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We Have Four Years to Save Ourselves from Climate Change, Harvard Scientist Says (forbes.com)
86 points by jefflombardjr 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 140 comments



The title is very misleading. There is no hard deadline to save ourselves from climate change, or if there is, we already passed it. We're currently at the point were every year we continue doing nothing, means it takes multiple years (decades? centuries?) to recover from the accumulated effects.

Permanent ice is already melting, climate is already changing. Even if we completely stop emitting CO2 right now (which we can't), there would still be too much CO2 in the atmosphere for some time, leading to further heating and longer melting. Even if we were to remove all excess CO2 from the atmosphere right now (which we obviously can't), Earth would still be too warm and icecaps would continue to melt while global temperatures would slowly revert to normal.

We're doing none of those things; we're still arguing over whether we should do anything at all. Our inaction over the past couple of decades on this issue is going to have repercussions for the next centuries.

The issue right now is: how bad do we want things to get? We can't stop it anymore, but we may be able to mitigate it. I really really hope we can prevent the Eastern Antarctic icecap from melting, because that would truly be a disaster. When that melts, most major population centers will have to be evacuated.


> global temperatures would slowly revert to normal

I share your concern regarding the gravity of the situation, and that a whole battery of efforts need to be made in order to mitigate the effects of current global warming. But I wish intelligent people would refrain from supporting the notion that there is any kind of "normal" regarding the climate. There is no such thing.

We have enjoyed a climate favorable to humans (in many places) in the last 8000 years or so, which has really been an anomaly in terms of the geological record. And the notion that we can manipulate the climate forever so that cities can stay put where they happened to be built at some point has to go. It is not sustainable.


> But I wish intelligent people would refrain from supporting the notion that there is any kind of "normal" regarding the climate. There is no such thing.

While I agree that that is true for a sufficiently long timescale, the rate of change that we force on the world right now does make it look like we're changing the normal.


I believe if we refrain to refer to it as "normal" and use "the current balance" it would be more precise.

And yup, we are changing that fast, not as fast as a supervolcano of the past or an asteroid impact but not so many orders of magnitude away from it, even more considering geological scales.


That is a fair point. It's unavoidable in a discussion about these issues that things get simplified, or nobody will understand it anymore. I try to be more nuanced than most, but I think it's impossible for anyone to fully grasp the total complexity of the situation.

It's undeniable that the past 8000 years have been pretty good to us, and that's not going to last forever, but the impact we're currently having on the planet is much faster, and very likely to be larger and more dramatic than the end of the last ice age.


>Even if we completely stop emitting CO2 right now (which we can't), there would still be too much CO2 in the atmosphere for some time, leading to further heating and longer melting

Do you have any data on this? If you look at how quickly things cool off at night, Earth's biosphere reaches steady-state thermal equilibrium over the course of a few days. Your claim is essentially that we've already set off an albedo forcing function that we can't stop, and which is also stronger than existing negative feedback loops. Seems unlikely to me.


https://climate.nasa.gov/ has lots of data.

"Even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, global warming would continue to happen for at least several more decades, if not centuries. That’s because it takes a while for the planet (for example, the oceans) to respond, and because carbon dioxide – the predominant heat-trapping gas – lingers in the atmosphere for hundreds of years."[0]

[0] https://climate.nasa.gov/faq/16/is-it-too-late-to-prevent-cl...


Interesting, thanks. The mechanisms that cause such a delayed temperature response are still opaque though, figure I gotta read more in-depth technical stuff to really understand.


The delayed response is because the temperature rise isn't merely caused by the carbon we've emitted this year, but by all the carbon that has been accumulating in the atmosphere over the past 100 years. Carbon isn't instantly removed from the atmosphere when we stop burning it, so it's going to stay around for a long time. Plants absorb it, but we've been burning more carbon than plants can absorb for a long time.

And for all the time that there's more CO2 in the atmosphere, the atmosphere will continue to trap more heat from the sun, and temperatures will continue to rise.


And that's just CO2. Plants cannot readily absorb methane for example, where you have to rely only on physical processes or our own ingenuity.

Well, the CO2 in our atmosphere is too high, and it's been built up over the course of more than a century. It won't immediately drop back to normal levels even if we did somehow manage to stop producing any CO2 at all.

At night the temperature drops not due to a lack of CO2, but due to a lack of sunlight. If we were to be able to partially block the sun, or reflect significantly more sunlight back into space, we would indeed be able to lose heat more more quickly, but that would require engineering on a scale we've never done before.

So sure, paint the entire Earth white, but how? Or build a giant solar screen in space, but again: how? Besides, blocking sunlight will also have many negative repercussions.



So warming is global and when there is night at one place, then that is because there is daytime somewhere else.

Yes, if you can just shut off the sun for some time, we can definitely easily overcome global warming... ...


You didn't make an effort to charitably interpret my question. My question is essentially about whether transient response to changes in albedo occur primarily over the course of days or primarily over the course of years.

Albedo is important, being snide is not.


The impact of albedo on this process can go either way. On the one hand, melting ice caps and higher temperatures can mean less ground covered in ice and snow, therefore lower albedo and temperature will rise even faster.

But warmer seas can also mean more evaporation, more precipitation and therefore more snow, higher albedo and a brake on rising temperatures, possibly even a new ice age. (It gets mentioned sometimes; an ice age is ironically a potential result of global warming.)

But it seems to me that effect will mostly be limited to higher latitudes. There's not a lot of snow around the equator, which receives the most sunlight.

But if we could somehow increase the Earth's albedo on a large scale, then that would absolutely have an impact.


I do remember a paper from Pr. Jem Bendell, from the Institute of Leadership and Sustainability, who did a nice litterature review on the subject:

www.lifeworth.com/deepadaptation.pdf


The loss of sea ice is stoking US heat waves: https://phys.org/news/2019-06-loss-arctic-sea-ice-stokes.htm...

Intense heat is also predicted for Europe this summer: https://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/accuweather-2019...

James Anderson, the scientist from the article, also has linked ozone depletion with climate change: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-ozone-prob...


Also, food shortages incoming: https://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/accuweathers-new...

tldr; the Midwest had gotten so much rain they're unable to plant crops


I think his four years is too fast but I also don't think we can totally destroy the planet (aside from nuclear destruction). We know too much and have too much technology. Some (small?) fragment of civilization will survive while the earth recovers. For example, methane has a half life of seven years so it will take some time.

The more immediate threat seems to be around food and water. The Ogallala Aquifer is drying up quickly and we will have a new Dust Bowl.[https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/08/vanishin...] Considering how much food for the US and the world comes from here there is going to be massive starvation. It just seems like this planet can only infinitely support around 4B people. We have too many now but population is slowly starting to tilt back.

We also need to understand that constant growth is toxic. Both for our planet in population and as a driver for business and profits. I think this planet will be quite different as automation continues to accelerate and as we start using all of our resources in a sustainable and non-destructive way. I am very curious to see how this plays out over my lifetime.


> We know too much and have too much technology.

That's a risk that massively adds to fragility. As seen in every civilisation crash across the entirety of history.

Some small fragments surviving when every village had a blacksmith, everyone farms a little land, keeps a pig and cow, and makes clothing etc means each isolated fragment can rebuild a recognisable world and plenty have the knowledge. Bronze requiring tin and copper that typically came from regions thousands of miles apart added a fragility.

When my medicine, food, clothes etc come over thousands of miles and/or depend on complex multi-stage specialist supply chains and knowledge means that any isolated fragments won't have the first clue how to restart. Educating yourself when wikipedia is down, there's no power, comms or international supply chains and some local plant, machine or process just failed... You get the idea.

Not so very different to the many regions occupied by the Romans that found that for centuries after they had lovely advanced buildings and services they could not recreate. So they could use what was still standing, but watch them deteriorate.

"This time it's different" is an arrogance seen across the ages too. We're not crash or dark age proof. Not at all. Society is now so complex that it might take a relatively small spanner in the works to break it.

You're right about growth. Humanity will recognise it. Eventually.


Oh, we can't destroy the planet, but we can make life for humans much more painful and/or impossible. (Along with lots of other species, but humans are the ones I care about most).


Humans could be fine. We've got the capability to turn energy into food in a purely artificial environment. (Google vertical farming). The price of food would go up significantly and society never does well when that happens, but our economy is big enough to feed 7-10 billion people that way if it actually had the will to do so.

Rats will probably also do well; they're pretty urban adapted.

Any other species? Questionable.


I wouldn't place bets on how "big" our "economy" is going to be once the serious destabilization starts happening. Sadly, at the moment humans are showing themselves more interested in viciously attacking each other to protect "what's theirs", rather than banding together to save us all. The standards being set by our current US government for how to help people in trouble globally are... terrifying. I'm not optimistic about what it's going to look like when the shit hits the fan. But yeah, that means our task now has to be trying to build cooperative and egalitarian power and attitude, it'll be too late when shit starts really turning upside down.


Agreed. There were lots of caveats in my statement. It seems that lots of people would rather have widespread food riots than pay 10 cents more for a gallon of gas.


With all due respect, I strongly doubt anybody would be seriously impacted by that aquifer outside of North America.

This said, anything that turns Americans angrier is a security risk for the rest of the world.


The US contributes almost 15% of the global wheat exports and 60% of US soybeans go to China. I'm not saying it will end the world but I can't see how it won't have an impact.


One of those stats is not like the other, but regardless, 15% is the sort of impact that rises prices, increasing the search for alternatives, rather than leading to “mass starvation”.


Does "no more permanent ice" means there is a period of the year where there is no ice at all at the poles? That seems hardly believable.

I was also under the impression that melting ice would push the level of the oceans by multiple meters. If 75-80% of ice has already melted, wouldn't we have seen significant elevation already?

Just some facts that I found surprising, coming from someone who doesn't know much on the topic. I'm well on board with global warming, but the facts presented here don't mesh with what I understood about it.


The reference was to no more permanent ice in the Arctic. Arctic ice floats. Floating ice displaces its mass in seawater. When it melts, it becomes fresh water, displacing roughly the same volume of seawater as it did before, so minimal change in sea level. The main problem with loss of arctic ice is that water absorbs much more sunlight than ice, contributing to a positive feedback loop.

The Greenland ice sheet, and Antarctic ice are a completely different story. Their melting will raise sea levels directly.


> If 75-80% of ice has already melted, wouldn't we have seen significant elevation already?

FTA:

> Another is the pending collapse of the Greenland ice sheet, which Anderson said will raise sea level by 7 meters (about 23 feet).

The Greenland ice sheet is on land.

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

Most of the ice that has melted so far was probably already in the water.

The ice that is already floating in the water does not change the sea level when it melts.

> as long as objects are floating (i.e. they don't rest on the bottom) they displace enough water to support their mass [...] The water level remains the same when the ice cube melts.

https://www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/ae389.cfm

This link talks about cubes of ice in a glass of water but I think it should apply to ice floating in the sea as well.


Also, the Greenland ice sheet is mostly (all?) freshwater. If it melts, all of that getting dumped into the Atlantic ocean will affect the currents, screwing with weather patterns for at least North America and Europe.

Not "the poles". He was talking about the Arctic ocean, not Antarctica. Very different.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_sea_ice_decline


edit: Polar ice caps are already floating in the sea, so they will not effect sea level as much by melting - the volume is already accounted for. The problem is that the sea ice caps reflect a ton of energy that allow ice to form on land. Melting land ice has a different effect on sea level rise.

All I could find on short notice was related to Antarctic Ice cover, this article from NASA does a good job of explaining why the two are not directly correlated in the immediate term - it seems that "One of the main things we learned was that as grounded ice retreats inland, the bedrock under it lifts up elastically,"

The author goes on to say "Although this sounds like good news, the scientists say it's important to keep it in perspective. "It's like a truck traveling downhill that encounters speed bumps in the road," said Larour. "The truck will slow down a bit but will ultimately continue down the hill" - just as the ice sheet will continue to melt and sea level will continue to rise."

From https://sealevel.nasa.gov/news/161/antarcticas-effect-on-sea...

For actual numbers: https://sealevel.nasa.gov/


> Polar ice caps are already floating in the sea, so they will not effect sea level as much by melting

The Arctic icecap is floating, so its melting (which is happening rapidly) will have no impact on sea level rise. The Antarctic icecap is mostly on land, and if that melts, it will raise the sea level by 60 meters. That will flood most major population centers.

I don't think we can save the Arctic anymore, but I really hope we can still save the Antarctic. (The good news is that it's not melting yet.)


I think permanent ice is essentially permafrost as in "too cold for any seasonal melt/freeze cycle".

Technically net ice mass /could/ increase in that state depending on precipitation vs melt rate and even an increase may not be a good thing (fresh artic snow could cause ecological issues even).

That tangent aside it opens the door to potential eventual total melt by definition - if the area is still permafrost that means it never melts year round.

Which while a worrying sign doesn't equate to total immediate melt in four years.


The problem with predictions like this is that this prediction will look silly in 4 years when the Earth has not ended, similar to how wild predictions in the past have not borne fruit.

I understand their desire to sensationalize, but people like AOC make the same predictions, and she is not seen as smart by a large portion of the public.

I think if we just stick with the experimental science research, the general public will find more confidence in the sciences.


> The problem with predictions like this is that this prediction will look silly in 4 years when the Earth has not ended

Can you explain why people like you who come here to post "the world won't end in 4 years" consistently do not read the article, and consistently set the bar at "literally the oblate sphereoid we are on explodes" as opposed to "the climate is so radically different it threatens every aspect of human society and triggers even more mass extinctions?"

I don't understand your mentality at all. It seems an awful lot like you're meticulously moving the goalpost of a bad outcome. But surely you have got your own internal reasoning.


You're not understanding the article, and you are making the same dramatic predictions ("even more mass extinctions". The prediction is that we're heading for catastrophe, something that we'll never be able to handle. It ignores the geologic temperature record (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1b/65_Myr_C...).

You mention mass extinctions, but you don't mention that previous mass extinction events were due primarily to asteroid impacts and volcanic eruptions.


> The prediction is that we're heading for catastrophe, something that we'll never be able to handle. It ignores the geologic temperature record (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1b/65

It is indeed a chart, but no one here is ignoring it. Is the argument, "Don't worry we could just trigger another ice age and after a few tens of thousands of years the fallen bodies of our families and plants will re-sequester an appropriate amount of carbon?"

That seems to be small comfort, and it further reinforces the idea that the only threat to the biosphere you're willing to consider is a movie-style asteroid impact or something else that would shatter or at least significantly deform the planet's shape, as opposed to a change in climate dramatic enough to cause massive problems for human society all over the world.

> You mention mass extinctions, but you don't mention that previous mass extinction events were due primarily to asteroid impacts and volcanic eruptions.

No, I didn't mention it because it wasn't in scope. You dodged my question and instead tried to introduce a bunch of chaff questions to raise the notion that maybe, just maybe the science hasn't come to a broad consensus about the bad outcomes we're facing.

But the consensus is obviously there. Hell, your own diagram is from an article about said consensus, debating the finer details within the parameters if said consensus.

Why? You obviously aren't stupid. Why do you cling to ideas that are so obviously and verifiably false? It's like talking to someone who believes the earth is flat, only instead of being able to be calm and detached about someone's curious religion I have to be terrified because they're advocating for practices that cause climate destruction.


But this one is not going to be due to an asteroid or volcano; this one will be on us.

And it's not just about mass extinction; humanity itself is already a mass extinction event. But it will also be harder to feed people if the climate becomes unpredictable. Inhabited places can become less habitable. And the big one: if the eastern Antarctic ice cap starts melting, we're eventually going to have to evacuate most major population centers.

That is indeed not something we'll be able to handle. And we have frankly no idea when the exact deadline is that we may be able to prevent that from happening, or whether we may already have passed it, but we do know that many other ice caps are already melting, which is bad enough in itself, but also a warning for what might still come.


> The problem with predictions like this is that this prediction will look silly in 4 years when the Earth has not ended, similar to how wild predictions in the past have not borne fruit.

Please don't misrepresent claims that "we have X years to stop global warming before it becomes irreversible" as "the earth will be uninhabitable in X years."


To be honest, it’s obvious that we’re already too late for “reversing” anyway: there is no practical way to dramatically change how 7.5bn people live and work, in just 4 years. Even if we all dropped what we’re doing this very minute and started looking for other ways to live, in 4 years we would’ve barely scratched the surface of the problem. At that point, whether we have 4 or 2 years before the tipping point, is fundamentally irrelevant.

Maybe we should just accept that change is coming, and brace for it.


A significant portion of "bracing for it" would involve trying to minimize the level of damage; that's basically the same effort as trying to avoid it, so...


The scale is different, and when it comes to societal acceptance, scale is everything.

“We need to stop all industry tomorrow or ice will melt!”

Vs

“Ice will melt. We need to close a few of the worst-impacting plants so it melts a bit slower and gives us time to figure out where we might need dams. Everybody else, as you were.”

The first proposition has no chance whatsoever to be taken seriously. I understand Overton but I admit a certain tiredness on this particular falling-sky topic.


The problem is: the second one is not going to be enough. Closing a few plants won't do it. We need to dramatically change how we generate our energy.

Figuring out where we might need dams may be enough for the next couple decades, but if ice caps continue to melt, dams are never going to be able to stop 60 m of sea level rise. Melting slower is not enough. And at the moment, it's only going to melt faster because we're still producing way too much CO2.


> Melting slower is not enough.

Well, we've already accepted that it's the only realistic option, because 4 years is not enough to do anything else.

If you really think that, then you should just buy a canoe today.


A canoe won't do you much good.

And even getting it to melt slower than it's currently doing requires more effort than we're currently putting into this. We can and should do way more than is currently happening.

I am utterly disgusted by this literal "apres moi le deluge" attitude.


This is made worse because it's the ultimate commons problem: nobody is paying, everyone is suffering the costs. At least the people who uttered this stupidity paid for it and dearly, and damage was prevented.

(Albeit a calamity followed.)

This time, the scale and stakes are much bigger, potentially extinction level.


How do you propose to fix this problem?


Dramatically reduce the amount of CO2 we produce. That's not going to prevent all problems, but if we do enough, it will prevent the worst problems.

We really need to aim at zero CO2 production. We will fall short of that goal, but everything will help slow things down, and eventually bring temperatures back to what they were, after natural plant growth has gotten the time needed to remove CO2 from the air again. Once that happens, the melting will stop and climates will stabilize.

If we can get global temperatures back to normal in a century, that means we'll have about 1-2 meter of sea level rise to cope with. That means the end of the Maldives and serious investments in some coastal areas, but many coastal cities will survive.

If we can get temperatures back to normal earlier than that, that will mean less sea level rise, and significantly less other problems. Not all damage can be undone, but some will, and there will be a limit to it.

But the longer it takes, the worse the effects will be, and the longer it will take to recover.

Of course we can also help nature a bit and plant more trees and look for other ways to get more CO2 out of the air. It maybe be drops in a bucket, but we're going to need a lot of drops, so we better get started. At the moment, we're still barely doing anything.


How do you propose we reduce CO2 production to zero?

We need to get rid of fossil fuels, of course. Firstly, the use of coal and oil simple electricity generation. Replace it with hydro, nuclear, solar, tidal, geothermal, I don't care, but we need to stop burning coal and oil in power plants. Gas is the last we'll get rid of; it burns cleaner and more efficiently than coal and oil, and more importantly, it's great at adapting quickly to changes in supply or demand, and we're going to need that as long as we don't have sufficient high capacity energy storage yet. But once we do, gas too will have to go.

We're also burning oil in cars of course. Fortunately, electric cars have become incredibly popular thanks to Tesla. Once electricity generation is clean, electric cars are perfect for taking advantage of that.

Planes and ships are going to be hard. On top of that, many ships burn incredibly dirty oil, and the fuel for planes and ships is untaxed, which, in a world where all other forms of energy are taxed, make them effectively subsidised. International treaties are necessary to make ship fuel cleaner, and extra efficiency may be encourages by taxing fuel. For short distances, planes may be replaced by high speed trains, but for long distances, I don't think we'll be able to get rid of them.

Fortunately, there are other things we can do: trap CO2 from the atmosphere by planing trees, encouraging other plant growth, and possibly even stimulating algae growth in the oceans because that's where the real large scale capacity for this is. There might be other ways too.

At least in part, this can be accomplished simply through better policies by governments, maybe international agreements. But to encourage businesses and people to burn less carbon, I think a growing tax on the emission of CO2. I don't see the cap-and-trade working very well, and even if it does, it merely limits it; it doesn't bring it back to zero. A carbon tax can do that. I think the carbon tax should start low, because you don't want to kill the economy with crippling taxes, you just want to make it attractive to switch to cleaner energy. The tax should then be used to either invest in cleaner technology, or to directly remove CO2 for the atmosphere. You could even pay companies to do that for you, creating a new industry that cleans up the pollution from those businesses that are unable to make the switch for whatever reason. At first, the tax won't be enough to clean up all CO2, but eventually it definitely should be. And once you're there, it doesn't really matter if some people or companies still pollute, as long as they're also paying to undo that damage again.


These are extremely slow processes that take centuries to stop. Ever seen large ocean going tankers making turns? They need to start making their turn 15 minutes ahead of time, and once they finally start turning, you can't easily stop them anymore. They respond very slowly.

Our climate is like that: it takes ages to respond. We've been building up excess CO2 in the atmoisphere for over a century now, and we're finally starting to notice the effects. Even if we were to completely stop producing CO2 now, there's still enough CO2 in the atmosphere to continue to increase heat absorption. Even if we could remove all excess CO2 from the atmosphere somehow (we can't), it would still take time for the excess heat to disappear. (The quickest way to lose the excess heat is if we could somehow block the sun, which we can't and would be harmful in a dozen other ways.)

The problem is that this concept is really hard for most people to wrap their heads around, so people tend to simplify it in ways that emphasize the urgency but exaggerate the timeline of the effect, or at least sound like they do, because that's how most people tend to interpret that urgency.

So no, the Earth is not going to end in 4 years, but it will be 4 more years of accumulated damage that will have repercussions for centuries.


They aren't making that claim - they are saying that if we don't adjust things before 4 years we're going to have a problem. You're basically arguing that if you don't have skin cancer when you come in for the afternoon, it can't be the sun causing it.


No, it's more like someone saying "the sun causes skin cancer, it's been proven. You've been exposed to the sun. You will get skin cancer unless you electively remove your entire skin with surgery. Trust me, I'm an expert."

This alarmism does nothing but alienate. We should be sticking to the science, not dramatizing.


The scientist describes the current rate of change, the projected rate of change, and what the earth looked like when that was last here. While the headline is sensationalist, I don't see the expert making an argument based solely upon their own credentials.


Citations on wild predictions in past not being correct?


The Population Bomb by Paul Elrich back in 1968 predicted worldwide famine in the 70s and 80s because of overpopulation. There's been quite a few over the last few decades relating to overpopulation, environmental destruction and running out of vital resources to keep civilization going. So far, these dire predictions have not come true. Which doesn't men they can't, but they should give us some pause about predicting the collapse of civilization or the environment, particularly in the short run.


There has always been a market for mass-market doomsday prediction material; whether religious or secular.

A population bomb leading to famine has never been the result of prolonged scientific discussion, just one guy's theories (published in book form, which is subject to editorial review but not peer review), and saying "this is a prediction that someone made that was false" is true but unhelpful. Anyone can make a prediction, and a lot of dumb stuff gets published. Never made it meaningful or true.

My father, before he succumbed to dementia, had this belief that if it's been published, it must be true. He'd read the weirdest stuff and ultimately decided that nothing is true; when really, it's because he was overly credulous at first, and in rejecting truth as a concept, he went too far the other way.

I feel like that's a lot more common than we realize; the error is not in believing in a consensus reality, it's in believing in something that wasn't very good to begin with (a book about worldwide famine, the handful of "global cooling" articles in the 70s -- not even a book! just a handful of magazine articles!! why would ANYONE put stock in that??), and deciding that, because that was wrong, nothing is knowable.


It's not that nothing is knowable, it's that predicting the future is hard and easy to get wrong, particularly with something as complex as civilization, since humans adapt and civilization changes. The same applies to the biosphere as well. Saying for example that polar bears will go extinct or coral will all die off is ignoring the possibility that some bears and coral will adapt to the warmer world. We can't be sure about such predictions. We need to see how life and civilization responds.


Usually the life responds by getting extinct, as seen in so many species lately. What makes you think humans are special? Do you expect speciation for a change that will take less than 100 years? Technological evolution on an unprecedented scale?

Because this is what it is going to take. Not even going underground en masse will work and that is essentially the most extreme social change I can see. (Even more extreme than space travel, cars, internet.)


> Usually the life responds by getting extinct, as seen in so many species lately.

Do you have a count of how many have gone extinct in the past decade?

> What makes you think humans are special?

Our brains. And yes, technology and science. Humans are extremely adaptable. Our ancestors survived an ice age with stone aged tech and spread around the world to live in all sorts of environments.

> Not even going underground en masse will work

LOL, what? Who is saying that the Earth will become so hot that we won't be able to survive on the surface? You think 3-4°C is going to have that effect?



I'm not GP, but there are plenty of examples of doomsday prophets predicting the tribulation, or the rapture, or some other form of the end of the world.


Okay, but what reasonable level of evidence and plausibility hasn't been passed for global warming? At this point, what else would it take a reasonable person to see the danger of the situation we're in?


If any of the predictions in regard to global warming for the last few decades affecting my personal life would have come true, that would have been a start. In reality, nothing much changed the last past decades, so I don't expect change for the coming decades, either.

It's also a case where the disease seems easier to live with than the cure.


Several of them are in the process of coming through right now. The Arctic ice is going, and the Antarctic ice is getting smaller consistently. Sea levels are in fact rising although we're in the early phases of this.

ocean temperatures are rising and that's leading to widespread climate instability. These were predictions, and they are now coming true. They've been verified via a variety of methodologies.

You're insulated from the worst of the effects for now. That's because you are not at the very bottom of the human economic strata. but the hardships introduced by climate change will continue to climb up the chain of economic prosperity until only people who live like Pharaohs and ignore them.

Most critically, if we act now we can avoid the worst outcomes. Given that it's a rather good time to consider over turning all of our infrastructure in the developed world, Why wouldn't that be enough motivation for you?

there's so many problems that exist because we're all living collectively on infrastructure designed over the last 300 years. Legacy structural decisions have profound effects on our lives, not the least of which is a demand for centralized governance. By using climate changes an excuse to decentralize infrastructure, we can use it as an opportunity to decrease everyone's dependence on centralized control. It's rare that humanity has such a powerful motivating factor for both social and infrastructural change.

The economic knock on effects of this are not to be underestimated either. We can create environment electricity costs 100ths of what it does today. We can make things more reliable, and we can let local communities have more control over what they want to do and how they want to live.

Please think about this. It's a dangerous time, but it's also a time full of opportunity.


I've heard the same things two decades ago and I didn't notice anything bad happening to me in relation to global warming.

"the population bomb," eg


> and she is not seen as smart by a large portion of the public.

Seems like there is a lot of that going around.


Anderson, the "Godfather of climate change science' advocates aerosol geo engineering experimentation https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/pgaq57/harvard-calls-for-...



There's little chance of transitioning our energy system in time, so let's start considering how to cool our planet. Can we block or reflect sunlight? That seems the brightest future, cooling the planet artificially while decarbonizing and capturing the carbon already released.


Pretty sure we've considered sulfur dioxide or similar, which has in the past been released from large scale volcanic eruptions that have cooled the earth. One such event was the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815, which caused global crop failure due to low temperatures. Freezing temps persisted into June in Europe and North America. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1815_eruption_of_Mount_Tambora

Related: https://earthscience.stackexchange.com/questions/9805/would-...


I don't know if anyone is researching this, but couldn't we manufacture stupidly large floating reflective tarps and start deploying them anywhere sea ice is melting? Seems like this would be a high benefit for relatively low cost.


Yeah! The Swiss are doing this on a much smaller scale: https://www.livescience.com/61951-swiss-glacier-blanket.html

I would think floating tarps would seriously mess with the marine life though.


I'd think they'd work better at the equator to reflect the most heat.


Tropical countries would love to reduce the heat, it would massively help their economies.


I believe we should start at the poles, as that would slow feedback loops there and save what little climate system we have. The poles are crucial holders of water in ice form, cooling those should be high priority.


And fucking weather patterns even more.


The “we’ve been hearing scare stories for decades” argument is akin to “I’ve been driving drunk without my seatbelt for a decade and people keep saying I’ll die, but I haven’t yet.”

For many, many people, the dire warnings have come true. Entire towns were erased by fire in Northern California last year. Severe storms are racking up billions and billions of dollars in damage every year — and entire islands have been decimated. The amount of corn planted in the Midwest for the time of year is off the charts, due to freakish weather.

The world is a big place. We can’t wait until everyone all at once is feeling the types of disasters that make you sit up and take notice. But these events are happening constantly, all around the world.

Yea, it doesn’t look like “The Day After Tomorrow”, but what kind of yardstick is that, anyway?

We need to strike a balance between a healthy dose of fear, optimism for the sake of our children, and resolve.


> The amount of corn planted in the Midwest for the time of year is off the charts, due to freakish weather.

Either you found different reports than me, or you're using "off the charts" wrong. It means "too high/too much to measure"; the crop situation is actually lower than normal due to flooding.


Clunky phrasing — I meant off the normal curve. In this case, obviously meaning much lower than what’s typical for this time of year.

I remember Al Gore saying we got 10 years in 2006.

In fact this type of rhetoric has been going on for centuries. [1]

[1] https://wattsupwiththat.com/2018/10/08/the-ever-receding-cli...


1. Al Gore didn't say this, James Anderson did. James Anderson is a "Harvard University professor of atmospheric chemistry best known for establishing that chlorofluorocarbons were damaging the Ozone Layer."

2. You're right about the rhetoric - it has been around for centuries but so have major ecological disasters. The Dust Bowl alone forced tens of thousands of poverty-stricken families to abandon their farms, unable to pay mortgages or grow crops, and losses reached $25 million per day by 1936 (equivalent to $450,000,000 in 2018).[0] I can hardly fathom the true cost of something that impacts the entire planet.

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


Al Gore has made the claim multiple times:

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/ice-caps-melt-gore-2014/

e.g. in 2007:

Their latest modelling studies indicate northern polar waters could be ice-free in summers within just 5-6 years. Professor Wieslaw Maslowski told an American Geophysical Union meeting that previous projections had underestimated the processes now driving ice loss.


Could, not would. Like smoking can kill you, not smoking will kill you. It is a common and fundamental English language pattern, clearly indicating doubt and should never be misinterpreted as certainty.


Fair enough, but could is enough to play on people's fears. Immigrant X could be a terrorist. Food additive Y could cause cancer. You can't then claim you didn't say "would".

Note that things like tobacco cancer warnings use use can/could not will/would, and the intent of the message is still clear.

"SURGEON GENERAL WARNING: Cigar Smoking Can Cause Lung Cancer And Heart Disease."

"WARNING: This product can cause mouth cancer."


That's the downside of boys crying wolf... when the actual wolf comes we don't listen.


Except nobody was crying wolf. If we took the problem seriously back then, we wouldn't be fucked now. The reality is that we're living through a mass extinction driven by climate change. Over 60% of animals have gone extinct since the 70s.

The fact that people are looking at the world today and asking where's the problem is beyond belief.


It's not beyond belief; it's that it's happening so slowly that it's not perceived by the common person. And the "crying wolf" that people upthread were referring to was the "this will be irreversible in N years" specifically, not the broader threat of climate change generally.


"Over 60% of animals have gone extinct since the 70s" Citations?


Might be referring to this [1], but it concludes population sizes have gone down 60%, which doesn't sound good either, but is still a different story.

[1] https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/living-planet-report-2018


We kinda had 10 years back in the 80s. Just saying.


They are an apocalyptic death cult. The end is nigh submit to the elite or forever perish. How is submitting to the 1% going to save earth? They used to say by the end of the century. Year after year their predictions fail and the cult marches on.


Show us where these predictions fail or that's beneficial to elites who actually want status quo.

No, no. You're the crazy one for thinking the world might not be ending. Remember?


    "I don't understand how these people sit down to dinner with their kids," Anderson said, "because they're not stupid people."
I have a hard enough time teaching my kids about the seasons and polar bears when many of these things won't exist by the time they're teenagers.


Interesting, is it possible to use hight levels of carbon dioxide detected during exoplanets spectroscopy in order to decide where to point big radio telescopes, so that there could be radio signals of intelligent life from other dying worlds?


...the Maldives are under water, and half of Florida doesn't exist any more. Oh, wait, that's not the case.

Assuming that assertion is true, though, 4 or 5 years is not enough time for anything to realistically be done.

I assert that in 20 years we'll still not see the supposed effects though.


There's a massive difference between time to act, and time until we see the effects. By the time we do see the effects of global worming, it will be far too late to do anything about it.

(And we're already seeing some effects.)


Melting polar ice caps (not antarctic, polar) does not affect sea levels because it's floating ice.


No amount of individual behavioral changes are going to cut it. The entire economy needs to be transformed. Does anyone seriously believe the people who control the economy will just let this happen?


Another wild prediction. This person's wild claim is that if go on with the current path the ocean's will rise 7 meters and there will be worse storms. You can visit http://www.floodmap.net/ and see how 7 meters is nothing, even discounting that we can adapt and protect against flooding. Worse storms are bad, but if the alternative is "World War II-style transformation of industry", what alternative is that? How can the world say to 5 billion people "sorry, you have to stop your industrialisation now, there may be storms in the US".


At 7 meters, much of Florida is gone.

Regardless, global warming will impact poorer (and tropical) countries disproportionately. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and I know it is a pretty good place to be as it warms up. Bangladesh, less so.

You can't expect Bangladesh to lead the decarbonation of industrial production - but the US can, and there are good arguments that it will yield an increase in wealth and standards of living.


This is a crucial point. The huge changes to the ecology will make some places difficult to inhabit and destabilize food production, which will destabilize economies, which will lead to large social disruption and conflict.

It is the poor who will be least able to protect themselves from this destabilization. Not just because poorer/tropical countries will be disproportionately effected, but it's because it's the rich (globally or locally) who have the resources to protect themselves. With technology, with mobility, with "security".

Some who are now rich (globally or locally) will also find themselves less so.

When I see the standard the U.S. is setting for how refugees are treated, I'm terrified, even on just a self-interested level. Many more of us will be refugees in the future.


that sites UI is so bad, seems like low hanging fruit for some React frontend wizard to redo and make the defacto site to go to for climate / flooding visualizations


So we can relax for three years before we have to do anything?


Ten years*

We don't do shit until it's already fucked millions of people.


Well, if you assume the Earth is unsustainably overpopulated already, surely that should be a fundamentally inevitable development anyway...?


I don't assume this. I think the west would have to give up some stuff they see as a "need" currently and we can sustain this population.


It's amazing to me how most of these predictions refrain from calling out the single largest polluters in the world, China, from changing their behavior or doing anything substantial. In particular, this paragraph at the end:

> In Chicago Thursday, he prosecuted a moral argument that implicates university administrators who refuse to divest from fossil fuels, journalists who fail to fact-check false statements made by political candidates, and executives of fossil fuel companies who continue to pursue activities that are exacerbating climate change—especially those who mislead the public about those effects.

Really? Can you, as a man of science stand behind such vitriol as an outburst for what is arguably at best a theory with a lot of room for error? Specifically:

> "The chance that there will be any permanent ice left in the Arctic after 2022 is essentially zero," Anderson said

Based on WHAT? This man is making a claim for the complete wipe out of roughly seven million cubic miles of ice in the next three years? Even if one were to be charitable and entertain a massive error margin on this claim, based on data about the polar cycles it seems extremely unlikely. This is nothing but an attempt to use "Science" to create panic.

I strongly agree that we need to do more on the environment, but there's got to be a better answer than killing off a major chunk of the commercial markets and industry that have contributed to the single most prosperous period in human history. Can scientists please not make recommendations on policy? I'd love to hear scientific solutions . . just the other day, there was a discussion here on HN about using energy from a nuclear reactor to recycle atmospheric carbons. Practical or not, i'd love to see us innovate our way out of this hole while continuing to be reasonably responsible with our environmental decisions.


The US has double the emissions per capita as China. [1]

China is also steadily moving towards one of the most ambitious carbon tax / cap and trade systems in the world. [2] Don’t have the exact source in front of me but I read in a paper recently that China’s new carbon market will cover a significant percentage of global carbon emissions when it’s in full swing.

1: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_...

2: https://www.icf.com/blog/policy-and-regulation/china-carbon-...


"Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones"


He'll prob be promoted for his hype game


The key part from the article:

"The level of carbon now in the atmosphere hasn’t been seen in 12 million years".

What was the Earth like 13 million years ago? Or 130 million years? A snapshot in time does little to provide actual context.


I have little trust in forensically invented snapshots over concrete measurements, as well.


No we don't. Hyperbole around climate change just makes people more likely to disregard the actual dangers.


It's not clear to me if you've forgotten to provide evidence for the “No, we don’t”, or if you are making the argument that the assertion that the characterization of the danger as so imminent makes people less likely to believe and therefore the characterization is false.


See you in 2023.


Polar ice caps melting is hyperbole? Care to elaborate?


Because the vast majority of the earths history has been without ice on the poles. Obviously this will force changes on humans no doubt.

However, trying to shoehorn this natural fact into a political / carbon-credit trading scheme is deeply cynical that is apparent to most >100 IQ people.


> Because the vast majority of the earths history has been without ice on the poles.

Yeah but the majority of human history has been with ice on the poles.

We might have to reorganize a lot of things (agricultural practices, national borders, location of cities, ...) if that changes.


Totally agree that it will be a hardship. However the following things are all true: (a) There is a chance that "carbon taxes" will lead to just as much practical hardship on the poor, (b) There is no guarantee that these carbon taxes will work, (c) There is no guarantee that the poles will even melt.

The layers of uncertainty are piled so high, that a rational response is "wait and see". I do recognize however this approach is negative to grant funding, so these 'scientist' lapse into apocalyptic fire-and-brimstone talk to rouse the faithful.


Wait and see what? What are we waiting to see and what do we do about it? Waiting implies not taking a course of action, but we either pump carbon or try not to, there’s no neutral action.


The majority of Earth's history made it a completely uninhabitable place for humans. Seems like it would be in our combined best interest to prevent it from becoming that way again.


+2.5C increase will render earth uninhabitable? Or will it upset insurance coverage of high dollar coast lines?


+2.5C will not render the World uninhabitable, but it will do nasty stuff to the weather patterns in many parts of the globe, and it is expected that this will result in decreased food production and rising sea levels.

Most of the people on HN will be fine; we'll be alive, we'll still have jobs, and we'll have food and energy albeit at a higher price. Our societies may end up a bit poorer and the standard of living will probably be on a level that your grandparents had in the 70s.

Hundreds of millions of other people will be less fortunate.


Considering those hundreds of millions are also the ones most adverse to reducing their output (since it’s slowly taking them out of abject poverty and starvation), there is a good case for respecting their wishes and see where they take us. As you say, “we” have less to lose than “them”, after all; and we’ve already spent so many centuries already dictating them what to do, that it would probably be a bad time to double down on this sort of thing.


2.5C global increase is huge. It's a chaotic system, with a crazy number of interconnected feedback loops. Think of the earth's climate like a boulder balanced on a hill.

Aside from just counter-arguing your point which is easily brushed off, I want to ask a genuine question - What about this dialogue makes you skeptical? What's your view of what's really going on? Politically or otherwise.


Have you ever watched the news and heard about a refugee crisis? Imagine that but a thousand time worse.

Most of the world's major population centers are near the coast. With significant sea level rise, those people will move. We're not merely talking about millions of refugees here, but possibly a billion. Put your mind to work and imagine what that will do.


+2.5C increase over tens of thousands of years, as happened in the past? Extinctions, but the ecosystem adapted.

+2.5C increase over tens of years, as predicted? Very different story.


Indefinitely adding CO2 to the atmosphere at an increasing rate... it seemed like a good idea at the time.


I think talking about Earth history is misleading or trying to distract from the problem.

Sure Earth climate was worst 4,5 billions years ago, however Earth capacity to support the life of billions human is and will be severely impacted, and this is was matter for us, mere mortals.


The earth could support several times the current human population, just not at any sort of quality of life that resembles a suburb.


Noone cares about earths history. Earth will be fine. Nature will adapt.

What we care about is that all of industrialized human civilization has been with polar ice caps...


> "People at this point haven't come to grips with the irreversibility of this sea-level rise problem," Anderson said, displaying a map that shows the site of Harvard's new $10 billion Allston campus inundated after 3 meters of sea-level rise.

The Harvard scientist wants to save his new research center from climate change.

Also, submission should say "Five", instead of "Four".


The article is from January 2018, so if Dr. Anderson is correct we now have four years.


The title should have indicated the article was from 2018 and properly quoted the articles title.


Also, I would wonder how smart Harvard scientists are, really. After all, they built a $10 billion campus that has an effective lifespan of 5 years?




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