NOAA data goes back to the early 1970s. The IPCC paper can be found after a fairly trivial Google search here: https://web.archive.org/web/20120428072521/https://www.ipcc....

Good. So let's summarize:

- someone who disagrees with you can be called names

- you're ignorant of the history of NOAA

- if you can't find something, then the other person is a fraud

- but you claim they make fraudulent arguments anyway so that's OK

Very scientific.


You are still cherrypicking by concentrating on these data, which are not conclusive. /so, you show me part of an in-depth paper saying that there were data before 1979 .It appears there might. However, in the paper, it says there was not much variance in sea ice significantly between the 1953 and 1984, but that 1960-80 was significantly colder anomaly period. (pp 224-5). But after that... much decline. None of what you talk about it particularly relevant, given ALL the other data about melting glaciers and sea ice extents since 1990, which you carefully ignore.

Look here, for example https://sites.google.com/site/arcticseaicegraphs/longterm


If you're living in the US, you could of course just look outside and notice that you've just had the coldest October-April period on record. But yeah, the Arctic is clearly melting.


Anyone reading HN should understand about variance in data sets. Given you're stooping to the level of 'It's cold at the moment, at this one data point', I cannot take your conversation seriously. You can do better, and you know it.


Again a speculative article. “Might” is the important word in that article and Might” is not the word you use in scientifically demonstrated claims.

This debate have become so ideological that all reason has left the room a long time ago.

Show me scientifically demonstrated consequences not just speculated consequences we cant deal with, then ill rally behind you until then i am quite confident in my non-alarmist position.


You are asking for absolutes in science, which is something that does not exist because science is not dogma, thus open to corrections, which is inherently opposed to making absolute statements.

That's why scientific statements use probabilities and words like "might", it has nothing to do with "not demonstrated" but everything with admitting that humans are fallible beings and there's always a margin of error.




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