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Per the article, most of the sites were landfills, dairy farms, and natural gas facilities. All of those are directly controlled by consumer demand.

It's not all landfills, it's a small collection of landfills. And if they aren't fixed, even if everybody went zero waste today, those landfills would still be emitting large amounts of methane.

Proper landfill design & operation ensures the landfill is aerated, which keeps decomposition primarily aerobic which produces little methane. A poorly designed or operated landfill with little aeration will switch to aerobic metabolism, which is what produces large quantities of methane.

> even if everybody went zero waste today, those landfills would still be emitting large amounts of methane.

If everyone went zero waste then nothing would be added to the landfill, and its methane production would taper out to nothing as a result.

> Formation of methane and CO2 commences about six months after depositing the landfill material. The evolution of gas reaches a maximum at about 20 years, then declines over the course of decades. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landfill_gas

From the top charts for image search "landfill gas chart", suggests methane(CH4) vents heavily for 3-5 years, then a long taper.

If every reseller proposed a discounted "no packaging" option, people would produce less waste. If providing such an option was mandatory or even just incentivized, more resellers would propose it.

Consumers do have some power, but they are not the only ones and we should demand an effort from all parts of society there.

On the other hand, I doubt it is plastic waste that produce methane, an organic byproduct. Maybe food wastes are at fault. In which case your enemy is not overpackaging and may actually be your (temporary) ally

This is something I've always wondered (being someone who is heavily into compost), since the byproduct of aerobic decomposition is CO2, which is actually worse? Aerobic, or Anaerobic? Both produce GHGs, Methane is the worse one, but obviously if it was produced in smaller quantities then it would be more beneficial. Also what lasts longer in the atmosphere? CO2 or Methane?

Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas, and it naturally degrades into CO2 in the atmosphere. Burning methane it on the ground, even not for energy, helps mitigate the warming effect, because it is that much more potent than CO2.

I get that it's more potent, i wrote that in my comment. But if composting aerobically releases 50 times more CO2 than composting anaerobically does methane, then composting anaerobically is the better option.

The CO2 from compost came from surface organic matter, which got it from the air in the first place. It is a net zero proposition (discounting potential transit costs which may or may not apply).

The rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere come from burning hydrocarbons which originate from below the earth's surface, where they were not part of the carbon cycle for millions of years. Burning faster than natural sequestration below the surface is reaponsible for the overall rise.

All else being equal, methane has a stronger greenhouse effect, but breaks down, unlike CO2 which is only sequestered by plants.

I get that it's net zero, but it's still releasing it back into the atmosphere. Burying the compostable material might actually be a way of sequestering carbon.

It is, technically, but with caveats. It has to be buried deeply enough that any gasses created by decomposition won't be released or escape on their own.

More worrisome is that, done at a scale that would matter to the atmosphere, it would have to be buried in containers that are impermeable to water forever, lest all of our underground aquifers become contaminated by bacteria and heavy metals that are naturally occurring in plants.

I agree that it can be reduced, my point was that it is directly tied to consumer demand and human activity. It will still be a none-zero number after reduction. No business is out there emitting methane for shits and giggles.

As I said elsewhere in this post, you can cut emission but population growth offsets all the benefits. You cannot address climate change without drastic long term reduction in human activity/population.

Consumption is even further removed from externalities than the companies which do this damage in the first place. It always strikes me as odd when consumers are blamed for the damage companies do when producing their goods. It's not like it says on the packaging "During the production of this product, XXX chemicals were released into your rivers" for consumers to make an informed choice in this matter. Furthermore, companies actively try to hide and cover up the damage that they do. Oil companies have known about the impacts of their products on global warming since the 70's and have waged a HUGE disinformation campaign to say otherwise. Now we are in a situation where half the country doesn't believe in global warming, but it's the consumers fault?

> You cannot address climate change without drastic long term reduction in human activity/population.

Of course you can. You must change activities to be carbon neutral, but you can maintain the same level of comfort you have today. More than "can maintain", you "must".

If you rely on sacrifice from the whole planetary population in order to tackle climate change, we are doomed. It will never happen, as it goes against the competitive nature of humans.

The correct path is forward: innovate, so that carbon neutral forms of energy and materials are better than carbon-emitting versions. Energy is an almost solved problem, using this vector. Let's attack materials now.

Carbon neutrality is a necessity, as is population reduction. I am not advocating for one over the other. Either alone will not work, not short term certainly not long term.

With atmospheric carbon & population, increasing each of these numbers beyond a certain point (where sustainable thriving is naturally possible) can be seen to be detrimental to all.

As excesses become realized, increasingly, a fundamental relationship between these figures can become measurable.

That exact relationship, the proven algorithm, may not realistically be very well agreed upon in detail, but as these factors rise rapidly above baseline levels that function should more accurately be discerned above the background as time goes on.

Maybe before this happens, sustainability would be better achieved by actions resulting in trends which reduce these two figures low enough in combination where no relationship could then be considered realistic.

So carbon neutrality might not be enough without taking too much from population.

To be fair; in cattle at least, "shits and giggles" is not an entirely inaccurate description of methane production.

The laughing cows are the worst. But they make a pretty decent cheese.

In some cases consumer demand is the biggest lever we have, it's true. But in this case of a few bad actor landfills, we can fix 95% of the problem in a matter of a few months or years with established solutions.

> You cannot address climate change without drastic long term reduction in human activity/population.

Completely disagree. Reducing waste, recycling waste, and re-using waste are some of the ways to address climate change. Saying modifying human activity/population is the only way to solve a problem is as extreme as saying climate change isn't real.

> No business is out there emitting methane for shits and giggles.

No one says this, you're reducing the broader point to a poor cliff-note. The point is that the incentives for businesses to better address their waste are not there. If all one gets for managing waste responsibly is a higher bill every month and a good feeling in their stomach, why would a proper capitalist businessperson do that in the short term?

We're beyond incentives. We need taxation, aka carbon tax.

My point was that the "capitalist" is not running that production line in isolation, it is the end consumer demand that drives that pipeline. So yes consumer demand is the ultimate source of all this.

Carbon tax is but a first step but it is necessary as it will force the actors to take action. As you correctly pointed out they have no "incentive" to do so right now.

This is demonstrably false, please stop perpetuating it. CO2 emissions are 90% down to tragedy of the commons.

I can have the exactly same lifestyle in Saudi, in USA and in France, yet per capita emissions in France are 3 times lower than those in USA, and 5 times lower than in Saudi.

People in Saudi do not have 5 times better lives. In fact a huge chunk of the population is an underclass, some work as slaves on construction sites.

Competent management and regulation matters, a lot.

41% of US emissions come from the power industry while in France, where nuclear power is widespread, it's only 13% from power. But very rarely do I hear calls from people who care about this stuff call for switching the nation's energy to nuclear.



Here we go with the nuclear debate again. Frankly, I'm against how the US/UK handle nuclear as a decentralized, privatized business. If we could have the French model for nuclear (and I know it's not perfect either), I'd be much more in favor. Also French high speed rail, let them take over and give us TGVs.

Of course this doesn't work for the US, because French nuclear (and HSR) depend on their dirigiste government--which has totally different assumptions about distribution of political power.

Edited to add: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirigisme

with the following quote: "...marked by volontarisme, the belief that difficulties (e.g. postwar devastation, lack of natural resources) could be overcome through willpower and ingenuity. For instance, following the 1973 energy crisis, the saying "In France we don't have oil, but we have ideas" was coined. Volontarisme emphasized modernization, resulting in a variety of ambitious state plans. Examples of this trend include the extensive use of nuclear energy (close to 80% of French electrical consumption), the Minitel, an early online system for the masses, and the TGV, a high-speed rail network."

Every discussion of energy I've ever seen has had a large portion of people making pro nuclear comments.

Because that's the transition power that has the math and history to back it. Its window is closing though. It would have made a ton of sense in the 80s or 90s but the antinuclear have won: we stayed 40 more years in the fuel economy until renewables matured enough to be a credible alternative.

We are not there yet though: intermittence (and to some extent construction speed) still favor nuclear power but maybe not for that long.

The Democrat Party Platform of 2016 does not mention nuclear energy once. It does tout solar and wind several times in a whole section on reducing carbon emissions.


If you asked the typical person who's extremely concerned about climate change where we should invest money, they'll answer wind and solar far more likely than nuclear. There are people who advocate for nuclear as the solution, sure, but they're in the minority. Often they're people who don't seem especially concerned about climate change.

> The Democrat Party Platform of 2016

There is no such Party, and no such Party Platform; the document is, as its own title says, the Democratic Platform 2016.

> does not mention nuclear energy once.

It promotes it without naming it, by proposing pricing in the climate externalities of fossil fuels, which makes all energy sources that don't contribute to warming, including nuclear, more competitive in the market and attractive to private investment.

You can see similar factors of difference in carbon intensity between US States. Generally the ones I'd want to live in are doing much better.

In Australia, when they briefly brought in a carbon tax, a dairy that complained before it was introduced, started capturing their methane and using it for power and installed solar. They ended up thinking it was a good thing just as it was repealed.

France emits close to zero for electricity production but nevertheless the "American way of life" in itself is a major cause of the huge footprint the US have per capita. It's not only emissions but consumptions of all resources in general.

Nothing you've said contradicts my assertion that consumer demand drives production, which causes emissions.

Nothing that I've said contradicts your point that management and regulation matter.

You're subscribing to an either/or dichotomy which is false. Consumers demand drives emission. The fix is to enforce heavy regulation on the producers which will ultimately result in lower demand through increased cost.

CO2 emissions are only ONE of the environmental challenges we're dealing with. We're resource bound in other ways, and regular ol' pollution of the environment is a huge concern which sometimes run contrary to CO2 emission. Meaning you can have a technology that reduces CO2 emission in production, so you consume more and throw away more. That is good for climate change but still bad for the planet.

Could you explain why this is relevant? This article is talking about methane emission.

I think it would be more precise to say they are influenced by consumer demand. Consumers consume from landfills, dairy farms, and natural gas facilities, but they do not control them.

It is true that as a consumer, I can try to regulate my demand to reflect how I feel about those facilities' emissions.

At the time time, saying that consumers control those facilities seems to imply that the owners and operators bear no responsiblity for their emissions and are not empowered to change them.

I do hope they are consuming from landfills, otherwise you might have more pressing issues ^ ^

As a consumer, I don't get to pick which landfill my crap goes to. And even if I did, it would be one of fifty million micro-decisions that I, quite frankly don't have the time to make, or have the knowledge to make well.

Instead, the industry should make these decisions for me. It already does, by deciding which products to build, and how. Set tariffs, taxes, penalties, and let producers figure out how to most optimally make money in that environment. That's their core expertise - it's not my core expertise.

We don't expect consumers to be medical experts. We have doctors for that. Why should we expect consumers to also be experts in the long tail of 'various ways that producers screw up our environment'?

That's true, but perhaps the emissions can be mitigated in a targeted way beyond just reducing demand.

Not really possible. Ultimately it is human demand that is driving climate change. Even if you have a magical technology that cuts all emissions today by 25% -- which would be truly magic -- you only need a 25% growth* in population to offset that and put us back to square one.

At the current rate of 1.2% that's only ~18 years.

The comment you replied to said 'mitigated', not 'solved'. Emissions controls already have, and still can, make enormous impacts on many consumer devices.

Given that emission controls are a whole lot easier to implement than eliminating a huge portion of the world's population, I'd say it's a more realistic goal to pursue.

I wouldn't claim it's difficult per se, we've done it before.

But I do suggest people advocating it join the front of the queue.

(Just because this is hn...)

You'd need a 33% growth in population to offset a 25% reduction in pollution, 100% growth to offset a 50% reduction, and so on.

For example, "urban" water use in California accounts for 8-11%. I believe "urban" is both residential and industrial use combined. However, most of the pressure seems to be in reducing residential use--the goal during the last drought was to reduce residential use by 25%...which would account for at most 2% of the water consumed. Approaches included things like not giving you water at a restaurant unless you asked for it.

Of course all water use (like pollution) is driven by consumer demand, but the point is a lot of effort seems to be spent on silly things that have little impact when there are much easier targets.

Caveat: the water situation is a lot more complex than I laid it out here.


This is basic tragedy of the commons (or "n-person prisoners' dilemma").

If I consume 50% less dairy products, for instance, it will cause a noticeable negative impact on my life.

The impact it will have on the environment will not be at all noticeable. (and it wouldn't be noticeable if it were multiplied by tens of thousands)

It isn't realistic to expect change by relying on consumers to negatively impact themselves for some unmeasurable positive.

On the other hand, it is not at all unrealistic to have those same consumers vote for regulation. The amount it increases the cost of dairy products would likely be outweighed by the positive impact on the environment. It works because the impact of action on themselves, both negative and positive, are divided up by all the people.

Landfills can be capped and farmed for methane, dairy farms can also be capped and farmed for methane, usually to fuel the farm itself as I have personally seen done, and natural gas facilities could capture a lot of their emissions if they were willing to spend a few extra pennies. Those are all solved problems, but we let profits dictate which technologies we utilize.

They can also be directly affected by regulations. Unless you know a way of robustly managing severe negative externalities without regulation?

Regulation is one way of doing it. It has also been suggested that worker owned and managed businesses would more naturally self regulate to meet the needs of the community. Having a few highly privileged people at the top of the company to make decisions means that they have different interests from most of us (very high profit opportunity and a much wealthier way of life that would insulate them from pollution). So it has been suggested that if you stop making companies with a privileged minority at the top, you’d eliminate a lot of anti social behavior.

influenced by consumer demand and legislation, controlled explicitly by their owners

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