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World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency (oup.com)
119 points by andyjohnson0 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 76 comments

Articles about Climate Change seem to get very few comments on Hacker News. I think nearly every other article on the home page right now has more comments including an articles about building a flying taxi (47 comments).

Honest Question: Why is there seemingly such little interest in what very well could be a huge threat to the survival of humanity?

I asked a similar question here - and it got 0 comments! https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21027145

Here's my American-centric hot take. People here feel powerless. This isn't a problem which can be dealt with on the personal level. The politicians are largely useless. One party completely denies there's a problem and actively derails any governmental attempt to address it. The other party is often timid, scared of its own shadow, and only proposes weak remedies.

Furthermore, most of us here agree that it's happening and don't argue much about the root causes. All of that adds up to lack of discussion. Can't do much about it. Have had little luck influencing those that can. There's little for amateurs to discuss regarding the underlying science. It's sometimes cathartic to publicly pronounce one's feelings of fear & loathing in threads like this, but that also doesn't lead to good conversation.

And so we end up talking about silly things like flying taxis because that lets us avoid the soul-crushing doom for another hour.

I agree - I don't eat meat and I'm not having children, but it feels very futile when you take into consideration the levels of corporate pollution, pollution from China, wasteful practices, corruption and apathy from our government leaders, attacks on personal liberties... it all gets so dismally depressing very quickly. It's great to frequent subreddits like r/antinatalism and r/collapse, just for the pure support, but if you stay too long it gets way too real because the science is there and it's not a good outcome, and we're barreling towards it strapped to the backs of a political system that does not care about it.

> pollution from China

Really from Western consumers if you look at who the vast majority of those factory products go to. The US used to be just as bad a polluter until it became easy for US companies to move to a country with fewer regulations.

I mean, at this point I'm of the mind that either some breakthrough in ML/A.I. will cushion the blow in the future or terrible times are inevitably ahead. My interpretation of the research is that the time to have reversed our trajectory was a number of decades ago.

I don't bother debating or talking about the climate anymore.

It's likely a defeatist attitude, but... I can't find a way to shake it.

Let's please remember you have asked for it.

I have lived through :

- The end of the cold war, we were all going to die a horrible death, all at once.

- Acid rain, all forests would die and consequently we would die too or have a terrible planet

- The hole in the ozone layer, we would all get skin cancer ( I can't remember if we would die )

- Tchernobyl with elevated radiation stretching into Europe. Could not eat apricot-jam and damn I love apricot-jam

Furthermore, I have studied Computer Science, which was basically 50% math. I have worked with people developing physical models, advanced computing and simulations are freaking hard.

In my time, the hockey-stick would be an indication there is something wrong with the model ( instability ). "Nature does not behave this way"

The earth is getting greener and yields are up, partly because of increased CO2 in the atmosphere.

It is completely unclear if "climate change" is either good or bad.

The sea level has been rising for thousands and thousand of years : about 6-8k years ago, I would be able to walk to the UK ( from NL ).

The hole in the ozone layer was stopped because countries got together and signed a treaty to ban CFCs. It is the most successful example of international collaboration on an environmental issue ever.

I am glad you agree on that point. And it wasn't a 'crisis'.

It was a crisis that was resolved through international action.

I'm not really sure what your point is. That we don't have to worry about global warming because countries are going to work together to stop it? I wish I had your optimism.

Just pick one of your points that seems misunderstood:

> In my time, the hockey-stick would be an indication there is something wrong with the model ( instability ). "Nature does not behave this way"

But the popularly known "hockey stick" graph isn't a model prediction, it's a reconstruction of past and current temperatures. "Nature is currently behaving this way"... And as you point out, that's an indication that there's something wrong -- instability.

It's not actually a reconstruction of temperatures – it's cherry-picked data to support a per-determined conclusion.

Hey thnx. Just read up and point taken.

The greying-out of the above comment might suggest one reason people don't want to engage with the issue here.

In technical discussions on HN, people are allowed to bring up contrarian opinions and ideas.

In highly-politicized issues, people tend to line up on sides, and downvote accordingly.

There are legitimate scientists who think climate is a potentially serious problem, like many others, but neither a crisis nor an emergency. It's hard for them to get heard.

If you speak with authority on a subject you will probably get downvoted if you are wrong about it. At least one of either humility or accuracy is expected.

Rising sea levels are unambiguously bad for the millions of people who live by the coast.

People will migrate up to where the coast is. The North-Sea used to be inhatibed ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doggerland )

On a long timescale, yes, they will. On a short timescale, many people will die. You can't just move an entire house to a different city (and obviously no-one will be able to sell a house on a drowning coastline).

For example, the Pacific Islands will face rising tides along their whole coastline, while simultaneously facing extreme weather events and agricultural disruption. What's your solution for an entire country of people simultaneously trying to immigrate elsewhere?

Some people will die of ancillary causes (mostly lost wealth). It will impact the poorest, and frankly dumbest, individuals who will not face a creeping inevitability.

You are describing a deluge, end of times. Not a rise in sea level.

I wish that were true, but there are already uninhabited islands that have sunk below the waves [1]. There are inhabited ones (e.g. the Carteret islands) which are on their way out and already suffering:

"Since 1994, the islanders of the seven atolls, lying only 1.2 metres above sea level, have already lost about 50 per cent of their land. Traditional food sources have become scarce, regularly placing the islanders in situations of near famine. The communities also face severe water shortages due to prolonged droughts and sea-level rises that affect their freshwater supply." [2]

[1] https://www.newscientist.com/article/2146594-eight-low-lying...

[2] https://www.resilience.org/stories/2019-06-11/understanding-...

There have been uninhabited islands that sunk below the waves since the beginning of time.

But how is this "many people will die"? Have people already died? Are they dying by the 100ths? Or the thousands?

I guess not. And they will migrate away.

This isn't reddit. Everyone doesn't need to chime in on a subject.

If you're not a subject matter expert, I personally would prefer you not comment at all.

It's much more pleasant to read discussion from people that know what they're talking about rather than people offering their opinions because they think that other people want to read them.

This is primarily a technology site, so it's not surprising when you have popular articles in other subjects with few comments.

People can find something interesting without having the need to say something.

>If you're not a subject matter expert, I personally would prefer you not comment at all.

This is silly. Subject matter experts in adjacent or even irrelevant fields often have a lot to add to discussions. HN would be really boring if only only 'subject matter experts' chimed in discussions.

What's the proportion of HN readers (and writers) that live in the US ? I assume it's a lot, probably more than 50%, correct me if I'm wrong.

The US's impact on the climate is huge, an order of magnitude higher than any European country and more than twice per capita.

Maybe that makes it a Taboo subject even more than elsewhere ?

I think the issue is that people feel hopeless. A lot of people probably wonder what’s the point of anything or programming in general if the planet itself is currently under siege.

I think it’s hard to know what to do as a software engineer which is what most of hacker news readers are.

The most we can really do right now is live as sustainable as possible and lead sustainable lives.

What is kind of sad is many of us are chasing higher comp all the time and workin at companies whose missions we really don't align with, when sustainable lifestyles probably require much less than we think we need.

Yes I think this is it really. The message we are hearing recently is that in order to prevent the worst of climate change we must effectively shut down what most people think of as "modern society". This is a hard pill to swallow, even if you believe it. I actual see resistance across the political spectrum. Also tons of cognitive dissonance, like one article talking about how we are entering a utopic age where nobody needs to work anymore, u.b.i. and machines will provide everything we need, followed by another article saying we are 10-20 years away from going extinct essentially. Or articles saying we need to build denser cities in order to live more efficiently while ignoring the massive demand for steel, concrete, glass etc that would require etc... Nobody has any answers I don't think, just wishful/naive thinking.

You're asking why technologists prefer to comment on technology, rather than environmental science.

Look at posts on Tesla, nuclear energy, battery prices, nuclear fusion, all of these fancy subjects: they're much more interesting to HN.

And, of course, I wager most HN commenters would agree there is a crisis -- do they need further evidence of that fact? They want to focus on the solutions, not the latest statistics of how bad the issue is.

That's not been my observation. A quick check of hn.algolia shows that Climate Change posts do get a decent number of upvotes/comments[0].

Sure, it's not as many upvotes/comments as compared to when you search "Apple" or "Microsoft" - but I feel like climate change + other important issues (like privacy) are pretty well upvoted/commented on.

Could there/should there be even _more_ traction? Probably. But IMO it's unfair to say:

> Articles about Climate Change seem to get very few comments on Hacker News

[0] https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=pastYear&page=0&prefix=tru...

Oh there are a lot of interest: otherwise these topics wouldn't appear on the front page. It's just that there aren't a lot to comment. What's the point of admitting we are screwed for the hundredth time?

Even "climate debate" has lost its appeal for me. The theater is on fire and we don't even know if there's an exit. I don't have the energy to argue with those saying the smell of smoke is entirely in our imagination.

If we want to get serious, it's time to metaphorically leave behind who's not on board, but then there's not much to debate any more.

Its a highly politicized topic.

The two major political parties in the United States are arguing over the validity of the claims. Even if you wanted to have a technical discussion, the average HN reader will not be able to put aside their political party's beliefs in order to actually evaluate claims made by individual scientists.

I don't want to sound like I'm trivializing the scope of the problem, but there are articles about it almost every single day. There's only so much we can discuss as few of these seem to present genuinely novel information. At this point we know the science; the main barriers to action are political, and politics are generally considered beyond the scope of this forum. Again, I don't mean to trivialize it as I think that the subject should be getting much more attention, but let's face it, people come here for interesting discussion first and foremost.

This went from first page to second page in about 10 minutes.

Another question : what can I do to make things change ?

One long distance flight (roundtrip) per year has about the same CO2 equivalent as going from vegan to "normal" meat consumption (namely about a quarter of the average citizen's CO2 footprint). Draw your own conclusions, inform others.

One way is to reduce your climate impact to 2 tons / year and spread the word.

well I already don't own a car (last mile vehicle is enough for my use), and follow a mediterranean diet, avoid waste, etc

But e.g. as much as I try to avoid single use plastic, my limited useage is not going to do much vs just banning / heavily taxing them.

So my question was more : what can I do to actually make the lines move.

I answered this before but can't find my post (is there an easy way to search your own comments?)

Basically I said put pressure on your politician. As an individual you can't do much, a politician is the person to make things happen - it's their job! - so pressure them.

I'm currently doing this to my own (in the UK). They seem to be struggling rather pitifully to understand the difference in priorities between Brexit, and a Catastrophe of Human Making aka climate change. Well, FWIW I'll keep pressuring them.

You could do this https://duckduckgo.com/html?q=what%20can%20I%20do%20about%20...

Or nothing at all. Whichever suits.

Because there aren’t any solutions we can centrally plan and just make happen between 7-8B people, 200 nation-States, and far more than 200 government jurisdictions without a massive massive massive body count.

The cost of doing nothing is that there will still be a high body count.

Look at the solutions proposed: more forest land. Yes, we need more forest land, we need to save what forests we can, but growing new forests to a venerable age takes time, and I’m not convinced we can do so in a sustainable manner at scale given our preponderance to farm mono cultures which will be susceptible to disease before any of their benefits can even be realized.

There’s the existing forests, but it turns out the nations that own those forests, because national borders and all that, would really like to develop that land. Brazil has outright rejected foreign intervention in their latest elections by political, economic, and diplomatic means. So do you want to be the one to suggest we invade Brazil and hold them in economic subjugation at literal gunpoint?

And then there’s the eugenics program that they don’t want to call eugenics, but ultimately it is a eugenics program. Getting people to have fewer babies is a good way to reduce the population, but the problem is poorer countries are going to continue to have more children because it turns out, having that extra household labor is really helpful. Then you get problems like Shinzo Abe all but begging his nation’s people to get freaky and have more babies, or the massive sex imbalance between the PRC and India where there are far more males than females, and there will soon be tens of millions of young adult men with absolutely no chance of having a wife or having their own families.

The truth is, we don’t know what to do. Even if we think we do, we don’t know how to go about it. Even if we make a plan and execute it, we will still be left with a boatload of other problems.

11,000 scientists can sign a letter that we need to do something, but they’re scientists. They’re not politicians. They’re not engineers. They’re not soldiers. They’re not farmers. They’re not living with the reality of what they are proposing, nor are they making an effective case because they don’t have a good forum with which to do so.

Here’s what you and I can do though: we can go about our lives until we die, possibly by an environmental catastrophe but more likely old age, and hopefully not trash up the planet too much ourselves before we do. If you want to forego modern conveniences and still be a member of some society, feel free to buy some land and start up an intentional community, take a leaf out of the Amish playbook.

The topic is very politically divisive, because half the country refuses to acknowledge it. It's unfortunate that such controversies occur here. We're supposed to be an "idea lab".

That's a very American problem though. In the rest of the world climate change isn't nearly as controversial and HN has a global userbase.

Clearly America is doing little about it. Is the rest of the world doing any better? I'm asking this seriously. What notable changes have any other countries or populations made to combat climate change? It feels like (and I would LOVE to be wrong about this) other massive polluters know it is a problem, but STILL don't really change anything.

it's hard to have a discussion when every diverging opinion gets drowned in down votes and circle jerks are only interesting as long as the central argument is fascinating but climate change is in it's own definition "settled science"

It's tangential to this site, like two straight years of wage gap articles.

> The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle.

> Excessive extraction of materials and overexploitation of ecosystems, driven by economic growth, must be quickly curtailed to maintain long-term sustainability of the biosphere.

> Profoundly troubling signs from human activities include sustained increases in both human and ruminant livestock populations, per capita meat production, world gross domestic product, global tree cover loss, fossil fuel consumption, the number of air passengers carried, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and per capita CO2 emissions since 2000

There's the rub. The vast majority of people in the developing world want the wealthy, Western lifestyle. People like eating meat. People like having technology and air conditioning and transportation and using airplanes to visit far off places.

No leader of a developing country is going to go to their people and say, "Sorry, for the sake of the planet we are going to remain poor." And no leader of developed country is going to go to their people and say, "Sorry, for the sake of the planet, we are going to have to give up our lifestyle, and curtail our economic growth."

> Exactly 40 years ago, scientists from 50 nations met at the First World Climate Conference (in Geneva 1979) and agreed that alarming trends for climate change made it urgently necessary to act.

My guess is that 40 years from now, this group of scientists will put out a paper talking about how they have been warning us for the last 80 years, and we still haven't done anything.

> No leader of a developing country is going to go to their people and say, "Sorry, for the sake of the planet we are going to remain poor." And no leader of developed country is going to go to their people and say, "Sorry, for the sake of the planet, we are going to have to give up our lifestyle, and curtail our economic growth."

Then we will all die, and will deserve it.

"We" won't deserve it. There is a small minority of people who have worked for 30 years to suppress research about climate change. For example, Exxon has known about climate change for decades, but funded denialists [1]

Unfortunately, these people are unlikely to suffer very much from climate change, because they will be able to afford higher food prices, private security, etc.

So a more accurate statement would be "Then millions of undeserving people will die, and the people who deserve to won't."

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

"We will all die" is such hyperbole. Billions of poor people? Sure. But in developed nation's, technology will keep us going for a long time.

If you want to save the lives of poor people from climate change, the number one thing you could do is help them develop as fast as possible. When the temperatures get high, having access to dependable electricity and air conditioning can mean the difference between life and depth. Having reliable road and rail networks means that if the crops fail, food from outside can easily be brought in to stave off starvation.

Perhaps 30 years ago climate change could have been stopped or kept under control by a series of taxes and trading schemes. However, world governments have squandered that opportunity.

If climate change continues unfettered, millions of people living on coastlines will be displaced and agriculture will become difficult in many regions. This is likely to lead to political chaos and instability.

I think climate change should be the most important issue on in any election. We still have time to keep warming manageable, but it will mean halving the amount of greenhouse gas we produce. This is going to require fighting climate change on multiple fronts, including changes to almost every industry - energy, housing, transportation, commerce - and possibly even geoengineering as a last resort. But it can be done. The Green New Deal is the only family of solutions that can plausibly halt climate change. Anything less is incompatible with the science.

I absolutely hate how such articles are designed to make most readers feel guilty, while not offering any realistic and quantifiable action plan. Nope, the average reader of this will not give up their plans on having a family, to delay the global warming for the less environmentally conscious part of humanity by a couple of milliseconds. They won't change their lifestyle from living in a house, traveling to events and eating tasty food to suddenly sitting in a 100 sqft box and eating sustainable pea soup every day. What those articles do is give more votes to the green politicians, whose platform often consists of taxing things people enjoy and spending that money to produce more fearmongering articles. So instead of a small shop owner flying with their family to a vacation in Hawaii, the same plane seat will be taken by a politician flying to a climate change conference where they will commit to spending more taxpayer money on creating committees, publishing papers and making sure as many people as possible vote green.

On the other hand, there are not many articles on addressing climate change from an engineering standpoint. How much of the CO2 emissions come from burning gasoline? How much of that CO2 could be trapped back by switching to biodiesel? What would be the CO2 output of producing the necessary fertilizers and compensating for the increased corrosiveness? Are there better ways of trapping atmospheric CO2 in something that can be easily loaded into a gas tank in 5 minutes? Can we compensate the greenhouse effect by emitting some reflective particles into the atmosphere?

There are plenty of quantifiable and constructive ways to to reduce the global warming that would actually require research and collaboration across the board, but somehow instead we are stuck in a loop of guilt and are fighting on who should get blamed and taxed for something we are not yet solving.

> The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle.

My bullshit detector went off here. I don't known how any reputable scientist can claim that.

Well... in almost all cases, the wealthy lifestyle produces more carbon than a less-wealthy lifestyle in the same country.

The thing is, though, that the wealthy lifestyle isn't that common. Are we talking about the 1%? Well, only 1% of the people can live that lifestyle. Are they responsible for 2% of carbon emissions? 5%? 10%? That still leaves 90% of carbon emissions.

So, yeah. The quoted statement seems to be far more political than it is based on objective evidence.

Relevant Posted today: The Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), Portugal Space Agency (PT Space), European Space Agency (ESA) and Unbabel Labs open competition for a €500,000 award that will combine Artificial Intelligence and space technologies to solve major environmental issues. The winning team will present its solution at Web Summit 2020.


Full of Y-axis manipulation. Alarmist language.

And what does this mean ? ( from the conclusions ) :

"Mitigating and adapting to climate change while honoring the diversity of humans"

Did they get bonus points for the diversity angle?

Population control is often a dog whistle for ethnic cleansing. I think they are simply trying to be very clear that they aren't advocating for that.

The merely want to control the population?

No. As the report itself says, stabilizing the population (or slightly shrinking it) will help fight climate change, but that can be done very easily without "population control".

"make family-planning services available to all people, remove barriers to their access and achieve full gender equity, including primary and secondary education as a global norm for all, especially girls and young women [1]

Which makes sense! Rather than some sort of authoritarian China-esque policy of limiting children, just spread access to goods (like education, contraception and abortion) which allow people to control how many children they have.

[1] https://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6403/650

Looks to me like the Y-axes were consistently manipulated, with the sinister aim of fitting all of the data points in some very limited real estate for each graph.

And because there are so many graphs, one would like to correlate.

Which is totally senseless now.

...Most of them aren't even measuring the same variable. What were you hoping to correlate? For the handful of pairs that are apples to apples, couldn't you just imagine one being situated above the other?

It's perfectly fine to truncate the y-axis on line charts when zero is not in the normal range of values. The charts all look very clear and it's easy to interpret the data and trends to me.

I believe it means "while avoiding a totalitarian hell"

11,000 scientists, in fact.

Are these the hallowed 99%?

Is there a solution for rapid change from the private sector? I don't believe the current US policy makers will act on climate change.

The one solution I see is replacing traditional meat (especially beef) by alternatives like Beyond Meat or processed insects.

I believe that we can see a huge shift once meat alternatives become a viable alternative, not only for the sake of direct methane/CO2 consumption but also in terms of rain forest preservation (iirc, around 77% of the total soy production go into mass breeding).

it says worldwide, but we all know who this is aimed at. Global North countries with excess consumption are distinctly to blame. Why then, the emphasis on coordinated global action? Broad demands, like moving away from GDP and doing nice sustainable things instead are not productive. But when these kinds of alliances insist on ignoring the overwhelming burden of the US and friends on the climate crisis, instead asking for aid in moving developing countries and their minuscule footprint away from fossil fuels, its the only way to go about it. We need to understand that, as the developing world, this is not “our” fault. It is -their- fault. That’s why this will fizzle out like all the agreements before it. If these thousands of scientists want to make a change, they need to throw their weight behind specific policy proposals in specific guilty countries and get political, using their numbers as focused power and not as vague alarmism calling for impossible policy.

When I say climate, you say emergency!


Well worth reading.

Climate Change is an existential threat. Period.

not even the most pessimistic IPCC projections describe it as an existential threat. youre buying into hype instead of science.

That is debatable, and is being debated. There remains a lot of unknowns, a lot of them having to do with the northern permafrosts that have been increasingly releasing methane.

Voting this down is not going to cool down our planet. Thanks.

Yawn ...

So says the collective consciousness...

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