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A critical step to reduce climate change (gatesnotes.com)
346 points by mhandley 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 396 comments

Hello Bill Gates (who will never read this). You are a solutions guy, and a technology guy. Unsurprisingly, your blog lists lots of good technologies and solutions.

But climate change has shifted from a technological problem to a policy problem. We can solve climate change with a cocktail of existing tech, but we need public policy to make it happen. The biggest thing you (Mr Gates) can do is get directly involved in policy-making. US politics only empowers the ultra-rich, and you are sitting on the sidelines.

Get your face on TV, in front of Congress, and in the Oval Office. The rest of us can't, so you have to.

[edit for clarity]

Technological progress will solve any policy problem. If you make it so that wind, solar, and next generation nuclear power is cheaper than other alternatives and more desirable, the market will progressively switch. Most technological improvements did not wait for a policy to change to induce revolutions in their respective fields. Now everyone is investing in Energy, and there's hardly any need for policy when the market is already full steam in investment mode.

> If you make it so that wind, solar, and next generation nuclear power is cheaper than other alternatives and more desirable, the market will progressively switch.

Not necessarily. Lots of people have jobs in coal, oil and gas production, and those constituencies will often vote for politicians who promise to keep those jobs around. They can do this through heavily subsidizing the cost of fossil fuels (which they currently do) in order to reduce the extent to which the economic benefits of clean energy can influence the market.

In the long term, they probably can't keep this up, but we don't really have a "long term" anymore.

If you divide the total subsidies aluminum smelters in Germany receive by the number of jobs then you get 440,000€ of subsidies per job per year, the workers themselves only see a fraction of that. Unsustainability has never stopped politicians from doing stupid things.

I’d rather employ people to sit around (or not) and study/do whatever productive thing they want than enforce otherwise not needed work.

Not needed work is kind of already dis-incentivezed -- if its not needed, generally there is less market demand for it, but it behoves me to ignore all the exceptions propped up by cultural events and/or clever and insidious marketing like MLM.

Funny you mention study, because that's what people do in university and college, but in America they get a fat student loan when they graduate...

But how does that relate to a 440,000€/job/year subsidy? On paper it seems wasteful but I'm no expert in the economics of propping up the aluminium industry in Germany. Maybe it's a strategic move for national defence.

We don't really subsidize fossil fuels. I thought that your comment was interesting, so I looked it up. These "subsidies" are just completely normal stuff that ordinary American businesses get.

Mostly it is tax deductions. Everybody is getting tax deductions. Everybody from your local hair salon to Microsoft is taking tax deductions. For the fuel companies this includes income tax, fees for shipping, and royalties for extracting the resources. The only really offensive one is a deduction for BP's punishment, which sort of undoes the punishment... though that is fair if the tobacco companies got to do likewise for their punishment.

The rest is just the unpaid share of the cost of running various government agencies. First of all this isn't generally something the companies feel they benefit from; ditching OSHA/EPA/etc. would probably please them. Second of all, again it is something we do for all American businesses.

As with any other American businesses, wind and solar providers get the subsidies. They also get special environmental subsidies, which are huge.

I think this dispute started because the abnormal subsidies being provided to wind/solar providers have become a political issue. The wind/solar providers respond by pushing the narrative that fossil fuels get subsidies, but that just isn't a reasonable conclusion. The supposed subsidies are just normal things provided to American businesses, unlike what wind and solar are getting.

Perhaps this could be dismissed as semantics, but saying that we don't subsidize fossil fuels seems to not jibe with the reality that the only countries that have lower gasoline prices in world are countries whose economies are predominantly fossil-fuel based. See https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/gas-prices/#20184:United-...

If the US gasoline costs were even close to EU levels, (say, 2x what we pay), there'd be an inversion in household energy consumption economics (and it'd be the difference between 2% and 5% of household incomes). EVs wouldn't be just for tree-huggers. Buying from 100% clean electrical sources might be cheaper than "standard" sources.

The US has a large well-unified market with good transportation and local sources of fuel. That cuts costs.

Other places, like the EU, don't have all that. They also apply some really extreme taxes. Lack of punitive taxes isn't a subsidy. If the taxes are never imposed in the first place, it isn't even a tax credit.

The average gasoline tax in the US is $0.53 per gallon total, combining all taxes. Just the excise tax in Turkey is $4.32 per gallon!!! The average gasoline-specific tax in the 34 advanced economies is $2.62 per gallon, but then a VAT is applied on top of that.

> We don't really subsidize fossil fuels.

If we allowed a restaurant to dump its trash for free in a public playground, we would be subsidizing that restaurant with taxpayer dollars.

When we allow fossil fuels to be burned and dump pollution for free into the public atmosphere, we are subsidizing the usage of fossil fuel.

In the trash scenario, we'd make the restaurant pay for cleanup, pay medical costs for the kids who got ill, and pay for its future trash disposal. Burning fossil fuels causes asthma, climate change, flooding, etc, and remediation costs should be borne by those who cause the damage.

If you consider the billions of dollars we all spend dealing with fossil fuel companies' waste, it's quite a subsidy. The least we can do is make them compete on a level playing field.

The federal coal leasing program has been a frequent target for overpricing coal with some estimates at around a billion a year in benefit. There's also things like opening new areas for drilling in areas that are only profitable when subsidized (and then the subsidies come in), which is not a normal tax policy arrangement, at least not the kind your hairdresser has with the federal government.

The cost of "unions protecting their job" increases further as the alternatives get cheaper over time. So it's not sustainable in any way. Additionally, fossil fuels are usually subsidized the most in local areas where they are mined/extracted so states/regions with no such natural resources can be expected to move way faster in adopting new forms of energy production.

While the UMWA certainly has a vested interested in keeping coal mining jobs around, blaming unions for protectionism here is a little far down the value chain.

This is very true. I live in the DC area and the number of ridiculous "clean coal" ads plastered all over public transit and TV/radio here is insane.

Lobbyists will be the death of us all.

> If you make it so that wind, solar, and next generation nuclear power is cheaper than other alternatives and more desirable, the market will progressively switch.

Not necessarily... it depends on if it's actually cheaper, or just fake government-subsidized cheaper. Sure, you'll get companies milking government subsidies for all they are worth while they last, but if solar isn't actually cheaper than coal, "the market" isn't going to switch.

There’s also fake externalities-subsidized cheaper. Coal is incredibly expensive when you account for the environmental and health costs. But those costs aren’t borne by the people burning coal, so it doesn’t cause markets to switch away.

Yeah, you could factor in the healthcare cost linked to burning coal and ask coal industries to pay for some or all of it. Would change incentives a lot.

Spot on. In other industries, the entrenched, established incumbents' products are only viable because they are "fake government-subsidized cheaper" (ah ehm...looking at you, corn). I'd not be surprised to see this happening with fossil fuels here in the U.S. one day – maybe it already is?

> If you make it so that wind, solar, and next generation nuclear power is cheaper than other alternatives and more desirable, the market will progressively switch

Not necessarily.. in the UK I've lots of good ideas get ditched early on because they're allegedly "not a good fit", or "uneconomic". What I suspect that really means in many cases is that someone in government or their family has a vested interest in a technology that this would replace, and it gets ditched. As long as we have elected "representatives" like this, nothing will change.

The government is not the only one to make decisions. Companies, individuals, communities, towns, regions can also decide to build their own infrastructure. Hardly every country is completely centralized from top to bottom.

> Technological progress will solve any policy problem. If you make it so that wind, solar, and next generation nuclear power is cheaper than other alternatives and more desirable, the market will progressively switch.

Two problems.

First, progressive switching is slower than needed to even decelerate warming. The system already has enormous momentum and it cannot be arrested easily and with gentle measures.

Second, technological path dependency is extremely strong. Historically the kinds of jolts to move from one systemic technological optimum to another (eg steam-rail-telegram to oil-road-radio) have been enormous. Wars and depressions, mostly. It would be nice to avoid these.

> First, progressive switching is slower than needed to even decelerate warming

Since climate models are certainly not as accurate as we would like them to be, this is hard to say.

Second, progressive switching can be really, really fast. Look how fast people moved away from feature phones to smartphones. Complete conversion within a decade. Energy production carries more lag but still, progressive does not mean slow. When options are more attractive economically it will be a landslide.

Tech improvememt is certainly not linked to war. Look at all the tech progress we made in so many areas in the past 60 years without any major conflict happening. There is no rationale for progress to be dependent on conflict, at least it is not a model that explains anything anymore.

> Since climate models are certainly not as accurate as we would like them to be, this is hard to say.

They don't have to be very accurate at this point. Matter is conserved, including atmospheric CO2. It takes time to put in, it takes time to get out. Given that the only "out" right now is natural processes, it will take decades for CO2 to return to previous levels even if emissions dropped to zero instantly.

Underestimation of momentum is also true for capital-intensive shifts in dominant technology mixes. These shifts do not happen overnight; capital plant and equipment has substantial lags for decision time, financing, construction and onlining. These lags are going to vary by region, industry and technology. That adds substantially to overall reaction time under the just-let-it-ride scenario.

Misunderstanding the effects of accumulation is normal: http://web.mit.edu/jsterman/www/CroninGonzalezSterman061210....

Markets can and do dynamically adapt to circumstances, supply shocks, technological change so on. But they do not tend to overcome path dependency (we're all using QWERTY and standard gauge rail for no reason other than that's what locked in) and they do not have magical powers to ignore physics.

> we're all using QWERTY [...] for no reason other than that's what locked in

We are all using QWERTY because it's not bad. You could switch to anything else and it would not be so much better. It's a local maxima that is good enough and it happened for historical reasons.

Most people are not held down by the keyboard setting. They don't need to type faster, and if they did, they would need to think faster first - it's not the tool that is the bottleneck in this particular case.

> It's a local maxima that is good enough and it happened for historical reasons.

That's my exact point. It's textbook path dependency.

If we always waited for the technical progress to give something cheaper and better, we'd still be using leaded gasoline and CFCs everywhere.

Except we don't have time to wait for technological progress to catch up sufficiently to resolve the current policy problems.

When you do that, here's my little suggestion for a policy: a carbon duty.

It seems to me the biggest argument against doing something is that any action we take would be useless if country X doesn't do anything.

But with a carbon duty, this is much less of a difficult collective action problem. Impose a significant duty on products coming from countries which are not meeting some reasonable target for carbon emissions.

This still falls into the "country X doesn't do anything" trap.

If France imposes a carbon duty but Britain doesn't, British companies will have access to cheaper goods. British citizens will have greater purchasing power and British companies will have an economic advantage.

France might say, "Britain doesn't do anything about climate change" as they're supporting the carbon emissions in other countries by importing their goods.

This would still only work if enough countries banded together to enforce it that it became too difficult to grow an international company without access to carbon duty countries.

Yup, last year's Nobel winner in economics has suggested exactly that


sooo all other countries will pay for it while US will keep pumping oil and burning coal? With US leaving the Paris Accord? That sounds very strange.

I purposefully left out a bunch of details because then people start debating the details rather than the main point. So I used the very nebulous "meeting some reasonable target for carbon emissions".

If the country imposing the carbon duty isn't also meeting the "reasonable target" then the carbon duty becomes very hypocritical and ineffective at influencing other nations.

I also didn't say that it has to be the US imposing this carbon duty, I see it as most effective if it's a small group of countries working together to try and grow their action into a large group.

Soooo, we introduce a set of trade tariffs where imports are tax depending on the degree to which the exporting country has already imposed a carbon tax on manufacturer.

You are missing the point. Imposing tariffs is a way to force other countries to follow some rules. But if your own country doesn't follow those rules, what sense does it make? And that's the situation here, because the 3 largest CO2 producers are US, Russia and China, naturally, because they are biggest. But China actually invested heavily into solar and lowering their CO2, such as electric buses, while US left Paris Accord, rejected Green New Deal, started more oil drills and did a bunch of other things that actually increased their CO2 production. So if anyone should impose carbon duties, it's everyone else around US to force US to start following the rules.

I talking about the other countries. Import import duties reflecting the cost of the global pollution created by the manufacturer of the goods.

But CNN has spent the past month telling me that tariffs = bad. I guess they’re OK so long as they’re introduced for noble reasons?

I mean... yeah. Tariffs are bad for the economy. But if you're willing to slow down the economy for a good enough reason, then yes, it's okay.

So tariff's are a tool that can be used for good or bad? So, was the message the previous poster receiving that tariff's are bad, or that the current use of tariff's are bad? If it was the former, it disagrees with your message.

Wait is this place CNN or is it HN?

I'm not clear on how that factors in. The previous poster's point was that there was a push of the message that 'tariffs are bad' that seems to have some level of social acceptance, but now that there is a desired use of tariffs there seems to be a change in opinion.

That is overall a very weak standard of evidence, and taken by itself isn't worth much at all. But taken with other incidents in the past few years people might reach the conclusion that there is a great deal of double standards being used to measure certain politicians. This results in a comment said in passing that signals they feel that the current acceptance or lack thereof of tariffs is another case of that double standard.

Perhaps one could argue that such said in passing remarks are not acceptable for the level of discourse excepted by NH comments (though this risks becoming recursive).

Most recent proposal in the US -

Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019


> But climate change has shifted from a technological problem to a policy problem.

There is no such thing as shifting from a "technological problem" to a "policy problem". Technology creates the landscape on which political choices are made. Where a problem cannot be solved due to political costs, technology can provide alternative solutions that are more politically tenable.

We may have a "cocktail of tech" ready for fighting climate change, but it's not of the right mix; it doesn't have the right political taste.

Getting Gates involved in politics? That's not without its own risks, and it may not be the best use of his time.

IMO, policy has a huge impact on technology. For example, if carbon was priced to include its climate change externality, the market would respond with solutions.

I'm not disputing that - if emissions were priced in, we wouldn't be anywhere near the mess we're in. Note however, that pricing carbon correctly is not a politically viable solution today. There are many reasons for that, and some of those reasons are addressable by technology. For instance, electrification of transport is a possible way of reducing carbon pricing's potential impact on costs of necessities and transportation - making the necessary political adjustment this much less bitter for people, and by extension politicians.

Politics is an art of endless trade-offs; technology plays a vital role in shaping those trade-offs.

Policy shapes technology and technology shapes policy.

Choosing which directions to focus research on rather than relying on happenstance or the market is policy.

Therefore it all comes down to policy.

It's a feedback loop all right, but some parts of it are easier to nudge than others. Policy tends to be fixed, as it's based on fixed characteristics of human brain and fixed phenomena like those explored in game theory. More effort put into politicking will not yield better results (EDIT: it might do some good; see downthread). Technology is mutable, in the sense that more effort (and money) put into it yields meaningful change, that can also shift policy.

Note that your argument right now boils down to "we need to invest more in right technology"; while the decision is political, it's literally the opposite of what people mean when they say something is a "political problem" and not a "technological problem".

"More effort put into politicking will not yield better results."

I disagree strongly. It's my belief that this attitude is a big part of the reason why we're not actually doing anything.

Depending on the poll and the degree of action requested, a small majority of Americans or a large minority supports climate change action. Policy action is very possible.

I still feel that investing in more political activity will achieve little, as that activity will get drowned in the noise. I'll think more about it though - I just recalled a good argument for your position: the NRA. From what I hear, the NRA is a small minority, but their success comes from being the only ones bothering to organize and push for their point of view.

Thank you!

Agreed that political activity is really really hard and often fruitless. But when it's important enough we still have to try.

> But when it's important enough we still have to try.

That I absolutely agree with.

Thank you for bearing with me and letting me figure out updates to my position on politics.

> Note however, that pricing carbon correctly is not a politically viable solution today.

Then this should be what all of us are focused on because the future of humanity is dependent on getting everyone on board with this.

Agreed. My point is, however, that while carbon pricing may be ultimately a political decision, technology has plenty of opportunities to make this decision easier and more likely to happen.

A country deciding to correctly price in environmental impact today would tank its economy on the spot. But availability of alternatives with lower emissions to various economical activities (e.g. electric cars as an alternative to ICE cars) allows that country to incentivize their use and offers opportunities to start pricing in emissions piece by piece.

The reasons why good solutions aren't implemented aren't always and only "because politicians are corrupt"; sometimes it's because they're impossible to push through (e.g. you'd lose election to someone who doesn't want to do this), and/or because going full-steam ahead risks social unrest and civil war, none of which will help climate.

Don't excise taxes in Europe on gasoline kind of count as taxing carbon? They are doing okay. Not great, but okay.

Kind of. I know only a bit about Polish excise taxes, and I don't think the taxes on petrol and LPG were introduced due to climate concerns. Taxing other fuels used for electricity generation and heating dates back to XIX century, way before anyone thought about the impact on climate.

Here's a breakdown of Polish fuel prices as of 2016:


TL;DR: price breakdown for Pb 95 gasoline: 39% net refinery price, 37% excise tax, 3% road tax, 19% VAT, 2% seller's margin. A carbon tax could presumably take the place of excise tax, but given that it's a big part of country's tax income, I think it'll have to be added on top.

As for acceptance, I'm somewhat surprised we don't have our own "yellow vests" - ask any Polish driver about gasoline prices, and you'll hear an angry rant about how expensive it is; mention a carbon tax, and they'll scream at you that >50% of the price is already taxes.

I figured that the main point of a carbon tax is to make it more expensive, so people would use less of it. And I think those Polish drivers are right. People would not accept a carbon tax on top of excise taxes on gasoline. In Estonia the 44.1% of the final price of gasoline was excise taxes and another 20% of it was VAT. 64.37% of the final price was purely tax.[0]

The story is very similar in all the other European countries as well. Countries that have a GDP per capita 2 to 3 times lower than the US are paying more for gasoline.

[0] https://infogram.com/kutusehinnad-1h0r6r83kyxl4ek

>Then this should be what all of us are focused on because the future of humanity is dependent on getting everyone on board with this.

How about we make so much technological progress that removes our reliance on cheap carbon emissions that we can tax carbon emissions without affecting people very much therefore removing the need to get everyone on board.


If technology gets to the point where the cost of dealing with carbon is on the same order as municipal water and sewer it won't be a political problem.

The policy problem is that there is a large chunk of people who don't even think there is a problem. How is that going to be solved with a different "mix" of tech?

The different mix of tech will make it cheap/easy enough to do the "right thing" from a carbon perspective that few will do anything else.

I could burn my trash but my taxes pay the city to pay a company to come around once a week and collect a barrel from my house so why bother.

I drive ICE cars because in terms of results per dollar they're an obviously better deal than anything with lithium batteries. When it's no longer the economically obvious choice to drive ICE cars I'll stop doing it but not before then.

> When it's no longer the economically obvious choice to drive ICE cars I'll stop doing it but not before then.

Note that this may happen with policy alone. Many countries and cities around the world are now heavily subsidizing electric cars, through things like tax breaks and waiving parking fees. This is only possible because electric cars are an available option.

How does people having the right opinion change anything? I live in an extremely liberal city, and I still see people driving almost everywhere. They’re not all driving Teslas or even Priuses either.

Sadly, the people you are referring to won’t change until they feel the pain. And possibly not even then.

> but it's not of the right mix; it doesn't have the right political taste.

What's that have to do with the technology?

I described it above. Technology offers options for policy.

Our climate-solving cocktail of 20 years ago involved things like drastic reduction of car use in favour of mass transit, and mass deployment of nuclear power to replace fossil fuel plants. We would be in much better shape today if that was done, but that set of solutions was (and still is) politically untenable - so technologists had (and still have) to invent different solutions, that are easier for politicians to implement.

I've generally found Bill Gates to be actively unhelpful to this end. Even in this blog he sounds very negative that nothing can be done unless all the companies he personally invests in come up with something.

In reality, if there was the political will to roll out existing solutions we'd all be richer, healthier and happier, but another bunch of rich and powerful guys would prefer that their investments paid off.

We probably wouldn't be richer. Any solution is likely less efficient economically than what we currently have and thus we'd be poorer. We might be healthier, but even that is a tough sell considering that any realistic solution will impact the poor much more than the rich. Even if you offered universal healthcare economic difficulty would still impact poor people's health, because your health depends on factors like food as well.

This is why there's little political will to do something about climate change. It will mostly come at the expense of poor people, because climate change is a consumption problem and the poor, as a collective, consume more than the rich.

I think your facts are upside down. The externality of climate change and other pollution is what takes us away from efficiency.

But even ignoring that, to give just a couple of concrete examples: shutting down coal-fired power stations in America would save Americans billions just in the cost of electricity. That's completely ignoring pollution and climate change. Yet there's a lobby fighting to stop that. Do you really think that's because they're worried about poor people?

Every single projection suggests that electric cars will be cheaper than their ICE counterparts due to their massively higher efficiency, again even if you ignore local and global pollution. Yet there's an organised lobby fighting against that move. Is this because they're worried about poor people?

>But even ignoring that, to give just a couple of concrete examples: shutting down coal-fired power stations in America would save Americans billions just in the cost of electricity. That's completely ignoring pollution and climate change.

And they are shutting down, because they are becoming economically unviable. Natural gas seems to be much more efficient, but both of these have a significant impact on climate change.

>Every single projection suggests that electric cars will be cheaper than their ICE counterparts due to their massively higher efficiency, again even if you ignore local and global pollution. Yet there's an organised lobby fighting against that move. Is this because they're worried about poor people?

It's not about being worried about poor people. It's about being worried about getting votes. If you're the person that doubles the prices, then you're going to be unpopular in the future.

Aside from that, electric cars are projected to be cheaper, but they are not yet cheaper. Electric cars can't even fulfill the same needs that a normal car does. Say you live in an apartment, like many poor people do. They can't charge their car overnight. Not only that, it takes a lot longer to charge it at a charging station. The car also doesn't have the same range.

Also, keep in mind that electric cars will only matter if those coal plants that are replaced by nuclear or some renewable. Otherwise it matters little. Yes, it reduces the impact, but we need more than just the reduction of the impact.

Policy is messy and subject to differing values. Bill Gates would do worse getting into policy. He would turn off people who currently like what he is doing because his moral values are different from theirs. I don't even need to know anything about Bill Gate's moral values state this.

Climate change is a losing battle from a policy perspective; most citizens don't care and elected officials are actively hostile to any policy changes that would make a difference. IMO, Bill Gates should avoid trying to deal in policy and continue to effect change through mediums that sidestep wrangling with policy.

We need both better policy and better tech, right? As Bill's article points out, energy technology is by no means mature. There are huge improvements to be made in production, storage, and transmission. Could it be that policy requires and will respond to innovation?

Policymakers need to consider not just today's "cocktail of existing tech," but upcoming technologies. My perhaps naive hope is that strong investment in tech will convince policymakers that reducing civilization's GHG emissions toward zero is becoming ever more feasible, desirable, and profitable (for some people).

Disclaimer: I don't work in the climate sector, though I'd like to one day.

You are correct that this is a social, economic and political problem. Nothing new needs to be invented.

However, tech solutions can help build the necessary public demand and political will. This is the software side that people here will find more familiar than heavy engineering.

It's not just Gates that can help. We all can do something as tech pros. Join the team here: https://climateaction.tech/

to paraphrase Indian activist and writer Arundhati Roy:

> if Bill Gates were a shoemaker, he would solve the worlds problems with shoes

> We can solve climate change with a cocktail of existing tech

No. We cannot. We most definitely cannot.

It seems that everyone commenting on this subject on HN is working off preconceived notions or decade+ old information. We know better now. And the picture isn't pretty. And, no, you can cover this planet with solar panels and wind farms and you are NOT going to reverse things at all, in fact, atmospheric CO2 concentration will continue to rise exponentially.

This is surprising to me because the HN audience is --at least this is my perception-- supposed to be technically sophisticated and striving to be up to date with research and technology. None of the comments I have read so far on this subject in this thread and older ones showcase an understanding of what we know now.

I have written about this in the past. I just wrote about it again on this thread:


If you don't read what I wrote, I beg you to at least read this paper. The conclusion, paraphrasing, is: Even if we deployed the most optimal forms of all renewable energy sources globally, atmospheric CO2 concentration would continue to increase exponentially.


Read it. It will open your eyes to reality. It was done by Google Research and they were brave enough to publish their conclusion, even when it collided with their preconceived notions on the subject.

Build renewable generation to stop releasing GHGs - this technology is affordable, ready and is likely in the medium term to be alot cheaper than running the old plants. Its no where near necessary to "cover this planet with solar panels and wind farms" that is "decade+ old" mis-information.

Large scale aforestation can take a great deal of CO2 out of atmosphere and simultaneously help endangered and degraded wildlife, and help people visit and work within biophilic surroundings. Large scale afforestation is advised by the IPCC.

Geoengineering may well be necessary, we will see as things turn out but strong technological knowledge exists for this also. Ocean seeding, atmospheric aerosols, - langrange point "sun shade" construction... these possibilities should be researched and may need to be implemented at scale, but as IPCC advises they are secondary to reducing emissions - which we DO have the technology ready and improving still.

I dont regard that 2014 article you linked as representing reality well, its a five year old editorialisation - a magazine conversation piece not a sober or reviewed analysis. Since 2014 cost of wind and solar have dropped, almost in half.

> Build renewable generation to stop releasing GHGs

No. Because building renewable generation will produce more GHG's than you are going to "stop producing". Manufacturing isn't a clean process, particularly when you consider that most of the "build renewable generation" will more than likely happen in China, the worst possible locale in terms of GHG generation.

Reforestation is, without a doubt, important. However, a sense of scale is important here. You need somewhere over ONE TRILLION trees in order to counter the effects of ten years of CO2 emissions. This, BTW, assumes we plant trees everywhere possible on earth. The research comes from ETH Zurich.

I don't think you took the time to read the article I posted. This isn't some lightweight magazine conversation maker. This was written by people who came into the project KNOWING that renewable energy sources were the solution and wanted to show the world this to be the case. Instead they discovered they were wrong. If you think this has no merit I would suggest contacting the researchers to explain how you are right and they are wrong.

The hubris here is to pretend that we can magically change the rate of change of atmospheric CO2 reduction from a historical (800,000 years of data) rate of 100 ppm per 50,000 years to 100 ppm in 50 or even 100 years. That is preposterous at best.

The kind of energy and resources that would be necessary to achieve this rate of change acceleration as well as the waste product that massive undertaking would produce is far more likely to kill us all than "save the planet".

This does NOT mean we should not deploy clean energy or engage in aggressive reforestation. Not at all. What it means is that we need to stop lying about why we are doing it. We are not going to make even a dent on atmospheric CO2 accumulation through any of these means. Not possible.

Here's the question nobody ever wants to answer:

Without humanity on this planet (at our current scale) and all of our technology (power plants, transportation, etc.) it took the planet some 50,000 years to reduce CO2 by 100 ppm. We have highly accurate data on this going back 800,000 years.

Compare these two scenarios:

1- No humanity. No factories, power plants, planes, trains, automobiles, ships, deforestation, etc. Without ANY of that in place it took an average of 50,000 years to drop 100 ppm.

3- Humanity in full force. Factories, power plants, planes, trains, automobiles, ships, deforestation, etc. And all we do is switch to "clean" energy and do some reforestation (say, 25% of what was los). And THAT is going to change the rate of reduction from 50,000 years to 50 years for 100 ppm?


In the one case we do not even exist. In the other we make token improvements to how clean we might be. How is that magically going to save the planet in 50 years, or 100, or even 1,000?

You see, it's fine to talk about generalizations: Renewable energy, reforestation, geoengineering. Good stuff. And yet nobody stops to explain how that stuff is going to, not only do better, but actually reverse the trend when compared to a scenario where the entirety of humanity does not exist on this planet.

It's like an alcoholic switching to three bottles per day to just two. Valiant effort, but pointless.

That is the inconvenient truth, isn't it?

> building renewable generation will produce more GHG's than you are going to "stop producing". Manufacturing isn't a clean process

Production of renewables certainly does not produce more GHGs than are saved. You must be following poor articles and sources of advice on the matter if you believe this. The matter is well studied and documented. If you wish to get really emphatically critical about these matters in general, you need to respect or at least deal with the IPCCs research and policy advice. It is folly to write passionately about renewable energy tech otherwise.


Brother, all you have to do is load a few container ships with solar panels headed to the US and Europe from China and your panels have now produced more CO2 than you will ever save. Bunker fuel is horrific stuff.

See, that’s the problem, the cult of renewables loves to ignore reality. You have to look at the entire supply and distribution chain as well as installation, support and maintenance.

Again, that’s not to say solar isn’t useful —I installed 13 kW at my house— it just isn’t going to save the world.

Sure shipping diesel is bad, but have you made that calculation? Where does the idea come from? You believe the IPCC ignore/hide transportation and other factors from the EROI calculcations to the degree they are essentially fictitious?

Here[1] someone answers a question says their container ship, the "M V Dubai Crown" consumed 45 metric tonnes of fuel a day sailing:

It can carry about 50 thousand tonnes of cargo (thats its "deadweight tonnage" figure [2]).

Container ship travel time from Huagzu to New york: 30 days [3]

So, 45 * 30 = 1350 metric tonnes of oil - for the shipping of say 30,000 tonnes of solar panels from China to US.

Thats 30k/1.35k = 22 tonnes of panels per tonne of oil.

Or 22 kilos of panels per kilo of oil.

A spend of _1 kilo_ of oil, at legacy shipping efficiency (see also [4]) to ship _22 kilos_ of panels.

So... a residential solar panel weights about 40 pounds - say 20 kilos [5]

That's about 1 kilo of shipping oil per PANEL.

_You_ are professing the argument of cult - something sounds wise so say it, no workings, no references. _You_ are led a merry dance on a wisecrack. But its even not merry, its nihilistic - you've got your panels anyway right, ready for the inevitable doom. Pull your socks up brother.

[1] https://www.quora.com/How-much-fuel-does-a-medium-sized-bulk...

[2] https://www.gjenvick.com/OceanTravel/ShipTonnage/1932-06-28-...

[3] https://www.quora.com/How-long-does-it-take-for-a-cargo-ship...

[4] https://www.oilandgaspeople.com/news/18194/maersk-takes-tang...

[5] https://news.energysage.com/average-solar-panel-size-weight/

Your numbers are wrong. Typical for “google search expertise”. I devoted a full year to understanding the containership business under consulting contract for an energy company. If you think you can bounce around a few links and understand any subject at all to the depth necessary to reach useful conclusions you are sorely mistaken.

Just answer one question:

Without humanity on the planet it would take about 50,000 years for atmospheric CO2 to come down 100 ppm. No humans at all. No factories. No cars. No planes. No ships. Nothing we ever made.

How is it that making a few insignificant changes (remember, we are talking planetary scale) will in any way do BETTER than 50,000 years for a 100 ppm drop?

You are fond of quick numbers. Go figure that out. How do you produce results at a planetary scale at a rate one THOUSAND TIMES FASTER than the historical average for at least the last 800,000 years?

Someone has to answer that basic science question before starting to wave hands around and name-drop technologies that might sound impressive but, at the end of the day, do nothing.

No humans: 50,000 years; 100 ppm drop.

With seven billion humans and our toys: 50 years; 100 ppm?

OK. How? You would need more energy and resources than the planet has available. In other words, you would destroy the planet in the process.

If you believe the calculation to be incorrect you owe it to yourself to identify the error. It should take much less time for you to do that than it took me to compile and reference the calculation for _you_.

The IPCC has compiled known options for getting CO2 down, including aforestation. Its not revealing to focus on the relative rate of change - we increased CO2 at an unprecedented rate, if you would read the IPCC reports or articles concerning the subject with a basic level of regard, you could learn it is in fact possible to also decrease at an unprecedented rate.

> And, no, you can cover this planet with solar panels and wind farms and you are NOT going to reverse things at all...

In fact, if you do nothing to reverse it, it won't reverse. If all you do is stop increasing the problem, the most you'll get is to make it not grow.

If you use some of that solar energy to convert CO2 into coal, you may start to reduce it.

> ...in fact, atmospheric CO2 concentration will continue to rise exponentially.

And this is ridiculous. For a start, there isn't much room for the CO2 concentration to keep rising exponentially no matter what we do. If we aren't past peak fossil fuels (coal and gas did/will peak later than oil), we are so near it that there isn't much room for increase.

But the real reason it's ridiculous is that if we cover the entire world in photovoltaics (figuratively, I imagine), we will certainly stop nearly all emissions. Jevon's paradox or whatever, fossil fuels can't compete economically with PV that is already paid for.

Before you tag something as ridiculous it would be a good idea to read and think a bit in order to at least understand the subject.

This is the problem. This thing has become a religion. Which means at least two things. First, everyone believes the “truth” blindly. Second, dialogue is impossible.

I don't disagree that he should do that, but given how deep in the pockets of industry our government currently is, it may be that the only feasible solution is an economic one. They won't listen to people, but they will listen to money.

If technology becomes good enough, the policy problem is irelevant.

Once solar and wind, without any subsidies, are cheaper than coal, then societies will switch purely out of self interest.

No prisoner's dillema solution needed.

> Once solar and wind, without any subsidies, are cheaper than coal, then societies will switch purely out of self interest.

If coal prices included the negative externalities costs - in other words, if we charged coal companies for dumping their trash into our collective air instead of subsidizing them by letting them do it for free - it would greatly change the price comparison. Then the market would likely do the rest.

Lets all tweet this comment at tag him + journalists

>The rest of us can't, so you have to.

But if you use your resources in ways that do not align with the view that climate change is a problem, such as using a private jet when riding on a commercial will produce far less greenhouse gas for the trip, we will remember it when you push policies that tell if not dictate to us how we should be using our own resources in our own lives.

You know, life doesn't have to be an ideological death march. Let's focus on moral improvement instead of moral purity. Large scale incrementalism has wrought massive positive change for humanity. Whereas the large scale pursuit of purity brought about the disasters of the 20th century.

It’s difficult to see how asking somebody who is beating the climate change drum to toe their own line is sending them on an ideological death march. The hypocrisy displayed when these folks run around in their private jets while screaming about ice caps and carbon is a textbook example of the “fine for me but not for thee” attitude of the elites that many plebes find insufferable.

The issue is simpler than ideological purism at large scale. If you ask someone make sacrifices that the one asking isn't making, no one should be surprised when there is resistance to making the changes and the motivations of the one asking are called into question.

This. I've been in the climate movement for some 15 years. Our basic stance has been, "We have the technology; we just need the political will."

There are many groups that you can become involved in. If you're a pro-market-solution type, the Citizens Climate Climate Lobby has been around ten years, and it currently has a bill in Congress that has bipartisan support (ahem, one Republican congressman): The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (http://energyinnovationact.org/). With this plan, all the revenue from a carbon tax is directly returned to citizens as a yearly check--no enlargement of the state.

Carbon pricing (which can come in the form of a tax or cap and trade) is the single most effective mechanism to address climate change. The idea is to internalize the _real_ costs of climate change into the price we actually pay--ramping up the price on carbon over time until it is prohibitively expensive to use fossil-fuel-expensive products, and incentivizing the economy to adapt. That fundamental price signal, where renewable energy becomes cheaper relative to fossil fuels (and similarly less fossil fuel-intensive goods are cheaper relative to fossil-fuel-expensive ones) reverberates throughout the economy.

If you're skeptical of Republicans ever coming to the light, even when they have pro market solutions like the one above to choose from, the Green New Deal is the way to go. Like Obamacare, it will require a progressive majority to push through. Frankly, this is where I'm at, after spending the better part of 5 years trying to get conservatives to take action. I've seen the general conservative position shift from "its not happening" to "it's not human-caused" to "who cares? it'll be great for the economy." I am skeptical of Republicans both a) taking action at all, and b) taking action at the scale REQUIRED to address climate change (i.e., a high price on carbon that is not meddled with by oil baron lobbies).

If the Green New Deal is really the only alternative, then we can pretty much say that the US will do absolutely nothing about climate change. That proposal was drenched in equity policy that people find unacceptable.

We don't quite have the technology. Battery swaps didn't work out, and recharging an electric car is so slow that they only work for homeowners with private garages and fairly short commutes, so no apartments and no ride sharing.

What was the problem with battery swaps? I’ve always thought that that is about the only way to make EVs viable.

Not clear. They had one pilot station positioned for SF/LA road trips by appointment (which doesn't solve the apartment problem at all) and then closed it over low demand.


I’ve been reading the book “Oil’s Deep State” about the oil lobby in Alberta and what it says makes me pretty much in your camp

I second this.

> electricity generation is the single biggest contributor to climate change—responsible for 25 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and growing every day

To put it in perspective: livestock clocks in at 18% and transportation at 13%. [1]

But greenhouse gas emissions is not all that counts, there's also acidification, eutrophicatoin (phosphor pollution) and land use. Livestock clock in very high on all these points. [2]

We need land for forest: reduce footprint while re-creating habitats.

Good to know Bill also invests on that side of the picture. [3]

[1] http://www.cowspiracy.com/facts [2] https://phys.org/news/2018-05-reveals-foods-markedly-environ... [3] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/21/how-bill-gates-backed-vegan-...

Livestock only accounts for so much globally because much of Asia and Africa contributes little to CO2 output other than growing livestock. But that’s rapidly changing as those countries develop. The amount of CO2 China added to its footprint in the last year alone is more than what would be saved if the entire US switched to being vegan. As India and Africa follow the development trajectory of China, livestock will become a very small portion of CO2 footprint, just as it is in developed countries. (In the US, the difference between the average diet and a vegan diet is just a few percent of your footprint.)

>> (In the US, the difference between the average diet and a vegan diet is just a few percent of your footprint.)

I can believe that but could you please source it?

I think this was a commonly misinterpreted study from 2016.


With this being the key figure: https://postimg.cc/pmQCfdZq

And the key conclusions from that table:

"The impacts from food production for a vegan diet reflect the least GHG emissions when compared with that of a meat-based or vegetarian diet. As per Table 10, vegan diets produce carbon dioxide emissions of 1,798 g/person/day, showing the lowest amount of emissions, versus 7,891 g/person/day from a meat-based diet, demonstrating the highest emissions (Table 10). Vegetarian diets produce slightly higher emissions than a vegan diet, totaling 2,622 g/person/day. The largest individual food group contributor is red meats within the meat-based diet in the amount of 5,153 g/person/day. At the opposite end in a vegan diet, the lowest contributor to GHG emissions is potatoes."

Every study I am aware of is clear that a vegan diet is less carbon intense than a carnivore diet. Beef especially, which is reported as 49% of the total for meat eaters.

I think the people suggesting that "in the US it would raise CO2 emissions" is like a third-order effect people imagined up by drawing a box around the US and saying emissions from cattle grown in other countries for our consumption somehow emit carbon that doesn't get to the US while simultaneously assuming land use conversion in the US to increase agricultural output of plants which would increase emissions locally. Maybe. A lot of our crops go to feed those cattle.

I would be extremely skeptical of any claim like this that flies in the face of 3rd grade science class where we learned that at each step up in the food chain 90% of the energy is lost to support systems like... being alive... while only 10% remains as biomass to eat. This is basically thermodynamics in action with edge effects that contrarians want to focus on.

The definition of "meat-based" in that thesis is interesting:

>> Meat-based diets presume consumption of a combination of plant-based foods in combination with differing kinds of meats and fish and can include milk products, honey, and eggs.

So "meat-based" is any diet that includes any amount of meat. A person who eats a beef steak every day and a person who eats a chicken leg twice a week are both counted under "meat-based" and their environmental impact is calculated as one, and compared to vegan and vegetarian diets'.

I find that dodgy to say the least.

Also, I don't see where the bit you quote agrees with, and so is a likely source for, the bit of the OP's comment I quoted.

I'll re-emphasize the table I linked before, though I agree with one of the other responses that the OP meant that the benefits are marginal on an overall basis so my response wasn't strictly addressing the comment.


They absolutely distinguish between poultry and beef, though they don't distinguish steak from hamburger. They specified exactly what that breakdown was in the table and I doubt that it's random.

137gm red meat, 57gm poultry, 22gm fish per day on average per person using the "meat-based diet" model.

Assuming that pork and beef are both "red meat", the USDA availability chart (couldn't find consumption) is here:


and what I see is about 100 pounds of red meat, 65 pounds of poultry, and 15 pounds of fish per person per year available. 100 pounds of red meat per year is 124gm/day, and the ratios are a little off but not by a ton. They definitely report what their diet assumptions were though... my guess is they had a more robust model diet from USDA they used than the chart of clearly not quite the right dataset I took that from.

>> 137gm red meat, 57gm poultry, 22gm fish per day on average per person using the "meat-based diet" model.

There's a big gap between that and a vegetarian or vegan diet. There is definitely a lot of room in between for plant-based diets with a reasonable amount of meat (say chicken or fish twice a weak and a Sunday roast once or twice a month). I'm willing to bet that this kind of diet is much more common than one including a hearty portion of meat every day and that comparing this diet to vegetarian or vegan diets would yield a much less significant difference in terms of environmental impact.

This seems unlikely to have escaped the author? Of course a hybrid diet would be in between, I'm just saying that the diet breakdowns they chose to present are almost certainly model diets from literature rather than arbitrarily chosen to make meat eaters look bad. It's a thesis, not PETA marketing material, there are some standards for rigor and they would have needed to cite and justify why they chose what they chose.

That said, I honestly do not think that your diet suggestion is common for Americans, I rarely see people go a meal without meat. The total of 216gm/day is only 7.6 ounces of meat, and I remember getting weird looks ordering only a 6 ounce steak as an adult. And burgers are frequently about a half pound too. Or a chicken breast. It seems totally believable to me that this is average even accounting for less frequent consumers of meat.

I take efforts to rarely eat it so I'm probably barely different from vegetarian. Obviously hybrid diets will fall somewhere in between? I'm not presently an advocate for no-meat product diets because I don't like extremes but I am an advocate for using substitutes when there's little difference. Like taco bell meat could be soy-based meat-substitute ground and literally no one would notice.

>> This seems unlikely to have escaped the author? Of course a hybrid diet would be in between, I'm just saying that the diet breakdowns they chose to present are almost certainly model diets from literature rather than arbitrarily chosen to make meat eaters look bad. It's a thesis, not PETA marketing material, there are some standards for rigor and they would have needed to cite and justify why they chose what they chose.

Why assume so much? The thesis is in the link you provided. You can easily check whether what you suppose in this comment is true or not.

>> That said, I honestly do not think that your diet suggestion is common for Americans, I rarely see people go a meal without meat.

So this "meat-based" diet is only relevant to Americans? That makes sense- but in that case, the comparison with vegetarian and vegan diets is also only relevant to Americans. i.e. it's American "meat-based" diets that are more environmentally wasteful compared to American "vegetarian" diets etc.

I guess it depends on the definition of 'a few percent' in what they said but I think you're misinterpreting it. They don't seem to be saying it wouldn't lower your emissions, they're claiming it's a small part of your emissions.

The change in that paper is ~2 tons/year, and average use in America is ~16 tons/year so about 1/8th. It depends if you think ~12% is 'a few percent' or not.

>It depends if you think ~12% is 'a few percent' or not.

I find that people have no consistency in such matters. What counts as enough of a difference to care about seems to change upon the issue and just so happens to generally align with an individual's view of if an issue is worth worrying about or not.

However the food wastage/carbon footprint from Cereals,vegetables and fruits is far greater than Meat, milk and fish combined.

Pic: https://postimg.cc/D4ZNpBLz

This pic does not say if it's talking about the total or the total per unit consumed, nor does it give a measure of what the total is. The chart is unfortunately not especially helpful in a vacuum. Which is not to say you're interpreting it wrong, I just cannot tell if your conclusion there is actually valid. Or if it's post-consumer (i.e. table scraps) or industrial (i.e. animal feed that goes bad) which dramatically changes the interpretation if animal production and cereal grain waste are correlated.

This doesn't really make sense, though. You have to grow grain in order to raise livestock. Without seeing how these numbers were calculated, it's hard to say exactly what this graph is showing.


The drop from vegan to average is about 1 ton of CO2 annually. Americans are 15-20 tons annually. China’s CO2 emissions growth was 2-3% last year: https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2019/02/28/china-coal-renew.... 3% on 9 gigatons is a 270 megatons increase. That’s somewhat under a ton per American.

We need a change in culinary habits, eating meat each day for seven days a week isn’t pheasible on the long run. And I don’t think people will flock to eating artificial meat, I don’t think real milk has been replaced by soy milk.

Also, a fact left unsaid by most of the people commenting on this, we need to reverse the engines of economic growth, this planet doesn’t have the resources of providing a middle-class lifestyle for 7 or 8 billion people. In essence, I’m saying that Malthus was right, and the longer we fight against his ideas the longer it will take for us to complain about stuff that I’m afraid is already outside of our control.

I’m not really sure what sort of event will bring the next environmental state of equilibrium, we used to rely on wars and lack of antibiotics for that in centuries past, but I’m sure it won’t be pretty.

I think the effort to get people to stop eating meat and XYZ favorite food isn't going to work. A lot of people eat what they eat because they don't really have much food choice. And with some people pushing weird options like bugs as a protein source while the rich will surely keep eating normal old burgers, life is starting to feel like a bad scifi movie.

I think the absolute biggest and most immediate solution is eating less. Not less beef. Not less pork. Just less of everything.

Obese people can easily consume 2x or more of the food a non-obese person takes in. In America alone, about 1/3 of the country is obese. Doing incredibly rough math here, cutting the calorie consumption of that top 1/3 in half would be the equivalent of 1/6 of food consumption vanishing. As someone from a rural family full of almost-carnivore 400+ pounders, getting them to cut their calories to ~2500 calories a day would be like half the neighborhood and their consumption simply vanishing.

And that's not even factoring in the gas we need to burn to accommodate the greater mass on airplanes, in cars, etc. Dropping the average weight of obese countries by 1/3 would put a big dent in emissions.

People have been prophesizing collapse and mass death for decades. They were wrong every time (obviously).

Do you have the numbers to back up your claim about middle-class lifestyles?

We do currently witness mass death for insects, which had managed to survive through quite a few geological revolutions but which apparently cannot survive the humans’ need for industrialized agriculture (and you cannot feed 8 billion people without industrialized agriculture). And the extinctions among the mammal genre are already pretty well known.

For millennia, actually. They have been right a few times.

> this planet doesn’t have the resources of providing a middle-class lifestyle for 7 or 8 billion people.

So what? What do you propose, concretely?

> Malthus was right,

Again, so what?

I'm not the person you're responding to, but I think the only way to fight climate change is by changing to an economy that doesn't rely on increasing production, and accepting a lower standard of living.

I see people blaming climate change on overpopulation, but this isn't really the truth - a majority of the world's energy usage comes from first world countries.

How much of a reduction are we talking about? Because if it's far enough, then it won't really be any different than the destruction of our civilization. At that point we might as well go full steam ahead into climate change, because the results of it aren't actually set in stone. The IPCC says that we still don't know how to properly model clouds in our climate change models - they could have a significant cooling or warming effect.

> and accepting a lower standard of living.

I think nearly everybody is ready to accept a lower standard of living... for their neighbourghs!

> So what? What do you propose, concretely?

I did say:

> I’m afraid is already outside of our control.

so you could say I'm a defeatist, as in I know of no workable and ethical solution. I am just laying out of the facts as I think they are happening.

Maybe we agree in the following conclusion:

Global warming is here to stay (because only a global effort can constrast it and human nature is against global efforts). Let's stop pretending we can make anything about it and let's instead focus on adapting to it (because humanity thrives when everybody can try and improve his own condition without sliding into theft).

> I don’t think real milk has been replaced by soy milk.

It doesn't taste like cow's milk though. And it's not trying to. Artificial meat on the other hand has a goal of being as close to beef as possible.

Cowspiracy has been debunked over and over again also it's good to know that bill invest on GMO, at least now we know what this side of the picture is.

Has it been debunked? As far as my reading has shown me in the past and now, it seems to be fairly accurate, with some criticisms levelled at its conclusion that veganism is the right solution.


Yes. And other shady investments. I wasnt trying to paint him a saint. ;)

You can't really compare CH4 and CO2 emissions. They have completely different lifecycles and short term properties.

Those livestock emissions nearly do not contribute to ocean acidification, and half of it will be gone in 20 years.

Bill Gates gets it. We need to step on the gas and deploy boatloads of wind, solar, nuclear, batteries, pumped hydro, long-distance transmission, energy efficiency measures, CCS, demand response, and whatnot.

Yes, it will cost a lot. But leaving our children with an increasingly hostile planet isn't a tenable option either (and one which will be even more expensive as well).

I think the fact that it isn't cheap shouldn't be that much of an issue (although I know it currently is) because the price we (not even our children) will pay because of climate change would be much higher (in pure economic costs, before we start talking about more moral and environmental costs like animal extinction).

But I think the problem is that people care about today a lot more then they care about tomorrow, or next year (and definitely more then their potential future descendants).

> I think the fact that it isn't cheap shouldn't be that much of an issue...

EDIT: Apologies for the combative tone below, what I'm trying to say is, it's not as simple as monetary cost.

I'm afraid that's looks like first world thinking. For countries still developing lives are literally at stake right now. Rolling back environmental impact means lower economic growth, poorer infrastructure and therefore people dying in poverty.

It's not all bad news on this front. Modi committed India to opening a swath of new coal power stations before coming into office, but has since changed tack with the collapse in the cost of solar energy[1]. Still, this will be new solar capacity and while it's better than more coal it's still environmentally worse than no new energy generation at all.


> this will be new solar capacity and while it's better than more coal it's still environmentally worse than no new energy generation at all.

I don’t understand what you’re trying to say here.

Can you elaborate more on this last point?

Do you mean to imply that one approach to the problem is to build no new electricity capacity?

How will we displaced fossil fuel use for transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, and mineral processing if not with new electricity generation?

Or did you mean to imply the world would be better off if India’s poorest continued to suffer in the dark and cold?

All I'm saying is that new capacity to meet an increased demand has an environmental impact even if it is solar.

More broadly my point is we cannot expect developing countries to simply stop developing. That's not an acceptable short term cost, as I pointed out when I said lives are at stake. I'm pointing out some complexities in the issue. How you can get from that to me saying poor people should suffer in the cold confuses me.

Rolling back environmental impact means lower economic growth, poorer infrastructure

This isn't true. It just requires a different development path than Europe and Asia have followed. For example, local power generation can bootstrap a small, isolated economy without requiring massive investments in a nation-wide energy grid. And renewable power (solar or wind) lends itself much better to small-scale deployments than fossil fuel generators.

All of those increase environmental impact, they just do it less than historical approaches. Actually rolling back environmental impact is another thing altogether.

The last ten years' experience with renewables has shown that local-scale generation is underwhelming and large-scale deployments are the way to go.

With the exponential recent declines in production cost, most of the cost of solar is now in deployment, not manufacturing the cells. This has made huge desert installations much cheaper per watt than rooftop -- as a result, large-scale installations is where almost all the growth is coming from.

As for wind power, efficiency increases superlinearly with blade length. As a result of this, and improving material science and production/deployment tech, turbines have been getting enormous (Eiffel-tower-sized or more) and no longer fit outside of dedicated wind farms.

As for nation-wide grids, they're are a central part of the solution to solar/wind intermittency (because weather patterns average out over long distances).

Yes, this. Cell phones in Africa are a great example. They skipped right over having land lines and went straight to cell phones.

> But I think the problem is that people care about today a lot more then they care about tomorrow

Absolutely, and to change that, you need to ask why this is the case.

There are many reasons for that. Some people are selfish, some are merely short-sighted. This needs to be fixed by changing the mindset.

But to me the (by far) biggest problem is that too many people simply cannot afford to think otherwise.

Climate change in X years means nothing to someone living in, or close to poverty today. "Green" means nothing to someone hungry today, and it would be absurd and apathetic to expect otherwise. And a very large share of the global population today are poor.

Given that the poorest are not disproportionately consuming the least-clean energy, I think the poverty issue is minimal.

My parents smoked heavily. Even after the causal connection with lung cancer was well-established. Even though both of them lost their father to lung cancer. Even though their child (me) suffered from asthma, to the extent of being hospitalised. I know addiction is a thing. But there was no sense that those choices were made because of the physical compulsion. There were no attempts to quit. The biggest addiction was mental: a lack of any interest in trying.

I don't think it is helpful to claim we are 'addicted' to high-carbon energy. But whatever the label, there is mind-boggling inertia in the human soul.

Nobody drives a shitty, old, inefficient, dirty gas guzzler because they are addicted to them. They drive them because they can't afford something better.

A solar panel is probably an unaffordable object for at least a quarter of the world's population.

No, but plenty of people drive brand-new, expensive, inefficient gas guzzlers. Poor folks are much more likely to buy a cheap small engine Honda than a 200 cu.in. un-aerodynamic brick. Guzzling gas is expensive.

And the poorest ¼ of the world contribute way way way less than ¼ of our CO₂ emissions.

I guess culture just has to change, so that a gaz guzzler isn't a status symbol. Say, a sailing yacht? Or a telescope in your front yard (for watching the stars, of course, not spying on the neighbors getting it on). Or bling-bling to hang around your neck?

I mean, plenty of ways to show your wealth without it having to be a big FU to the planet.

This is true, a great deal of good can be accomplished supplying electricity and light and clean water to those who don't have access now. However, the carbon footprint of poor individuals is vastly less per capita than of rich individuals. Every rich person, and you are most likely rich in a global sense, must realize their luck and their lifetime carbon footprint and do their part for decarbonizing, given we are those who emit the most.

This is called "eating your seed corn". Do you go somewhat hungry during winter, and possibly starve now? Or do you eat your seed corn now, and have nothing to harvest later, and certainly starve later?

Our ancestors figured this out. Some of them did starve during winter. But we're the descendants of the lucky and prepared.

Why should the future be any different?

> But we're the descendants of the lucky and prepared.

Some of us may be the descendants of those who enjoyed their seed corn during the winter and later reaped the cobs planted by their neighbours.

Because the time scale of our situation is different. Those threatened by starvation in winter aren’t the same people who will need the seed corn in spring. That disconnect creates an immediate, imposed suffering on some for the future, anticipated benefit of others.

This is not "eating your seed corn", as that story is about a single resource, and the short-term planning of when to consume it.

You can put a price on the planet when you have more than one. Until then, this thinking is absurd.

We do have other planets, relocation will cost roughly $3.75e+15 USD at SpaceX price estimates. IIRC, the global economy is about $1e14 USD/year.

I haven't read the estimates, but that would be relocation only, correct? Assuming that's true, you need to add the costs of terraforming on top of that.

Correct. I kinda assumed the people who moved would build up domed habitats while there until it counted as “done”. Multiply by ten if you want to do it directly, I think?

Why can't we just do that on Earth though? If we're going to live in underground caves , like we would have to on Mars, then why don't we just do it on Earth?

Well, yes, I agree — Antarctica in winter and the peak of Mt. Everest are both vastly more hospitable than Mars, but Mars is there if we want to try it.

We don't "have other planets" in any useful sense. We know there are other planets out there. We're a long way from knowing with even a shred of certainty whether we will ever be capable of relocating to them, let alone when it may become feasible or what it will cost.

So it will only take 37 years in impossibly perfect conditions? Unless people are willing to sacrifice themselves to let others survive this scenario is never going to happen.

That’s literally moving the entire population of the planet — you’d only do that in a very unusual circumstance when most people were going to die anyway if you didn’t leave, and building domes over your cities does nothing to help.

Most people don’t even move more than, what, a hundred miles from where they’re born? Just because I fancy giving it a go doesn’t mean I expect people to go to Mars en masse even if it was free.

But they could if they needed to.

A wealthy retiree without kids is going to naturally live for today and not care too much about tomorrow. Suspect there’s plenty of them too.

Apart from being uncharitable, that's just not a reasonable generalisation of human behaviour. Plenty of old people with no relatives have died wealthy wile living very simple lives, giving their wealth to charity. Wealthy retirees with lots of relatives have left all their money to their cat, or whatever. It's just not possible to paint big swathes of humanity with a single broad brush.

I’m not intending to be uncharitable - I agree that there are plenty of people of all sorts. My point is that there will be some people who really don’t care - these could be younger or older, childless or whatever. I am not sure if there is going to be much more than anecdotal evidence on who causes the most damage to the environment and who is likely to change their behaviour due to climate change.

I’m also not saying anybody would be wrong to not care about the future. It’s quite understandable to me someone using their freedom to say f the world, question is if everyone needs to be on board to make necessary changes then how do you achieve that.

In other words the point isn't the (admittedly unjustifiable) generalisation, it's that there are people who are not going to be on board unless they see something in it for them. Could be a wealthy childless retiree, or it could be someone in their thirties with four kids travelling round the world for work racking up air miles for their career to support their family.

A wealthy retiree without kids contributes less to climate change than basically anybody that will have kids. His climate impact stops with him, it doesn't for people with kids.

I just want to point out that "our children" here is literally us and our actual children. It's not some far future hypothetical human population.

If you're under 30, you will probably live to see large swaths of the plant that were previously inhabitable become unlivably hot due to human created carbon emissions. Factor in increased natural disasters, and the effects of a warmer climate on our ability to produce food, this is an incredibly serious problem that will affect you and people you know and love.[0]

Now is the time to act and get involved. Look into groups like the CCL[1] or local Green New Deal organizers. Call your congress-person, get involved at the state and local level. Make this a priority.

[0] http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-... [1] https://citizensclimatelobby.org/

Another option for getting involved is: https://climateaction.tech/

"Technology professionals from many companies — such as Google, Facebook, Tumblr, Etsy, Github, SoundCloud, Lyft and many more — are coming together under the banner of ClimateAction.tech to find ways to accelerate solutions to climate change."

There are lots of interesting projects and support in the slack workspace.

This will cost a lot, and this is not even the hardest step. We use energy for electricity, but also transportation, heating, fertilizer production/agriculture, cattle produces GHG, A/C recycling, and what not.

The USA will need to reduce meat consumption, improve public transportation (electric cars if produced at scale will introduce lots of other environmental issues), relocalize industries. They are late to the transition in every domain.

I just want to take a note (and please do not take this as a critique).

Not OP, but when I personally talk on reducing meat consumption for environmental reasons - I do not have animal farts and burps in mind. The process of growing meat requires a lot of resources by itself and at current human population scales we are wasting vast amounts of resources (energy, land, etc.) to grow meat instead of spending those resources to feed ourselves. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_efficiency#Ten_perc...

IMO, feeding animals unusual foods won't solve the main issue and produce more challenges. It's anecdata (cannot cite anyone), but as much as I've read about ecological farming, problems with animal health and infamous though prevalent use of antibiotics in industrial animal farming is due to the diets of the animals. Animals grown in ecological open farms with habitats natural for the animal grow healthier. But as mentioned in first paragraph - at current human population scales - meat consumption must be reduced rapidly.

P.S. I will digress, but as the problem is insanely big human population (and it's exponential growth), it would be great if people globally won't procreate at such rates.

Of course I have seen stuff like this. How much seaweed needs to be produced, won't this have other ecological repercussions? Why is this presented as a kill-all-worries innovation?

A much simpler and less crazy solution is simply to have more grass-fed beef. Their manure and body shade can help recreate green pastures in desertic regions, and this would be pretty much CO2-neutral. It's just more expensive, so nobody does it.

Solutions are here, and they're not that hard. People just don't want to implement them because it impacts their profits and abilities to eat tasteless meat 3 times a day for next to nothing.

Growing more seaweed sounds like it would sequester more carbon too.

Just like growing soy to feed beef, like we do now, except that we found out that the cheapest way to do that was to cut down trees in the amazon forest, grow it there and ship it to the US.

Uncontrolled innovation may have unexpected results.

It sounds almost like the disruption necessary to stop global warming is greater than the disruption that would be caused by the global warming.

When no one can forecast plausible consequences for global warming that have any consistency, it's very hard to have any idea. We have wild apocalyptic visions of the world ending in twelve years, or Mad Max resource scarcity causing the downfall of society, massive sealevel rises wiping out coastal cities. Or it could be an adjustment of a degree or two upward, to bring us in line with the averages for the Medieval Warm Period and other previous climate optimums.

Nor do we have any real understanding of the equilibrium effects of the climate, and many who are pushing climate models are quite obviously ignorant of shifts in global temperature and atmospheric composition on a paleontological scale.

Nobody really knows what the hell is going to happen, and when presented with rank fear-mongering, it's prudent to puzzle yourself with the classic question, cui bono?

Applying the classic question, I'd conclude that the confusion is probably exactly what those who 'bono' the most from inaction are actively creating, and I'd put my money on the many scientists across disciplines who seem to be panicking instead.

When concerned scientists and climate alarmists stop flying in airplanes I might give their warnings of impending dire consequences more credit.

Until the smartest or most concerned folks begin to consistently eat their own dog food I won't either.

I smoke because even though lots of doctors tell me it'll kill me, many of them are smokers too.

Pain now or in the near term always seems far more severe than pain in the further future. Let's suppose that unrestrained global warming will reduce agricultural production to the point where it's no longer viable to grow any meat (or maybe 1% as much). Alternatively we could reduce our meat consumption in the near future by 90%, as part of a broad sustainability program, and be able to maintain that level of meat production indefinitely.

That's the sort of tradeoff we might be looking at.

The difference is that if it's a consequence of nature then people will just accept it. If it's a consequence of politics, then people will fight wars over it. How are you going to stop a sovereign country from growing food that they want? If your trade deals can't offer them more than what your restrictions on them are, then the only option is to intervene by force and institute an authoritarian rule.

Politics isn’t all about coercion. Persuasion and consensus can work just fine. Nobody’s about to start a war over other countries growing too much cattle on their own territory, but as the direct and tangible consequences of climate change become increasingly apparent, I expect the imperative for change to become more broadly accepted. The Paris agreements show that there is broad agreement internationally already.

There’s also no need to draconian enforcement. We can start with a ramped increasing environmental tax on meat products, reductions in farm subsidies on the same, etc. 50 years ago smoking was ubiquitous as a core social and recreational activity, now it’s marginalised. The same could happen to meat eating.

The Paris agreement probably doesn't gave informed consent of the population. I know very few people who are okay with increasing meat prices and reducing their consumption. Finding consensus on this where the people, not just the elite (politicians), agree is going to be difficult. Some countries are just going to disagree. Some are going to use these kinds of talks and rules to play political games etc. How are you going to force a country like China to follow this?

>50 years ago smoking was ubiquitous as a core social and recreational activity, now it’s marginalised.

Meat is the easiest way to get a reasonably balanced diet. There's a reason why we've eaten meat for longer than we've been humans. You're not going to curb that anywhere as easily as smoking. I would even be willing to bet that there are many many many people in the world who would be willing to fight to be able to eat meat.

A lot of this thread leads like the dreams of authoritarians.

not sure youre being sarcastic or not... of course the disruption due global warming will be vastly greater than the disruption caused by trying to prevent it, that much is a given

The wealthier will be disrupted relatively more by mitigating climate change as they consume more and have the means to invest. The poor will be disproportionately affected by climate change and are less able to adapt. So even if everyone is worse off overall without mitigation measures against climate change now, the rich would be relatively stronger and so may consider later adaptation preferable to present mitigation.

I don't think this is true, unless when you say "the rich" you mean "90% of the population of the West".

Resource consumption happens by a person. There's only so many resources a person will use while being rich. A rich person might consume far more resources than a poor person, but rich people collectively have a much smaller impact than the poor, because there are far fewer of them. This means that if you start tackling climate change and the impact is that food becomes more expensive, then poor people will be far more affected by this than rich people.

I think this probably needs a proper analysis either way, but Oxfam (I realise not a source everyone agrees with) claims 50% of emissions come from the top 10% (this wouldn't just be the "West" - Middle East oil states, rich Asian countries, and rich people worldwide generally all contribute and some in the West probably maintain relatively low carbon lifestyles).

https://theconversation.com/emissions-inequality-there-is-a-... has the Oxfam discussion.

There would be an impact on poor people as you say, but this depends on the exact policies adopted. A study such as the one summarised and linked here: http://bruegel.org/2018/11/distributional-effects-of-climate... would be needed to confirm either way - their conclusion is that climate change mitigation efforts are potentially but not necessarily regressive with respect to wealth distribution.

How is that different from saying that wealthier people are better off, and that this will continue to be the case?

Without climate change inequalities might well increase, but with it they will increase more. I’m also saying that the wealthy may not actually be better off, but they may be relatively better off compared to the less wealthy (e.g. absolute wealth might decrease but relative inequality might increase). For example poorer people may lose land to flooding and go from subsistence to poverty.

Edit: lots of articles about this online, but e.g. http://time.com/5575523/climate-change-inequality/ has some sobering statistics on the likely impact of climate change: e.g. "A 2015 study in the journal Nature projected that the average income in the poorest countries will decline 75% by 2100 compared to a world without warming".

I don't know any simulations of either scenarios, so I can't tell if the disruptions are comparable or not. It was just my thought at the pretty harrowing and grand scale list of sacrifices we would need to make to stop global warming. Maybe the alternative is worse, I don't know.

Even if the actual disruption was the same magnitude - if you have control over the disruption, it is much more pleasant one than the one you don't have any control over.

Is it though? Because if humans have control over it, then you can be sure that humans will fight over it. How would the US tell Russia to pollute less?

> How would the US tell Russia to pollute less?

Easy. This has actually been done many times during Cold War.

You do it yourself, and so well, that their citizens will demand it too.

There were many social advances in the West that were imported (usually in a crippled way, but still) to the communist countries (I was born in one). Things like 5-day work week, education improvements, recycling, ecological laws, nuclear proliferation treaties... usually it's very small things, but they do make difference.

But these aren't advances. We're talking about a reduction in quality of life. If we want to reduce the amount of meat people eat because it's a major contributor to climate change, then we'll have to do this through taxes or other such means. If Russia doesn't want to go along with it and has their people eat as much meat as they want then the US would be powerless.

What you suggest only works if you're talking about improving quality of life.

That's not true. Things like ecological or workplace safety regulations are improvements to quality of life at the expense of economic production. Averting global warming also does increase quality of life.

> has their people eat as much meat as they want

It's not healthy to eat that much meat anyway.

> then the US would be powerless

And you shouldn't panic. The US is far from powerless. There are many countries in Europe that for example do not have nuclear weapons. Does it make them dead? No, they continue to live, in fact often with high quality of life.

This worry that you somehow "lose the race", it's such a nonsense (reminds me of "mineshaft gaps" from Dr. Strangelove).

Yep. IPCC AR4 report claims that climate change will cost about 5% of GDP by 2100. That comes to a net present value of about 0.1% of GDP (assuming 3% growth).

What part of "eating less meat / driving less/ relocalize industry" will kill people from heatwaves and cause mass migrations?

Relocalizing industry will certainly cause mass migrations (people will follow the industry).

You're being intellectually dishonest here.

Relocalizing industry is a controlled process, where the direction of the flux of people is known, and housing and infrastructure sizing can be planned and handled, and people won't follow the industry if they can't get acceptable living conditions.

Mass migrations from climate change are due to unexpected meteorological events either directly (floods, heat waves, etc), or indirectly (food scarcity, drinkable water shortages, political instability, etc). The scale, location and time are unpredictable. The people concerned will need to migrate and have to live in unsanitary housing camps.

History suggests that desperate people will attempt to follow the industry regardless of how horrendous the living conditions may be.

not even close

There are around 1 Billion people right now without electricity[1].

For them is already a hostile planet. I wonder if their governments care more about the environment or provide more people with electricity.

[1]: https://ourworldindata.org/number-of-people-in-the-world-wit...

How could be people convinced about importance of this if it doesn't or won't impact them enough?

Yes, "think about our children" is good, but in the end people are still selfish and will think that it's not their problem.

I meet much more people that use “other people won’t care” as an excuse for not doing anything themselves than I meet people who actually don’t care.

If we just started doing our parts and didn’t worry so much about other people doing theirs we wouldn’t in this mess.

Yes, saw recently on HN (and often IRL) "no point recycling when industry ...", and "we'll never best 10% domestic recycling, why bother".

In UK councils quote 50% recycling rates. And that's with most supermarkets still producing food in unrecyclable packaging.

At the risk of injecting extra negativity into the thread: what about the recent revelations that a lot of (if not most) recycling is really shipping the trash to poorer nations to be dumped there?

>"councils quote"

Yeah ... I've not investigated that yet. But I have seen some of our local recycling facilities and they seem to be operating rather than secretly filling shipping containers.

It does trouble me visiting my town's rubbish dump, there is so much usable stuff in the skips, so much waste.

Presumably China now refusing other country's trash is shedding new light on these issues.

I think we have to fix our entire economic systems in order to solve this, and I don't think that's going to work readily because people will always exploit others for financial/political gain at the expense of the environment. We're going to have to seriously curtail individual freedoms that allow people to make excessive use of resources. We can't do that under our current market-based systems.

Take a simple example, fleece fabric is great, cheap, used widely but is a massive source of microplastic pollution - we're going to have to make it expensive, and stop people from throwing it away, and use the income to do proper filtration and recycling.

We're going to need to start treating fraud wrt environmental issues as akin to manslaughter - actually put businessmen in jail who are responsible (knowingly, or unknowingly through negligence) for things like shipping recycling abroad and not confirming it is recycled, or lying about car MPGs, or failing to filter effluent, or allowing runoff to poison water sources, ....

We probably need something akin to a global one-child policy as well. We can't go on increasing population and just expect resources to stretch. Things are going to break much harder with population rates left as they are.

I better stop ... /rant

Hah, don't worry about /rant, I agree with you. In particular wrt. treating environmental fraud issues akin to manslaughter, or at least intentionally causing bodily harm. Because that's what it is, except stretched over time and applying to more people. We have an issue like this close to home - apparently in Poland there are people who offer very cheap disposal of toxic waste. They take that waste and just dump it illegally. I'd like to see them - and those who in full knowledge use their services - to be dragged in front of the courts and jailed.

Yes, in UK too. AIUI we've implemented a system of tracking the waste to the originators, who can't use the excuse "I paid someone" as they are jointly responsible for safe disposal. Waste disposal operatives have therefore to have licenses and domestic users must check the license so they can be assured the waste will be disposed of, use unlicensed operators, get fined. It seems to be working to some extent but as costs for proper disposal increase the "benefits" of fraud for the waste operatives increase too.

or in other words, the tragedy of commons.

No, it's the tragedy of blaming the tragedy of the commons.

That's one of the most important jobs of a politician. Make the hard decisions and convince people that they are needed, even if they don't see it right now. Politicians who don't do that don't do their job. And yes, that means we are in the West (and probably elsewhere) in a veritable political crisis. Not because we have some nutjobs run around "it's all a myth! we don't need to do anything!" but because politicians don't work anymore against it and instead take the lazy path to votes and just agree with it, even if the long-term consequences will be disastrous for humanity.

These initiatives will create a lot of jobs: engineers, administrators, electricians, construction workers. Many of those in areas that were hit hard by manufacturing moving away.

> How could be people convinced about importance of this if it doesn't or won't impact them enough?

As engineers, I feel it's our responsibility to make environmentally friendly solutions that are simply more economically viable than the unclean/unsustainable alternative. I'm working on the oceanic shipping industry myself.

One thing that might help is that longevity research is going on well. Hopefully in 10-20 years it will produce enough results for the general public to start believing that saving the Earth is not just about their children.

> We need to step on the gas

Nice metaphor...

Maybe “get the lead out” would be better?

In current Formula 1 parlance; we need to increase our torque demand.

Really nice, because a ramp up in mass production of these things causes a lot of emissions that will take 50+ years to recover from.

Indeed, it's not cost but investment. There's a return on investment and it's not just getting rid of carbon. IMHO the easiest way to get the world moving to mostly wind + solar is continuing to lower the cost (unsubsidized). Lower cost of energy enables new use cases.

People seem to be talking about replacing existing energy suppliers with clean ones. Instead we need to be talking about what it will take to generate 10-100X the amount of energy in a few decades and what that would enable. Cheap clean energy enables a lot of things that are currently too expensive/polluting to consider. Countries that manage this will be able to grow more rapidly economically. China looks like it is well positioned for that.

I'm not against nuclear but it will have to come down in price and upfront investment cost for that to have meaningful impact short term. As long as people still dream about maybe being cost competitive with coal/gas one day, the ambitions are simply not high enough. It needs to be vastly cheaper than that. 2-3x would keep it competitive with solar and wind for some decades.

IMHO any price comparisons against current prices are in any case effectively obsolete since those are likely trending down for solar and wind for some time to come. If prices drop by another few double digit percentages, a lot of home owners will do the math and put some solar on their roof.

Carbon capture schemes only make sense when the combined cost of that and keeping the carbon producing stuff they offset functioning is lower. However, even without carbon capturing a lot of these solutions are already problematic in terms of cost and making them more expensive will only speed up their demise. With coal, that has already happened. Natural gas will last a bit longer. However, when wind and solar bids start undercutting these solutions consistently the same will happen there. There's a real chance that remaining gas plants switch to clean sources of gas (i.e. generated using solar/wind/nuclear) when that gets cheap enough.

I'm surprised to not to see inertial storage there

And by no means is the "duck curve" or storage an impediment for adoption. I will not go as far as identifying it as a "core" issue here.

I wouldn't take offense, it's rare for our personal pet technologies to make it into high level documents. These are just Gates' opinion of the best ones after all.

But I would put my money on reflow batteries in the long run if they weren't so far behind, simply the decoupling of storage capacity from power density feels like an engineering perfect storm to me. I was lucky enough that my pet technology made it in =)

Why do you think inertial storage might be superior? I've talked to a fair number of people working on it and it sounds totally doable but I'm unclear that it actually costs less per joule stored or why it would. Granted a flywheel costs less per unit mass and compressed air is cheap, but on a capacity and fabrication basis? Maybe. I don't think I'd call it a shoo-in though and wouldn't invest in it myself.

> Granted a flywheel costs less per unit mass and compressed air is cheap, but on a capacity and fabrication basis? Maybe. I don't think I'd call it a shoo-in though and wouldn't invest in it myself.

Its power and energy density is next to nothing in the industry.

Fabrication, cost on the market? Even most basic flywheels like one used as industrial UPSes can be used right away for grid storage, and be more or less competitive with their high round-trip efficiency.

This just shows that how low a commercial opportunity for energy storage as such is. You need truly monstrous daily variations in energy price to make people put money it it.

By the way, I'm talking about regular steel flywheel, not carbon fibre ones

If we insist on a system with exponential growth the natural outcome will be self destruction, no matter what technology drives this growth.

Why would we settle for the "natural" outcome? Jeff Bezos' dream for Blue Origin is that population and civilization growth can continue in Space, where there's plenty of space and resources.

I just have a hard time with that.

So we make our own planet, a space in the universe we are literally evolved to use, unlivable at some point.

The solution is that we'll magically figure out how to make space, an already hostile environment, livable?

Honestly, space settlement makes for nice headlines for the new ruling class to pat themselves on the back with, but for the rest of us, the natural outcome of unlimited growth is population crash.

> The solution is that we'll magically figure out how to make space, an already hostile environment, livable?

Well, potentially yes, because it would offer us to relieve the pressure on Earth - and the spin-offs from the process of creating space infrastructure and space habitats would be mightily useful for fixing the damage we've already done to Earth.

We didn't break Earth out of spite; before technological civilization, life on Earth was shit. We're breaking the planet out of desire to make our lives better, and we might fix Earth out of the same desire - but only if we get the chance to do it in time.

Not magically, intelligently. Earth exists in Space and is livable, therefore it is possible.

I mean, what else do you want? You don't want the mass death of population crash, nobody has the power to order billions of people to stop wanting things and live in poverty, no one person or group can change government policy of all nations, and we can't keep polluting and increasing energy use at current rates.

There's no way back to an ideal perfect before-time. The only way is forward, and the only way forward without mass death is more technology. I hope someone can work out a way to put the polluting energy intensive things away from where we live.

That graph is quite misleading, it should be a percentage of total usage, if we wanted to show progress. Global energy consumption could have grown just as much, making progress zero.

This graph shows things more accurately: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/global-primary-energy

From 2000 energy consumption has increased by 50%. Every type of energy usage has increased except traditional biofules (wood basically).

I think the key thing to take from this graph is that renewable energies aren't replacing older methods, simply new demand is proportionally being supplied by newer method (and even that by a minuscule amount).

Good point, bill's graph suffers from numerator analysis, only showing production but not the overall percentage based on the total.

The graph you posted is sobering. Looking at coal, there is a tiny dip in it, wow that's all the death of coal we hear about. Its still going to be phased out for 20 years globally, nevermind the phaseouts of oil and natural gas which will take even longer.

We have a long way to go, let's keep striving!

Nuclear startup companies need more than words of support. They need financial backing and they need it now. There are on the order of 50 startups in North America trying to commercialize new nuclear technologies. A few have billionaire backers, a few others are receiving government grants. All are under funded.

In a world where a web service can be prototyped in weeks and complex hardware can be prototyped in months, the investment community is not taking nuclear startup proposals seriously. We get it - you want to make money as fast as possible.

If we want to see operational Generation IV nuclear power in the next decade, investors need to recalibrate their investment timeframes. This means we have to wait longer and make larger bets. The human mind is tuned to yearly seasonal cycles which is fine if projects can be tested on that time scale. But for something as complex and risky as nuclear power, we need to think in five or ten year cycles.

To all the people with money advocating for climate protection and low cost power for the developing world - enough talk - nuclear startups want to get to work, and they need financial backing. Next time you fund a company focused on fintech, weed, or low-paying gig economy jobs, consider that you could be investing in Generation IV safe nuclear. The contrast is stark between companies that shuffle money around or capitalize on addiction versus companies that produce the most basic resource of energy.

The long view is gone. Let's just imagine we cannot stop climate change. Who's working on that problem?

But because the world must balance the need to eliminate carbon emissions with economic growth

I read this often, and everytime can't help but wonder: must the world really strive for economic growth? Is just stability not enough? Isn't unbridled growth a major cause of the situation we're in now (and not just with respect to climate, but also the wealth of other environmental problesm, even disasters, the earth faces)? Note: these are honest questions. I don't know how econmics really work. Maybe I'm naive, and I perfectly get for some 'more more more' is the key aspect in life. But is that really required?

Well, it's easy for us to sit here in the developed world and talk about how the world doesn't need growth.

There are billions of people for whom more of the same means more poverty. When everybody in Africa, South America, Asia, heck even the poorer parts of Europe and North America, has access to clean water, food, education, healthcare, safety, justice etc. we can discuss whether we really need growth.

Growth may not be as needed in our parts of the world, but it sure is for a lot of people.

Since 2000, China has gone from a per capital PPP GDP of $3,000, about the same as the US in the 1880s, to $17,000, about the same as the US in the 1960s or 1970s. In the process, it has added 6 gigatons of carbon output, more than the entire US footprint. Carbon output was the way to a modern, decent life for a billion Chinese. India and Africa are still stuck where the US was a century ago (and their carbon output is correspondingly low). Economic development is necessary for them.

Economic growth is what allows _very good things_ like education and healthcare continue to improve, and reach a larger number of people, regardless of what you think of material consumerist goods.

These things have made life way better for average people, in many obvious and non-obvious ways, that aren’t the mere collection of material goods. Infant mortality dropping is one obvious effect, but violent crime also decreases for example, the murder rate a few hundred years ago was orders of magnitude higher than now.

I was curious how the homicide rate has changed over time. It’s true as you claimed that it was substantially higher hundreds of years ago, and has been on a steep drop in modern times:


If there is population growth, there must be economic growth, or every new born mouth makes the rest of the world poorer. That tends to turn people on one another.

Zero population growth is now possible; zero growth in resource usage may be compatible with economic growth.

Yes. As others pointed out: without economic growth, population growth makes everyone poorer.

Also, economic growth is not our enemy here (nor is growing energy usage). In fact, properly applied, they're our friends in this problem. The trick is doing more of the helping stuff, and less of the damaging stuff.

I've argued this two days ago, so to not repeat myself: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19897547.

Our enemy might be an economic system based on growth that gives critical political power to groups of people that don't actually care about decreasing carbon emissions.

True, economic growth makes everyone richer. But if we don't find a way to both get economic growth and keep the planet in a liveable state, losing economic growth sounds like a better option than destroying the conditions for human life.

My main fear here is that by fixating on economic growth being bad, we might wind up killing the very engine that gives us technologies to deal with climate change and fix the damage already done. That's why I urge to decompose "economic growth" into pieces, and focus on addressing the parts that are causing trouble.

This is a fair point. But couldn't there be a different engine to technological progress?

Not sure. By their very nature, new technologies improve things, creating economic growth.

Incidentally, I'm not 100% sure whether general economic growth is what powers technological growth directly. I've recently seen arguments suggesting that progress of technology is tied to population growth - which has slowed in the past decades. If this is true, then we're in deep shit - at least until we learn how to convert money into technology instead of researchers into technology. But still, we would neither need economic growth to support population growth to cause technological growth (researchers -> progress), or economic growth to support technological growth directly (money -> progress).

Maybe there's a different economic regime that would let technology to progress and life quality to improve without invoking an explicit concept of "economic growth", but I'm not sure what would that be and whether now is the time to figure it out.

Economic growth is not required for the survival of humanity. Economic growth is just something that wealthy people want so that the can keep or increase their wealth. Again, wealth itself not being vital to the survival of humanity (and many species of animals).

Not many people care about "survival of humanity" in the abstract. What we all care about is not suffering, not dying, and not seeing others suffer and die. And then other things on the Maslov's pyramid. Economic growth is absolutely necessary to achieve that; the default, natural state of humanity is pain and death.

I think the abstraction of humanity as a group of which every human being is part of is something that many people understand. People care about the messages they hear, and most of them still hear a message that says there's no real issue and it's possible to keep living the way they live, and it's possible for everyone to keep living the way they live.

Many people would be okay if the message was: we are all going to have to change the way we live, including the rich.

That's fair. I do too subscribe to the abstraction of humanity as a group.

I guess what I'm saying is that even with climate change, survival of humanity is not at stake. We're unlikely to collapse the climate to the point where no humans can survive anywhere on the planet. What's under threat is survival of our technological civilization, of our ways of life, of our grandchildren. The danger is that a lot of people will suffer greatly and die prematurely, and that the future will only contain more suffering.

"economic growth" just means that we produce more goods and services that people desire, for cheaper.

It it borderline tautological to say that economic growth is "good".

I am not sure how someone can argue against a concept that is almost by definition positive.

> I am not sure how someone can argue against a concept that is almost by definition positive.

People argue against the "more goods" part, on the basis that we have way more stuff than we know what to do with anyway. They're sort of right, but it's throwing baby out with the bathwater. Economic growth also encompasses doing same stuff better, and being more efficient with resource use. From what I've seen, the motivation behind criticism is usually twofold: criticizing greed, and worrying that ever-increasing use will exhaust available resources.

We tend to think of economic growth as a fairly tangible thing with meaning. But, GDP is an industrial era measure. Add up all the shoes, cars & kettles that come out of factories and see if that's growing YoY.

Even then they had to deal with serivices and the other more ethereal parts of the economy (financial services, then and now, are a contraversial element in measuring economies). But, the tagible parts of the economy were big enough that GDP had meaning. If GDP doubled, it meant more food, cars, clothes, steel...

These days, GDP growth, economic growth is a lot more poorly defined. Economists have measures for it, but they can't describe what "GDP doubled" looks like beyond the abstraction used to measure it. It could mean more lawyers/lawsuits/contracts or it could mean more childcare/education. Asking "do we want the economy to grow" is a far less meaningful question than it once was.

To the point in the article though, I do think that we need more energy, not less. In fact, for the future to be futuristic, we need a lot more energy. A side effect of clean energy tech is that we're eploring new paradigms, some with tremendous potential to scale beyond what carbon provided.

Stability is probably much (much) harder to achieve than either growth or decay.

The measures of economic growth are not perfect but even something like improving a product or service is, in a very real sense, economic growth. Are you asking whether every such improvement should be matched with a corresponding degradation?

Personally, if you're happy with your situation, you shouldn't feel compelled to constantly improve it. But then, if you need or want to protect something (e.g. yourself, your family), a certain amount of {slack / profit / extra resources } is necessary to weather unknown future adversity. And a growing capacity to handle such adverse events is as important as the things you wish to protect and preserve.

Growth does not imply consumption of resources. It can simply be technological advances. Finding better cures for cancer is also growth.

Of course mankind would continue without better cures for cancer. But I find it difficult to argue that we shouldn't look for better cures.

But the growth talked is "economic growth"

Curing cancer is also economic growth.

Required implies that there is some kind of divine guidance out there, which there isn't, so I suppose we could force humanity to stick to some stable point and not progress any further.

But economic growth is required in the sense that advancing technology requires economic growth. And advancing the human race requires advancing technology, and so on.

The world's population isn't a single entity, so even if one group decides to not pursue economic growth, others still will. The only way to not fall behind is to keep playing.

All of capitalism is predicated on unending growth. There are some fields of economics that do research into alternative models, but they are niche and unpopular: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steady-state_economy

No, the world doesn't really need to strive for economic growth. IPhones sales not growing year over year is not a disaster for anyone, really. Same for Amazon market share, and so on. And yet: it is, because the system works this way. Growth is god. It's instilled into DNA of every entity working in the capitalism.

We could stop the growing obsession, redistribute the accumulated wealth to the developing nations (perhaps iPhone sales would grow then?), and live happily ever after. Obviously, it's an utopia that's not going to happen.

And yet, it's the only viable way to achieve the emission targets needed for humans to survive on this planet. It's commonly accepted that the best advice you can give someone who wants to reduce her/his carbon footprint is: "consume less". Well, we need to consume less globally.

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