This type of articles is the last thing we need right now, it all piles up on the narrative that the consequences of climate change are really not that bad and there is no real urgency in doing anything about it.
Especially if that implies a change of behaviors like eating less meat. Nobody wants to give away their cheeseburgers as Elizabeth Warren factitiously says, this how you make headlines and get elected for office, tell people what they want to hear, stay away from the truth.
When somebody on your side says something well-meaning but wrong, you should be the one to call them out. In doing so, you deny your enemy the opportunity to do so.
And to be fair, climate change is turned into a crazy red hearing of a political issue. There are lakes of sludge outside factory cities in China, insane amounts of plastic particulates in the oceans, tons and tons of textile waste. There are so many many forms of pollution much worse than CO2, and when you focus on just CO2, you get carbon laws like those enacted in Australia briefly that caused more fuel expenditure in moving ore to China for processing instead of processing it domestically.
There needs to be a huge change in consumption. We need cell phones that last 10 years, not 2~3. We need to end the constant replacement cycle. Intel's shareholders should be glad when sales are below projections because the old chips are lasting longer.
But this is not how our economy or industry works. It's all based about infinite growth, selling you new things, sending your e-waste to Africa to be harvested by kids and be smeltered in recycling shops without OSHA requirements or respirators, sending textile waste to Africa to be sold (but mostly burned), etc. etc.
Until there is a major collapse globally and people recognize the scale of our folly of consumerism and over-consumption, people will not recognize the real changes needed to build a more sustainable world. And reducing overall consumption will also reduce CO2 emissions ... along with all types of other emissions. But it will take reduction. We cannot spend and buy our way out of environmental damage.
Consumerism, over-consumption, and the economic growth these behaviors drive are impossible to eliminate without crippling the global economy. But I think there actually is a way to have our unlimited cake without toasting the planet, it just requires us to divorce the concept of value from physical items (or increase the fidelity, and thus value, of digital items). This is already taking place, with the data economy being the obvious if controversial first step. Similarly, I see the explosion of digital marketplaces and microtransactions within social and mobile gaming platforms as another example of this concept.
There will inevitably be externalities to a shift toward primarily virtual consumption, but I don't think it's unreasonable to imagine compelling virtual products diminishing the draw of many physical item, along with the need for infrastructure to support their production and dissemination.
Then let's ask the question. What are the medium (5-20) years and long (100 years) consequences of such crippling in your view? I am not an economist so any insight from an expert would be good.
Long term... depends? Maybe people figure out a different mechanic to drive growth and re-orient. Maybe people abandon growth as a goal and shift toward a steady-state model (this would be interesting, but would have big global power implications unless every nation signs on). Maybe people suffer for a bit before rediscovering how powerful consumerism is as an economic engine and get back into it for a while until the costs start catching up to them again.
As the foremost expert on "my view", you can depend on these predictions to capture with total accuracy what I believe to be the crippling consequences mentioned earlier.
I'm a bit more pessimistic. Consumerism and over-consumption is an open-eyed march toward doom. Educating (even by collapse) doesn't change the failure to coordinate. When the incentives are structured to trade values for temporary rosperity "The process continues until all other values that can be traded off have been – in other words, until human ingenuity cannot possibly figure out a way to make things any worse." 
CO2 will end life much faster than any of the other undesirable things you mentioned. It's objectively more dangerous.
> "Losing the Amazon, beyond representing a planetary historic tragedy beyond measure, would also make meeting the ambitious climate goals of the Paris Agreement all but impossible. World leaders need to marshal all their political and diplomatic might to save it."
So what exactly are you calling out? Better the Atlantic be the one to call out this falsehood, than Fox News. No?
Otherwise, while the article may come out acknowledging climate change, the headline comes across as click-bait that could easily be pushed into a climate-denier narrative. Better to have a more neutral title like "The Amazon's Role in Global Oxygen Production". That stops the facts from being decontextualized.
Because facts aren't usually discussed in isolation. If a climate change denialist were the one to point out the fact, they would frame it with something like: 'Lies the climate establishment are telling you!' If it slows down the process of convincing people of the seriousness of climate change for The Atlantic to report a headline like this, it doesn't slow it down as much as a climate denialist group beating The Atlantic to the punch.
"Better to have a more neutral title like "The Amazon's Role in Global Oxygen Production". That stops the facts from being decontextualized."
Maybe. But the more direct headline helps with the issue listed above. Many (but not all) climate change denialists do not argue in good faith, and it's more important to head off any claim of a cover-up or bias that they might have than to keep the narrative pristine.
Realistically, the alternative to the OP's headline is not something more neutral, but something like this real headline from Forbes:
Because if Fox News were to call out this particular falsehood, they may very well sum it up with some bullshit like "and that's why liberals are dumb and we should burn more coal." With the Altantic, we instead have reasonable pleas to remember that climate change is a very serious issue.
As for the matter of the given title: https://twitter.com/PeterBrannen1/status/1166446298897289216
As for who calls out the falsehood, I was thinking more in the vein of "all else being equal", but I suppose you're right and all else wouldn't be equal between the various news sources.
The article opens with this headline which is false: "Humans could burn every living thing on the planet and still not dent its oxygen supply."
If every living thing was burnt, the planet would cease to resupply oxygen and most of the free oxygen reserves in the atmosphere and oceans would be consumed through geological processes. It would take millennia to complete but its not an outcome which is valid to describe in an educational or truth straightening context as "not a dent".
https://www.nature.com/articles/nature14283 "Long-term decline of the Amazon carbon sink"
Over what timescale? If you burned every speck of organic matter on the planet, and then you came back in 10,000 years, how much O2 would be in the atmosphere? The article under discussion seems to suggest about 20%.
It's of a piece with the general decline in liberalism of the last 10 years (as another example, take the reputation of free speech as a concept), but I guess what I'm describing is how grotesquely fascinating it is to see a society and its institutions so rapidly lose their connection to basic decency and honesty. I'm not naive enough to think this was some hyperstable equilibrium, but it's fascinating to see how rapidly it happens.
Climate denialism is the proverbial firehose of lies. Finely parsing words to maintain some Panglossian notion of a market dominated by rational choice of information-rich actors is not going to turn us away from disaster.
Slavish dedication to narrative over truth is putting the cart before the horse: any number of movements that we now remember as grotesque, "alternative facts"-driven impediments to society's progress started out on relatively sound epistemic footing and failed to adapt. The beauty of the scientific method (and the scientific establishment, when it's functioning well) is that it allows us to gracefully transition away from narratives that are increasingly anachronistic or incompatible with our observations.
To go back to your link, consider what defines "propaganda": is it disliking conclusions, or is it indifference towards truth? I'd argue that your link defines it as the latter. For many of us, the conflict isn't between the good set of lies and the bad set of lies, it's between those who intentionally embrace and propagate lies and those who strive for an accurate model of the world. Anyone who's skimmed a history book can tell you that the "good" and "bad" labels don't tend to be very persistent... (the 20th century and it's hundred million dead of utopianism is rich with examples of this).
The author could have focused on expounding the ways in which the metaphor holds to underlying scientifically-verifiable truth, taking asides here and there to correct misinformation. As it's framed, and as the headline emphasizes, that approach is ignored in favor of the “gotcha!” truth-telling that, despite its couple of meager attempts to point out how critical the Amazon is to life on Earth, allows the reader to walk away with the impression that things really aren't as bad as they previously thought, and so maybe they can just ignore the issue or deprioritize it a little but longer. And the skimmer looks at just the headline and is justified in their status quo understanding that there is a climate “debate” with two sides that really should be considered by someone, somewhere.
I've always heard the metaphor accompanied tightly by the claim that it's a significant fraction of the Earth's oxygen production, and denying the metaphor seemed to me to imply nothing further than the refutation of this fact, particularly in light of the first paragraph's strong claims that avoiding deforestation is important. I just don't see why it's critical that he emphasize that point in the firm of holding up the existing metaphor. I read the article (and I think the author intended it) as a pretty classic popular-science case of "here's a common misconception", and as shallow as that may be, it has value.
At any rate, it ounds like we're on roughly the same page overall, and our remaining differences are starting to inch towards pedantry. Thanks for the conversation!
I often think of the election of Donald Trump in this sense...in a way, he is showing us crystal clear how our political dialogue, if not our entire perception of reality, is illusory. Who would have thought that someone could run for president largely on a platform of obvious lies and one-dimensional platitudes? Well, now we know.
And rather than the left being shocked into a higher state of consciousness and considering they may need to rethink their overall political strategy, instead it seems they've essentially decided to double down with more of the same theater. I hoped there would have at least been some serious consideration of a strategy consisting of campaigning on the actual truth (to the best of their ability), rather than just "more true".
So many people, particularly those on the left I would say (the right tends to be in their own little world), think politics is based on a battle of facts, when really it is a battle of memes. It doesn't have to be, but someone righteous has to be allowed to make it through the Democratic primaries if we hope to ever move forward in this respect.
Every time I think I've found the first mover, there's a justification that goes further back. I'm a solid left-liberal, represented most closely by Obama, who discovered through the left's increasing embrace of dishonesty/bigotry/other dirty tactics that his liberal identity was more important than his leftist one. This was years and years before Trump ever entered the scene, and I know people on the right who consider Trump almost as much of a monster as I do, but also consider him to be a necessary fight-fire-with-fire evil against the left's dirty tricks.
And of course, many leftists who embraced illiberalism in that period can reasonably point to something that GWB did as their justification for further weakening norms. And so on and so on ad infinitum.
Anybody with a brain and a history book understands that that's a positive feedback loop that's caused untold amounts of suffering over the course of history, and the social technologies we call liberalism smooth out the tendencies of this cycle to escalate and sublimate the "kill everyone you disagree with" impulses of most of history into progressively gentler forms of resolving conflicting ideas of how the world should be, while still allowing for progress.
That isn't to say that norms and institutions are always sacrosanct and that sharp breaks are never a good idea, but thinking that this started with Trump betrays a misunderstanding of the way these things work and why liberalism exists in the first place.
Yeah but some narratives of the truth can become absurd. And so is this article. The problem right now is not an undersupply of O2 but an oversupply of CO2. In that sense the Amazon is actually part of the earth's lung. Unfortunately the article leaves out the information to which proportion forest contributes as CO2 sink. And also that alternative uses of the area might turn it actually into a CO2 source. That's maybe not intentional but not exactly relevant and therefore misleading.
Right now, when it comes to public opinion and action, volume clearly beats a good signal/noise ratio. This is not an isolated issue, this happens all around the globe. Populism is on the rise. Simple beats true.
Yes, you can argue this is not the way it is supposed to be, but it is how it is. But if you really care about making a change for the better, then this is most definitely not the time for deliberate narratives.
You might have the peoples attention, but not their patience. If you want change, do not squander it.
Nothing matters more than the truth.
When the core of your message is the opposite of that there is no way to phrase it in those terms. You can't join the race to the bottom and get where you need to go.
We always need the truth.
If your agenda can't handle the truth, it's maybe not that great to begin with.
What you lose is ability to detect when it is time to change the cause (because it is fixed or something else even worse comes up or unintended consequences are uncovered).
It is akin to setting a course and then closing your eyes as to avoid any distractions on the way.
Fighting climate change requires using limited resources (taxes, labor, public empathy, etc.), squandering them on useless projects (like the plastic straw ban) hurts the overall cause.
This is always true, for everything. Scientific method must be applied consistently. The instant agenda enters into the picture and dictates what truths are lies because bigger lies exist, all is lost.
if you held the opposite position in this debate, you would probably call this "whataboutism".
it's one thing to decide not to spend your mental energy on a small deceit/inaccuracy. you are actively trying to shut down the discussion.
I'm honestly kind of shocked to see someone admit that this is their intention in so few words.
It is, if your stand is from a country that destroyed its own natural forest and now demand that a country of 200million people should not use 60% of its own territory to save the world while half of its people is poor.
There's nothing inherently wrong with the contents of this article. It does not undermine the climate change (read: scientific) "agenda" in the slightest. However, considering the sheer amount of people who only read article titles and form rigid opinions nonetheless, this article's title specifically is potentially harmful.
Actually it does the opposite. The climate change deniers have for so long hinged on the fact that people openly lie about the climate to push an agenda. You can't fault them for that...and having people who are proponents of doing something calling out the nonsense/lies that their allies say, actually emboldens the climate change position. If you can't even hold your own viewpoint accountable how are you going to hold deniers accountable or change their minds? People have focused so much on shoving a viewpoint down people's throats that they have completely forgotten how persuasion works and that you need a social movement to have a political one.
Actually, you're both right.
The title and the facts upon which it are based, will to some degree reinforce those who are resistant to or skeptical of the climate change message, in that it once again demonstrates the fact that the messages broadcast in the "leftist" media contains factual inaccuracies, also known as fake news or lies. Of course, if they actually read and properly integrated the entire contents of the article into their worldview, this type of article "should" make the world a better place, since it is informative and ~truthful. But that's not how human minds work, as we all know when we're specifically discussing an article about human psychology and cognition, but so easily forget (or under-appreciate) while having discussions on other topics.
You're right that telling the truth should be the correct path, but considering the complexities of reality, I reckon the grandparent is probably more strategically correct. It seems logical that the more truthful message should win out in the end, but if you're not willing to be truthful all/most of the time (how would this even be coordinated?), then it may be a sub-optimal strategy.
It's CO2 (and species and habitat loss) that matters, and the Amazon is hugely important for those, and for the climate of the region.
Which the article seems pretty clear on. So how is it presenting an impression climate change isn't that bad, or there's no urgency?
It actually took a few billion years: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Oxidation_Event
That happens with troubling frequency on HN.
The global average temperature has been higher than that in the past, and there was plenty of oxygen in the atmosphere.
I see the sentiment often, even in journalism, and I don’t see a realistic path even absent the inevitable new technology.
I'm just thinking that if the oxygen levels drop a few percent that won't kill us, but it will start affecting our cognitive levels - so I'm imagining that those who can afford it will just carry portable oxygen bottles with them. Offices/homes will be equipped with oxygen disperses through the ventilation systems, just so we can feel "normal". I imagine that would cause massive unrest with people who cannot afford this.
But hey, this is just speculation. Maybe we will find a technological solution long before this happens.
We don't actually know that. The time resolution of the data is not good enough to tell us. It's quite possible that it happened faster in the past as well.
> we might not survive long enough to witness the adaptation
Quite honestly, I don't understand why people think our ability to adapt is so poor. We already have more than 5 C variation in average temperature across different regions of Earth, yet people adapt to living in all of those different regions.
Also, all the alarmist rhetoric about the supposed impacts of changes in temperature is not based on actual knowledge or on models with demonstrated predictive power. It's based on very crude extrapolations of trends that assume that people will do nothing at all to adapt. In other words, they assume people won't adapt and then complain that we can't adapt.
What's more, the two main things we can do to adapt are things we should be doing anyway: (1) bring more people out of poverty--the richer people are the easier they can adapt to change; and (2) make our infrastructure more robust. The second, in particular, is exactly what "green energy" should be marketed as--making energy more decentralized, which makes the entire system more robust. And doing those things benefits us regardless of what kind of change happens--whether it's climate change or any other kind of change.
Is that actually true? What's the sampling rate and subsequent Nyquist frequency? It's my impression that the sampling rate given by ice core samples is surprisingly high (something in the neighborhood of year-by-year.)
Ice cores only cover hundreds of thousands of years into the past (I think the oldest is about 800,000 years). I'm talking about times millions of years ago.
Can GP explain if these plankton did not exist in these times of higher temperatures? Because I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t, but we’ve had whales and plankton separately for millions and millions of years over drastically different climates. So I’m curious how they are making such absolute statements.
I don’t know nearly enough about plankton, maybe someone could explain?
Isn’t that entirely the basis of the giant flora and fauna we know existed?
Does it? I read the article to be saying "you should be much much more concerned with the burning of fossil fuels than a forest." I read the article to be an attack on sensational journalism distracting people from the crux of the discussion. Its further point is that being concerned about oxygen and not temperatures rising is a logical error.
Isn't the point of the article that you could kill every living thing besides humans (including plankton) and not disrupt the oxygen supply?
Also, another point of the article is that burning fossil fuels is the primary driver of oxygen decline, which seems urgent.
See... but this is the kind of thing that leads to this kind of both-sides-ist article in the first place. In fact there are innumerable species of phytoplankton and other primary photosynthesizers, lots of which would be very happy to migrate toward the poles as the oceans warm. The planet may be warming rapidly, but it's been warmer in the geologic past and the microbial ecosystems did just fine.
Obviously bigger organisms are going to be terribly disrupted (and for bigger fauna the beginning of a mass extinction already seems to be under way). This is, y'know, outrageously bad.
But predictions of the end of life on earth are just feeding the right wing meme that liberals are irrational and opening the door for journalists to push this kind of "It's not so bad" article as "balance". We need to be serious with our criticism. Urgency doesn't require sensationalism.
 To be fair, not having read the complete thing yet: the text of the article seems really quite good. It's not whitewashing anything I can see. But the theme and headline are still a variation on "environmentalists are idiots".
I'd link more to IPCC but their website appears down, so sorry.
I will say that the 5 degree scenario is called the "RCP 8.5" and is basically the worst disaster scenario published here https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-011-0149-y
Sadly it's not only the Amazon that is cutting down on trees. Besides the fires in Africa, Canada was also in the news some time ago. Apparently that prompted the Canadian government to put up a page to deal with the issue: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/our-natural-resources/forests-forest...
If we want to stop them, we need to stop the excessive consumption of these goods. This doesn't just mean stopping over eating, it means changing what you eat and paying more for goods sourced locally.
Unfortunately, that means from countries with higher labor costs and higher taxes because of higher subsidies.
It's a hard sell for most consumers. How do we accomplish that?
Collective action problems are a problem...
The answer is simple, the execution is hard and will piss a lot of people off: start treating red meat as a luxury item, and slowly introduce taxes on top of its price, like we do for alcohol and tobacco. Nothing drastic of course, just a few cents extra every half a year or so to make people reconsider their eating habits again and again.
But if we're talking about the US specifically, that's not even necessary. Just removing subsidies that are already handed out to the meat industry will achieve the same result.
As such, any positive action is better than none.
As an European, I was quite disgusted by the reactions of the "EU leaders".
This was all “free money”, only strings attached was oversight of its usage
1: Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, one of two federal agencies in charge of conservation
There is likely an "environmental kuznets curve" where developing countries cause an environmental burden as they develop up until a certain point, after which further gains in general wealth begin to improve the environment. It is only when people are wealthy that they start to be willing to do things like reduce pollution.
Wealth in general is the key to solving our environmental issues. It encourages sustainable fertility rates, and makes people rich enough so that they don't have to resort to desperate measures like using fire for clear-cutting.
In English: 6 carbon dioxide molecules and 6 water molecules become 1 glucose molecule and 6 dioxygen molecules.
So for each CO2 molecule in, there is one O2 molecule out. Now it's entirely possible that some of the O in O2 comes from the H2O molecules. At most half of it if I know how to count up to twelve.
Edited for clarity.
I thought so too, and this would be true if the reaction happened exactly as the equation describes.
But it turns out there are a bunch of intermediate steps.
The first set is pure hydrolysis:
2H2O + light + depleted energy carriers -> 2O2 + 2H(+) + filled energy carriers (that include 2H)
That oxygen is excreted and ends up in the atmosphere. Then, there’s the transpiration process that takes in CO2 and makes sugar and water again:
3CO2 + filled energy carriers (that include 6H total) + 6H(+) -> C3H6O3 + depleted energy carriers + 3H2O
So really what happens is this:
6CO2 + 12H2O -> C6H12O6 + 6O2 + 6H2O
All the O2 output comes from the 12 H2O input. The 6 H2O output are recreated with half the H from the input 12 H2O but oxygen from from half the 6CO2 input, while the other half of the CO2, combined with 12 H from the 12 H2O input, make the sugar.
One upshot: all that crap about the water molecules being the same molecules the dinosaurs swam is crap. Any water that’s been through photosynthesis is reconstituted on the molecular level!
I’m not sure if the released oxygen comes from the water or the carbon dioxide but it doesn’t much matter!
Edit: looks like it comes from the water. Cool!
(Please correct me if I am wrong) its my understanding that the area would be quite dry, but the plants manipulate the atmosphere with particulates to draw in water from the oceans and create precipitation across the continent. I thought it was this 'sucking' that gave its name 'earth's lungs'.
I also dont like the focus on Co2. that's not the only way the world cools, warms. the water being converted to gas, to water, and gas again takes up energy and cools the planet. beyond c02, if the Amazon were to go away, I think the earth would get warmer to some extent.
If you click the link at the top of the page, it takes you to an article that you can read. I recommend doing so before commenting on a post in general
None of this contradicts the premise of the article, which is that a commonly-held and - expressed belief about the Amazon's role in our oxygen supply is not supported by the science.
Strawman doesn't mean "talking about a different topic than I'd prefer".
Maybe feels like it, but the argument being attacked here is just the false 'amazon = world's lungs' claim, not something else, not global warming, so I don't think it qualifies as strawman according to it's definition? (Plus note that the article specifically mentions burning down the amazon is a tragedy)
- Appointed a climate denialist conspiracy theorist as his foreign minister 
- Appointed as minister for the environment a man convicted of forging documents in favour of mining companies 
- Contradicted the National Institute for Space Research, responsible for satellite tracking of deforestation, when it published preliminary data that showed the increase (as it had done every year), then fired its director
- Then went on to blame the fires on conservation NGOs 
This is just off the top of my head (I'm Brazilian), links provided are just the first search results from reputable sources in English. Happy to provide more info to anyone who needs it.
That said, I have no love for Evo nor do I know the specifics of the situation across the border, but Bolsonaro is terrible for the environment and the world should be concerned, not in the least because 58.4% of the Amazon is inside Brazil's border. In contrast, 7.7% of it falls within Bolivia
[edited to add size of Bolivian Amazon]
> Losing the Amazon, beyond representing a planetary historic tragedy beyond measure, would also make meeting the ambitious climate goals of the Paris Agreement all but impossible.
It discusses a misconception that has been propogated lately.
> The Amazon is a vast, ineffable, vital, living wonder. It does not, however, supply the planet with 20 percent of its oxygen.
> As the biochemist Nick Lane wrote in his 2003 book Oxygen, “Even the most foolhardy destruction of world forests could hardly dint our oxygen supply, though in other respects such short-sighted idiocy is an unspeakable tragedy.”
> The Amazon produces about 6 percent of the oxygen currently being made by photosynthetic organisms alive on the planet today. But surprisingly, this is not where most of our oxygen comes from. In fact, from a broader Earth-system perspective, in which the biosphere not only creates but also consumes free oxygen, the Amazon’s contribution to our planet’s unusual abundance of the stuff is more or less zero.
The Amazon produces 6% of oxygen produces by photosynthetic organisms. The proportion of total oxygen produced by these organisms (let's call it P) is relatively small enough that the Amazon's contribution, 0.06*P, ends up being negligible.