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What if we stopped pretending the climate apocalypse can be stopped? (newyorker.com)
83 points by hundt 38 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 138 comments

The thing is, it's already too late to prevent pretty terrible effects of climate change, but it's not too late to stop it from getting even worse. Every tenth of a degree can make a world of difference. So while we will most certainly not stay below 1.5°, the difference between 2 and 3 degrees is huge, and the efforts we make today decide in what world we'll live in. Resigning to the inevitable now is a surefire recipe to get to the absolute worst case scenario where the survival of our technological civilization is very much uncertain.

It is, we don't live in a system that would allow us to prevent things getting worse.

But would there be a difference between 5 and 6?

From what I understand no - warming by 5 degrees will cause all phytoplankton to die off and as a result we'll run out of oxygen(not immediately of course, but we inevitably will).

Wouldnt it be a really really long time to run out of oxygen?

“What would happen if we combusted every living cell on Earth?” it asked. That is, Peters wanted to know what would happen to the atmosphere if you burned down not just the Amazon, but every forest on Earth, every blade of grass, every moss and lichen-spackled patch of rock, all the flowers and bees, all the orchids and hummingbirds, all the phytoplankton, zooplankton, whales, starfish, bacteria, giraffes, hyraxes, coatimundis, oarfish, albatrosses, mushrooms, placozoans—all of it, besides the humans.

Peters pulled up the next slide. After this unthinkable planetary immolation, the concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere dropped from 20.9 percent to 20.4 percent. CO2 rose from 400 parts per million to 900—less, even, than it does in the worst-case scenarios for fossil-fuel emissions by 2100. By burning every living thing on Earth.


The world was once 8C to 14C hotter than it is now (during the Eocene) and it didn't run out of oxygen. In fact, this was the epoch when modern mammals took over the world.



Prehistoric warm periods didn't happen as fast as what we're doing. If you give nature thousands of generations to adapt to warmer temperatures it's not as big of a deal. If you do it over a hundred years or so, ecosystems have a much harder time to adapt.

Ecosystems can adapt very quickly with a little help.

We often see just a few members of an invasive species transplanted into a favorable environment multiply and spread and end up dominating the local ecosystem in far, far less than a hundred years. Let's use that to help ecosystems adapt to climate change.

We have pretty poor experience with trying to help ecosystems. Let's hope that we don't have to resort to that.

How long do the pessimistic projections say we have until 5 degrees?

Yes and we still have a good chance to keept it well below 5. For most technologies emitting CO2, we now have emission free replacements, so if we strongly push for using them, we do have quite a fighting chance.

> if we strongly push for using them

What do you mean by that?

Make the transition to those technologies a top priority in each sector. Like installing solar and wind energy as fast as it can be done. House heating should be done with heat pumps in most locations, so any new heating system installed should be low CO2. Make a big push for electric cars. Norway is at over 50% electric in the new cars already. But for that, the car manufacturers need urgently to ramp up their production capacity for electric cars.

1. Even if we can't completely prevent it, we can stop it from being much worse.

2. Regardless of the climate changer factor, polluting the air causes cancer, damages ecosystems, harms our food supply, etc.

The mentality of "we can't prevent it, so why bother trying" is like accidentally shooting yourself in the foot, and when finding out it'll have to be amputated, proceeding to shoot your other foot because "what's the point?".

Did you read the article? That's not what it's about at all. The author is saying that we aren't going to "stop" climate change. So instead we should be strategizing how to proactively invest in systems (both natural and man-made) to make them more resilient in the face of changes to come.

Which all conveniently line up with one major political platform. "If you frightened by the coming climate cataclysm, then you should also agree with me on everything."

It's very well-written, but it's not rational. The content is more political than scientific.

It doesn't matter in the least if you agree with a candidate on everything. This one specific subject should be a deal breaker though, regardless of just about any other stance. Your opinion on free market is irrelevant in the face of Extinction.

To be clear: I'm referencing to the part of the article where the author irrationally asserts that [list of one party's policies unrelated to the climate] are related to the climate.

Hence "more political than scientific."

Alarmism only discredits the effort to respond to climate change.

Why? If people are not alarmed, they won't take the necessary extreme measures and extreme and global measures is what we all need.

People become desensitized to it, unfortunately.

Mostly policy is necessary though, and politicians love half-hearted efforts.

People just don't believe it, largely thanks to past alarmist warnings (like An Inconvenient Truth) that have already proven false.

What can you really call alarmism at this point, though? We passed 400 PPM in 2016. Even the best-case scenario is incredibly alarming.

Deciding on what choices to make in response to the climate changing is inherently political. Science can inform the process but can't tell us which selection of responses is "most valid".

It would be really nice though if politicians would trust scientists to tell them which "solutions" don't actually solve the problem at all.

Certainly true but decidedly not unusual. To the degree I'm a climate change skeptic it's largely because everyone seems to be using it as a stick to beat some political horse.

Is climate change more of a scientific problem, or a political one? Will the problem de-materialize as soon as some scientists finally figure it all out?

Most versions of the Green New Deal that I've seen heavily incorporate resilience into the plan, it's not solely focused on trying to reverse climate change.

The best systems to proactively invest in are renewable energies and technologies that reduce our energy demand, like building insulation, heat pumps, and electric cars.

Yep, this is advisable by at least one actual scientist, too: https://medium.com/otherlab-news/decarbonization-and-gnd-b8d...

Also eating less or no meat helps on an individual level.

The survival of our technological civilization is very much uncertain. It has been since the nuclear age. If someone wanted to take meaningful action, they would be sinking container ships. In aggregate, they contribute to more pollution (of all kinds), than most singular countries. Nobody is going to war over this, so it's inevitable. If it's inevitable, it's not healthy to pretend otherwise. The earth will survive, humans will survive, and maybe technological action will allow us to terraform the earth in a different or unexpected way (eg Snowpiercer).

This "debate" about what to do is always toothless and desperate and pointless until the death toll starts to mount. Even then, the wealthy will make the same old arguments about irresponsibility and willful ignorance of those with nothing, blaming the victims, which seems to work generation after generation...until finally we get multinational instability and with smaller populations, some semblance of change too late (eg states of the USSR) to recover from the devastation. What's the mini-state of lower california going to do about 150 degree weather and no water? Nothing.

Serious question: I always see 'humans will survive' in these kinds of posts. Why? We know most of the past species are extinct, we are in the middle of a mass extinction event, the climate crisis hasn't even fully begun, and there are other serious problems coming.

So I don't want to be negative, but I do want to stay realistic. Does someone know why humans will survive, and on which time scale this prediction is valid .

People have been inhabiting the Arctic for millennia, and that's a pretty inhospitable place. Granted, it's technologically easier to heat than to cool (just eat lots of fat)

We don't have reliable data that an advanced civilization of our level (yes, we're advanced comparing to many our ancestors) goes extinct. Particularly for reasons like this. So we naturally not sure. On the other hand, we see some examples of wonderful inventiveness - say, in time of a war, but also in time of great geographical discoveries, technology and science achievements etc. So for many it feels like an open question.

As for validity time scale, I'd like to see research myself.

We have some examples. Just look at Petra and some Mayan cities... They fell because climate stopped spring people there - they ran out of water and fell to either starvation or disease.

Mostly they moved elsewhere, but on planet scale that would be much more problematic.

If push comes to shove a breeding population can survive for millenia in underground caves huddled around breeder reactors.

Citing a post in this same discussion: warming by 5 degrees will cause all phytoplankton to die off and as a result we'll run out of oxygen. So no, that's not enough.

Even if it would be, how would you feed these people? How would their underground cave get power for light etc in a CO2-negative world?

AFAIK, the 'biosphere 2' experiment and the experiences with the space stations demonstrated humanity is not capable of surviving long term without mother earth. There are plenty of unknown unknowns.

Breeder reactors are really nice in that they produce lots of energy that you can use to produce food and oxygen. Biosphere 2 was a hippy project that tried to reproduce a complex ecosystem that nobody really understood. The Russians had much more pragmatic approaches. For this project https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BIOS-3 it's much easier to see how it could scale up to true self-containment.

Interestingly, from a technological standpoint, container ships could switch to nuclear propulsion tomorrow if they wanted to. The 2 main reasons they haven't is the large up front cost, and the fact that very few nations like the idea of a ship with a nuclear reactor being highjacked by pirates.

> 150 degree weather

Now that's a hyperbole.

> No water

Invest in desalination, like Israel and other rich middle eastern countries.

> 150 degree weather

I guess that depends on what you consider "weather" If I said "ground temperature", would it matter to the discussion? 60C (140F) was the Average temp in the triassic. With the amount of water in the air plus the carbon dioxide, I expect to see that in places a couple generations after I die...which is the time period I've referenced (political instability).

The highest ground temperature recorded was 201 degrees at Furnace Creek on July 15, 1972, according to the National Park Service. The maximum air temperature for that day was 128. All types of bad things happen at that point. Water evaporates rapidly at 150, so who cares where the water comes from. It's gone or containers rupture as it turns gaseous. What temperature the air is, doesn't matter.

When people talk about "temperature" they mean air temperature, look at any weather forecast. Human survival is largely dependent on air temperature. While water does evaporate faster at 150 than at, say, 100, it is still well below boiling and not hard to contain -- 150 is a somewhat cooled cup of tea/coffee. Underground piping will be much colder than ground temperature.

At any rate, temperature increase forecasts for the next 100 years are all in the O(1 degree C) range. There are many reasons to mitigate climate change/decrease green house gas output/fight pollution, but let's not spread FUD.

There are now 3 positions in american discourse on climate change:

1. It's not happening / not real

2. It's happening and we can still prevent it

3. It's happening and it's worse than we all think

Externalities aren't correctly priced into our market and we're suffering the consequences.

I think there is a 4th position not in discourse:

  4. Im so old i will die before it kills me,
 and im rich/influential enough to buy a comfortable situation for myself until that day.
or alternatively, "Its Not My Problem."

There’s another somewhat marginal position of: change is happening and it’s not “the apocalypse”

"Externalities aren't correctly priced"

If you can say that, it follows that you have calculated or are aware of the correct price. So, I really want to know - about what is the correct price of the externalities of a gallon of gas that aren't included in, say, the retail price in California? Is it closer to $0.01, $0.10, $1, $10, $100, or $1000?

The problem is akin to computing value of human life. If you burning gasoline will kill 3 humans and make life a misery for 20, what's the proper price?

Many would argue it's infinity. It's not safe to continue burning fossils in any way, shape or form, not burning fresh biomass either. Reclaiming biogas is probably the only sane way of burning anything now... (Prevents methane releases.)

Unfortunately most people don't or can't run moral calculations like this.

If you don't or won't run calculations, that's fine.

Using the word "externalities" though means you will and did and you accept the use of numbers which are not "infinity" and can be compared to other numbers.

When you give away that you don't care at all about the meaning of the words you use to try to get leverage, it might as well be the buzzing of gnats.

You can't take language wholly as a means to manipulate people and be transparent about it and expect it to continue to work.

Anyone who actually believes that the damage done by burning one gallon of gas is "infinity" would be willing to sacrifice humanity to avoid it. But I'm not interested in debating whether that's a correct ethical perspective! You're entitled to feel whatever you feel.

My irritation is with people who appropriate economic jargon without the least intent to communicate the ideas a word denotes. To me, destroying the communication value of a word, is like some sort of semantic atrocity.

(note, "you" is the generic you, I'm not blaming you for the original poster)

I think it's about $1.40 given the price of sucking CO2 from the atmosphere estimated by Carbon Engineering.

The third option should be more contrasted with the second one. It's: 3. It's happening and we can't prevent it so there is no point doing anything.

People that refuse to consider changing their lifestyle will happily leap frog from 1 to 3.

To stay sane of course. Dying from climate change isn't that different from dying of old age. If every day you remind yourself that you are going to die one day then you are putting yourself under mental stress. If it is hopeless as the title implies and there is nothing you can do to stop it, then thinking about climate change will just make your life worse than it already is.

I'm actually optimistic that it's possible to prevent the worst effects of climate change from a technological standpoint but I have no hope that we can resolve the prisoners dilemma. Making a quick buck is simply too easy.

"Some climate activists argue that if we publicly admit that the problem can’t be solved, it will discourage people from taking any ameliorative action at all... But the impending catastrophe heightens the urgency of almost any world-improving action... these are all meaningful climate actions"

1) Argues that giving up hope does not mean the end of attempts to ameliorate warming.

2) Proceeds to define 'climate action' so broadly that just everything is a climate action, which will disperse and confuse efforts so much, no action on climate will be taken.

No meaningful action is being taken on climate change: https://climateactiontracker.org/

How is this article's position going to make that worse?

It ensures that no meaningful action will be taken in the next years either.

How are you so sure of that?

We've been trying it your way for 40 years and gotten nowhere https://www.reddit.com/r/comics/comments/c5rjs2/its_that_eas...

Maybe telling everyone the truth at this late stage will produce some kind of meaningful reflection. Even it doesn't, it'll still just be the status quo.

"It's too late for meaningful action" doesn't sound like a slogan that inspires unprecendented change.

Yes but at the same time not enough people truly believed scientists when they said it was critical, so maybe people won't quite believe the "point of no return" aspect either, and will just react from the remorse of having fucked up the ecosystem. I'm not advocating that approach (yet) but just want to point that it's not a guaranteed failure.

I think no-hope talk might have a paradoxical motivating effect and in a way conveys how bad it could be if we get anything south of a median scenario.

Unlikely. e.g. see the comments here on HN.

Jonathan Franzen is not an expert in the possible effects of climate change.

He's an expert at writing novels in which everyone sounds like they have a Creative Writing MFA from Swarthmore.

This is silly.

The book "Superfreakonomics" had a chapter on simple, cheap solutions to problems, and suggested one for global warming -- there was a 'year with no summer' in which a volcano introduced chemicals into the atmosphere (sorry, I don't have the details handy) which cooled down the earth, and that we have huge amounts of the stuff as a waste material -- we'd just need to put it into the upper atmosphere.

Now, I see that the science is disputed, and I understand that there'd be political problems with who controls the thermostat, but the idea was really cheap -- something like $40 million to get going and a million every year to continue. Way cheaper than government initiatives that haven't actually done anything.

Why can't we pursue something like this, or even try them out?

Because we don't understand enough to be sure it wouldn't cause unintended negative side effects.

I read that one possibility is less rain. Which is obviously something we don't want. It's already not enough.

We don't understand enough to ensure anything we've done wouldn't cause unintended negative side effects but as it stands we're headed for utter destruction so doing something might be better than nothing.

No. Doing wrong things can be much worse than doing nothing. If you kill off too much biosphere for example, there goes humanity.

Volcanos tend to throw a lot of sulfur in the air which is deadly. We could disperse dust in other ways, but the risk is that we'd increase albedo of Earth and cook it even more.

I have heard meat-eating car-drivers push this line of thinking for at least two decades. You know the sort of person: willing to rag on the republicans or the Koch brothers for being bad, but ultimately unwilling to do anything except moan about how it is all too hard.

The billionaires choose the song, we only dance to it.

Unless you fancy a cardboard box under a viaduct.

...until it's so far gone folks start reaching for pitchforks or constitutionally enshrined assault weaponry.

Individual decisions are not going to affect economic signals meaningfully.

How many Brazillian ranchers stop clear-cutting if you or I go vegan? The impact on their market is essentially immeasurable.

In contrast, a state level policy can move the needle. If the rest of the world slaps a $10/kg tariff on Amazonian beef, their business collapses rapidly. Of course, then we get into unknown consequences where we don't know what they'll try next to salvage the wreckage of the industry.

If you think individual decisions are not going to send economic signals, ask the US car industry about ICE sales.

If it can't be stopped, then we must assume that what could happen will. Like when someone shoots a bullet, and we observe the action in slow motion while the bullet is going, there is no way for the target to move out, and we must assume that a murder has been commited, even if the target is not dead yet.

So, in this particular case, a mass murder has been commited, and what we should do to put on trial the ones that shoot the bullet, and the same to the ones that intentionally hid the evidence (maybe taking out our chances to avoid preventing it).

And then, without them around keep trying to deny that there is no climate change, we may focus on mitigating the effects and avoiding to get worse without more interference.

Listen "Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy":


Or read it:


It is a bit like with a formula one car. If you go through the curve with 100 mph, you will die, because you really need to go through the curve at 200 mph for aerodynamics to give you enough downward force to keep you on the track...

We are in a very similar situation here. We need to aggressively speed up and focus our engineering efforts to understand nature and to potentially "suck the gases out of the atmosphere" (one solution, we put it there, we should be able to get it back out, if that was really the reason anyway).

Never in mankind's history have the odds been so in our favor. Our technology improves at unprecedented speeds and its only going to go faster. It has to go faster, that is. Otherwise we actually might be wiped out.

I never understood why people think its a good idea to dial back progress & technology to where we were a few hundred years ago... The earth will die anyway in a few billion years. There is only one way forward: Out into space. At the current rate we will be able to do just that, within the allotted time. Even if we can't save earth in the end (who knows), we will still have enough time to leave the sinking ship. But we also have a pretty good shot at to repair the damage we have done.

But the answer for both trajectories is the same: Technology, more technology and faster, faster. If that means more pollution, that's okay. As long as we advance faster than we destroy (which we are doing already), we are golden! Stopping or going slower is what will kill us.

So people, stop whining about pollution and global warming. There is no way to stop that other than technology. Developing countries are not going to stop polluting. Most notably seen with the Amazon. We have no true control over what other countries do. But we can repair the damage they do, via technology deployed on our home soil. That is precisely what we must do & develop. Waiting for global consensus and contracts is waiting for death... Hell, they can't even agree on some minimal pollution numbers between the G7 countries. How the hell are you going to get all 200 nations into one basket. It's ludicrous.

On that note, keep in mind that countries like the USA are the world's number one polluter. Developing countries do some serious shit, but on a smaller scale.

If we can't keep biosphere 1.0 viable, we have bugger all chance of creating a viable and sustainable extra planetary one. Besides how many launches will be needed to get 7bn to biosphere 2.0? Whatever the answer it's cheaper and easier to address AGW right here, right now. Or does your backup plan only involve sending a tiny few off planet?...

Why would you think that we send 7bn people into space? There should not have been 7bn people to start with. It just happened because somehow species tend to multiply until their environment can't sustain further growth. In space, it will be MUCH harder to sustain a population, as a result, the population there will be much smaller (think of maybe 100.000), at least in the early stages.

I agree that we should be able to save the earth. I think both are possible and also intertwined, because whatever our solution, it will likely require advanced capabilities to deploy technology into earth's orbit, be it large scale solar shielding, some atmosphere transformers, or whatever.

Still, repairing earth and creating space ships are two different things. We did not design earth, and the size of it makes it hard to control. It will be MUCH easier to sustain life in an underground lab (or space ship) than it is to repair earth. At least conceptually. But of course you have a point that we should not abandon most of the population for two reasons:

1. It's a bit cruel and probably only the worst of mankind will survive again, as it always did.

2. Project "Space" might turn out to be one hell of a disaster, since it's hard to predict how humans will fare in space. So we should have a backup plan.

If we can't avoid overpopulating a planet, how and why should we think will we avoid overpopulating Mars or Mini Ringworld?

Well if plan B in space is for only some, it's not saving humanity but is a "fuck you" to most of them. I think some pretty core human problems will show pretty damn quickly after that:

Once the remaining 6.9bn realise they're not invited to the party, that there is a definite plan for all the wealthy and politician types to piss off to Mars or some space station, the rest might very reasonably decide that's a tad unfair. Especially if their own future is some apocalyptic die off, perversely made worse by all those emissions from the thousands of rocket launches. They might sensibly think that instead of quietly waiting for the 4 horsemen to show up with their exit, better to go out by trashing all the supply rockets and bases of project space, and reach for petrol, pitchfork or assault rifle. Maybe one more emission laden launch to blow those entitled assholes out of orbit...

We haven't yet shown viability in any of the sealed biome experiments. Not once. The old Russian experiments back during their lunar programme got closest.

Hence me thinking much cheaper and simpler just to address the damn problem properly. :)

What if we stopped talking in apocalyptic terms and started looking at ways to live on a planet which, for whatever reason, is endowed with an ever-changing climate which has given it everything from dragonflies with a 70cm wing span to blue whales to sentient self-conscious primates with a tendency to speak of terrible things which are about to come true if action is not taken right now.

Also, use common sense. It will tell you that it is a good thing to be less dependent on energy sources which are directly linked to one of the most volatile regions in the world. Alternatives exist, from nuclear in its many guises which can take care of the base load to solar and wind which can help but can not take care of the base load due to their inherent unpredictability and - in the case of solar - absence during ~50% of the day. Geothermal can be a good source in many regions. Common sense will also dictate that it is high time to seriously start looking at better ways to store energy so that those unpredictable sources can be used more efficiently while keeping the distribution networks from melting down.

And, please... stop following the talking points of political organisations which have taken up the climate banner to further their own goals. Stop the McCarthy-like hunt for anyone who dares to voice a differing opinion. Stop all that polarising nonsense and maybe, just maybe the world will be better off in the end.

I have honestly wondered whether a rational, amoral planner would be readying the release of some pathogen(s) from which a reasonable number of people would survive.

I wonder what the signs of such preparation would be?

Obviously you would want to make sure that nuclear power stations, refineries and dangerous chemical plants were either capable of a graceful shutdown or that there would be enough trained operators in place.

You would want some sort of armed forces under your control.

Food production chains would need to be local and secured and self-contained.

What else?

There is a tick that renders people allergic to meat. The villain could start with that and let the market work out the details.

Not to forget anti-vaxxers: spread a meme that selects exactly the type of person you cannot rely on to be rational and then supply the corrollary.

Alongside this is a story celebrating how more people are using 100 - 200 grams of internationally-shipped and hand-delivered plastic on the equivalent of a 256mb usb stick to distribute music instead of the internet.

Most of us can't wait to replace our massive-carbon-sink computer with a new one and put the old one in a cupboard.

Sacrifice was key to beating this and we didn't do it and we might be getting worse.

If we decarbonised power, industry and transport, we could afford to use a little vinyl for a niche hobby, some plastic for the few specialist packaging types that can't be done better in something else, for the medical uses and such like. We probably should be celebrating the rise of ownership over a monthly subscription to listen only while you pay. Until we are told the calculated impacts of each, neither of us knows the better choice for the planet.

If we adjusted the rules of the capitalism game such that sustainability, repairability, life of product, company and planet were baked in, that carbon, pollution and environment cost has to be displayed on labels and every service. Maybe simple taxes can do that, maybe it needs a little or a lot more creativity.

Really disheartened that it will hit during my lifetime. Had hoped to dodge it, really.

How do you, as an individual, prepare for this?

Basic stuff. Learn horticulture, soil science. Understand whether or not your area is viable for a sustainable settlement and move along if it's not. Best to do all your moving while you can still afford to drive.

Do exercise, strength training, cardio. Bodyweight stuff or yoga is great for everyday life activities. How far can you carry 60 pounds of supplies and equipment?

Make friends, obviously.

Learn how to resolve conflict non-violently. You and everyone else will constantly be running into conflicts and someone is going to have to remember how to meet everyone's needs without killing people.

It's also probably a good idea to learn how to resolve conflicts violently and accept the consequences of that.

Slug throwing is pretty basic stuff. Doesn't take very long to learn that.

There seem to be a bunch of self-centered pessimists replying to you so I'll try to give a real response.

If you don't already work in an industry that is doing research towards or creating a product that makes a difference, change careers. The solution to this, both on an individual and collective level, is not to give up and hide in a hole hoping you die quietly in your sleep. The solution is to fucking solve the problem.

We need smart people in engineering, nuclear science, agriculture, bioscience, and politics. People that give a damn and aren't satisfied to sit on their asses and wistfully dream of eco-primitivist utopias. Put your resources into skilling up and move to a center where shit is getting done. Talk to people that are working on the problem and find a job that is actively moving the needle.

If we can't fix it then at least you'll die trying rather than cowering.

Even if we can't fix it we can make it much better and less misery for everyone involved.

The question is, how many people do you want to sacrifice to eat your delicious cow and drive a SUV?

Prohibition doesn't change the sum total of misery in the world, it just evenly distributes it. The only way to reduce the total amount of misery is to increase the standard of living of more people. Everyone should be able to eat delicious cow and drive SUVs if they want to. The problem to solve is in how we reduce the harm those things currently have on the environment, there are many options for that other than "just take away the SUVs and cows so no one has them".

Climate apocalypse is not something that “hits” it is something that grows. It started decades ago and will get gradually worse over time.

What you as an individual can do to prepare is put pressure on the suppliers of goods and services (including your government) to take their role seriously and reduce emissions. Stop using single-use plastics, stop buying groceries that are individually shrink-wrapped. Buy fresh fruit and vegetables and prepare your own meals. Walk where you can, try to use public transport for commuting (it takes longer, but someone else is driving so you can do your morning and evening reading & correspondence on the bus/train)

Basically do everything you can to reduce your energy consumption, both directly and indirectly. Energy consumptions is a very good proxy for personal contribution to emissions, including the embodied energy in things like plastic utensils and fast food wrappers/boxes/bags.

Rather than watching a movie on Netflix, read a book. The internet services and domestic devices used to watch a movie will consume more energy during that movie session than a year of reading on a tablet or paper books (with a bed lamp book light).

Apart from overpopulation, the biggest contribution to global emissions is the extreme energy consumption lifestyle of western countries. We offshore a lot of the production and point the finger at China, but China’s emissions are mainly from manufacturing and transport which is mostly for products being sent to western countries.

Primarily, make sure you live at elevation (i.e. > 20 feet). Also helps if you've got temperate or cool local weather, so it doesn't get unpleasant decades from now.

The most pessimistic IPCC projections estimate a 1 meter rise in sea level over the next century. For comparison sea level rose by 20cm in the past century.

Tides, hurricanes etc. tend to result in flooding somewhat above sea level already. 20 feet is probably still overly pessimistic but I'm just erring on the conservative side.

Nowhere in that article are timelines mentioned. Yes sea levels will continue to rise, but it will take over a thousand years to melt the ice caps.

Changed careers to something society can't do without. Hoping they will pick the machinist over the instagram model for the space ark.

I’ve been thinking lately that starting a commune might be one way. Think about this: a commune counts as a nonprofit entity. So you don’t have to pay taxes. If you own your land, there is no rent. The commune can run a business, and there’s no payroll tax and no boss, so all the profits can directly be spent on food and supplies. So you can live super cheap. You can have a little fleet of cars and bicycles, free for use, other facilities- and now, you’re not going to lose your job, you’re not going to become homeless because of a medical bill, when things go south you have mutual defense and support. Sounds better than going it alone, doesn’t it?

Don't have kids unless your dream is for them to suffer and live with a steadily declining quality of life from their childhoods.

Try to get rich enough before the worst effects become widespread that you can buy your way out of some of it.

I upvoted you, because as cynical as your comment may be, I believe yours is the most rational approach.

I believe that in our lifetime we will see the western countries effectively barricade their borders. When an unannounced ship approaches with desperate human beings on board, fleeing the wars, we won't be even allowed to think about accepting them. The ships will be, not stopped and turned around, but torpedoed and sunk on sight. The corpses will be harvested for feed and fertiliser.

From that point onwards, in another couple of generations, there won't be any sanctuaries left. Not even for the richest. They will all have been overrun, pillaged and plundered.

My only consolation is that I am old enough to not necessarily witness all of it.

Learn as much as you can and practice being resourceful, information is power, medicine, chemistry and biology in particular are extremely important. If we have to endure catastrophic collapse being able to construct things like makeshift air cooling, air and water filtering systems from raw and waste materials will be paramount.

Avoid procreating. Put your money into prepping instead of your 401k. Make a plan to kill yourself when it all becomes too much to bear. Enjoy the time you have.


Please don't do this here.

Collective suicide by climate change? At least you won't feel left out.

There are many ways to prepare for climate catastrophe, but here's one you could try: 1) Read Paul Ehrlich's book "The Population Bomb". If you don't have time, just watch the movie "Soylent Green" to get the gist of it. 2) Look around you for any sign of planet-wide famine. 3) ??? 4) Profit!

One solution, which I admit is out there, is what if we actively cook the earth?

While yes, it would be an engineering challenge, I think it is quite reasonable to create an “adjustable solar shade”. Basically build up enough reflectors at the Lagrange point to selectively “cool” parts of earth. Yes, it would be a massive undertaking, but could potentially be done mostly autonomously.

If our timeline is 30 years, this may be more achievable than alternatives.

Elevator pitch: use materials from asteroids to build huge reflectors in space. Side benefit is it would enable large scale mining of the sky.


Realize I meant “shade” not cook =p. In any case, hopefully intent is clear.

> what if we actively cook the earth?

We're already doing that. ;)

You need to listen "Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy":


Or read it:


I'm not sure I follow the author's reasoning. He says that what we do won't make a difference but then says that we should do things anyways. It seems to me like if he's right, then there is just no hope.

Who's pretending? All we need is for the billionaires to stop fighting, work together and save the world.

Is that it? We are all going to die because one fiction writer said so? These kinds of claims only discredit the whole discussion. Climate change is a serious problem, but fearmongering doesn't solve anything. How about just stating the facts, instead of chiming in with your own non-scientific opinions and accusing everyone of pretending? Just so you can get more clicks.

There are measures we can take against climate change, they just go against the structural needs of the capitalist system. If governments continue to put the continuation of the system above the needs of the environment, then of course we won't see serious action. The author accepts that this is a permanent state of affairs and attributes it incorrectly to "human nature" when in reality it reflects the present weakness of the anti-capitalist movement. There is hope, but it's not in liberal politicians and eco startups, and I get why you'd be hopeless if that's where you're looking for change to come from.

You're not going to be able to kill capitalism before things go really wrong, modern capitalism still has a stranglehold on us all and it probably won't fall until climate change kicks into high gear and eradicates huge portions of the western population. At least the anprims will be happy.

I'm not clear on why people are particularly angry at capitalism. It seems like just a label that allows people to focus on the US fossil fuel industry, as the US is the archetype of capitalism, while vaguely associating all the other major fossil fuel producers with the West/US/capitalism.

Is the reason Russia and KSA are producing fossil fuels because they were infected with a specific ideology? I feel like there's a confusion of cause and effect, like if you blamed evolution on Darwinism.

Modern capitalism puts itself at the center of society and greatly punishes anything that attempts to draw people away from holding capital gain as being the epitome of self-interest. Yes, Russia and the KSA do indeed bend to the will of capitalism, with varying degrees of resistance. If people were not rewarded for this behavior it would not continue.

"Modern capitalism puts itself at the center of society"

Does it insist upon itself?

It's moreso that too many people with too much control over resources insist on it.


Mad max apocalypse would only last, like, 15 years max. Can't keep feeding people to the pigs (sus scrofa domesticus) forever. It really seems like there is something about humanity that is being selected out of the ecosystem. My guess is the over-reliance on physical violence and emotional abuse to maintain group structures.

I don't think so. My bet is on 'competition for resources', which is something that every organism needs to do. Every species needs to be competitive, needs to fight for resources. The problem only is that we are so good at competition for resources that we've out-competed every other species on this planet. Don't get me wrong - any species that somehow hits on similar exploits as we did (tool use, cooperation) will find itself in a very similar situation sooner or later; the moment where they start destroying the ecosytem that supports them. For us that probably started with agriculture, maybe even earlier, when we killed off all other apex predators.

So, if there's something that's "selected against", it's our unexpected success. I don't think that there are many times in the history life on a planet that a species lands such a jackpot.

Unfortunately we're just like Joe Shmoe after a lottery win; we spend all the loot in one spree over the planet and wake up a few years later, facing the consequences of our reckless behavior while we were drunk on power.

Our monkey brains just aren't built for the life in paradise.

What if we stop pretending there is a climate apocalypse

It won't stop it either, unfortunately.

Well, our cow blanket might prove useful if the sun goes to sleep and the earth is destined for another ice age.

It appears that we have already given up. Efficient, low-carbon-emitting natural gas power plants have been replacing coal-fired plants in the USA, largely due to cheap and abundant fuel extracted via fracking. If that were important, we would not be discussing bans on fracking.

They're only efficient and low-cabon if you compare them to coal, not if you use basic sanity that building any kind of new fossil infrastructure is madness.

Even the low carbon of fracking is questionable given methane leaks.

Building gas plants is not terribly stupid, because we'll probably need power-to-gas technology unless somebody finds cheaper ways to make batteries.

The only viable kind of gas is biogas which you have to sequester anyway. Other kinds speed up the catastrophe. There cleaner than some coal and oil but that's about it. They're not even close compared to nuclear or renewables.

Why do you need gas? Can't use the electric vehicle or appliance? If you need trace gases for manufacturing, you can sequester them instead.

No, you can create Methane out of thin air with electricity and store that in the existing infrastructure for strategic gas reserves. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power-to-gas

It's a very convenient way to store large amounts of energy for dark, windstill winters. If you then have a decent number of gas plants you can turn it into electricity to run the heat pumps in your homes.

The problem with climate change is that it has now solidly left the realm of the scientific to enter politics.

Here’s the truth:

We cannot do a thing about it.

This is scientific fact, not my opinion. I invite everyone to reproduce my conclusion. Here’s how to do it:


How long would it take for a 100 ppm drop in atmospheric CO2 concentration if humanity, along with all of our technology, evaporated from this planet tomorrow?

In other words, a Thanos moment. A snap of the fingers and humanity is gone in an instant.

Why this question?

Because that’s the baseline. This is important:


Can we answer that question?


We have 800,000 years of highly accurate atmospheric composition data from ice core sampling. In other words, we have a time machine that tells us exactly how the planet would behave if we were not here.

What does the data say? How does it answer my question?

50,000 to 75,000 years for a 100 ppm drop in atmospheric CO2 concentration if we evaporated from this planet.


Any proposal for “saving the planet” has to be measured against that.

For example: Erase the US from the planet -> Save the planet in 50 years? Nope, ridiculous.

Ban all forms if internal combustion engines? Nope. Ridiculous.

Switch to 100% renewable energy at a world scale? Nope. Again, ridiculous.

All of these are ridiculous because the next question should be: How is this going to perform a THOUSAND TIMES BETTER than the Thanos scenario?

The answer, at that point, becomes beyond obvious: These ideas are ridiculous.

As for what would work, well, that’s a whole other conversation that starts with reforestation at a monumental scale.

You can suck carbon out of the atmosphere faster than the geological processes that do it naturally. But that of course doesn't matter if you work on the assumption that it's ridiculous to stop burning fossil fuels. Many people believe that it's possible and actually not hard, just expensive.

No, you cannot.

Do the math on how much energy and resources would be required to do what you are suggesting at a global scale.

That’s the problem with all of these great sounding ideas, nobody bothers to quantify them —particularly at a planetary scale.

EDIT: Just noticed your comment about burning fuels.

I need to clarify something. And this is important. I have never --ever-- said (and I've written about this a few times on HN) that migrating away from fossil fuels is a bad idea. It's a great idea. We should do it to the extent possible. I've done my part, I installed a 13 kW solar power system at my home and we are on track to switch to 100% electric vehicles within, say, a year.

What is NOT OK is pretending that this is going to "save the planet". Our migration away from fossil fuels will do absolutely nothing of note --zero-- as far as reversing atmospheric CO2 accumulation. This has been studied and published. The conclusion was, to paraphrase, "even if we migrated the entire planet to the MOST OPTIMAL FORMS of renewable energy sources, atmospheric CO2 accumulation would continue to INCREASE EXPONENTIALLY".

In other words, even if we did the impossible (total migration to renewable sources at a global is likely impossible). Why? BECAUSE THE BASELINE IS 75,000 YEARS with NO HUMANS ON EARTH.

BTW, I am not yelling, using caps for emphasis.

We can discuss facts or that which we wish were facts. The difference is that we are never going to improve anything if we insist on ignoring reality.

It is OK to say "all of these proposals are nonsense", if, in fact, they are. It would be the same if politicians were proposing to save humanity by reducing the planet's gravitational constant by 10%. Ridiculous, but I bet someone out there could make a fictional case about the idea and collect an audience...just like the flat earth geniuses.

What we could do is attempt to develop (air conditioned) domes or underground dwellings, hydroponics and water sparing farming. (Incl. GMO, to hell with greens on that.) That would cushion the blow a lot. Catalog and save the species we still can, like corals.

Trying to sequester CO2 and CH4 unfortunately won't work well on big scales.

Planting large forests and turning the wood into biochar would probably reduce carbon dioxide to preindustrial levels on a timeline of centuries, not tens of thousands of years. We can also do things like accelerate olivine weathering and seeding the oceans with iron.

Another VERY important couple of questions to ask and understand when looking at the 800,000 years of atmospheric CO2 concentration data we have is:

Q1- What caused atmospheric CO2 concentrations to reliably increase by about 100 ppm in roughly 25,000 years for each (roughly) 100,000 year cycle?

Q2- What made CO2 concentration decrease over 50K to 75K years?

The answers to these questions are simple:

A1: Fires. Massive continent-scale fires...burning forests.

A2: Massive natural reforestation and weather. Yup. Hurricanes, cyclones, rain, etc.

While the idea of planting trillions of trees is excellent, we also have to understand an important point. The more trees we have the greater the probability of going backwards by decades when --not if-- a large fire rips through millions of them. We can't fight fires at those scales. And, if we could, you'd have to calculate the energy and CO2 we would produce in doing so (planes, trucks, equipment, etc.).

Climate change isn't an easy problem, not even close. I don't know if I want to laugh or cry when I hear politicians pushing some of the truly brain-dead stuff they get behind.

We can handle fires if we plant those forests. We could engineer the buffers to stop the spreading, and develop infrastructure for early detection and extinguishing. Not saying it's easy, but can be done if everything depends on it.

You are probably right. Having seen gigantic fires in CA I think it is important to take fire mitigation very seriously. One good forest fire can erase years of progress.

To put things into context and quantify...we know wild fires have produced, on average, 8 billion tons of CO2 per year for the past 20 years. That is fully 25% of total annual CO2 emission, which sits somewhere around 32 billion tons per year.

That’s a very serious contribution that makes some of the things politicians focus on absolutely laughable.

If we plant trillions of trees and, at some time in the future, experience a massive forest fire we could easily move backwards several decades.

What I am saying is that fire mitigation has to be a first class concern when we speak of reforestation.

Here’s another interesting take on the subject...


Once again, it's about quantification. All ideas sound great until we grab a calculator and do the math.

Thankfully some math has been done with regards to planting trees [1].

The next questions are:

How much suitable land is there and how many trees can it sustain?

How much water will they require?

Will they require chemicals (fertilizers, pest control, etc.)?

How much petroleum will they require? Keep in mind that oil is an inescapable part of most processes. An easy example of this would be transportation, tractors, cranes, packaging, etc.

Not being negative at all. Just want to make sure we all understand that without quantification anything sounds great.

As far as my investigation into this domain has revealed, yes, trees are the ONLY technology we have that stands a chance to do some good without making a larger mess in the process. The problem is that deployment at the planetary scale isn't easy. And there exists a real limit function on just how many trees you can actually plant around the world.

Not sure about your claim that trees can solve this problem in centuries.

Ideas like seeing the oceans with iron scare the hell out of me. Again, we are talking about planetary scale effects here. The energy and resources required for such a task are monumental. Beyond that, I don't know about you, but I've had plenty of experiences where an experiment was predicted to result in A and I we got Z instead. I cannot imagine doing something like that at a planetary scale. We could literally kill-off half the species in the ocean if we are not careful.

The most important thing we need today is to stop our politicians from spewing nonsense. Seriously. These people are dangerous beyond belief. It isn't only about none of their proposals being worth the paper they are not written on, they could actually cause massive harm and hamper real science-based approaches to making things better. In general terms, politicians have turned climate science into a disgusting circus act (or whatever analogy applies best). If you ask me, THAT is the most urgent task ahead for the scientific community: Getting politicians the hell away from this domain.

[1] https://e360.yale.edu/digest/planting-1-2-trillion-trees-cou...

We may not be able to remove that CO2, but we could stop adding more.

True enough, but that isn’t going to solve anything.

The problem, again, is that when you actually look into the reality of such a proposal it crumbles very quickly.

Remember, the baseline is in the order of 75,000 years if humanity evaporates from the planet. Do anything LESS than that and it will take longer.

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