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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
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.
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.
Yes, if you can just shut off the sun for some time, we can definitely easily overcome global warming... ...
Albedo is important, being snide is not.
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.
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...
tldr; the Midwest had gotten so much rain they're unable to plant crops
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.
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.
Rats will probably also do well; they're pretty urban adapted.
Any other species? Questionable.
This said, anything that turns Americans angrier is a security risk for the rest of the world.
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 Greenland ice sheet, and Antarctic ice are a completely different story. Their melting will raise sea levels directly.
> 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.
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.
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.
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."
For actual numbers: https://sealevel.nasa.gov/
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.)
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.
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.
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 mention mass extinctions, but you don't mention that previous mass extinction events were due primarily to asteroid impacts and volcanic eruptions.
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.
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.
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."
Maybe we should just accept that change is coming, and brace for it.
“We need to stop all industry tomorrow or ice will melt!”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
(Albeit a calamity followed.)
This time, the scale and stakes are much bigger, potentially extinction level.
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.
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.
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.
This alarmism does nothing but alienate. We should be sticking to the science, not dramatizing.
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.
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.)
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?
It's also a case where the disease seems easier to live with than the cure.
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.
Seems like there is a lot of that going around.
I would think floating tarps would seriously mess with the marine life though.
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.
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.
In fact this type of rhetoric has been going on for centuries. 
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). I can hardly fathom the true cost of something that impacts the entire planet.
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.
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."
The fact that people are looking at the world today and asking where's the problem is beyond belief.
"I don't understand how these people sit down to dinner with their kids," Anderson said, "because they're not stupid people."
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.
(And we're already seeing some effects.)
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.
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.
We don't do shit until it's already fucked millions of people.
> 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.
China is also steadily moving towards one of the most ambitious carbon tax / cap and trade systems in the world.  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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 years, as predicted? Very different story.
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.
What we care about is that all of industrialized human civilization has been with polar ice caps...
The Harvard scientist wants to save his new research center from climate change.
Also, submission should say "Five", instead of "Four".