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Fighting climate change may be cheaper and more beneficial than we think (cbc.ca)
252 points by pseudolus 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 250 comments

The problem is not the general economics, the problem is the vested interests. Most upsides are qualitatively important and improve ordinary life but the profit is diffuse. Most abatement cost is huge incumbents like oil and coal and car industry and tax income. Their costs are being resisted and they outspend everyone else.

This is a big part of the problem, but there is some hope!

Shareholders of the big oil and gas companies have started to recognize the long-term threat of climate change. There were 87[0] shareholder proposals last year that asked firms to adopt emission reduction targets, disclose lobbying expenses, or take other action that would result in lower emissions.

Most of these failed, largely because the big institutional investors voted against them.

Shameless plug: I'm trying to solve this problem by creating a governance-first index fund [1].

[0] https://voting.greengovernance.org [1] https://greengovernance.org

You mean the same oil/gas companies that have known about these issues for decades and covered it up?[0] I trust them to do the right thing about as far as I can throw them. If they are making any changes now, it's simply because it's economically sensible, not because they want to save the planet.

0 - https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/exxon-knew-about-...

They knew about it long before that even. That carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and questions about our use of fuels that produce it were raised in the late 1800 hundreds. Climate change is a problem that has been ignored for over 120 years. they had some better excuses for ignoring it in the past, but this is not a new problem. It should have been solved in the past, and not solving it now will lead to disaster.

> That carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and questions about our use of fuels that produce it were raised in the late 1800 hundreds

And not by Joe Schmoe who it would make sense to ignore, but by Svante Arrhenius.

For others that are unaware of who this is, first paragraph from his wikipedia page:

> Svante August Arrhenius (19 February 1859 – 2 October 1927) was a Swedish scientist. Originally a physicist, but often referred to as a chemist, Arrhenius was one of the founders of the science of physical chemistry. He received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1903, becoming the first Swedish Nobel laureate. In 1905, he became director of the Nobel Institute, where he remained until his death.


Don't plants require carbon dioxide to grow? I am not sure it was immediately obvious to people 120 years ago (the Mariner 2 spacecraft, which flew past Venus in 1962, was the first to take detailed pictures showing its heat-trapping clouds) that CO2 was such a "dangerous" thing.

I have recently been made aware of relatively inexpensive massive high density tree planting projects as a way to potentially solve the CO2 "problem"[0] I personally find ideas such as these are far better for world's ultra-poor then raising the price of energy thru carbon taxes, as pretty much the only way people can move into a significantly better living situation is thru the use of energy.

[0] https://www.oregonlive.com/environment/2019/07/massive-tree-...

Only new forests sequester. Old forests are in approximate CO2 balance: rotting trees and the consumption of green mass by wildlife emit CO2 at approximately the same rate as it is absorbed. Since we have a limited area to plant new forests this is only a temporary solution.

But it's important, since it could buy us a few more years to implement more permanent solutions.

>Only new forests sequester

*Younger forests pull the most out over a given period of time. The bulk of the carbon stays locked up as long as the wood doesn't decay/isn't burned. It's one reason some architects are starting to look at structural wood for larger buildings again, as long as the building stands you keep the carbon locked up in the framing. If we had a magic wand we could create a few super-fast growing species and plant massive amounts of forest of complimentary species that provide the soil with nearly everything needed to grow one another and simply harvest the lumber, drag it out to anoxic depths at sea and sink it not unlike the commonly accepted theory of the azolla event doing similar with aquatic ferns in our planet's past.

The best trees can manage about 48lbs of CO2 per year, that's 46 trees per metric tonne and healthy forest is 40-60 trees per acre. Just to go carbon neutral last year that would mean you would have needed at LEAST 53 million square miles of optimal forest. For reference, there are 196.9 million square miles of land on earth, effectively 1/4 of the land mass on earth would need to be 100% optimized decade or two old forest.

Roughly 31% of the earth is forest, however it's far from the above optimal conditions. In reality we'd need probably 50% (if not more) of the earth to be forest to manage what we did last year.

Coincidentally, pre-industrial era the earth was about 48% forest and current estimates are we lose something like 28,125 square miles annually to human operations. We're producing more and more while reducing the planet's ability to sequester.

Sadly planting more trees isn't even going to equate to a bandaid, it's going to be like loosing a limb to a wood chipper and gently blowing on the wound. It's purely a "this makes me feel good" thing.

> Don't plants require carbon dioxide to grow?

Yes, but they also require other things to grow, so the scaling of their growth with rapidly increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration isn't as impressive as some people imagine, and it's only been empirically demonstrated in the short term. As far as I've read, the main uncertainty as to what happens in the medium-long term relates to how much nitrogen is available in the soil, and how the nitrogen-fixing topsoil ecosystem adapts. If it can thrive in such a way as to fix more nitrogen, that could lead to further plant growth. But it's also plausible that the rapid shift in the environment disrupts that system and leads to a regression in plant growth rates.

And all of that assumes that unseasonably warm/cold temperatures from changing weather patterns, drought or flooding from changing weather patterns, increased wildfires from changing weather patterns etc doesn't kill off many species in an area.

That is like arguing against drowning because you require water. The dose and application make the "poison".

It is even true that the CO2 was at this point before. If it had shifted at geological timescales even if it was from human activity it would be more or less fine as the ecosystem could adapt to it like previous epoches. Certainly there would be extinctions but would give time to adapt and speciate.

Tree planting helps some but it isn't comparable at scale at all - as in running out of available landmass bad.

Tree planting would help the ultrapoor if they maintained it locally given things like impact on soil erosion and rainfall but those are only localized effects

> Don't plants require carbon dioxide to grow

Of course. Nobody is saying there should be no CO2. But if your implication is that higher CO2 means better growth, it is generally wrong. Some plants do grow better, some don't, in a higher CO2 environment. But more importantly, it isn't as if CO2 is an independent variable. Along with it comes significant changes that plants are not adapted to -- higher average and peak temperatures, more or less rainfall (depending where in the world it is). Yes, given enough time, the plants that make it through the stresses of climate change will adapt and thrive, but in the near term (a few generations of humans) it will cause problems.

> I am not sure it was immediately obvious to people 120 years ago that CO2 was such a "dangerous" thing.


In short: Joseph Fourier (of the Fourier transform) advocated for the idea of atmospheric gasses causing a greenhouse effect. It was advanced along the years, in 1896 Arrhenius even calculated the effect on the climate due to a doubling of CO2. There were scientific papers published in the 50s using the terms "climate change" in the 50s, well before the Mariner 2 spacecraft.

Not all energy sources generate significant CO2 or even cost more than those that do. It’s vastly more efficient to make the least economically expensive changes early than to wait and be forced to use more drastic approaches.

Long term carbon sequestration via forests is extremely expensive as you can’t then use the land for anything else. Not extracting carbon is by far the cheapest option for long term sequestration.

PS: Sequestration of biomass underground is a viable long term option, but it’s again expensive.

Forested land has tons of economic uses, and in many cases it improves the productivity of the other activities that are done within the land. Most human dwellings do better when they are surrounded by trees (lowers cooling/heating costs and improves the sanity of the occupants). Most livestock can be raised in orchards, along with quite a few consumable plants (coffee, cows, mushrooms, etc.). Also the trees themselves can be converted to charcoal through gasification, which provides a carbon feedstock for graphite, activated charcoal, or biochar, all of which lock away the carbon. The gasification process produces syngas/woodgas/producers gas which is a viable fuel source. Lastly the wood can be used itself for building structures and furniture which locks away the carbon for the life of the item.

Not sure how any of that is expensive, as it fulfills our requirements for food, housing, and luxury goods.

The issue with this line of thinking is we are not talking about a single forest or some minor changes to urban settings, but a massive change to the number of forests. The scale is vastly beyond adding more trees near buildings or a few more orchids. Ideally you want massive trees that live a long time and spend as much energy as possible growing larger not making fruit.

This land is not already being used for forests because other uses are simply more useful or less costly. The net loss of utility then needs to continue for as long as the carbon is sequestered.

Finally, if you want to sequester carbon somewhere else you need to collect and transport it which adds more costs. Further, if that’s the goal forests are simply slow carbon sinks in comparison to other plants.

Sequestered carbon just goes into the ground. You need not transport it anywhere. It improves the health of the soil. There is equipment that will take dead standing wood and gasify it into biochar which is stable in the soil for theoretically 10k years. These systems also produce a net positive energy (electricity and heat). Source: I wrote the firmware that runs All Power Lab's Power pallet, which does just this. It fits on a 4' pallet and can be taken to a fuel source (woodchips, corn cobs, walnut shells, grass pellets, etc.).

You still need to either move the equipment to the plant matter, or the plant matter to the equipment.

I'm having a hard time understanding the fundamental problem that you are bringing up. Sure, machinery doesn't just magically transport itself, same goes for the plant matter. But these machines produce fuel/electricity, so they can be used to power chippers, tractors, or whatever machinery you need to run your orchard, timber mills, or office park cleanup activities. This is the point I'm making, there is free fuel that can be used from growing plants (of a variety of sizes and uses). Just as we use lawn mowers and wood chippers to clean up our yards, we should also be using the resulting material to fulfill our energy needs and produce biochar to lock away carbon back into the soil.

You're correct, nothing comes for free, but the alternative is to leave this dead standing wood on forest floors to be later fuel wild fires. Or in the case of agricultural waste, to be composted or burned directly. Seems like a waste, as composting produces methane and CO2, which unless captured in an anaerobic digester just goes into the atmosphere and contributes to global warming, and burning does similar harm.

Small scale gasification reactors can run equipment, and are easily transported on trailers to the site of waste if it is not already easily centralized (in which case a dedicated cogeneration plant is usually a better option). A 20kW reactor can produce enough electricity to run 16 US homes, so situating one on every block is also a viable option that we should be considering.

> I personally find ideas such as these are far better for world's ultra-poor then raising the price of energy thru carbon taxes, as pretty much the only way people can move into a significantly better living situation is thru the use of energy.

"Carbon tax hurts the poor" is oil industry propaganda. The poor use less carbon than average -- especially the "ultra poor" -- but everyone receives the same dividend. It's a net transfer to the poor.

On top of that, the underlying cost (after accounting for tax, subsidies and regulations) for oil in poorer countries is higher than in richer countries because they have worse infrastructure for delivering fuel. You can put solar panels and batteries on a shack in the middle of a field and have electricity for decades. To do that with a gas generator you need gas stations, vehicles to deliver it, roads to drive them on etc. They don't have those things, and won't get them overnight, but meanwhile you can give them electricity today and they immediately get running water and electric light and wireless telecommunications etc. So oil is garbage for them and they're better off never burning a drop of it while the people who do are paying a carbon tax that funds a dividend they can use to buy solar panels.

It is true but not on individual level, on country level. There are countries that generate > 80% of their energy from fossil fuels and do not have enough money to invest at scale in nuclear, or wind, or solar. Rich Western countries on the other hand invested in clean energy first, and now that they have significant advantage in that area they are trying to impose arbitrary CO2 limits, which is kind of pulling up the ladder behind them - now the poor countries not only have to find money to invest in clean energy, but also twice the amount, to pay penalties for exceeding those limits.

> It is true but not on individual level, on country level.

It's true all over the place.

Suppose you live in a country which gets 80% of its energy from fossil fuels. Well, that sucks, so now your average energy costs go up by $1000 a year. You can't afford that! Only you get it all back. You get a $1000 dividend, use it to pay for the same energy you did before, and nothing changes.

Except for one thing. When your country continues its path to industrialization, nobody is ever going to build a new coal fired power plant again. All the new capacity will be non-fossil fuels, because now they're much cheaper relative to coal -- no carbon tax.

The only cost you're really paying is the relative price difference between fossil fuels and alternatives. But that's already close to zero and has non-cost benefits for your country like air quality and energy independence.

Moreover, the idea that this is some cost for developing countries that developed countries didn't have to pay is also a lie. The cost of renewables is driving the cost of fossil fuels down through competition. The carbon tax is only needed to prevent that -- to keep their price back up around their traditional cost, which makes them uncompetitive with the falling price of renewables, so that they die out instead of the lower demand causing their price to fall to the point that they still end up as 20-50% of generation capacity.

That's not how science works. Some scientists theorized that CO2 emissions could have consequences for climate. There was a lot of theoretical and technological development that needed to happen before such an outlandish (at the time and up until the recent present) idea could be verified and acted upon. It's no small claim to suggest that humans can not only alter global climate, but do so in a catastrophic manner. Add to the mix the social and economic cost of acting on such a theory, and it makes sense to understand and prove the science with some minimum certainty before using it to justify massive policy change.

Hindsight is 20/20. Even now, because of the nature of what amounts to an empirical science who's primary effects will only be measured in the future, we haven't unambiguously proven that climate change is occuring, and cannot do so without additional decades or centuries of data, at which point it may be too late.

It is similarly fallacious to accuse oil companies of knowing about this problem and failing to act. 30 years ago this was similarly a theory with even less evidence than today, and only a handful of scientists even considered it.

None of that is true. It has never been considered outlandish except by oil company PR teams. Simple math from the very beginning of the fossil fuel era made it obvious we would eventually run into problems. It has been extremely obvious for decades that the predicted problems were here, now.

There's no social or economic cost to the world for acting to prevent climate change. The costs are all negative - we save vast amounts of money and societal damage by acting.

There hasn't been any serious scientific dispute over whether climate change was occurring for at least 50 years.

And of course it's completely accurate to note that the oil companies knew about the problem and have not only refused to act, but have spent massive amounts to prevent action. Many of their own documents are available on the internet for your inspection.

>It has never been considered outlandish except by oil company PR teams.

You're describing catastrophic terraforming on the scale of about 100 years. That's a huge claim with enormous ramifications and given the current expense of mitigation, it rightly warrants scrutiny, both in probability of occurance and scope of change.

>Simple math from the very beginning of the fossil fuel era made it obvious we would eventually run into problems.

Absolutely nothing about climate change is simple. Which is why it took decades to establish any kind of consensus. Global climate is a chaotic function of various positive and negative feedback mechanisms - simply noting that increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses may cause climate change is not nearly enough to conclude that there is a problem without considering the hugely complex system in it's entirety.

>It has been extremely obvious for decades that the predicted problems were here, now.

We've been collecting the very data necessary to prove the "obviousness" of climate change over the same decades in which you claim the problem was already evident. You need time series data to establish a trend with any kind of certainty, and climate changes at a minimum over hundreds of years.

>There's no social or economic cost to the world for acting to prevent climate change. The costs are all negative - we save vast amounts of money and societal damage by acting.

Like the rest of your post, your perspective is biased by your assertion that climate change is happening. You need to view this from the perspective of a society which has not had time to perform the necessary data gathering and analysis to make such conclusion - in which case, there are now and were decades ago current costs to switching off of fossil fuels, which it would only be reasonable to incur given a minimum degree of certainty in future climate change. It is simply infesible to make drastic policy changes for every sounded alarm - one must obviously consider the expected value of the change, which is (disaster cost)*(probability of disaster)-(cost of change). The value of this probability is difficult to model and has been steadily increasing with recent climate science.

>There hasn't been any serious scientific dispute over whether climate change was occurring for at least 50 years.

Just decades ago the consensus was that of global cooling. Again, you underestimate the complexity of determining whether the climate is actually changing and, in particular, how it will change in the future.

>And of course it's completely accurate to note that the oil companies knew about the problem

Again, oil companies did not "know" of the problem, they were aware of the possibility of the problem. The very documents which you mention state that additional modeling was required to determine anything with certainty.

As somebody in an oil and gas town, I can assure you that more than zero oil and gas company owners and executives think global warming is a paranoid delusion or even a political conspiracy

Not everyone of course, but I just want to point out that “they know about it and are hiding it” isn’t always accurate. There is a lot of denial

I am pretty sure there is a famous quote along the lines of "It is hard to make a man understand something when his private jet trips depend on him not understanding it" :)

They won't allow their core profit centers to br disrupted.

Of course, which is why it's in their best interests to do something now to avoid massive disruption later from potentially disastrous (for them) regulation.

They will pen their own regulation like they've always done.

I created a web app for shareowners to take action. It's free to use, we're not selling investments.


We're actively trying to improve the site. There should be a movement of shareholders. Please reach out with feedback! I'd like to talk to you.

Just a heads up, the sign up for your newsletter has a really irritating reCAPTCHA. I have gone through at multiple grids to no avail. I have given up at this point. The newsletter is not worth it.

Really sorry about that :(

I'm using TinyLetter by MailChimp, and I don't have any control over that page. I'll look into other providers in the future.

The long-term threat is that they are finite

There is far more oil, coal and natural gas in the ground than there is capacity in the atmosphere to absorb the resulting CO2.

The atmosphere can absorb it, but many ecosystems (the important ones for people) cannot survive the resulting changes in climate.

Of course.

I tried adding a similar caveat to my message, but my feeble attempts muddied my simple message. Even your caveat is slightly over-simplified because there's a significant time component: most ecosystems would probably be OK if the oil was burned over a few million years rather than a few decades.

Is that a fact?

Yes. Oil and gas and coal proven reserves of burned would produce about 4.5 trillion tons of CO2. About half of that would remain in the atmosphere. There’s currently about 2 trillion tons of CO2 in the atmosphere today at 400ppm. So in proven reserves alone, we have enough to more than double the current CO2 levels, or triple/quadruple them from pre-industrial levels (when they were ~280ppm).

...but the real kicker is that proven reserves are just a small fraction of total likely recoverable reserves long-term. Proven reserves basically assumes no tech improvement and no exploration, two things we’re continually doing. So proven reserves have actual GROWN over time and likely will. There are truly vast amounts of fossil fuels available that could be tapped if we had to tap them.

For instance, there’s over a trillion barrels of kerogen/oilshale oil (which is expensive to extract, like Canada’s oil sands) in JUST the Green River formation in Colorado/Wyoming, more than all the world’s proven oil reserves combined. But it sits untapped because oil prices are so low. And practically all of northern Alaska has coal underneath it if you drill to the right depth, 5 trillion tons (~18 trillion tons of CO2), more than four times all the world’s coal proven reserves combined. Source: https://pubs.usgs.gov/dds/dds-077/

America alone has enough fossil fuels in the ground to single-handedly double or triple or sextuple the CO2 level. Add in similar fossil fuel amounts in much of Africa, South America, Russia, Canada, Antarctica, Australia, and the world’s oceans, and the planet would be unrecognizable.

There’s enough fossil fuels (if we tried hard enough) to get the CO2 levels in the 10,000 ppm range where there are serious long term health effects from just breathing the stuff. And psychological effects start becoming apparent at just 500-1000ppm, which we will see by the end of the century or so.

So yeah, we’ll run out of atmosphere to dump the CO2 into before we run out of fossil fuels.

Thanks for the information

Yes. We have more than twenty years of fossil fuel reserves. We need to be carbon neutral in less than twenty years if we want to stay below 2° of warming.

On the contrary, most changes proposed reduce the quality of life, reduce choices, and require rationing and rationed distribution of some sort. It is consistently pointed out that the first world quality of life is a problem and a growing population (which is almost entirely the product of people living longer, considering first-world birth rates are abysmal) is a problem. And it is rarely acknowledged that developing nations contribute greatly to pollution and curbing that would almost certainly handicap their growth (and likely result in various forms of protest, violence, and war).

To simply assign resistance to how humanity uses and consumes energy to oil and coal and car industry and tax income is absurd. General economics is the only surefire way to get the changes we are told are necessary entrenched in society and our way of life. And that means it's technology, not government control and regulation, that is the solution that should be pursued.

Carrots might work. Sticks won't.

Disagree vociferously.

1) A carbon tax is perhaps the most common proposed solution to the climate change problem. It would increase quality of life, not reduce choice nor induce rationing. Currently, burning carbon imposes externalities that are not paid by the emitter. This means that some of the carbon emitted is emitted even though it provides more costs than benefits. A carbon tax and dividend INCREASES economic efficiency by ensuring that CO2 is generated only when benefits exceed costs.

2) oil & gas are extremely useful for a lot of different things, and there's still a lot of it left in the ground. Technology improvements will only shift usage; it will still be used for something. Only a "stick" such as a carbon tax can ensure that such usage is efficient.

The point to remind people, or at least improve the message, is that the tax exposes the actual price of a good.

Right now, we pay for plastic or carbon expensive goods without caring about the cost of dealing with the costs of clean up, or forest fires/storms that cause huge damage.

Right now, it’s a lottery - cheap goods, no information, and everyone in the population is hoping their disaster ticket doesn’t get punched.

However, people prefer making choices intelligently - knowing what it costs to actually deal with a product means people can immediately make choices.

Things are already expensive, we just don’t know how much so.

At least this way, we can make informed choices about how we want to live our life- it empowers us.

How confident are we of the cause/effect relationship between consuming carbon expensive goods, and a fire/storm happening?

I don't care about relating these two tings, because they are an intentionally weak straw-man chosen to hijack the discussion.

Carbon emissions are mostly from transportation and energy production - neither of which are goods. Both have more sustainable alternatives that a carbon tax would easily push people to use via market forces.

The relationship between tailpipe carbon emissions and temperature, and then sea-level rise, is absurdly strong scientifically speaking. Energy accounting is a very hard science. We know what IR bandwidths CO2 gas absorbs, and that translates directly to an additional heat flow. We are watching the northern sea ice disappear because of carbon emissions, and we will witness much more. The most stinging effects will be reduced agriculture output, direct temperature rise consequences, and sea-level rise. The consensus science on sea-level rise (see IPCC) results in extremely quantifiable economic damage within this century, and those are low-ball numbers. The confidence level is simply "confident". There is no reasonable question that things will be as-bad or worse than the consensus predictions. There are reasonable questions about low-probably chances that things will get much, much, worse.

In other words, the confidence level is 100%? As in, we can predict that certain catastrophic events will happen as a matter of fact, and reducing carbon emissions would prevent those events as a matter of fact?

No big decisions have a 100% confidence level, that's an absurd criteria. Catastrophic events are also a bad thing to look at because researchers tend to just stop the detailed simulations beyond a certain horizon (specifically 100 years) because so much changes in the human world on those time frames that people don't take it seriously. The vast majority of truly terrible things that will happen as global warming continues will happen past that time frame. At some point, the metabolism of the plant will draw down the CO2 concentration (if we stop emitting), and this is >1,000 year frame. 100 years tends to not be enough for terrible (and I mean like really truly truly terrible) things to happen due to thermal inertia.

We're going to have to engineer the climate directly if we still want to have an industrial society in 200 years. We will probably do it much sooner. The effects of the combination of more CO2 + artificially decreased sunlight are going to be bad, but are not well understood.

It is true, it's not a question of whether we have consequences or not, just a question of "how bad". That is extremely strongly a function of how much emissions we emit until, say 2050. It's hard for me to even imagine how we can continue using fossil fuels for energy much beyond then, so not reducing emissions also strikes me as kind of... needless self-inflicted harm.

I am not setting a threshold, I just want to estimate the objective confidence level in our predictions.

When you say 'It is not a question of whether we have consequences or not, just a question "how bad"', it sounds like 100% confidence, but then you say that it is not 100%. So is it more like >99%? Or 70%? Or 10%? Or <1%?

And more specifically, what is the probability that reducing anthropogenic emissions to a certain target would result in us averting the predicted catastrophic scenario that otherwise would not have been averted?

Maybe a problem of units?

Sea levels are rising due to the melting of land ice. That's a historic fact, but predicts are concerned with how much it will rise. There is a chance that it will reverse, and before 100 sea level will actually fall. How much probably depends on what factors you allow yourself to consider. For example, I think the most likely reasons this would happen would be due to human geo-engineering or nuclear war. For that, maybe I'd give 0.01% chance. But for it to change course due to natural factors... I'll give 1.0e-6%. Because you know, about every 100M years sounds reasonable for a sudden violent and unprecedented climate movement in Earth's history. The reason this is so tremendously unlikely is because the climate is already hot enough to melt most of the ice, only reason it hasn't is because it takes time. It's a system that's moving on (an abstract form of) inertia.

> reducing anthropogenic emissions to a certain target would result in us averting the predicted catastrophic scenario that otherwise would not have been averted?

I honestly can't read this. Rising sea levels affects people... the more it rises the worse it is. At some point, the rise is catastrophic. The English language is not going to help say "at exactly 1.65 meter rise it becomes catastrophic".

Climate scientists can, and do, connect emissions scenarios to a sea level. It's a much more human activity to connect the change in environment given by a numerical metric to a moral judgement.

> A carbon tax is perhaps the most common proposed solution to the climate change problem. It would increase quality of life, not reduce choice nor induce rationing. Currently, burning carbon imposes externalities that are not paid by the emitter. This means that some of the carbon emitted is emitted even though it provides more costs than benefits. A carbon tax and dividend INCREASES economic efficiency by ensuring that CO2 is generated only when benefits exceed costs.

This paragraph strikes me as falling somewhere between wishful thinking and absolute gibberish.

Perhaps a carbon tax is a good idea but it only "increases economic efficiency" if you perform some sleight of hand by saying "if we keep emitting carbon economic production will drop off due to climate change". That kind of externality is highly theoretical.

"That kind of externality is highly theoretical."

The linked article identifies $50 - $100 / tonne in local & immediate "co-benefits" that aren't linked to climate change.

There are things in the world that matter more than economic efficiency and if you want to argue that limiting carbon emissions will have a positive impact on some of those things, go ahead. I'm on board.

But I see this article, and your post, as people promising free lunches. And when people start offering free lunches, I get real skeptical. I am also skeptical of the ability of committees of experts to make decisions about economic efficiency. To me, this article has a disingenuous ring to it. It reads like people who've made up their mind and are inventing arguments to support their decision.

If there's so much money in "green living" then all of the people on the committee should quit their jobs and go into business. They can improve the world and make money at the same time instead of telling other people how to spend their money.

Yes, I'm arguing that doubling the price of gasoline with a carbon tax and dividend will increase economic efficiency. But claiming that doubling the price of gasoline is a "free lunch" doesn't pass the sniff test. :)

There are many ways we can improve our lives with collective action which cannot be done on the individual level. That's really bedrock to modern society. Virtually everything that you pay a tax for qualifies for this definition, and that amounts of a major fraction of total economic product.

You are others are also comparing apples and oranges. A carbon tax redistributes wealth, it does not destroy wealth, except (speculatively) in 1st or 2nd derivative effects.

If you had to pay $1,000 more per year on energy and got that much more back as a refund check, then yes, you are worse off. Presumably, you re-balance to use less energy. This leaves your spending in a more constrained state. That reduction of economic freedom might be worth -$50 to you, but not -$1,000.

Carbon tax is pure economic foolishness. Imagine there's one pipe with smoke coming out of it, and imagine there's another pipe with a lever. If you pull the lever, bags of money will come pouring out of the pipe. That's the carbon tax. The thinking is that the pipe with the smoke will stop belching, but it won't. There's no direct connection between the pipes. We HOPE drivers will drive less if the carbon tax hits their pocket book, but there is no guarantee. It's like changing the interest rate and hoping the economy will improve.

> There's no direct connection between the pipes. We HOPE drivers will drive less.

There are quite a few studies that show that this actually happens. You can have a look at Google Scholar if you want.

Don;t forget, its not just 'will drive less', it is 'will prefer lower carbon alternatives', etc. Fee and dividend basically makes it expensive to pollute and puts cash in consumers' pockets so that they can afford cleaner alternatives.

I think we should place a royalty on the pipelines, not the pumps. Take 10% from everything that flows down the pipeline, and use that money to drive us into the clean energy age. Where else are we going to get the funds to fix this enormous problem?

The problem with using consumer taxes to fund these things is that the consumer has to consume the planet in order to save the planet. If I don't pay enviro-levy taxes at the cash register, my district can't afford waste removal. If I don't buy enough gasoline, we won't collect enough carbon tax to pay for these wetlands we need to build.

In the end the consumer pays for everything, so there's very little difference placing the tax on the producer or consumer.

> We HOPE drivers will drive less if the carbon tax hits their pocket book, but there is no guarantee.

Gasoline costs twice as much in India as the US, and the average income is far less. People drive a lot less, use public transport, build more densely, and purchase more economical vehicles - small cars, motorcycles, scooters. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) kits are very popular even on passenger cars (LNG being cheaper).

An SUV is virtually unheard of as a family car (unless you're a powerful politician, movie star, or other bigwig) and even a full-size sedan marks you out as rich. I've never seen a pickup truck being driven for passenger transportation.

Why do you think prices don't change behaviors? It's a pretty fundamental facet of human behavior.

> It's like changing the interest rate and hoping the economy will improve.

Don't central banks do exactly that? They cut rates in recessions (to promote spending) and increase them in boom times (to tamp down inflation).

> On the contrary, most changes proposed reduce the quality of life, reduce choices

People keep saying this. I am not really sure what they mean by "quality of life" any more.

"But when you type hangers into Amazon’s search box, the mega-retailer delivers “over 200,000” options." [0]

I don't think that if the number of options was reduced to a handful my quality of life would go down significantly.

[0] https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/05/too-many-...

People keep saying this. I am not really sure what they mean by "quality of life" any more.

I think it's mostly about aspirations to hyper consumerism and reduction of choice. The choice argument very quickly drops to some very US grounded freeeeeeeeedom argument about constraints and the role of society. Once you realise the complainant had no intention of buying a gas guzzling rolls royce or washing their hair in pure benzine, it becomes clearer to me it's opposition to the idea of having to accept limitation, not their impact. It also denies the very high likelihood of increased harms to others by refusing to agree on a middle path. We might need to have less choice to allow Africa and Bangladesh to have more life choices is hugely unpopular.

I don't want to be king btw, or a member of the death committee. But I also know effectively health rationing exists right now. We are not living in nirvana and life affecting choices and decisions are made about us every day.

Deciding to put a twenty year end of life on current oil economics and ending exploration right now feels like a basis for discussion. We have enough sources to get feedstock for pharma and plastics. We might have a huge problem in agriculture and the dependency on artificial fertilizer and insecticide.

Let's say gas increases to $8/gallon in the US. Your choice is either to spend more on gas, buy a new car solely to increase MPG, or spend more time getting to places by walk/bike/public transport. All of which would lower my quality of life. In exchange I guess my health insurance costs eventually go down somehow?

You wouldn't lower your quality of life, just your quality of luxury.

Your quality of life would presumably improve due to cleaner air and less pollution. If you take public transit you are also lowering your carbon footprint and alleviating congestion, improving quality of life for you and everyone else in town. If you walk or bike (I bike every day and find it faster to get to work than driving in rush hour traffic, in fact), you are getting a little cardio out of the deal and improving your quality of life. And presumably if enough people opt to walk/bike/transit, investment in that infrastructure will follow and quality of life in that department will also improve.

The true costs of our luxury goods like a personal car are completely hidden to us. It's important to realize how harmful to quality of life certain luxuries we are accustom to really are.

Do you understand at all how much damage you do to the cause of fighting climate change/environmentalism by playing these silly semantic games? How can I take you seriously when you arbitrarily redefine stuff you don't approve of as 'luxury'?

How can I take you seriously when you arbitrarily redefine stuff you don't approve of as 'luxury'?

It's not approve or disapprove it's afford or not afford in a wider sense than your personal affordability.

I don't disapprove of you or your life choices. I disapprove of a system which necessarily hangs up on this individualistic story against aggregates.

Not wanting to drive (hah) too far on this, the road system you drive on is a state and federal investment. If the heavy goods went by rail andnot road, and we did focus on deisel abatement and NO and particulates reduction you might have upsides.

Is it not generally accepted that a personal car is a luxury? The vast majority of people in the world do not have one.

Yes. Our quality of life will probably go down. That's going to happen. If we do nothing, our quality of life will go down because Florida floods so regularly people mass-migrate out. That'll be a drop in a bucket. Enormous swaths of equatorial and tropical land will be too hot for people to live in (economically/year round). So dozens, hundreds of millions of people now living in Mexico / Bangladesh / India / Syria / Ethiopia / Algiera will be forced to migrate or die. So those people will want to be your neighbors as well.

Your life is going to change. Slowly at first then not so slowly. Your kid's life is definitely going to change. Your grandkids lives will for sure be different from what your life is.

Do we want to start mitigating changes now and avoid the worst case scenarios? Or do we say !@#& the next two generations, no one can tell me my life has to change.

So start living virtuously now, or else the bad brown people will invade?

That's a dishonest reading of what I wrote. To clear up any potential misunderstanding, I have no problem having anyone for a neighbor. I chose where I live in part because our school district has kids where literally dozens of languages are spoken at home.

My point is not that the people who are likely to be caught up in mass migration are bad in any way. My point is that the impact of migrations of dozens of millions will absolutely impact housing, healthcare, jobs, transportation, politics, everything. If the current turmoil we've seen with relatively minor migrations from central America and from Syria are anything to go from, we are in for turbulent times.

Mitigating the impacts of climate change has nothing to do with virtue. It's eminently prudent

If it's about prudence, then stopping trade with China (to reduce transportation emissions), building nuclear, and being able to control immigration would be the solutions, not giving up hamburgers and moving to the hive-city.

Your cherry picking. America will suffocate in its own ordure without immigration and in twenty and fifty year terms your aggregate life choices around sharing wealth will consume you (generically). Not trading with China is a great way to bring on a crisis if you want one.

All of which would lower my quality of life.

Maybe true. But also maybe not true. Your individual state in this is distinct from mine (lifelong user of public transport and cycling) and your neighbours and doctor would very probably disagree about the up and downsides. But I won't deny you feel this now, or that millions of people would feel this. I probably over empathise with different millions of people who don't experience your life and cannot do what you do, but economics say could do better and a lot better if you did a bit worse. How do you feel about that?

carbon tax & dividend means that your choices are:

- use the dividend to pay the carbon tax, and keep driving.

- buy a new car, keep part of the dividend

- walk/bike/transit, keep the whole dividend

But the dividend is per capita? So some poor person who is stuck driving to work gets to reimburse me for my Tesla?

Poor people can't afford vehicles. Poor people currently use the bus. These people would benefit from a tax & rebate scheme.

Context is US, many poor own vehicles.

Repo man. Own a declining asset which stands them in good stead only because public welfare is insufficient. And the asset becomes a liability overnight.

Why are you defending a system which makes low paid workers sleep in their cars?

Yes, it's per capita-ish. As implemented in Canada, rural residents get a bit more than urban, and children get half the amount as adults (paid to their parents, of course).

That poor person isn't taking multiple flights per year, buying lots of stuff, et cetera. So even with driving to work he's probably still keeping a small fraction of the dividend.

They might mean easing meat, or owning a car, or having a vacation, or having AC, or even having hot water.

Sometimes you need both, especially in countries where there's no environmentalist culture and people have too much troubles in day-to-day survival to really have time and incentive to care about global and longterm issues like ecology or climate changes. In my own experience of growing in one such environment, if you give them just carrots, they'll work really hard to come up with a way to trick the system and grab the incentives while changing nothing. For any change to happen the government just has to push by force for certain baseline rules to be imposed on everyone, and then after some time peoples' mindsets adapt to this new set of rules and they start to play along.

I would argue that first world countries can still enjoy the same quality of life (perhaps better) at a fraction of their current fossil fuel usage. Increased consumption does not always translate to increased quality of life. At some point is becomes detrimental.

the history of nations avoiding or failing to avoid various environmental collapse shows that often it has been central government control that provided the solution. sticks have worked. empirically.

Sticks get results. There's no doubt about that. But that road runs both ways.

On the contrary, most changes proposed reduce the quality of life, reduce choices, and require rationing and rationed distribution of some sort.

The current situation will cause widespread mortaility in person years counts if continued. Particulate matter and NO and effects on asthma and childhood mortality are well understood. Simply replacing charcoal with more efficient fuel in rural settings had massive upsides to life expectancy. So, while I absolutely agree your and my life experience will have a smallish decline in choices and quality in some senses, at the levels of populations and nation states it's less clear.

What's your problem with rationing? Didn't it actually improve overall diet and health in the UK in The 1940s?

You've driven to an extreme. Reductionist arguments imply an inability to hypothesize alternates on the path. What about median path reductions in plastics and oil consumption and replacement of individual transport with mass transport? I don't recall a car being in the constitutional rights list.

The problem is that people say they care but they don't want to bare the cost. Politicians aren't stupid, they know this and choose not to do anything about it

> The survey results also suggest that the amount that people are willing to pay monthly varies. Fifty-seven percent are willing to pay at least $1 per month. The share declines with the monthly cost: 23 percent would pay at least $40 monthly, and 16 percent would pay at least $100 each month. However, the fact that 43 percent are unwilling to pay anything underscores the polarization about climate change. Party identification and acceptance of climate change are the main correlates of whether people are willing to pay, with Democrats being consistently more inclined to pay a fee.


Politicians are also in the pocket of the Koch brothers who spend about as much on politics as the Dema and the Republicans[0]. People’s beliefs aren’t an immutable fact that exists in isolation, they’re a product of the propaganda-soaked media environment, which is also part of the problem and has to be changed.

[0]: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/27/us/politics/kochs-plan-to...

There would be cost to ordinary people in developed countries as well. The rapid change needed will probably reduce living standards for a generation with several percentages.

Overall there may be net positive effects for all generations, never in the history of the humanity have masses sacrificed for the whole of the humanity.

No sacrifice should be required. Let's suppose that we adopt a carbon tax with dividend, along with a carbon tariff.

Estimates for the externalities caused by carbon emissions vary widely, but a median estimate is around $100 / metric tonne, so we'll pick that. Gas prices double. Beef, cement and the usual suspects go up in price substantially, although likely gas is the only thing that doubles. Every family gets a cheque in the mail every month for a few hundred dollars (the dividend).

The carbon tariff means that imports from non-cooperating nations go up in price substantially, but imports from nations that have their own carbon taxes or equivalent are not impacted.

What dramatic sacrifices have you made? Normal families will be able to pay their share of the carbon tax with the dividend.

Carbon $100/ton tax+ariff would be incredibly great but,...

Carbon tax would not be Pareto optimal. nobody is claiming it is are as far as I know and there is no reason to assume it is. Some people would lose big.

Large scale disruptions and frictions when economy adapts. Value of various investments will sink when taxation changes. People lose their jobs, some can't find new jobs with similar wage or with less wages. Even house prices will drop outside accessible public transport. Demand for electric cars would increase their price. For example tourism would suffer dramatically when people stop flying.

People in poor countries would suffer the most because their economies are very CO2 intensive.

I claim that carbon tax is closer to pareto optimal then no carbon tax, since without a carbon tax the externalities are not accounted for.

Sure there would be losers, but there would also be winners. You claimed "reduce living standards for a generation with several percentages", I claim there would be a balance between losers & winners and the economic impact would be minimal.

The dividend goes a long way to ensuring that the losers are concentrated among the rich and the average poor person benefits.

You can look at the issue however you want, but at the end of the day somebody is going to have to pay for the renewable energy and carbon sequestration tech.

We can fund them with taxpayer money, which means the average Joe pays, and politicians pick winning (or losing) technologies.

Or we can make the polluters fund them, and let the invisible hand pick the best technologies.

I find the second option much more attractive. And Nobel-prize winning economists agree: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/08/business/economic-science...

I repeatedly agree that carbon tax+tariff would be incredibly great. Somehow the point of what I'm saying is not getting trough and people assume that I argue against tariffs.

In a polarized world looking both good and bad sides of generally good thing is seen as being against.

My point is that if we want to make a real change, we can't realistically expect to fix all negative side effects that even the best solution has. If the overall solution becomes politically possible, we must hammer it trough even if we must throw many good people under the bus.

This is why people are not going along with the far-left proposals. I personally will not reduce my living standard for the sake of some "green dream". How about we wait for a generation and invent the requisite technology? Then, it will be more cost-effective and will out-compete the old stuff.

> I personally will not reduce my living standard for the sake of some "green dream".

(1) It's not a dream, it's the physical world around you. If you like the way it is then action needs to be taken now.

(2) If you will not not willingly reduce your standard of living for a green world, then you will forcibly have your standard of living reduced by a shittier planet. Massive specie die-offs, expensive food, droughts, more frequent bad weather, heat and violence that comes with hotter temperatures, countries panicking and fighting for resources, people panicking and fighting for resources, etc.

We don't have that kind of time. James Anderson, a leading atmospheric scientist who is famous for his research on ozone depletion by CFCs, says we have as little as five years: https://www.sciencetimes.com/articles/23104/20190703/only-5-...

We still need an incentive to invent today to gain the necessary technology for tomorrow.

We don't have time to wait.

We are still locked into unsustainable growth. Developed nations crave more people to stabilize their economies. Completely crazy...

Growth should just be a byproduct of increased productivity and that would allow for population increases. But our current resources just aren't enough, especially for people in first world nations.

Shouldn't democratic governments, i.e. of the people, have a vested interest which outweighs the others?

Unilaterally installing public infrastructure for renewable energy would remove all of the other concerns - forcing the 'vested interests' above to get in line.

Effective governments are already doing this.

> Most abatement cost is huge incumbents ...

The costs have to be high enough to change people's behaviors, and will probably fall on the people who are currently consuming the fossil fuels.

Financial games can do all sorts of things as we work out who is going to be formally treated as responsible for the write-down of lots of assets. However there is no escaping the physical costs of climate abatement; where things that could be done easily with fossil fuels get a little bit harder to achieve.

There are entrenched interests that don't like climate change, but if the alternatives are even in the same ballpark from a financial perspective there would be a stampede of bankers investing for the reduced political risks.

The problem is that people routinely underestimate the scale of vested interest. Bill McKibben famously quantified the problem as the amount of actual capital (as in, can be used as collateral) in the ground for some companies - trillions of dollars worth. But the problem actually goes far beyond this.

The real vested interest is Washington, DC - what is being confronted here is not a few oil companies and their lobbying power; that could easily be overcome, there is a ton of public interest and pressure in fighting climate change. The real barrier is that Washington's imperial power is tied to fossil fuels.

Starting as early as the 1920s there was the recognition that US oil supplies were dwindling (they peaked in 1969 and have been falling ever since), and that the bulk of remaining oil was in the Middle East. This remains the case, although Venezuela is an important new source in the era of not-so-cheap oil. Since that moment, Washington has used control over the Middle East not as a way to get oil, but as a way to exercise imperial control over world affairs.

This is why our foreign policy includes a close, bizarre, and to most Americans anathema, alliance with the repressive, dictatorial, feudal monarchy in Saudi Arabia; one of Obama's signal achievements was selling this regime $115 billion in weaponry. All of this effort, along with the effort of the Iraq War, the Afghanistan war, and the 70-year long campaign to control Iran, was organized to ensure the continuation of American power by maintaining dominance over the global oil supply.

None of this power is possible without this concentration of oil resources. If the world, instead, moves to a decentralized system based on cheap, accessible technologies, the result would be an instant loss of control for Washington. All of the military power arrayed to dominate the Middle East would become irrelevant. This is intolerable.

It is THIS vested interest that we must overcome to fight climate change. Few activists appreciate this; little of our rhetoric around climate change is organized around the war machine. It continues to be along the lines of, "This is just good sense, why can't we have a technology transition, screw the oil companies?"

Without confronting the war machine, without aiming at the real organized power that stands behind our use of fossil fuels, we're unlikely to win.

> the problem is the vested interests.

There is also vested interest at the nation state level. No nation wants to be the only nation to do something serious about climate change. If they were, they would take all the downside, and get none of the benefit.

Some countries are already seeing this. The UK is leading on some emissions control measures, and it's already contributed to bankruptcy of large chunks of it's steel industry.

One solution to this problem is Nordhaus' climate club proposal:


The idea is good, but I think it's conclusions might be based on false assumptions. The modelling assumes that every country has two choices - "be part of climate club, and restrict carbon emissions", or "don't be part of the club, do whatever with carbon, but pay to export goods to club members".

That isn't the case. There is a third option: "Attempt to set up a different club with different rules".

When you model that, the smart move is to be a member of a club which is both big and inexpensive (ie. not many carbon restrictions). Over time, the stable position in this model is no action on anyone's part.

The stablest option of all is "no club". It will take a HUGE amount of interest and pressure and votes and money to create the first carbon club. Any set of countries attempting to create a competing "pollution club" will have to do it in opposition to that pressure. If that pressure isn't sufficient to prevent creation of the "pollution club" it probably wasn't sufficient to create the first "carbon club" in the first place.

Yes, this is true. O&G companies have so much time, money, and engineering invested, it'd be like asking Google, Twitter, and Facebook to give up their monopolies. It may take time, but scrappy upstarts, better batteries, and Gen4 nuclear will eventually unseat them.

Let's be kind to O&G industries that employ and support the livelihood of billions and have helped advance civilization more than any other industry. Their time is coming for disruption - the timeframe is at least a generation.

If we simply stop eating meat, it would be better for us (less cancers due to red meat and pesticides), for the environment (much less pollution, resources consumed, deforestation, CO2 and methane emissions - more biodiversity) and for the animals... so in the end it is obviously way cheaper and better but we always find excuses not to do it.

This viewpoint is expressed often but there are many counter arguments.

Nutrition is not a solved equation. We simply do not know how exactly various foods affect our health, the extent that human genetics and microbiome affect “proper” nutrition for a person, what all the essential nutrients are, what the immunoresponse to various foods are, and any number of unknown unknowns about diet. Any claims to the contrary are irresponsible at best.

You mention biodiversity but seem to be glossing over the role of ruminants in the ecological system, and the severe lack of biodiversity which can be the consequence of large scale crop production.

These and other reasons lead me to be concerned that this viewpoint is to some degree tainted by ideological blind spots.

> You mention biodiversity but seem to be glossing over the role of ruminants in the ecological system, and the severe lack of biodiversity which can be the consequence of large scale crop production.

That is true, but it's very likely the meat you buy was not grazing freely, and instead was stuffed with feed in a feedlot space or sometimes let to graze on a tiny plot to be "grass-fed". This is how the scale of our industrial animal agriculture is met.

[0] https://www.splendidtable.org/story/inside-the-factory-farm-...

> While doing research for his book Pig Tales, author Barry Estabrook visited a farmer in Iowa who raised 150,000 pigs a year. What he saw at this factory farm -- the way 97 percent of pigs in the U.S. are raised -- is a far cry from Old MacDonald's.

> "[The pigs] never see the light of day," he says. "They never set foot on anything but a bare, hard floor. They breathe that poisoned air 24/7."

[1] https://sentientmedia.org/u-s-farmed-animals-live-on-factory...

>According to the latest Sentience Institute analysis, the percent of U.S. farmed animals living on factory farms is…

* Broiler chickens (99.9%) live on factory farms

* Turkeys (99.8%) live on factory farms

* Egg chickens (98.2%) live on factory farms

* Pigs (98.3%) live on factory farms

* Cows (70.4%) live on factory farms

Completely removing meat is not solved. I think we can say with high confidence that Americans in particular eat way too much meat, in way too large of servings, far too often. If you just start having one meal a day without meat, you'll start to feel how odd it is to eat meat 3 times a day like most Americans do.

> Nutrition is not a solved equation. We simply do not know how exactly various foods affect our health, the extent that human genetics and microbiome affect “proper” nutrition for a person, what all the essential nutrients are, what the immunoresponse to various foods are, and any number of unknown unknowns about diet. Any claims to the contrary are irresponsible at best.

Nevertheless the same applies to the way we changed our diets in relatively recent times, and yet that hasn't stopped us.

And there's the whole problem of I don't want to and you're going to have to make me.

My bet is that as soon as there are sensible arguments to counteract your counter arguments, you will come up with new counter arguments.

To resolve this cycle let me propose a radical idea: Tell us when you would change your mind! Then we have something to work towards to.

What is the level of evidence and rigor that you require until you accept that plant based diets generally have better consequences for all beings involved and should be promoted over „western“ heavy meat based diets?

This is not universal.

Yes, the expansion of agricultural land is almost always bad. Unless its expansion into desert, and isn't depleting water (which is almost never the case).

But, sheep, cattle and especially pigs provide useful products in the farming cycle, essential if you want to cut out oil based fertilisers.

Thats not to mention that most of the country side of Europe looks the way it does because if farming sheep or cattle.

Pasture has its own biodiversity. Simply stopping all animal consumption would leave us more dependent on fertilisers in the short to medium term. It would also cause rapid local environmental changes, that would have interesting side effects.

We don’t need ruminants to go away, we just need carbon to be fairly priced so that if factors in the negative externalities that are currently ignored. This will make beef a luxury purchase, which will drive down the level of consumption.

Some of that cost could be offset by incentivizing carbon capturing farming practices like silvopasture and agroforestry. But while healthy pastures can sequester a lot of carbon, it’s nowhere near the numbers of a healthy forest. Ultimately we need to reforest a lot of land, which will reduce the grazing carrying load of the planet, and again make beef more expensive.

I get it: beef is easy, and people love it. So are fossil fuels. You can make a strong argument that both have done a lot of good in bringing the world out of poverty. But, where things stand today, it’s unsustainable.

People tend to focus just on the methane emissions of cows, but that’s probably somewhat solvable with changes to their diets — adding seaweed, etc. The real carbon cost is in land use change, chemical fertilizer production, transport, etc. The majority of our food system is set up to produce feed for animals. And the EPA numbers for agricultural emissions only focus on direct emissions from things like tilling, or gas burned by tractors. The true carbon cost of farming is likely to be much, much bigger than conventional estimates suggest.

There seems to be a fear that a mostly vegetarian / vegan diet is somehow less healthy. I’d argue that there’s plenty of contemporary science on the subject to suggest that it’s just as healthy a way to live, and perhaps even more so. But even if it’s a tossup, there’s an undeniable fact: global warming is happening, and the health effects of that greatly outweigh the health effects that can probably be solved with a couple of supplements. (Anecdotal evidence, but my kids are vegan due to allergies, and they’re thriving. It’s never been easier to be vegan. My parents were for a time when I was a kid, and let me tell you, things have come a long way.)

Luckily there's no risk at all of us suddenly stopping all animal consumption from one day to another. Just getting everybody to eat just a little less meat is already almost too much of a challenge. (This might partly be due to discussions often devolving into these grandiose-but-unlikely visions of a sudden animal-free society.)

That is a very bold claim. If we ignore everything else, then growing and getting enough nutritious plant based food out to everyone would be impossible without years of planning and changing. We cannot grow that much varied crop at the moment and we don't have facilities to process it.

We are on the right track with getting people to switch red with white meat, a single weekly day without meat, ect. But it is with all likelihood not something that we can do over the next decade. It's something we instill in the younger generations and as they grow up it will happen.

I think we're saying the same thing? We're not going to be able to switch everyone to plant-based food without years of planning of changing, so there's no need to worry about that happening - and it's potentially distracting from the thing we hopefully can manage, i.e. instilling in younger generations to eat less meat.

I must be misunderstanding it. I was reading it as a claim that we can switch at the snap of fingers without any risk or issue at all. Apologies if that was not correct.

That was indeed not what I was trying to say; I was trying to say we cannot switch at the snap of our fingers at all, so since we're not going to do that, whatever risk might be associated with that is not relevant to this discussion. Apologies for not clearly communicating :)

This reminds me of all the small dairy farms that used to exist where I grew up. My grandfathers' farm was pretty typical at 100 acres; 40 acres of rough pasture and wood lot ("the back 40"), almost 60 acres of fields that rotated as hay/grain and temporary pasture. Everything self-contained and fertilized with cow manure until the '70s when everything started ratcheting up.

At some point the land would be useless, unless biomass from the outside was added. Every product that leaves the farm is from the land and it's ability to support that cycle will be depleted sooner or later.

That's not how biomass works, biomass is not a zero-sum game. The main issue with sustainable dairy farming is secondary elements and nitrogen fixing. My grandfathers both planted clover in rotation for this reason.

Eventually, the ground will become depleted of phosphorous and potassium. Other trace elements tend to take a really long time to deplete, especially in clay.

That was my point. What we see today in conventional farming is just what your grandfathers did "on steroids". We've become really good at farming, so the depletion happens significantly faster.

For every product that leaves the farm, it takes something from the ground. Some can be amended with legume plants, but minerals will deplete at some point - adding them yearly is responsible farming.

Biomass does come from the outside though on earth - rainfall and photosynthesis are sufficient to increase the mass unless said farm is a closed cycle hermetically sealed dome.

That said it still could run into problems with other requisite elemental depletion in soil even with assistance of things like bacteria. If the plants need calcium and it is all extracted then thr farm would be limited to simpler life that doesn't need any trace elements. If say algae can get by on just atmospheric gas components, water, and sunlight indefinitely then a hypothetical algae farm could run indefinitely. But there isn't much of a market for algae.

I like meat, eat good quality meat 3-4 a week and enjoy it. However I see a bigger problem - insane amounts of food thrown away. Secondary problems imho is good packaging. If I buy 2 bags of food at local LIDL, I have 1 bag of plastic waste at the end. Nobody wants to solve this, zero profit here. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/aug/20/f...

I'm not sure if this is what you were suggesting, but there seems to be some misconception that vegetarians don't like meat.

I like meat, in fact I love it. I used to contribute to a food blog reviewing steak restaurants. I love the smell and (the thought of) the taste. I haven't eaten meat for about five years because of environmental reasons, not because I dislike it.

Not eating meat is such an easy thing for most people to do, the facts are in front of us and it would make a significant difference. It does not fill with me with optimism that most are unwilling to do even this.

Reducing food waste comes in at #3 of ways to reduce CO2, while switching to a plant based diet comes in at #4 [1]. That said, #3 is about agriculture/business waste of food, not what you and I are tossing from our plates.

> "A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork"

Seriously though, the top thing in our control is eating plant based food!

1. https://www.drawdown.org/solutions-summary-by-rank

The GHG effect of Beef is much larger than wasted food, and it's x10 easier problem to solve.

An average cow produces 70 and 120 kg of methane a year, with 1.3-1.5 billion cows worldwide that's 91,000,000 metric tons of methane. That's 2.73 gigatonnes CO2 equivalent. Cows are the worst, if we exterminated every cow on earth it would only be a drop in the annual bucket given that we created 37.1 gigatonnes of just CO2 last year.

Even if you factor in the fertilizer, fuel, electricity used for those cattle and double the number, it still wouldn't come close to putting us carbon negative.

The United States gets roughly 30% of its power from coal, China roughly 70%.

Commercial aviation last year was responsible for at LEAST 0.55 gigatonnes of CO2 last year and in a decade the fuel use is up 30.5%. That's also a low figure for the CO2, it could be as much as 13% higher as there are various types of aviation fuel, it also does not include military figures. By the time you factor in all of electricity and fuel use supporting aviation by non-aircraft sources, commercial aviation is likely as bad as the cows of the world.

Last year in the United States 142.86 billion gallons of gasoline was sold. If it was all consumed that is 1.3 gigatonnes. That doesn't include diesel or kerosene, and that's just the United States... keep in mind China is adding so many new drivers to the road annually that they have a lottery just to decide who gets to sit for a license. As of last year China alone has 369 million registered drivers. If each of them averages 7.45 gallons of gasoline a week they're using as much as the United States.

I'm getting the feeling you think those numbers are supposed to make me give up on fighting climate change and feel like reducing meat is pointless, but if anything, you made and extremely compelling case for removing cow products from our diets. Thanks!

No those numbers are supposed to make you go "Oh my god! We need to stop taking vacations, road trips, ordering crap from China on AliExpress once a week, stop eating fruit and veg out of season unless it is canned, start buying local, stop commuting 20 miles to work each way, stop streaming tens of gigabytes a day and hosting everything on multiple cloud solutions, cut down our beef consumption, reduce-reuse-recycle, garden, buy used, stop buying a new phone/tablet/macbook every 18 months!!! I need to tell all of my friends and family about this, I need to show them the facts, it's going to take a lot more than just me to correct course! And crypto currencies, for the love of god, we have to stop with this nonsnese, it is responsible for tens of TWh of electricity usage!!!"

An estimate that is several years old puts the world at 3 BILLION hours of video games a week. Assume an average of 50w per hour (to factor in handhelds as well as modern consoles on giant televisions and hardcore gaming rigs) and that is 7.8TWh of electricity just for video games, using U.S. electricity source averages, thats' 1.77 gigatonnes of CO2.

Another older figure puts U.S. gamers over the age of 13 spending 6.3 hours a week playing games, this was before games like fortnite so may be higher now. imagine just shaving that in half and reading library books, gardening, taking a walk, using a reel mower instead of a gas powered mower, riding your bike to a friend's house instead of driving, walking to go get your food instead of uber eats... a small change in lifestyle and we could save a quarter or a half a gigatonne of carbon.

Now what if we could get lots of people to make lots of changes!

People, however, generally don't like change and when you have a lot of startups marketing things that rely heavily on fossil fuels - Cyrpto companies rely on massive amounts of processing directly or indirectly (exchanges), cloud-based services have gobs of power hungry servers with data often kept in multiple copies, food delivery services, subscription box services, even more established companies like Amazon encourage impulse buying instead of planning out what you need to buy and getting it once a week or month when you go to the store "get it in 2 hours!" "same day delivery!" "next day delivery!" "free shipping!".

We need a radical shift in companies and consumers or our energy demands, and our greenhouse gas emissions, are only going to continue to climb. Air travel fuel use for example is up 30% in a decade because travel is 'in' and 'influencers' are pushing it with their curated lifestyles and we're just shipping a whole lot more by air, now look at a dozen of other industries and you see similar. When I was a kid in the early 90's it was "4-6 weeks delivery" standard for everything, now you can get a stranger to go to the grocery for you and drive it to your house without leaving your couch because you want some chips and dip.

There's two sides to everything. Have you looked at the downside of not eating meat?

Assuming you adjust your diet instead of just subtracting meat (increase broccoli/beans/lentils/spinach for iron, etc), are there really any downsides? We've had vegetarians for a thousands of years, and I am not aware of have any health problems that are most efficiently solved by adding meat.

Don't eat spinach for iron, spinach is a very poor source of iron...[1] [multiple other sources you can google as well]

And vegetarians struggle quite a bit with getting proper dietary nutrition, not just with iron, but also Vitamin B12, Zinc, Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin D, Calcium, Protein and Riboflavin. So it is not quite just "simply" adjust your diet you lazy meat eater.

[1] https://www.compoundchem.com/2018/07/17/spinach/

> And vegetarians struggle quite a bit with getting proper dietary nutrition, not just with iron, but also Vitamin B12, Zinc, Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin D, Calcium, Protein and Riboflavin. So it is not quite just "simply" adjust your diet you lazy meat eater.

All of those listed able to be met easily by plant based sources with a well balanced diet.

And it's not like the average meat American is eating a healthy diet. I would be shocked if the standard American diet actually met all recommended nutritional intakes.

B12 is only in significant amounts of meat because it is heavily supplemented and present in the soil, today's clean produce strips most of those bacteria from the food supply.

B12 is the one I know a number of vegetarians have trouble getting from plant based sources. I've had trouble with it ages ago, and a friend of mine has been told by his doctor that he has to eat meat because of this.

The solution is really simple, though: eat less meat. We don't need meat every day. Once or twice a week is more than enough, and if everybody did that, it would greatly reduce this problem.

A doctor suggested eating meat to resolve a B12 deficiency? I find that strange. Low B12 is common among meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. It's a bacteria-byproduct and easily supplementable.

This is the first time I've heard that. I know a number of vegetarians who specifically had b12 deficiency, and every single time, the answer was that we could only get b12 from animal products. One of them gets b12 supplements aware that it's the only animal product she consumes.

I checked Wikipedia though, and it agrees with you, which makes me wonder even more why I've heard this exact same experience from several unconnected vegetarians.

Fermented foods like Idli can get you enough Vit B12. No need to eat meat.

Your friend couldn't take a B12 supplement?

Apparently not. I don't know his medical details, though.

Although I do wonder, if we're wrong about B12 only coming from animals, is it possible that we, or possible even Dutch physicians, are under-informed about our options?

> And vegetarians struggle quite a bit with getting proper dietary nutrition, not just with iron, but also Vitamin B12, Zinc, Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin D, Calcium, Protein and Riboflavin. So it is not quite just "simply" adjust your diet you lazy meat eater.

I'm a vegetarian (yes, not a vegan yet) living in India and I'm not deficient in any of these. Also, never have been.

e.g. take the case of protein, I eat pulses almost daily (and a variety of) with rice, never felt I have less protein than required.

Vit B12 - you can get from fermented foods like Idli etc. Also, from the water soaked overnight in rice (actually rice is soaked in water).

Vegetarianism had been practised in India since time immemorial. One can say the food has been perfected here to stay healthy.

Time for a multivitamin?

> are there really any downsides? We've had vegetarians for a thousands of years

Vegetarians are self-selected. We can have reasonably high confidence it would be fine, but we can't be sure, and some people literally will not be able to tolerate it.

> I am not aware of have any health problems that are most efficiently solved by adding meat.

Depends how you define "efficient". There are plenty of nutrients that are most concentrated in meat, such that small portions of meat can replace the need to consume large portions of plant matter.

I always have to pipe in here. I’m probably in a smaller contingent but I’m a male with a B12 and Iron deficiency and the most effective solution has been to eat more red meat (according to my doctor) while taking a daily sublingual methylcobalamin. Even with the supplement if I go too long without making sure I eat some red meat I start noticing the old side effects return. If I don’t I literally lose red blood cells and they’re not replenished. Not so good.

It runs in my family. My poor mother is so bad that she has had to have a couple of blood transfusions because nothing else would bring her back from a bad state when she got there (the alternative being just lie down and die). Supplementation hasn’t helped her many times†. They also rarely eat red meat.

Here’s hoping I or my sister don’t end up the same way. My sister has already devolved to anemic and has had her own complications with that.

† edit: Rereading this it sounds confusing. I meant that supplementation has not helped her either prevent or recover from those cases until after the transfusion where her doctor stressed diet.

There are millions of vegetarians around the world who are perfectly healthy, my family included.

Even if meat is super healthy, I sill doubt factory produced meat is good - with all its chemicals.

I’d guess that most people eat meat because of its taste and because they were raised by their parents to eat meat, and not because they truly believe it is superior to vegetarian food

Not talking about meat vs vegetables being better or not but do you think that vegetables aren't factory produced? Do you think that fruits and vegetables aren't picked before fresh and sprayed with chemicals to make them the 'right' color or slow ripening or keep them from spoiling? There is also the often un-talked about issue of calorie density by weight or volume. All these things need shipped from where they are grown to your store/house. Meat is generally 10 times more calorie dense. So to ship the same calories we would need 10 times the trucks which would have a huge CO2 implication. Fruits and vegetables have tons of fiber and water which are good for us but it costs to ship them. The only way to make fruits and vegetables more weight/volume dense and reduce the fiber would be to blend them up into something akin to a smoothie. But then this will require more chemicals to keep it fresh. Also, I don't want to eat all my vegetables as a liquid so....

In the end, there are hugely interconnected issues and most people take one small facet, extrapolate it to infinity and ignore all the ripple effects and consequences of even the smallest change.

> Meat is generally 10 times more calorie dense. So to ship the same calories we would need 10 times the trucks which would have a huge CO2 implication

Where do those animals get their calories from? And how efficient are they at converting those calories into consumable flesh?

Meat and animal products is a good source for essential nutritional components that you have to make a conscious effort get from a pure plant base diet.

The problem is not eating meat. It's the amount of meat people eat that's unsustainable.

"I would have to think" isn't a very compelling argument here, imo. People eating the standard American diet don't have to think because:

1. That's the most popular diet, and foods have been fortified to add vitamins and minerals the diet tends to be deficient in.

2. Well, they're not exactly beacons of health, anyway.

There are billions of vegetarians in the world. They tend to live longer and have lower rates of cancer and heart disease than their meat-eating counterparts. "Thinking" seems like worthwhile effort.

Including poor people that cannot afford meat in this statistic make your argument seem like you're not serious.

If we take India, which is the country with more vegetarians than the rest of the world combined. It's estimated that 30-40% are vegetarians. A country with a strong cultural history of vegetarianism, religious beliefs that vegetarianism is "right", have the most developed vegetarian cuisine, and a system that makes it super simple to see if something is vegetarian or not - 60-70% still eat meat. If you move to the coast less than 5% are strictly vegetarians.

The issue is not consumption of meat - it's the amount. If you add nuts, beans, and protein heavy vegetables - a family of 4 can get by with 1-1.5kg of meat weekly and make sure all their micro nutrient needs are met without even trying. 1 day with fish, 1 day with red meat, and 1 day with white meat. It's a significantly more achievable goal than cutting meat all together, and it would probably result in a more healthy population than cutting meat all together because it covers all nutritional needs.

> They tend to live longer and have lower rates of cancer and heart disease than their meat-eating counterparts

As far as I've read it's not the meat that causes this, but the lack of vegetables, browning of meat, and addition of processed meat - so while a vegetarian diet solves the problem, you can retain meat in the diet and get the benefit anyway. If you have some peer reviewed scientific papers that show otherwise, I would like to see them because I have papers showing the opposite in abundance.

There are plenty good meat replacements. Plus, you can also exchange some meat for fish. From a diet viewpoint, you can easily do with meat just once a week.

More and more people I know have become partly vegetarian and it seems that the meat replacements are also becoming more popular. But I can't say much about the scale of things.

> it seems that the meat replacements are also becoming more popular

Which is very unfortunate, in my opinion. It might get people to switch to a more animal-friendly diet, but I simply can't think of how meat replacements are healthier than real meat.

What meat substitutes did you have in mind? How about tofu? Compared to say, cured meats, which contain cancer-causing nitrates, and far more heart disease-causing saturated fats, it's got to be significantly healthier.

And they're certainly healthier for the environment.

It really depends on what you call meat replacements. There are vegan dishes that can work as a decent barbecue sausage substitutes and I heard that synthetic-heme-based products can have a meaty feel... it's not like meat in super healthy when abused, so I wouldn't be surprised if a plant-based version could actually be better.

But if health is the main concern, the challenges are far greater than just meat consumption...

This is true in the US; and is becoming true elsewhere simply because meat has become so expensive. I know several friends who have gone vegetarian for a combination of health, financial and environmental benefits. It’s pretty common in progressive circles in the US at least.

This is all of this, but not THE single pressing climate issue, food is the one issue where most people from most economies have already cought up, besides some excessive outliers, there is little to catch up in consumption worldwide and it's still a low percentage on climate impact. The big consumer driven issues by climate impact are all other consumption housing and transportation. If we want to allow the rest of the world to catch up to our standard of living, food choices is not the one area where radical change is needed to make this sustainable.

Well, this is not really true. Animal agriculture is more or less the same total GHG emissions as the whole transportation sector, and it's technically way easier to switch to a vegetarian diet than stopping people from moving or finding new technological avances. So why not start with the low hanging fruits?

? any sources for those percentages. https://www.cgiar.org/news-events/news/fao-common-flawed-com...

My point is that food is the one thing that's globally almost evenly distributed part of economy. And even if we all change diet's, it wont safe anyone's climate, if the rest is catching up with "western" lifestyles at their current emmisions footprint. Pretty much anything else is easier to change technically, if it wasnt for lobbyism.

I grew up in GDR and still had livestock of our own, this not just about food ethics, but also diversity/robustness of food supply in any more fragile economy.

Take a road trip to the central valley and take a look at what's being farmed. Almonds. Cotton for mattress stuffing (too shit a grade for anything else). Lettuce. All very high water use crops that don't give you hardly any nutrition save for the almond.

There are dozens of crops that we can and absolutely should dispense with. The problem with agriculture is farmers don't farm what uses the least resources and brings about the most nutrients per land area, they farm what returns the most. We also subsidize a lot of these crops.

1 liter of almonds milk require about 350 liter of water, while 1 liter of milk is about 1000 liter of water. So, still better to grow almonds than using dairy. Soy and oat are also better than almonds milk.

The problem is these alternatives need to have other nutrients added to them and be fortified with the things they lack compared to milk.

Go and look at a decent resource like nutrition data and compare what you get with milk vs the alternatives. Milk is far more nutritionally dense, and I'm not just referring to calories/macros. It has vitamins, a lot of minerals, and even omegas.

> less cancers due to red meat

This is the first I’ve heard of this, how strong is the link?

>Red meat was classified as Group 2A, probably carcinogenic to humans. What does this mean exactly? In the case of red meat, the classification is based on limited evidence from epidemiological studies showing positive associations between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer as well as strong mechanistic evidence.

>Limited evidence means that a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer but that other explanations for the observations (technically termed chance, bias, or confounding) could not be ruled out.[1]

## Bonus content on processed meats ##

>Processed meat was classified as Group 1, carcinogenic to humans. What does this mean? This category is used when there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. In other words, there is convincing evidence that the agent causes cancer. The evaluation is usually based on epidemiological studies showing the development of cancer in exposed humans.

>In the case of processed meat, this classification is based on sufficient evidence from epidemiological studies that eating processed meat causes colorectal cancer.

[1] https://www.who.int/features/qa/cancer-red-meat/en/

>Red meat was classified as Group 2A, probably carcinogenic to humans.

They classified coffee, mate, and "very hot beverages" the same way. I'll worry about red meat the exact same way I worry about coffee: not at all, and enjoy every bit I consume.


Here is some work looking at a possible connection between contact with bovine viruses and colorectal cancer. I wonder how many of human cancers are caused by viruses.


Pretty strong; red meat is classified as a probable cause of colorectal cancer. Canadian Cancer Society recommends reducing red meat intake. Processed meats are classified as a Group 1 Carcinogen.

Be careful there. A probable cause doesn't tell you anything about rates. Alcohol is a probable cause as well, and from what I can tell is more likely to cause cancer than meat.

Be careful? This advice makes no sense.

I'm going to go with the Canadian Cancer Society on red meat. They also, as a matter of fact, say alcohol is carcinogenic and to use alcohol in moderation.

Be careful because risk level isn't included in there.

Almost certainly. I don't think anyone was making the case that meat is more dangerous than alcohol though.

Even just eating less beef would make a big difference; it has a much higher carboon footprint than other forms of meat: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-46459714

It's a good litmus test. If we can't convince people to switch beef for chicken we're doomed.

You thought climate skeptics had too many "we don't know the full story..." type arguments? Trying convincing people to give up meat, as you're experience now.

"Other people give up their SUVs" is easy sell to people who don't drive SUVs.

Statements like this just prove that climate change is intellectual Puritanism adapted to the 21st century- we're doomed unless we all live lives of ascetic contemplation the way Emerson or Cotton Mather would have advocated.

I'm not a vegetarian myself, however I only eat meat products one per week. I can tell you that there's plenty of alternatives that taste good. To name a few Quorn[1] and Beyond Meat[2] and from what I read Impossible Food[3] as well.

So with the help of tech, we'll find less and less excuses not to switch, at least partially, to a plant based diet.

[1]: https://www.quorn.co.uk/ [2]: https://www.beyondmeat.com/products/ [3]: https://impossiblefoods.com/food/


I don't need an "excuse" to continue eating meat. I like it, I eat measured amounts in a health way, and don't believe in this "veganism is healthier" nonsense. I'm going to continue eating it unless some one gives me a darn good reason not to.

I somehow doubt that people who aren't convinced by "we'll keep a planet where humans can live" will be convinced by "more benefits".

That cartoon is in the main article.

I think I should probably remember to read these article thingies before commenting.

There's not going to be anything cheap about fighting climate change. We need to start removing 35-40 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere immediately if we want to retard, and begin to reverse, what we've been adding the past several decades. To do that, we're going to have to cease using fossil fuels entirely. China gets 70%~ of their power from just coal and is building hundreds of new coal plants, the United States gets about 60% from fossil fuels (about half of which is coal). China is adding millions of new drivers to the road annually, they have so many new drivers that there is a lottery system to 'win' a spot to test for your license.

Then we have the problem of 1.3-1.5 billion cows. An average cow produces 70 and 120 kg of methane a year. That's 91,000,000 metric tons of methane. Methane is roughly 30x more potent at trapping heat. So conservatively that is 2.73 gigatonnes CO2 equivalent which doesn't include the fuels used to transport them and their feed, the fertilizer manufacturing to fertilize the fields that grow the grain they eat, the cost of refrigerating/freezing their meat...

Over-fishing and acidification is killing off large seaweed and kelp 'forests' in coastal waters, those 'forests' handle a good deal of carbon sequestration.


Let's just look at a hypothetical. Say we outright banned ALL air travel:

Something like 95 billion gallons of aviation fuel was used last year, that has gone up every year without fail for a decade - it was only 66 billion in 2009. Depending on the type of fuel you're looking at 0.55+ gigatonnes there last year.

A tree, highly dependent upon species, can absorb as much as 48 pounds of CO2 per year. That means you need at least 36.3 million trees.

Healthy forest has 40 to 60 trees per acre. That means at least 946,031 square miles of forest, just to offset last year's commercial air travel.

There's nothing easy about fighting climate change. :(

I suggest looking into advanced weathering: http://www.innovationconcepts.eu/res/literatuurSchuiling/oli...

According to that pdf we can offset all human emissions for $250 billion per year by mining/crushing/spreading olivine rocks.

I know planting trees has been in the news lately but if we want to tackle climate change and especially ocean acidification we should accelerate the same natural process that brought the earth back into equilibrium after mass extinction events occurred. In the past it wasn't trees that did it, it was weathering of exposed limestone/olivine rocks that sucked up excess carbon.

"Get out of your SUV and turn off your air conditioning" is an easy solution to people who don't drive SUVs and live in SV.

Tell them to stop satisfying their taste buds? Tell them that much of the developing world will have to suffer? Does not compute. Can't we just make the rich pay for it somehow?

Environment is now an emotional, political, and identity issue, not a rational one.

Why is this being downvoted?

Because people don't like to confront the reality of the problem.

“It is worse, much worse, than you think.” - David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth

Worse still - the problem is worse then you think and the solutions are more complicated then you suppose. If you stopped all air travel it might make emissions go up. It might reduce economic growth that makes implementing other fixes harder not easier.

There's a reason all of these emissions are produced - it's pleasant to imagine that it's all about things that don't really matter - does some rich guy get a sports car or an econobox - but I genuinely don't believe it's that simple. Instead it's a series of complicated decisions about productivity, value and risk.

Honestly, there is a very hard evidence requirement for anybody claiming the world has already ended. I just looked out of the window, it seems to be still there.

Because it's basically saying we need to shut down the economy and resort to cannibalism.

I skimmed the article and didn’t see a single mention of nuclear.

The article can be safely ignored - nuclear is the only feasible solution regardless of your position on global warming.

Sometimes these comments make me think there are nuclear shills being paid to write overly pro nuclear comments. I agree we need way more nuclear, however its costly and very slow to bring online, so it clearly won't decarbonize our economies in the 5 to 10 year time span. Anyone who thinks it's the only solution is just ignorant of the energy industry.

Like seriously, parent commenter, tell me how new build nuclear is doing in the USA. How about South Carolina's massive debacle? You think that is the only feasible path forward?

> I agree we need way more nuclear, however its costly and very slow to bring online

The other poster is correct that this is a regulatory issue. Other countries can bring nuclear power plants online in under 5 years, where it takes almost 15 in the US IIRC.

There is nothing that will decarbonize our economy in 10 years. Comparing nuclear power to magic isn't useful.

It's costly and slow because of massive over-regulation and American regulators' retarded approval of new generations of technology. And no, there are no nuclear shills; wind and solar are not feasible nation-wide. They require a massive overhaul of the electric grid and a change in our consumption model of electricity, which no one wants (nor should he have) to do.

The article also doesn't mention solar, wind, electric cars or any other mechanism for fighting climate change. It's about the benefits, not the mechanism.

I'm not highly educated on this subject but you seem to be (as evidenced by your strong claim). Do you have evidence or resources for which I could education myself on why nuclear is the only feasible solution to any position regarding global warming (including that global warming doesn't exist)?

nuclear is a part of a feasible solution, it's neither the solution, nor the only solution.

It's really hard to build nuclear reactors and train operators fast enough to prevent catastrophe. Renewables are much easier to build and provide immediate benefits. It doesn't take ten years to put up some wind turbines.

I am surprised at the skepticism in this thread from tech people. Dozens of startups recognize the limitless opportunity and inevitability of nuclear power.

We’ve already seen two successful Green New Deals - France in the ‘70s and Sweden in the ‘80s. Both deals were built on a backbone of nuclear power.

We all want clean, limitless energy to grow the economy and protect our environment. If California and Germany had spent $680 BILLION on nuclear instead of “renewables”, they’d already be living in the future.

I think that even the idea of climate change turns many people off. It's likely not a binary choice, but altruism and egoism play a role in people's opinions about big issues. Whether it's imagination or experience, the altruists believe in something in addition to a sense of self that overrides repugnance or disgust to situations which lack an obvious means of individual control or guaranteed end results.

What health conditions are caused by climate change? The article shows a kid wearing a mask, but air quality is not climate.

The main problem near term is tropical diseases spreading. Eventually we'll have trouble feeding people and will likely have to abandon some regions because temperatures become deadly without AC.


Cleaner air is a side effect of many, but definitely not all, climate change mitigation mechanisms.

The article is about unrelated beneficial side effects of climate change mitigations, so you're essentially reiterating the articles point.

air quality is affected by the same things as climate change. reducing the cause of climate change will also improve air quality

Action on climate change is not about a reasonable discuss. I mean we can save the future of the earth for lets say worst case 20% of our productivity and it is not like the money will be just gone, it will just go to other people.

And that is the point, the people that are benefitting from the current system wants to do so as long as possible and are powerful enough that governments listens mostly to them.

Also it is a coordination problem Moloch style: https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/meditations-on-moloch/

When people fret about the economic cost of transitioning to a low-carbon economy in the US, I think of two things:

1. The enormous amount of low-hanging fruit for energy savings in the US - huge poorly insulated houses, fuel guzzling cars and development patterns, ancient fossil fuel plants subsidized past their useful lives

2. Tens of trillions spent on Iraq and Afghanistan.

If we were somehow ok with that money going up into smoke (or the pockets of the defense industry), then surely we should be able to spend the same amount transforming the economy into a sustainable one and rebuilding our infrastructure, with the bonus of a huge domestic stimulus and job creation and technology program.

We have the technology today, we know the solutions, the problem is political.

Yeah, that is what I was trying say. The money is available but we choose to spend it on other things that seem less important but have powerful vested interests behind it.

If we spend it on fighting climate change instead someone else will get that money, and the people currently getting it is not going to let them happen without a fight.

"it is not like the money will be just gone, it will just go to other people."

I don't think that's true. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_broken_window

There's an opportunity cost being paid and it's going to no one.

Nordhaus's climate club plan solves the global coordination problem.

nice article

Re: the title - How could it be MORE beneficial than we think? Who thinks that literally saving the world is anything less than highly beneficial?


"more beneficial than we think"

I mean, apart from the whole not dying in a mass extinction event within our lifetimes...

Who is predicting a mass extinction event within our lifetimes?

e: I'm aware of the Holocene extinction. And as far as I'm aware there are no credible predictions that Humans will share the same fate within our lifetimes, which the parent was implying.

Not predicting; if you’re measuring the rate of extinction of species we are very much in it and to a degree that’s on par with the greatest extinction events in earths history. The only question here is whether we will survive: given our dependency on oxygen and food produced by natural processes that is by no means certain. Furthermore the length of “our lifetimes” isn’t clear any more due to advances in technology.

There are researchers starting to connect the dots on near-term human extinction. A good summary is 'The Uninhabitable Earth' by David Wallace-Wells: http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-...

No need to predict, the insects are going through a mass extinction event right at the moment.

We're already in a mass extinction event and the effects of climate change are just slowly being felt


No one is predicting it because predictions are usually about the future.

> apart from the whole not dying in a mass extinction event within our lifetimes...

Each of as will die anyway so I doubt if anyone can treat not dying in mass extinction as a real benefit.

But clean air, fresh water, free energy, bike paths in place of roads, walking in a forrest, less trash, diving in reefs that ain't bleaching to death - this is more motivating for me.

That's an asinine logic.

Why limit yourself to climate change? You can apply this to anything. Work safety, seat belts, you name it.

> Each of us will die anyway, so I doubt if anyone can treat not dying in a car accident/ work related accident / fire as a real benefit.

How would an early death for some future generation of ours not be motivating to avoid, if possible? I'd rather my kids or grandkids, etc, not have to live on a planet with an unlivable climate situation.

I guess people have different attitudes and motivations. If you want global action you should motivate most people not just similarly minded.

Also many people are motivated by visible change rather then abstract concepts I think.

"Future for my children" isn't exactly that abstract to most people...

You'd think that then you look at the way older people as a bloc vote in ways that shaft their offspring.

depends, some people don't have the privilege to be thinking decades ahead if their worry is getting enough food to live through the next week.

And yet people voted for social security, medicare, medicaid, and other entitlement programs which caused us to borrow twenty trillion dollars. Not exactly doing the next generation any favors.

The children and grand-children of the wealthy people that makes these decisions won't directly suffer the consequences of global warming.

They are too rich for that, it's not like humanity will be wiped out. Only the billions unable to move from disaster-stroken areas will.

Their world will be worse too, depending on societal changes maybe even considerably so.

Forget about future generations, people knowingly do many things that harm themselves in the future in exchange for gratification now. People can say they care about the future, but how much is actually shown in their actions.

Clean air, fresh water, walking in a forest, less trash, and diving in reefs I'm on board with. But free energy? What does that even mean? Who is going to produce that? Unless you mean something like solar, which though it has zero marginal cost, still has significant cost of installation. And bike paths in place of roads? How are we supposed to move goods via bike? I don't see why you would replace roads. What's wrong with electric cars? Many of us don't want to live in some tiny urban bubble, and want to go where we want on our schedules, not wait for a bus.

By 'free energy' I meant solar, wind or heat pump. With enormous progress and components getting cheaper and cheaper my house has energy for 'free' off-grid (with exception of heating in the winter that uses stove).

As for bike paths in place of roads please watch this short movie about Utrecht https://vimeo.com/344373585

Also my country is a transit country between East and West of Europe. And for last 30 years we only hear will be replaced by rail (trucks loaded on rail cars on the border and unloaded on another). Nothing gets done.

Electric cars still pollute cities with 2.5PM, plus need parking space etc. Cities ain't no place for private cars in my opinion.

Continual shoulder rubs would be motivating to me, that doesn't mean I get to force other people to do what they don't want to do.

Or raiding our neighbors for their cattle because we've been in an extended drought and see no other way to survive.


I think the all the proposals inflight and their associated debates are warranted.

I've read that the oceans end up absorbing majority of the CO2 emitted, if that's the case, I haven't seen anything (to my knowledge) that goes towards accelerating this in a sustained way for the marine ecosystem.

The oceans are far larger and I suspect will have less issues with rolling out methods of coping with CO2 i.e won't disrupt jobs or or ways of life.

Does it make sense to attack the problem that way? It has the potential to scale much more quickly. Is there a company attacking this sorts of issues like SolarCity?

Right now increased CO2 in our air is making the ocean more acidic. (Basically, go buy a plain seltzer and then let it go flat. That acidic taste is what's happening to our oceans.)

I vaguely remember a carbon capture scheme that takes advantage of this. I think it basically accelerates the act of carbon settling in the bottom of the ocean as a particulate matter.

(Granted, I'm not an expert and someone who knows more can probably explain more.)

I'm surprised at the downvotes considering this link is on the HN frontpage right now:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20403570 https://projectvesta.org/

Probably doesn't make sense to do that, no: https://news.mit.edu/2019/carbon-threshold-mass-extinction-0...

Ocean acidification causes a lot of problems. We depend on those ecosystems too.

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