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Cement Produces More Pollution Than All the Trucks in the World (bloomberg.com)
317 points by pseudolus 25 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 236 comments



One alternative to traditional concrete is autoclaved aerated concrete[1], a 70 year old material that's more eco friendly. Some of the advantages are mentioned in this video[2]. I'm guessing higher upfront cost means it's not competitive with traditional concrete.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autoclaved_aerated_concrete

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FS3BTDBMt7I


A core topic of the article is that there a number of less carbon-intensive means of producing concrete, but all of them are more expensive. As it is basically a commodity market, price sensitivity among buyers is intense. It's an example of where carbon trading or carbon pricing would be able to shift the market's current selection.


Papercrete[1] is an interesting material. It's a mix of (usually recycled) paper and concrete, so clearly using it wouldn't get rid of all of the pollution caused by concrete production, but it would help. It also can't be used as a concrete substitute in every situation, but it has some interesting properties like being a much better insulator than concrete, and being of very low cost.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papercrete


>alternative to traditional concrete

Related:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18487704

About the earthship I mentioned in that comment, which was made using non-traditional materials and techniques: I don't remember what materials were used, except that, IIRC, the creator said it was not cob. Mud was used, of course, that was clear from looking at it. So was glass for the windows. I mean the other materials - not sure about those. But it looked sturdy, and was huge.


I've run into Siporex panels, which are a type of low density concrete per-fabricated panels. When these panels become water logged their tensile strength drops off quite a bit more than conventional concrete panels. The climate in which these panels are to be used probably plays a significant factor in specifying their use.


IIRC there was/is a company in Pune, India, called B G Shirke and company, that is into prefab Siporex materials.

Google "shirke siporex".


Interesting to see more and more climate related posts on HN. Posted this a couple of times already, but I'd encourage everyone to check this paper[0] that recently came out ("Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning").

Among one of the initiatives mentioned is a startup called Tomorrow [1] that integrates with services (Uber, Instacart, etc) to calculate your personal CO2 emissions. They need help to get more of these integrations and more CO2 models. Consider giving a hand to them or other projects like this one [2].

[0] https://arxiv.org/abs/1906.05433

[1] https://www.tmrow.com/

[2] https://openclimatefix.github.io/


However, concrete very slowly absorbs the CO2 back from the air, becoming limestone.

I know this takes very long for thick structures, on the order of centuries. Does anyone have a good idea of just how long?

Anyway, if a cement plant starts capturing the CO2 released during production and disposing of it somewhere other than the atmosphere, it would become a CO2 sink as the cement would slowly consume CO2 as it cures.


Calcining will release CO2 from the lime plus CO2 from the fuel to heat it. Only the former will be reabsorbed over time.

And if the timescales are long enough the absorbtion still wouldn't bring you to net-zero because during the time the CO2 in the atmosphere it participated in positive feedback loops.


In addition to the CO2 generated during production, there is also CO2 emissions from both the transport of the raw material inputs and the finished product to its point-of-use.

I have no idea how that compares to actual production emissions, though.



As best as I can tell, two of your links talk about development of cement that could sequester CO2 (just like the article we're commenting on mentions too). The problem is that it's too expensive relative to regular cement. One of your links concludes "we don't know" how much CO2 regular cement sequesters.


Is there an ordered list of what produces most pollution? What's at the top? Is there an easy way to answer the question "I just did environmentally bad thing X, now what can I do to offset that?"


Yes. Fossil fuels for power generation, followed by transportation and industry [1]

> Is there an easy way to answer the question "I just did environmentally bad thing X, now what can I do to offset that?"

Little bit but to seriously make an impact you might have to look for alternative sources of powering your life. But nevertheless every single bit helps. This climate change conundrum cannot be fixed without the entire planet committing to it.

[1] https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emis...


The list you provide is missing some man made sources of CO2 and methane. It's just CO2 emissions from fuel combustion.

Meat production is almost as much as transportation, roughly 17%.


Though all meat production is not made equal; beef production is overwhelmingly more emissive per serving (6.61 lbs of CO2 per 4 oz) than pork (1.72 lbs) or poultry (1.26). Even without giving up eating meat, substituting most of your beef meals for chicken would still be a step in the right direction (and is essentially zero-cost, considering that this requires no significant lifestyle changes and anywhere that sells beef is almost certainly also going to sell chicken).

http://css.umich.edu/factsheets/carbon-footprint-factsheet


This might have ethical implications considering how much worse chicken lives are than cows lives and how many more chickens you need to kill per calorie.


Inaction will lead to climate change killing millions of humans. If someone won't consider eating vegetarian more often, switching to chicken is far better from an ethical standpoint than doing nothing.


People killed by climate change 250,000/year

Assuming switching to chicken reduces carbon by 12%, assuming carbon responsible for 250,000 death then meat consumption is responsible 30,000 ppl/year

Number of cows in u.s. 30,000,000 for 3% of global market

US market responsible for 900 deaths / year 140 chickens / cow(calorie wise)

estimated 20 years of life lost per death

18,000 QALY for 4.1 billion more chickens

Rough estimate of 2.3 minutes of human life gained per chicken raised


Thanks for doing that calculation. I really appreciate that you put in that much work.

> People killed by climate change 250,000/year

Is that a current number? Or a projection of what might happen with 2 degree or 4 degree Celsius increase in temperature?


> Meat production is almost as much as transportation, roughly 17%.

That 17% includes all transportation related to meat production. If meat was replaced by plant-based foods, not all of that transportation could be eliminated.


Livestock consume far more feed grains (mostly corn) than they produce food on their own [1]. The transportation costs to feed them are greater than the transportation costs would be if we were to feed humans on plant based foods, so transportation would actually be reduced if we lowered the amount of animal products we consume.

[1] http://news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-mi...


That is a US-specific article. In the US, animal agriculture contributes about 2.8% of US total CO2eq emissions, whereas US transportation sector contributes 26%.

https://skepticalscience.com/animal-agriculture-meat-global-...


Not sure what your point is. I never said emissions related to animal agriculture outweigh total transportation emissions. What I said was reducing meat consumption would lower transportation emissions associated with food.


I wonder if corn were not subsidized to the extent it is, would alternative food sources grown on-site be more competitive, like grass?


Probably one of the problem with meat is too much water required for its processing which against has a processing cost.


The overlap is less than 2% of the total man made CO2 emissions.

Processing and transportation of animal products is 6% of the meat production emissions. Feed production also involves transportation, that would add maybe half of that (3%).


Does rice cultivation generate more greenhouse gases than meat farming?


> cannot be fixed without the entire planet committing to it.

And if the entire planet will not commit as you desire? Then what will you do? War is the ultimate extension of any policy; will you personally go kill other people because they burn oil?

I've got nothing against renewables, but don't like this kind of absolutist rhetoric.


Fundamentally, there is very little you can change on an individual basis that will make a real difference. By all means, lead by example, but we have to support systemic changes at all levels of government to actually make any head way here.


If everyone thinks like this nothing will change.

You can do both. Campaign for political change and change your personal behaviour. I've done radical changes to my life at least last few years to reduce my pollution/co2 footprint and if more people think like this it _will_ help.

So saying that there is nothing that can be done on the individual level is quite dangerous as I personally think over time this will have the biggest effect as more and more people realise that is what has to be done.

Then you need the politicians to kick remaining ignorant part of the population into action.


On the other hand, if a small percentage of concerned citizens do everything they personally can without changing the political climate, nothing will change.

In Ontario (Canada) we elected a conservative government who is running advertisements against the Federal Carbon Tax saying:

> “Ontario has a better way: holding the biggest polluters accountable; reducing trash; and keeping our lakes clean. A carbon tax isn’t the only way to fight climate change.”

My government thinks reducing trash and lake runoff is fighting climate change. Everything I've personally done; switching to public transit, flying less and buying my electricity from a green supplier has been swamped by this huge step backward at the political level.


The politicians definitely have to be on board in the end but when you say your efforts are swamped, remember that it is not just you, there are millions of us changing our behaviour and trying to reduce the carbon footprint.

Together we actually make a difference. Personally I also try to encourage friends and family in a non pushy way to attempt some of the things I do. Many respond positively, especially considering other benefits like eating more healthy and walking more.


Dunno - if you look at the ozone hole business it was fixed by a global action to ban CFCs and the like. An individual stopping using aerosols or what have you wouldn't really have fixed things.

With CO2 emissions we have a lot of individuals trying to make changes and again it's not really fixing things - CO2 levels keep going up. It's a bit trickier than the ozone thing though.


Banning CFCs etc did not require people to fundamentally change their lifestyles.

Reducing carbon emissions does so and due to that it requires knowledge and action from the individual I think as a politician trying to change people who do not want to change is doomed.

It is a lot trickier than the ozone issue and I think it requires action on all levels from the individual to the UN.


Carbon pricing (https://medium.com/@IFC_org/carbon-pricing-is-crucial-to-sav...) and advancing tech like solar are probably the way to go.


I agree the CO2 tax is a big part of the solution. The real cost of externalities has to be priced into consumer goods. One just has to hope everyone is on board and nobody becomes the Cayman Islands of CO2. Hopefully such a system will eventually be extended to other forms of externalities.

The price change will hopefully also accelerate R&D into alternatives which will also be a big part.


Boycotts have never toppled an industry as far as I'm aware. In this case the beef or aviation industries could be targeted. They have only succeeded in small changes and when customers have very similar alternatives they can use.


You don't have to aim to topple the industry, just pressure them to make changes, with the implied threat of a boycott.

I'll admit that approach works better with a simpler less wide ranging issue. Examples off the top of my head, in the UK I don't believe you can buy non fair trade bananas from any of the major supermarkets, and most eggs now seem to be free range.


Yes, most eggs. I just checked and 44% are intensively farmed(not free range). Generally most use in processed food and catering will be of a lesser quality standard. Funnily enough the environmental impact is usually less for intensively farmed food.


"Funnily enough the environmental impact is usually less for intensively farmed food"

What are you comparing here? Could a mega farm invest in slightly more efficient processes than a mere 'very large farm'? Possibly. But by that time you've already got all the issues of grubbing up hedgerows, mono cropping, reliance on artificial fertilizers, soil erosion, etc.

A small organic subsistence farmer isn't going to have anywhere near the same impact. Now you may not be able to feed the world using that model, but I don't think its fair to say that the environmental impact is worse compared to intensive agriculture.


It would be good to have a system in place to reward measurable action on the individual level.

One example might be to institute a "carbon savings account" which individuals add to when they add solar panels, buy more efficient vehicles and appliances, reduce their heating bills... whatever's measureable. Mandatory restrictions on carbon-intensive activity (there's no way around that anyway) would enable spending these rewards.


> It would be good to have a system in place to reward measurable action on the individual level.

Wouldn't a Carbon Tax do exactly that? At least it would bring your individual financial interests in line with with society's climate interests. It would mean that doing whatever costs you the least money is likewise best for your carbon footprint (which you would no longer have to think about in order to optimize).


>I've done radical changes to my life at least last few years to reduce my pollution/co2 footprint and if more people think like this it _will_ help.

Ah yes, the 1%, living in their mansions and driving Teslas to their summer homes, telling the rest of the world that they need to "make radical changes". Good luck with that.


I'm far from being in the 1%, however the things I've done personally so far is

* Use public transportation to work (bus/train)

* Drastically reduced meat consumption from every day to once a week. I still eat fish about twice a week.

* Converted part of my garden (my house is 150 square meters so I wouldn't exactly call it a mansion) to a vegetable garden.

* Make sure the food I do buy is produced locally, it is clearly marked in the stores. I buy honey and eggs from the farm right next door.

* When I do go to the store I walk instead of driving.

* I bought but have not yet received an electric car. Yes it's a tesla but I have a normal job and with the way taxes are structured here it's a very common car on the road along with other electrics like leafs, e-trons, kias, e golfs etc.

* Not travelling too far for vacations, avoiding air travel as much as possible. Recently I've mostly use air due to work, but there too I often drive/take the train 8-10 hours instead of taking the plane.

There is plenty more to do, but for me personally I can't just sit idle and you have to start somewhere.

And last I did not tell anyone to radically change their lives, I said I did so myself. But the more people that do it the better.


>But the more people that do it the better.

Again, most people on the planet are just scraping by.

They don't have time to garden. They can't afford to shop at farmer's markets. They can't afford most cars, let alone electric vehicles.

I assume your intentions are good, but climate change won't be remotely close to solved by such measures, and when people say, "I bought a Tesla so I could drive it to my summer home and do my part for the planet!" it probably causes more resentment from the 99% than anything else.


> Recently I've mostly use air due to work

I am wondering if you see any possibility to avoid work related air travel as well? I understand that certain jobs require flying but I also see, at least at my own company, that a lot of those flights are not really necessary and could easily be avoided. Would you mind to elaborate?


There are some ways to reduce air travel imho (and probably other ways to do so).

* Video conferencing

* Car/train/bus transportation if the hours used is acceptable. A good way to do this is a "night train" with a sleeping compartment.

* The big one: electric planes.

However it is a though one. Sometimes you just have to travel far to meet someone face to face and unfortunately the only way to achieve this in a reasonable way today is by hydrocarbon burning air travel.


"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."


Quotated, but not attributed?



One of the best lists is https://www.drawdown.org/solutions-summary-by-rank

It's ranked in terms of low-hanging fruit ('these are the highest-impact changes we could make') rather than absolute harm, but the spirit is the same as the question you're asking.

Realistically, the only thing you can do as an individual is campaign for political change:

https://www.sunrisemovement.org/

http://climatehawksvote.com/

https://rebellion.earth/


This is really neat. In this space, is the normal metric 'atmospheric CO2 equivalent'? Is this just so they can normalize the affects of all the different things that cause warming into one unit for discussion purposes?



Check out https://www.drawdown.org/ it’s an ordered list of the areas to tackle


Just do less of it, there is no way to offset anything.


realistically there is no way to "offset" carbon emissions today. there are plenty of people that will take your money, but to date they can be considered at best beta tests, not functioning solutions.

your choice is to vote hard environmentalist, agitate hard for immediate change, stop flying and stop driving and stop eating red meat.

or don't. but don't delude yourself. a lot of people wish so hard there were easier options that they will endlessly talk about made up ones. but those are the only real ones today.


Also, don't have children and pursuade those around you to not have children. It's about 60 times more impactful than going vegetarian. https://images.app.goo.gl/WzvXhy9brdTih8PWA

I have 3 kids, so I'm basically forced on one side of the climate debate. I worry will soon have to wear a scarlet letter for my shame.

Instead, I intensely advocate for technology-based approaches to climate stabilization, such as marine cloud brightening.


> realistically there is no way to "offset" carbon emissions today.

Of course there is. How many steaks is a flight from London to Paris?


If you are talking about personal CO2 imprint, then here you go: http://www.kimnicholas.com/uploads/2/5/7/6/25766487/fig1full...


Instead of us throwing a million comments at this, I think a carbon tax would let the market sort it out.

There doesn't need to be an X vs Y debate.


In our research, we see that the easy alternatives are being used almost to capacity already, making future improvement difficult. For example, there is basically no unused fly ash in Europe, and it is sometimes imported from as far away as India. Similarly, burning wastes for "free" heat is also limited by the availability of waste (residues from chemicals industry, tires, etc). This is particularly true in areas where waste incineration is the norm - plants built to service a certain volume of waste are struggling as wastes volumes decline due to diversion to recycling. Consumer waste has a rather high water content, so wastes with high energetic content help the incineration run better. This is why e.g. paper or plastic is sometimes burned instead of being recycled.


What about silicate based cements that are supposed to be carbon-negative (they were in the news a few years ago)? Those come from mined minerals and thus not limited by available waste products.

Would carbon taxes help evening cost differences?


One good thing the US and Canada does is to not use cement for houses ! It is somewhat negated by the terrible insulation in most homes in the US (and the fact that homes tend to last less long I guess). Does anyone have any data on how much gets emitted for house construction depending on the material ?


Planting trees in order to specifically harvest them for construction would actually count as a form of carbon sequestration, and although I doubt that even comes close to offsetting the carbon emitted by the rest of the construction process it might still make wood-frame construction one of the most relatively green ways to build a house. Log cabins actually have fantastic insulation properties, since the wood has enough thermal mass that it partially warms the house during the night and cools it during the day. Of course most wood-frame houses are nowhere close to using as much wood as an actual log cabin, but modern insulation techniques (especially regarding windows) are far from "terrible"; when I think bad insulation in the US, I think of the houses that were built in the 40s and 50s.


I'm not sure about the amount of gas, however it is quite common to make the ground floor of concrete here in Norway.

However it's not solid, it has a core of Styrofoam to insulate so it. The rest of the houses are usually of wood/glass that is heavily insulated. It would be interesting to see if you could make the foundations out of wood or something like that instead.

All new buildings has to adhere to very strict codes of how to be constructed [1].

We also have the worlds tallest wooden building [2] here so maybe this is the future instead of concrete/steel skyscrapers.

[1] https://dibk.no/byggereglene/byggteknisk-forskrift-tek17/

[2] https://www.dezeen.com/2019/03/19/mjostarne-worlds-tallest-t...


I hope that wooden building has excellent (and redundant) sprinklers. It didn't mention fireproof treatment of some kind. Grenfell showed how fast a tower can burn if it's flammable.


Structural properties are interesting. Fires are a combination of fuel, oxidizer, and initiator. Can't really avoid the last one, accidents happen, but you can slow it down.

Grenfell was interesting. My understanding (inquiry is still ongoing, so conditional): because the panels are so thin, they have much larger oxidizer availability to the fuel - like burning a piece of paper held vertically, the rising flames will spread and consume available fuel quickly.

Mass timber, on the other hand, is fairly resistant to fire [1] - initiates slowly, takes a long time to burn through - it's what makes logs in a wood stove burn over hours, not seconds. And while the outside is slowly charring, the core maintains structural strength - quite unlike structural steel as it heats (the steel connectors in this building are actually one of the weak points! [1]). Sprinklers in any high rise is necessary to ensure it has an adequate fire rating (eg, it will remain structurally stable/safe for 2 hours is I think the standard in my country?).

It's not like taking a stick built house and making it taller.

Caveat: I have studied structures/fire rating stuff, but am not a professional.

[1] for your further reading pleasure: https://www.moelven.com/news/news-archive2/2018/how-the-worl...


The us doesn't use concrete for residential walls (very often) but that is actually quite good from an insulation perspective. Hollow wood framed walls have a lot better r factor than solid concrete. We do have solid concrete foundations.

Edit: hollow walls filled with fiberglass to keep the air still


With hollow walls you can just use blow-in wool or cellulose insulation to make it even better. Can't really improve concrete without gluing polystyrene to it.

Hmm, could you just mix expanded polystyrene balls in to cement to make a high-R composite that's still strong enough to be structural?


Usually concrete walls have a foam core. Solid concrete is only about R0.5/in, about half as good as wood.

Even so, insulated cavities are totally obsolete. Exterior foam is far superior.


Wow, really? Interesting, the one's I'm familiar with (used in tilt-up construction) are just solid concrete (maybe plus some rebar).

Totally with you on exterior foam though, you want the insulation outside of the thermal mass if at all possible.


Check out ICF:

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

There may be some copyright shenanigans w/ that page.

There have also been successfully constructed in-ground pools using this material, but appears to be controversial to traditional pool-builders.


What are the common ways to protect the exterior foam?


You put the building cladding, whatever it is, outside the foam. So usually from inside out: a wall, foam on wall, drainage screen, cladding. Can be brick, wood, whatever.

There’s also exterior foam cladding that’s made to be open to the elements but it doesn’t look great or last a long time either.


Foam glass bricks are available as insulation layers as alternative to polystyrene.

There was a german company that produced foam glass concrete but they shuttered production.


> The us doesn't use concrete for residential walls (very often) but that is actually quite good from an insulation perspective

That is an incredibly incorrect set of statements. The insulation value of concrete, it's R=0.52 per inch of thickness. A vast amount of housing in many regions across the world is concrete (including the walls). Obviously, it is more common in multifamily construction and/or hurricane prone areas. Hollow wood framed walls w/o insulation depends on the relative humidity, but it's R<2. Fiberglass batt (R-12 and higher) is basically the only source of insulation in a wood sheathed wall.


GP meant that its good that concrete is less used, because it has poor insulation properties. You seem to agree.


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

Concrete can be replaced in part through the use of CEB/CSEB and/or rammed earth.


This is maybe okay for single family homes in arid regions, but not practical for denser forms of housing. Which we should be striving for, if we're worried about reducing pollution


CEB has been used for centuries in Britain. Arid is obviously not a factor. It's also been used for multi-story buildings. I'm not sure how dense housing reduces pollution though. Some of the least polluting housing in the world is rural, e.g. the Amish.

edit: I should have said "earthen" construction has been used in Britain. Cob rather than CEB.


It's not possible for us all to live like the Amish. Dense housing (as opposed to sprawling single family homes) is more efficient to build, heat, provide utilities, and provide services around. It seems pretty self evident to me that urban living can produce less pollution over its lifecyle.



Not disputing these findings, but there are so many "X is worse than Y" reports these days I feel like reporters are playing rock/paper/scissors, each one with different rocks, papers and scissors.



Mass timber (also sometimes referred to as CLT) has the potential to replace cement for the construction of many types of buildings.

Mass timber has an extra benefit too: since trees scrub CO2 from the atmosphere, growing trees for construction ends up sequestering significant amounts of CO2.

There's a lot of work to be done around sustainable forestry practices, along with the process of actually harvesting the associated wood, but I think this is a pretty cool option.

Here's an article that provides some context on mass timber, along with some of the outstanding questions: https://e360.yale.edu/features/as-mass-timber-takes-off-how-...


> “There are cement products with lower environmental impact, but they usually cost more than the normal ones”

Is anywhere in the world starting to charge for the externalised costs that allow the less sustainable option to be cheaper like in this example? What are the issues with this solution?


I was involve in trying to prove https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autoclaved_aerated_concrete a viable alternate to concrete and red brick frequently used in household development. The only part I was unable to secure was seed capital. Does anyone know of program which invest in green/climate fighting `hard` start ups? Love to get in touch with them and revive my project.


I think AAC is an increasingly common building material outside the US. I think it's being regulated out of existence in Europe because because AAC only has moderate R values it can't meet passive house rules. R value of 15 or so vs the 30 or more required by passive house. Which is insane. Passive house assumes the house is going to be heated with fuel oil or nat gas it's whole life. And it's obvious that isn't going to be case over newer houses 100-200 year working life.

Dirty secret about solar and wind is the supply isn't constrained like oil and nat gas. So designing houses around energy scarcity is 'dumb'. And building houses to use nat gas/fuel oil even dumber.


Have you tried Bill Gates/ Breakthrough Energy Coalition?

http://www.b-t.energy/


Grading everything on one thing like CO2 pollution seems far too simplistic. I don't think you can get away with that approach, somehow we need a more holistic plan. Should we stop using Cement? What happens if we take that approach, do the alternatives that fill the gap actually further the ultimate goal, what even is the ultimate goal?


Absolutely. Reducing the plume of soot belching over the North Pole, blackening our ice fields would be a good, useful and achievable start.

Or is that not Politically Correct pollution?


It also saves more lives, and make modern civilization possible. You always have to look at both the pros and the cons.


Produces more CO2.


Yeah, we're gonna need to start being a little clearer about what we mean by "pollution", or comparisons become meaningless. Is a ton of CO2 better or worse than 100g of mercury?


[flagged]


Could you please not post unsubstantive comments to Hacker News?


CO2 is a subset of pollution.


CO2 is not pollution. The concentration of CO2 on the atmosphere only has negative effects through warming (which is really bad). Plants actually enjoy increased CO2 concentration.


Now I am wondering, how much CO2 is too much for plants? And now when more CO2 is available, why don't see new forests appearing in places where there never were any forest.


Greenhouse operators often provide their plants with an atmosphere of 1200-1500 ppm CO2, which would fall into the economically advantageous range. No idea where the "too much" range starts though.


Which is still waaay more than in the atmosphere: https://www.co2.earth/

Once we get to 1500 ppm the situation will be so bad that worrying about photosynthesis quality will be as unimportant as worrying about who wins the football cup.


Telling a lie then saying 3 Hail Marys means you are forgiven for the lie, it doesn't fix the lie.

As such, planting a tree to be forgiven for going on a flight that burns carbon-laden jet fuel doesn't fix what you did.

Fossil fuels are excess carbon atoms sequestered safely deep inside the Earth. Unless you can find a way to put them back there, there's no fixing the situation. Planting a tree does capture carbon. However, when it dies and rots, all the carbon gets re-released over time back into the atmosphere. If you burn that wood, it happens much more quickly.

The only way to fix this problem is to stop using fossil fuels. There is no politically viable way for this to happen. The only way this is happening is if the planet gets depopulated of humans rapidly.


You seem to imply that planting trees cannot durably decrease the CO2 levels in the atmosphere; if so, your reasoning and conclusion are incorrect.

Increasing the biomass of trees (e.g, growing a new forest) does reduce the CO2 levels; true, each tree in this forest will at some point die and re-release its carbon, but another will grow in its place; therefore, if the forest has grown and stays there forever the the result will be a net negative contribution to CO2 levels forever as well.

That of course does not change the fact that carbon offsetting alone is NOT a sufficient way to tackle climate change. Please do reduce your carbon footprint people, and encourage others to do so. Of course, there's nothing wrong with planting trees in addition (not instead of) reducing your emissions - you can think of it as charity for the planet; if you're interested in donating money so that forests get protected / grown, I recommend Stand For Trees: https://standfortrees.org/en/#protect-a-forest (I'm not affiliated with them).

Please people, be careful about what you write on these topics. We really need a high bar on scientific rigour on these topics if we are to act effectively.


The earth was once covered in forest and the carbon was beneath the soil.

Planting a tree reverses some of the damage done by deforestation. Bt reforesting the earth would not restore things to how they were. As the OP said, that only happens if the excess CO2 is stored below the ground, too.

Planting trees is good, but only part of the full sequestration needed.


This only works if we are sure that the forest will stay a forest for several hundreds of thousands of years, the time the offseted co2 needs to disappear and absolutely nobody can assure that. Not consuming fossil carbon means it will stay in the earth mantle for a geological time.

So carbon offsets by planting tree is a scam, and we need better than that.


> This only works if we are sure that the forest will stay a forest for several hundreds of thousands of year

You do realize that carbon sequestrated in a forest 100ks of years is prevented from contributed to global warming during all that time period, right?

> Not consuming fossil carbon means it will stay in the earth mantle for a geological time.

Nobody's arguing against that. But it's silly to argue that not consuming fossil fuels is a better solution than carbon sequestration. We urgently need to do BOTH. When your house is burning, you don't choose between calling the firemen and using the extinguisher - you do both.

> So carbon offsets by planting tree is a scam, and we need better than that.

That's naive and simplistic. If carbon offsetting was widely adopted, it would 1) be a fast way to start our transition towards a sustainable economy and 2) encourage reducing fossil fuel consumptions as it gets more and more expensive (as it will inevitably).

When it comes to fighting climate change, what matters is results, not this sort of uninformed rethoric.


Your extinguisher vs firemen analogy is a good one IMO:

We need to do something right now, carbon sequestration fits there.

We also need to change our ideology, and our energy resources, if we stick a plaster (ie bandaid) of carbon sequestration on it now and assume that is going to fix it, that's where we going to get to the point where land usage is going to go up against that. We can't simply go on using carbon based fuels and just "plant trees" forever unless we also create a reducing global population ...

Sequestration needs to be at greater levels than current use, we shouldn't allow rich people to go on 'using' by only sequestering to counter current usage.


Neither can anybody assure that the carbon/oil will remain untouched for hundreds of thousands of years.

bin0 25 days ago [flagged]

> The only way this is happening is if the planet gets depopulated of humans rapidly.

Please don't tell me you're one of those "earth would be better of were we all dead" people. I can't stand that kind of post-modernist, nihilistic garbage. I'm not mister optimist, but still, that's way too far.

Also, that kind of rhetoric is going to end up being a justification for some one very evil doing some thing very bad.

> The only way to fix this problem is to stop using fossil fuels. There is no politically viable way for this to happen.

Eeh, wrong. The fact that we're not there yet doesn't mean we can't get there. At some point, pulling energy out of thin air will end up cheaper than doing expensive drilling operations.

Post-modernists are the philosophical equivalent of the kid who gets mad when he loses at Monopoly, flips the board, and walks away.


Would you please not take HN threads into generic ideological flamewar? I feel like we've had this conversation with you many times already. It's not what this site is for, so please stop.

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


"earth would be better off were we all dead"

The right answer to this is "for who?" and "why would it matter then?"

We don't save the earth for the earth. We save it for ourselves.


We also do it to preserve our unique prestine environment providing higher-order evolution. And we do it to preserve our ideas, our discoveries and our memories.


Then again, perhaps all worlds that develop truly high-order species require an quick evolutionary step wherein weird little monkeys fill the biosphere with plastic and get it suitably hot enough to being said high-order evolution. A period future historians will refer to as "the plasticene"?


I love that train of thought. Could be the basis for a sci-fi book.


> We don't save the earth for the earth. We save it for ourselves.

I was hoping that we were trying to save it (from us!) because this is simply the right thing to do.


Not trying to be the least bit facetious: What makes it the right thing to do?


For starters:

What says that we have more right to liver here, take the air, water and other resources than any of the other clearly sentient & intelligent beings among whom we live?

I have a hard time finding any good answers to that question that do not boil down to <might makes right>, i.e., we're more intelligent, capable, etc., so screw all the other animals and plants (upon which, BTW, our continued existence depends).

So, from an ethical POV, mere consideration of the other beings makes it hge right thing to do.

Even if we want to save it for only ourselves, we need to wise up damn fast. Look at the list starting with AGW shifting the climate faster than any time since the asteroid 65MM yrs ago (& now showing serious signs of runaway feed-forward effects), plastic debris and microplastics choking the food chain on sea and land, neonicotinid pesticides destroying the insect population & especially pollinators at well into double digit levels, monoculture industrial agriculture, massive habitat destruction... the list goes on and on. The result is that we are likely getting dangerously close to breaking the food web. When that happens (even without war) there will only be a few survivors, if any, and they likely not consider themselves lucky.

So, even if only for selfish motives, merely acting like it is right to preserve the earth's biosphere, is the right thing to do.


>What says that we have more right to liver here, take the air, water and other resources than any of the other clearly sentient & intelligent beings among whom we live?

Nature does. In the same way it gave wolves the right to eat rabbits. By providing us with the indisputable power to do so. It also gave us the ability to choose:

We can live a tiny existence as a species, completely eschewing any and all anthropological climate impact until we are eventually extincted by natural climate change just as every other species that ever lived on this planet was or will be.

Or we can consume the entire world in a few generations in a desperate bid to show each other the maximum number ads for ephemeral crap that doesn't matter at all.

Or something in the middle. I personally vote for the careful, intentional consumption of most of this world to further human sentience and aid it in expanding into the universe. (And grieve for the fact that we seem to be irreversibly choosing the "ads" option when either of the others would seem much more preferable.)


>> ...that do not boil down to <might makes right>? >> Nature does. In the same way it gave wolves the right to eat rabbits. By providing us with the indisputable power to do so.

So, how, exactly does that not boil down to <might makes right>?

I'm also generally for your Option 3, but looking at it realistically, we're quite fully committed to Option 2, consuming the entire world in a few generations.

Short of a massive global Marshal Plan level effort to eradicate poverty, educate everyone, and provide contraception so that every locale goes well below replacement reproduction (or a bio-engineered highly contagious virus that causes infertility), I see vastly insufficient efforts to put us on an even sustainable track.

And the problem is that when resources are exhausted to , e.g., a level 10% below what will sustain a polulation, it isn't a 10% die-off, but more like a 90% die-off, since almost all are under the sustainable level. We break hte food web, and we'll likely be part of the mass extinction.

But everyone has normalcy bias, so, enjoy it while it lasts, I guess.


So, how, exactly does that not boil down to <might makes right>?

It boils down exactly to might makes right, also know as "natural law". Everything else brings the argument into religious territory by assuming an absolute moral standard. (Which is fine by the way, as long as we explicitly call it out and argue from it in a consistent manner - and understand that we are crossing the border of science and philosophy when we do)


Actually, we can look to many studies of pre-linguistic children, primates, and birds showing that ALL of them show a significantly developed sense of fairness.

We can also look to vast quantities of documented examples of altruistic behavior in studies far "down" the animal scale.

There is substantial theory growing that religious and moral attitudes, cultural structures, and laws emerged from these innate qualities, rather than being some human invention.

Here's an article on just two: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/06/true-altruism-seen-c...

So, this "natural law" that you posit at the top/root of all behavior evaluation is actually quite shaky, and it is not at all clear that it has the priority you claim.

It looks far more like a justification for might being right. By that standard, it'd be ok for me to steal your pay, enslave you, or simply kill you for the $10 in your pocket if merely had the means & whim, with all concerns about fairness, ethics, morality, relegated to the minor realm of "religious territory".

Yet even a chimp, dog, elephant, or dolphin would know that it's wrong.


> At some point, pulling energy out of thin air will end up cheaper than doing expensive drilling operations.

A lot of people seem to believe that abundant clean energy is a sufficient solution for our environmental problems. A huge part of GHG emissions is due to deforesting and cattle, which has little to do with energy consumption.

History also seems to show that giving humanity abundant energy will only lead to it wrecking itself in some other way. Sustainability is simply not compatible with our crazy paradigm of unlimited growth and consumption.


> A huge part of GHG emissions is due to deforesting and cattle

Deforestation is clearly an issue, but I seem to recall reading about a diet with some/more/lots of seaweed essentially solved the methane issue of cattle?

If the deforestation is to have space for cows the answer is obvious: cow/fish hybrids. Or cows with scuba masks? No need to collect the seaweed, no need to destroy the forest.

You’ll need bigger fishing nets though.


> Deforestation is clearly an issue, but I seem to recall reading about a diet with some/more/lots of seaweed essentially solved the methane issue of cattle?

Don't get your hopes up. This story gets thrown around a lot, but it's based on a mini study with twelve cows.

Whether this will work at scale or permanently is pretty much an open question.


Had the same shower thought as you. If selective breeding can make a chihuahua out of the wolf, why not make aquatic cattle out of the whale? Plenty of pastures in the ocean.


Bonus: automatic surf and turf.


Cattle likely won't change. I'm going to keep eating meat. And deforestation may not change due to exploding population. However, that doesn't mean we can't capture carbon. I've seen numerous promising business ideas to capture carbon and convert it into useful materials; I think it's more feasible to do that than to force veganism on every one.

valw 25 days ago [flagged]

> I've seen numerous promising business ideas to capture carbon and convert it into useful materials; I think it's more feasible to do that than to force veganism on every one.

Yeah, we've all seen them - they make for fantastic headlines. None of them is as viable as protecting forests / planting trees by a long shot. They systematically fail to mention that the energy consumption is super high or that they're not scalable in another way - at least not in time.

> Cattle likely won't change. I'm going to keep eating meat [...] more feasible to do that than to force veganism on every one.

You don't need everyone to go vegan - we only need people to eat a lot less meat and diaries, and / or choose meat with a smaller footprint (e.g chicken). It's simply not reasonable to use 40% of arable lands to feed cattle given the environmental and food challenges of the 21st century.

If you're not willing to make the relatively small lifestyle change that is changing your diet, then let me tell you with blunt honesty: you're an instance of the most severe cause of climate change - privileged people not willing to give up on some of their comfort. This attitude is also collectively irrational, because climate change if not prevented will force us to much more radical lifestyle changes. I do hope you will reconsider.


60% of America is overweight or obese, and America throws out enough food to feed .. a lot of people, every day. Shame me for eating meat when you stop them from overeating food full stop - and all the farm machinery and transport and packaging involved in that.

I don't have children, I don't drive them to school in a SUV or to a holiday in DisneyWorld, I have never launched a SpaceX rocket, or lived on my own in a full size house. I have never been on a cruise. I don't live or work in an air-conditioned place.

To put it bluntly, f' off about calling people "the most severe cause of climate change" for eating a beef sandwich without considering anything else. It's unhelpful, provocative, and completely incorrect.

I didn't attend an international destination wedding this year, which a lot of my family did. How many bacon sandwiches does that earn me compared to my family?

If your answer is none because climate change is a global catastrophe and everyone has to pitch in, then what incentive does that give anyone? If any carbon slack of my reduced comfort is just getting eaten up by other people's indifference, aren't I better off being indifferent as well?


Yeah, I agree with what you are saying. This approach has put all the responsibility on the individual and has comfortably concealed the fact that a problem of this scale must be approached from above and in a systemic way. Yes, individuals can make a difference, in mass. So can laws that force them to act in a certain way and laws which actually touch the interests of the big polluters. Making the powerless majority feel guilty about their insignificant choices is not the solution, and it is just a way to not face the responsability of the big and influential culprits.


> f' off about calling people "the most severe cause of climate change" for eating a beef sandwich without considering anything else. It's unhelpful, provocative, and completely incorrect.

That's an entire mischaracterization of my argument, which was about willingness to change one's lifestyle in general, not specifically about eating a beef sandwich.


As in recent headline, Carnival Cruise Lines emit more pollution than all the cars in Europe[1].

Ten times more.

And I'm "with blunt honesty: an instance of the most severe cause of climate change"?

No. Just so much no.

[1] https://www.insidehook.com/daily_brief/news-opinion/carnival...


> privileged people

I don't eat a ton of beef, but no, beef is relatively affordable (at least in America). But I do eat a lot more chicken, and not a ton of beef. With that said, I want a good steak once every few months and a burger once a week. More importantly, I don't want the government saying "thou shalt" about my beef consumption, nor do I want people finger-wagging at me about it.

America can sustainably raise cattle. She has requisite land. It seems that people are saying that because everyone else can't do it, we need to change.

This is also the tragedy of the commons. If I emit less, others will feel they can emit more. I refuse to be "the sucker" that loses this game theory problem. With that said, I don't emit that much (all things considered). My biggest carbon outputs are driving (which I have to do) and air conditioning (I will not give this up; come live in hundred-degree Texas summers without it and then tell me to give it up). So I don't consider myself to be a catastrophic contributor to any thing. Besides, would money not be better spent curing cancer? I'm not sure that I believe the "impending doom" stuff about global warming. Humans are the most remarkably adaptable species on the planet; we will adapt to a hotter earth if need be.


> This is also the tragedy of the commons. If I emit less, others will feel they can emit more. I refuse to be "the sucker" that loses this game theory problem.

The whole point in the tragedy of the commons is that if everyone follows their own self interest (as you are doing) then everyone loses. That is why it is called a tragedy.

Saying you are going to avoid losing by taking what you want completely misunderstands what the problem is.


> come live in hundred-degree Texas summers without it and then tell me to give [air-con] up [...] we will adapt to a hotter earth if need be

Are you sure about that? It seems like we'd adapt by using more power, deepening the problem.


> It seems like we'd adapt by using more power, deepening the problem.

Not if it is solar/wind power as is the case for 50% of the power already (in my country). With 100% renewables you can waste as much energy as you like.

valw 25 days ago [flagged]

> With that said, I don't emit that much (all things considered)

Cool, how much? IIRC, sustainability would require an individual average below 2 teqCO2/year.

> Besides, would money not be better spent curing cancer?

Look at what the world would look like if climate change is not prevented: https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/what-the-world-will-look-l.... Think of the consequences in famines (whole countries transformed into deserts), flooding, and the mass migrations and wars that would ensue. So no, cancer is not the priority, not when people will die by the hundreds of millions before reaching the age for getting cancer.

> I'm not sure that I believe the "impending doom" stuff about global warming.

Then you are in denial, and need to be exposed to more science. Again, sorry for being blunt.

> Humans are the most remarkably adaptable species on the planet; we will adapt to a hotter earth if need be.

Yeah sure, we can't individually give up on our beef sandwich, but we will have no problem adapting collectively to most of our current living spaces becoming uninhabitable.


You repeatedly crossed into personal attack in this thread. That's not ok, regardless of how right you are. Would you please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and use HN as intended when posting here?


> https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/what-the-world-will-look-l....

I could not see any graphics/media (the website is a mess. It tries to load a dozen 3rd party resources). But the article is pretty optimistic:

> Now is the time to buy property in Greenland – before it too turns green...

> Yeah sure, we can't individually give up on our beef sandwich

I'm sure there will be cities in these new deserts. And people in these cities will still eat beef sandwiches.

If somebody talks like that, my impression is always that it's more about restriction and reduction than about saving the world.

> Cool, how much? IIRC, sustainability would require an individual average below 2 teqCO2/year.

Cool, is there a CO2 calculator somewhere?



I found one with metric measurements. I consume about 12 tons Co2 per year. Is a little more than average (12 hours flight this year).


Dividing household total (according to the EPA calculator: https://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator/) number of people, about 5.7 tons/person/yr. This is less than the American average. This is also considering that people in said household are required to drive long distances for work (I'm talking 300-mile distances several times per month). We do, however, drive mostly diesel. None of us are willing to give up our jobs. Transportation is most of our emissions; AC is the runner-up.

How about you?

> Look at what the world would look like if climate change is not prevented

I think global warming is over-exaggerated by alarmists who seek to push a political agenda. I'd say it's reasonable to say there's an issue, but certainly not of the magnitude many pretend. I hear 97% quoted a lot, but believe many are simply afraid to contradict the narrative blasted at every one from all major media outlets. 97% it may be, but it wouldn't be the first time the "scientific consensus" was wrong.

> You are in denial

Nope, see above

> we can't individually give up on our beef sandwich

I don't want to, and even if I do, someone else will feel like he is now able to emit more. As I said, tragedy of the commons. And I just don't buy the idea that our living spaces will "become uninhabitable". Why the predictions of a global desert? Greenhouses tend to be damp and flourishing.


I read this comment yesterday and I keep coming back to it because it depresses me at a fundamental level. "I don't wanna change and even if I was going to I reckon _they_ wouldn't so I still won't" is the tragedy of the commons yes. But that's not a _defence_ of your actions, it's an admission of your culpability.

The "I'm not in denial, I'm just denying the science" is just cream on the top.


There are reasonably credible proposals for minor dietary changes for the cows that will drastically reduce methane emissions. A tax on cattle methane emissions could easily make this happen.


There was an article about a small change in cattle diet that vastly reduced it's methane emissions. Something related to an Australian algae. Here, I found it:

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.independent.co.uk/environme...


It's easy when you just focus on doom thinking and relegate everything else as fake or irrelevant.


The proposed solution of depopulation is based on a flawed premise. It isn't necessarily true that a growing population needs greater access to fossil fuel. Rather, as access to fossil fuel grows so can the population.


What you describe is not postmodernism. Antinatalism is certainly not nihilism. You seem to be confused


You use "post-modernism" like Jordan Peterson uses "post-modernism"... incorrectly, and likely without having read any of it.

If anything, reducing population (not through genocide obviously) for expedience is actually a very neoliberal idea


> You use "post-modernism" like Jordan Peterson uses "post-modernism"... incorrectly, and likely without having read any of it.

Incorrect on both counts. And I use it to describe the philosophical base that essentially, there is no absolute truth and nothing can be taken for reality. Which, ironically, post-modernists use their only absolute truth.

> reducing population (not through genocide obviously) for expedience is actually a very neoliberal idea

What makes you think I'm a neoliberal? And what does that have to do with what I said? More importantly, how would you reduce it? It took hundreds of years for the West to reduce birth rates. Cultural factors often mean people have many children, even if they have access to birth control. See the attempts to do this in Africa. There has been some success, but not a ton.


"Incorrect on both counts. And I use it to describe the philosophical base that essentially, there is no absolute truth and nothing can be taken for reality. Which, ironically, post-modernists use their only absolute truth."

Ok so remind me what that has to do with population control or believing that things would be better off without humanity. Also feel free to refer me to major post modern philosophers who advocate for such a thing, because I've never read them. Most post-modernism is very life affirming in a very backwards way. The people I hear advocating for this sort of ideology is actually many in the mainstream "left" (read Democratic) in the US.

I didn't say you were a neoliberal, just that such a policy is. In the sense of "for the greater good" and it's insistence on dehumanization and erosion of any non-Capital based relations


There is liberal in neoliberal, and there would be no population control like the one child policy with more limited intervention from the state.


Neoliberalism is a fairly conservative ideology ironically enough


> post-modernist, nihilistic garbage

This argument predates postmodernism by two centuries.

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

If anything, postmodernism wouldn't acknowledge a way to classify people into "worth-living" and "not-worth-living"; if not by ethics or humanism, because it would find most or all criteria in the filters to be bullshit.


Malthusianism more or less espouses an equilibrium - short on food, people die, more food available, people have more kids, cycle repeats. Not that all the humans need to die. There's also a great deal of difference between "I believe there may be a lack of food" (but not passing a value judgement on the situation) and "I believe people need to die" (claiming the "greater good").


I don’t think the parent you responded to meant by depopulation the TOTAL extinction of humans. It’s likely they meant, say, massive increases in family planning and women’s education leading to people having fewer kids later. Child mortality has been greatly reduced, someone should tell many African men! Religion plays a big role in this as well, around the world.

We have learned how to live on a credit card at the expense of our children. We imagine we have “escaped the Malthusian trap”, but the bill comes due!

More people means more factory farms, overfishing, desertification, deforestation, plastic pollution, garbage and releasing greenhouse gases. The accumulation of garbage and the depletion of resources can throw delicate ecosystems out of whack (bleached corals, for instance, or collapse of bee colonies).

Ar best, we are reducing biodiversity greatly and turning the earth into a monoculture of fatory farms for feeding a growing population of humans.

At worst, that’s one unsustainable step away from collapse.


If these people really believed that overpopulation was the problem, then why don't they start depopulating with themselves?*

It sounds terrible I know, but it serves to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the stance. Like George Carlin said,

"I’m tired of these self-righteous environmentalists, these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is that there aren’t enough bicycle paths. People trying to make the world safe for Volvos. Besides, environmentalists don’t give a shit about the planet. Not in the abstract they don’t. You know what they’re interested in? A clean place to live. Their own habitat. They’re worried that some day in the future they might be personally inconvenienced. Narrow, unenlightened self-interest doesn’t impress me."

* note: don't actually do this if you believe this wretched, damned worldview, go seek help, I don't really want anyone to off themselves because they think it "helps the world"


Perhaps, having had no say in their own conception, it's reasonable to allow them as much a chance of a life as anyone else?

Overpopulation is clearly a problem, probably the problem, but you don't solve it by guilt induced suicide, mandated death or shipping people off to camps (not in the "civilised" world anyway). You discourage excess procreation. Tax after the first child, free birth control, and advertising campaigns should reduce numbers. After all many nations did all that in reverse to encourage more children, but they didn't make breeding compulsory. There is no hypocrisy in the stance. I'm sure there's other non-dystopian possible approaches that stay safely away from holocaust and eugenics.

The hypocrisy is pretending a finite planet has infinite space for expansion where we keep expanding until there is a catastrophic crash. Perhaps some wildlife will remain, perhaps not. Far better to have a controlled stop and seek to find a sustainable population - where earth can regenerate what we use, and we still have sustainable wildlife, insect, sea and plant populations and some wilderness.

Humanity keeps on demonstrating they can't do self-controlled, so your worldview wins. Future crash it will be then.


For the same reason a regular Progressive who believes in Medicare for All isn’t going to opt out of private health insurance and give 30% of their money to the government. There is no program in place for the money to go to. Under a progressive tax system, they might not owe all that much, if anything. And the goal is to put the program in place and require everyone to participate. Look at the success of the Toronto Protocol banning CFCs to save the Ozone layer. How do George Carlin’s arguments apply there? “If you are really worried about the hole in the ozone layer, just stop buying hair spray, and stop pestering the rest of us!”


I'm a huge fan of George Carlin and many of his observations are spot on but it should at all times be remembered that his main mission was to entertain, not to make political statements designed to impact future policy. Yes, there is some hypocrisy involved (people that vote green, drive Porsches and go on two airplane holidays per year) but at the same time he benefits from the caricature, and that is too broad a brush to paint very large swathes of the population with.

If the planet is overpopulated then that is a problem, regardless of whether people observing this fact or reaching that conclusion see themselves as part of that problem, and regardless of whether or not they take themselves out of the genepool to remove the hypocrisy.


Suppose we have enough people and resources to support the current population, but not enough to support 20% more at the same level of luxury ... you don't think we should bother to try and keep the population at the level where everyone can benefit?


I think we should improve our tools/planing/everything to support 20% more of us at a higher level of luxury..


And we'll do it with our infinite levels of resources and energy, yay! /s


> You know what they’re interested in? A clean place to live. Their own habitat.

IMO that’s the wrong conclusion to draw. Its just natural behavior. Its simply an argument for localism and accountability.


The optimistic side of me reads this as a call to arms for engineers.

The political and economic calculations aren't stagnant. If there emerge better and cheaper alternatives, the market will usually make the switch happen. The key thing is the presence of better alternatives. We're already seeing this in action with electricity generation. Solar and wind are cheaper for bulk generation than fossil sources. A few incremental advances in battery technology are now required to unlock the full potential of renewables, but there seems to be a clear path forward. These developments are the result of thousands of engineers time and energy along with relatively modest subsidies and private investment to pay their salaries.

The same may be true for cement. The alternatives are not yet better or cheaper, but some investment might get them there. Or not, we don't really know for sure.

We may be too late to prevent total catastrophe, but I'd rather go down trying. It's up to us to create the alternatives which allow the political and economic solutions to be viable. Who's with me?


Climate change requires a call to arms for everyone.

Many scientific experts don't believe that enhanced technology can be the main solution. True, technology can be a part of the solution, but changing our values and life habits are much more important. That's why top recommended environmental measure is carbon taxes, not subsidizing energy efficiency.

We've already made dramatic technological progress on our energy efficiency since the industrial era. This has never prevented our emissions from increasing - it's usually only made pollution more affordable and therefore more widespread; fuel efficiency in car engines is a good example of that.

Spreading the belief that technology will eventually save the day is not helpful, because it gives people an excuse to postpone changing their lifestyle, and we cannot afford that.

EDIT: forgot to post, Bret Victor is with you: http://worrydream.com/ClimateChange/


To be clear, I never said technology was the only solution. We have to parallel-path this entire enterprise. We need a change of culture and values just as much as technology. I'm not counting on only technology, but I really do believe we'll need both approaches here. As engineers, our part in this may be to create technological solutions. I hope culture thought leaders do their part and espouse a different way of living that replaces material consumption and status symbols with real human community.


Yeah, I was saying this to add to what you said, not to disagree with you - sorry if I didn't make that very clear. I on the same quest as you are.


> Many scientific experts don't believe that enhanced technology can be the main solution. True, technology can be a part of the solution, but changing our values and life habits are much more important.

Are you sure these are scientists? Because this sounds a lot like an ideological belief, not a scientific one. I definitely know a lot of activists who believe this.


Yes I'm sure - unfortunately most of my references are French, so I don't think it's useful to share them here.

I do agree with the sad statement that we're generally lacking a scientifically rigorous and pragmatic leadership in climate activism.


Should we really take a gamble that engineers will come up with enhanced technology ?

If the future is uncertain, we should rather do too much than too little. That is how insurance works.


Insisting on hardcore changing values as the main instrument of climate action is likely to backfire, however. Imagine if we had responded to ozone depletion by insisting people not use refrigerators and air conditioning versus just developing non-depleting refrigerants?


Great example.


It is career suicide for scientists to pursue technology-based approaches to climate change (geoengineering)


It is an engineering challenge, but not in development and innovation so much as in policy and implementation. There is a lack of understanding of that what is happening isn't a choice. It is an escalating situation where things you don't deal with today will cost more to deal with tomorrow. Something we and our societies aren't used to. Rather we are used to a Moore's law situation where things get better by themselves. The future will very likely be defined by who can provide more prosperity for less energy. Something that many countries won't manage to align with for many decades.

So unfortunately I think the optimism is misguided. The current trend is more like that demotivaional poster, "if you are not part of the solution, there is good money to be made in prolonging the problem".


It won't get better by itself, hence the "call to arms". Engineers need to choose to work on, maybe even for less money or less job security, solutions which are so much better that policy and implementation will contort themselves toward the new paradigms. Politics is the really effective avenue to solve this but it is a lot easier if better alternative solutions exist.

I wanted to emphasize that the optimism can be a useful tool to gain motivation. Realistically I think we're in for a world of hurt, but being depressed doesn't motivate me like optimism does. It's a mind trick, not a realistic accounting of the current state of affairs.


That isn't really the point. It doesn't make any sense to be optimistic that a factor will change when it is the overall equation that is wrong.

> Engineers need to choose to work on, maybe even for less money or less job security, solutions which are so much better that policy and implementation will contort themselves toward the new paradigms.

Not only is this becoming harder in most countries every year in recent decades, but the paradigm shift already happened with climate change. If you want to be optimistic you could be optimistic that we find a way to change the equation. In its current state your optimism is awfully close to it being someone else's problem.


Earth will be the terraforming planet we will cut our teeth on.


Inevitably.


> Planting a tree does capture carbon. However, when it dies and rots, all the carbon gets re-released over time back into the atmosphere.

Unless you build something out of the wood, instead of using cement, for example.

Even if the tree is just left to rot or is burned, this is 50-100 years in the future. Giving the world 50-100 years of buffer time to figure out how to solve the technical and political problems around climate change is close enough to a solution that I'd take it in a heart beat!


Put another way, carbon has been slowly leaking from the ecosystem into the ground for hundreds of millions of years and now we're abruptly reintroducing that carbon to the ecosystem.


A very large amount of that fossil fuel was deposited during a period when plants could not be broken down successfully but microorganisms. In the current world much more of the carbon taken into a tree is released back into the atmosphere than presently.

That is: the original deposits were a process over millions of years, but the flow between stocks of carbon no longer behave as they used to. Whereas the stock of living and dead plants used to both remove carbon from the atmosphere, this no longer really the case.


> all the carbon gets re-released over time back

May I question the veracity of this statement ? wood decay does release atoms back in the air, but some may be captured on the ground, some may be captured by the plants/trees nearby. I highly doubt 100% goes back airborne.

Also there are other factors with more trees, they interfere with winds, create shadows. Some say massive forest also transpire humidity. All this might be positive to dampen climate change (if done worldwide).


> Some say massive forest also transpire humidity. All this might be positive to dampen climate change (if done worldwide).

Caveat though: higher humidity + rising temperatures = bad. The more humid the air is, the worse evaporative cooling works, which means it's that much harder for human body to keep its temperature in check. For example, [0] tells us that at 46 °C and 50% humidity, humans can no longer cool down through sweating - i.e. the ambient air becomes deadly to all humans.

--

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wet-bulb_temperature.


I thought about large scale higher altitudes humidity but fair point (although the less humans the better the climate statistics say)


> (although the less humans the better the climate statistics say)

Yeah, I've seen those, but that's like observing that the best way to kill cancer is to kill the patient. Kind of missing why we bother with the problem in the first place :).


I shall not try to sell my ballistics based therapy ..


Trees rotting produces compost and over time soil, soil which ultimately contains organic carbon. Perhaps overtime the organic carbon from the original tree is entirely gassed into the air somehow, but in the meantime you've been growing a second, third, and forth. Growing and composting plants does contribute to the sequestration of carbon and more importantly prevents methane production.


Rotting trees produce methane which is a potent greenhouse gas.

We do need massive re-forestation programmes though.


> Fossil fuels are excess carbon atoms sequestered safely deep inside the Earth. Unless you can find a way to put them

Not Uranium.

> There is no politically viable way for this to happen.

It’s sad because we have the technology (that could surely be improved if trillions of dollars were suddenly poured into).


Uranium is not a fossil fuel.


You're kinda just stoking my paranoia here. I hadn't dug too deeply into whatbuying "carbon offsets" for flights (as a eco-conscious consumer, that is) actually entailed. But I suspected it was basically just planting N trees to offset the carbon emission.

To play devil's advocate, is it possible that planting the trees at least helps in the short to mid-term? So let's assume we don't run out of viable land to plant more trees on, and we keep planting enough trees to offset a big chunk of our carbon emissions. Doesn't that buy us, say, 100 years to figure out the technology to economically capture excess carbon and put it back underground again?


> But I suspected it was basically just planting N trees to offset the carbon emission.

No, this is not what happens. Check Wikipedia for "carbon offset" and "carbon credit" to learn more.


Please stop with the reddit comments. You can so so so easily post the information here instead of being pompous about it.


No, it doesn't. First of all, you have to account for deforestation which is already happening in unprecedented pace. So while you'll go around planning trees, in some other part of the world people are chopping them down to provide more land for agriculture or to support the demand for wood. So the overall net effect might be zero.

Aside from that, the fact is that you need a shit ton of trees to negate climate change. Planting 1.7 billion acres of trees would remove only 8% of yearly carbon emissions. Where will we find the land to plant all those trees? We simple don't have the real estate.


You seemingly just argued for planting more trees, in that if we did not try and replace the trees being cut down, we would have a negative growth rate of trees, which seems much worse than 0 growth rate. I’m not sure why you dismissed out of hand the argument, as it only took a hot second do deduce that it’s actually a good thing.


You misunderstood. I'm not arguing whether we should plant trees or not, but whether that is enough. The answer is that it's not. We have to do much more things than just plant trees.


Just in case anyone else was curious about the numbers that removes 8% of carbon per year for 30-40 years.


"Planting a tree does capture carbon. However, when it dies and rots, all the carbon gets re-released over time back into the atmosphere."

Not all the carbon. Some of it stays in the ground to eventually form more fossil fuel.


Not really, not in any meaningful quantity.

That only happened once, on a geological timescale (the carboniferous period). During that period, there was no breakdown of dead trees; fungi and bacteria hadn't evolved the enzymes to break it down at that point, so it just sat there, piling up layer upon layer, and eventually got turned into coal seams and oil reservoirs deep underground. Consider just how long it took to get buried deep under all that strata. Millions of years.

That process will never happen again. Life subsequently evolved to break trees and all plant matter down fast, on the order of years for a whole tree. Much faster if it's chopped into smaller bits. It is ultimately metabolised by saprophytes and returned to the atmosphere. Very little is sequestered away. Consider that the layer between rock and atmosphere is just a thin film. Bare in some places, a few inches to a few feet deep in others. That's the biosphere, the bit of the planet that is living. That's the store the carbon has to be sunk into.

There are some places which do sequester some carbon. Peat bog would be one example. But when you look at how much a peat bog sequesters in a year though the slow growth of sphagnum mosses, heather and the other lichens and plants found there, it's a tiny drop in the ocean compared with the amount of CO2 we are pumping out daily. It's also not going to be super stable. It could catch fire if there's a really dry summer, for example.

Higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere will encourage plant growth. There are plenty of scientific experiments to show a direct correlation between CO2 concentration and crop size and dry weight. That's been known for decades. We learned this on a plant science course over two decades back. But there isn't a stable store for all the excess carbon we have released to be sequestered on a meaningful timescale, and the existing biosphere isn't going to be able to expand sufficiently to compensate or to store it long term. It's going to be cycled back into the atmosphere.

We have spent the last few hundred years ceaselessly burning unimaginably large quantities of stored carbon which took millions of years to originally deposit. There's no magic bullet to reverting to the pre-industrial state. The effects of this, and any corrective action, will take place on timescales much longer than a human lifetime. As a species, we aren't very good at dealing with problems which can't be solved in a decade or two.


I wish I could mod your comment up 1000 times.

That small detail about the Carboniferous Period is something nobody has told me before, which makes me wonder how many people in this debate know their subject.


From what I can tell, the "trees came before tree-eating-fungi" theory is discredited:

Popular press: https://arstechnica.com/science/2016/01/why-was-most-of-the-...

Full paper: https://www.pnas.org/content/113/9/2442

Contextual overview: https://www.pnas.org/content/113/9/2334


The formation of peat in bogs does sequester carbon, but the timescale is long, on the order of several thousand years. However, higher atmospheric CO2 leads to greater plant biomass at “equilibrium”. Studies suggest that about 75% of CO2 has a half-life of decades and the remaining 25% has a half-life of tens of millenia, as I recall.


Well, good thing there were more EPA rollbacks recently....


Unfortunately large scale depopulation is probably coming for us in a few decades. Once the wet bulb temperature exceeds 35°C for a few days people start dying of heat stress. Many tropical and equatorial regions are close to the limit already; a few degrees of global warming will push them over the edge.


Nah, Dr Evil has me run the numbers and it turns out that killing six billion people, you have all their body mass rotting and putting carbon back into the atmosphere, add on top transport costs and so on - it just was not worth it.

Seems much simpler to fix global politics and improve technology.


Have you considered that once they're dead, they stop farting? Methane counts too!


Eventually but not immediately: https://www.quora.com/Can-a-dead-body-fart

"Definitely yes. Having worked as an undertaker’s assistant in my youth I have witnessed this at least twice. The odour is unmistakable and the gas (should there be any in the bowel) easily comes out when moving the deceased from the hospital cold slab to the coffin. I have not heard any sound but the foul smell is there - so yes."


So, would it not be more environmentally friendly to bury, not recycle, plastics back into the earth?


Recycling is carbon neutral - it doesn't cause co2 to be released nor does it sequester any. You can argue that the process itself generates co2, but so does producing virgin plastic.


How is recycling plastic carbon neutral?

The amount of energy required to chew/melt/process the plastic, the energy to transport the recyclables to the processing facility, and then the transportation costs to ship the decycled material to the buyer(s)?


>You can argue that the process itself generates co2, but so does producing virgin plastic.

It's carbon neutral compared to the alternatives.


Can you explain that to me?

I do not understand the concept of comparative neutrality.


Recycling generates co2, but so does producing virgin plastic. If you're not cutting plastic use completely, you're going to produce co2 either way. Assuming that recycling doesn't produce more co2, we're coming out ahead. I realize calling it "carbon neutral" is probably not the best word to describe it (flying a plane isn't carbon neutral just because it produces the same amount as driving).


Recycling plastic produces more CO2 than producing virgin plastic, I don’t understand assuming otherwise.


That would become a technical debt, especially considering we do very little to reduce our use of plastics, which seems like the obvious thing to do before any other change.


Well, do you think we would use less plastic if we stopped decycling it and trying to find additional uses for it?

Treat it as waste, not a raw material input for an inferior good?


Trees are ok, but they create a carbon debt, because the tree stores the co2, and when it dies either in fire or fermenting, it releases that back. It’s more like a 50-100 year debt contract.


Luckily, trees have a built-in mechanism to beget more trees.


Please don't take this the wrong way, but I think we are at much more risk from people who believe that the best path forward is rapid human depopulation (are you really recommending that?) than those who believe in the contemporary utility of fossil fuels.

If anyone wonders why anyone could possibly be against the modern environmentalist movement, it may be because so many believe in the movement believe in "rapid depopulation" (though few will say it so directly as you).


Nuclear power doesn't seem too politically non viable, especially if the alternative is rapid depopulation.


Regardless of the controversy on the risks of nuclear energy, don't overestimate it's potential. We simply can't build nuclear plants everywhere we need them. We still mostly need a reduction in energy consumption and deforesting.


France derives 71% of its electricity from nuclear energy. In the US it's around 20%. So while nuclear power can't replace everything, even with current technology they could power the great majority of electricity generation.

Sure we can't simply build them everywhere. But the main barriers to building enough of them to make a big difference aren't technical.


> rapid depopulation

What exactly do you mean by this, and how would you accomplish it? Assuming, that is, that nuclear doesn't work (for whatever reason), as you've drawn a dichotomy.


[flagged]


Or you work on raising living standards, which naturally lowers fertility.

Warming is going to happen. Humanity will adapt. Modern spins on eugenics isn’t an answer and frankly is disgusting.


Careful: having the entire world adopt the living standards of Western countries is about the best way to guarantee that climate change makes the planet inhabitable by 2100.


How about something a little less demonic, like finding an economic system that doesn’t rely on endless growth as a catch-all for humanity’s problems?


Jesus Christ, you're not serious, are you? How evil can you get? The ends do not justify the means.


No, not serious. Just pointing out what the alternative seems to entail.


High birth rate is the scourge of our time. Cement pollution is just a consequence.


There's a video documentary on YouTube, complete with starting with PM Thatcher and her concerns about the coal miners union and the Mideast oil kingdoms and through the present with sun spots, etc. There is a lot from MIT prof Lindzen. The 800 year lag in the graph Gore put up is made clear. The Medieval Warm period, the Little Ice Age, and the cooling from 1940 to 1970 are also clear.

The URL is

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52Mx0_8YEtg

Now where does this documentary go wrong?

I will mention one place: Their little cartoon has sun light hitting the surface of the earth, reflecting, and then heating the atmosphere. Well, it mostly isn't just reflection. Instead, the sunlight gets absorbed by the surface, the surface warms, and then the surface radiates, as in a Planck gray body in the infrared. CO2 absorbs, and warms, in three narrow bands out in the infrared, on band for each of bending, stretching, and twisting of the molecule. CO2 won't absorb visible light -- e.g., exhale and see if you can see the CO2 or its shadow from absorbing visible light! And, as in the cartoon, the visible light already traveled through the whole atmosphere to the ground without being absorbed so that any reflected light should just continue until it hits a cloud or just escapes into outer space. So, the main point is the Planck black body effect that in effect converts the visible light CO2 won't absorb to infrared light CO2 can absorb. But, as Lindzen explains, that all has to be a tiny effect, small potatoes.

Just as a question, does anyone have figures on tons per year of (i) CO2 from volcanoes and (ii) human activities?

For another, does anyone have (i) the number of tons of CO2 in the atmosphere and (ii) the number of tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere by human activities in, say, a year?

For one more, if the temperature of the top, say, 1000 feet, of all the oceans warmed by 1 F, how much CO2, in tons, would be released -- warmer water absorbs less CO2?

Last, what was the average temperature of the oceans (i) just before the Little Ice Age, (ii) at the end of the Little Ice Age (say, at the end of the Maunder Minimum and the return of usual sun spot activity), (iii) in year 1900, and (iv) now?


You can find a lot of figures in the IPCC reports.

https://www.ipcc.ch/working-group/wg1/

https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/


The worst thing you can do for the environment is have children, but that's not changing.

Cement, fossil fuels, deforestation, livestock etc are all symptoms of overpopulation and our inability to establish homeostasis anymore.

I don't see a solution to environmental decay into a negative feedback loop that wipes us out without some form of population control.

It isn't pretty, but we are running out of time and sitting around waiting for tech to save us isn't a viable strategy.


What about all the other forms of pollution? This article focuses entirely on CO2. Do these newer cement alternatives have fewer waste products too, or more? Are those waste products recyclable?

CO2 feels like just a weird focus, compared to the toxic lakes of sludge in China near manufacturing hubs, the massive drifts of plastic in our oceans, the coal ash pools at all our coal plants, the nuclear waste still kept at all our nuclear plans, and all the other waste and pollution we product. Reducing one at the expense of another may not always end up in a good net result.

This article totally ignores all the other factors of pollution and doesn't take an fully balanced look at all the waste produced in these materials.

Ultimate to reduce harm to our environment we need to produce less entirely. That does mean fewer buildings, cell phones, new things, etc. But no one really talks about that.


It's not a weird focus, there is few more urgent topic than co2, because there is so much useful chemical reaction producing it that humans need or enjoy, and we don't see any reduction in those emissions.


In terms of greenhouse gasses, the biggest polluter is probably the ocean pumping all the water vapor into the atmosphere. Water vapor has by far the greatest greenhouse effect, accounting for about 65-85% of the greenhouse effect vs human generated CO2 that directly contributes 0.12%.

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/01/calcul...

If we really want to change things, we'll have to get rid of the ocean.

Seriously, though, I'd like to see some real numbers that if we completely eliminated human CO2 emissions, what is the actual difference that would make? What does that say about the significance of practically achievable reduction in human CO2 emissions? What amount of CO2 would we have to recapture to make a difference? What amount can we practically capture?

I am getting the impression that these numbers might paint the CO2 dilemma as completely unsolvable. Sure, maybe in some way every little bit helps, but maybe it helps like using a squirt gun to put out a volcano. It'd be nice to know just how relevant our efforts would actually be if everyone unified and did the absolute best we could do, even so far as drastic population reduction or even complete elimination of human beings. Would even such Thanos like measures do anything, or would that just be bringing a second squirt gun to the volcano?




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