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[flagged] We've Just Had the Best Decade in Human History (spectator.co.uk)
135 points by jandrewrogers 31 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 210 comments

An earlier article by the same author:

Why climate change is good for the world - "Don't panic! The scientific consensus is that warmer temperatures do more good than harm" https://www.spectator.co.uk/2013/10/carry-on-warming/

His tenure at Northern Rock does not inspire confidence:

The man who crocked Northern Rock - and how the scandal will cost £55 BILLION https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1026384/The-man-cro...

Lessons of the fall - "How a financial darling fell from grace, and why regulators didn't catch it" https://www.economist.com/briefing/2007/10/18/lessons-of-the...

Northern Rock chairman quits after crisis https://www.euronews.com/2007/10/19/northern-rock-chairman-q...

Matt Ridley would turn planet into Northern Rock https://theecologist.org/2018/nov/05/matt-ridley-would-turn-...

I thought I recognized the name:


I read his book Genome years ago and thought it was a moderately interesting primer on the revolution in genetic research starting to unfold in the wake of the Human Genome Project.

I'm sorry to discover Viscount Ridley turned out to be such a hack:


Is that why this article is flagged? Because of who wrote it?

Do you have any specific disagreement with anything he wrote? Because it seemed to be an interesting article with many things in it I didn't know, written in an engaging style.

From glancing through the comments below it seems people are angry because this guy isn't angry, and doesn't believe the world is doomed.

Why climate change is good for the world - "Don't panic! The scientific consensus is that warmer temperatures do more good than harm"

You don't explicitly pass judgement on this, apparently believing climate sensitivity and impact of small temperature changes is so obvious as to be beyond doubt. But there's a lot of doubt about how sensitive the climate really is. Climatology is very far from being a precise and well understood science, and that's before you get into some of the questionable scientific practices found inside.

The article is, again, well written and makes good arguments. It starts by citing a scientific meta-study into the economic impacts and goes from there. It also acknowledges the possible counter-arguments.

For those who are interested in the question of climate sensitivity Nic Lewis (a published climate scientist and skeptic), has some good talks on the matter, like this one:



Matt Ridley and James Delingpole are regulars in the Spectator and Telegraph since their capture by the extreme. They regularly mangle facts, cherry pick and misquote to give highly misleading pieces. So much so they have become notorious for it. Nic Lewis, retired financier, physicist and mathematician, is not a climate scientist, despite his interest and Lawson thinktank funded paper. Calling himself an independent climate scientist doesn't make him one.

Let't take a look. Here's a report when it was published[1]. Even one of the people Mr Lewis cites disputes his claims.

The "good news" the IPCC apparently tried to hide is that the world's climate system is less sensitive to a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than some scientists think it is.

The bad news for the GWPF – a secretly funded organisation founded by UK climate science sceptic Lord Nigel Lawson - is that before the ink has even dried on their new report, the organisation has been accused of cherry-picking facts to make their argument stick.

And in more bad news, one of the researchers cited by the GWPF report has told me that even if Lawson's think tank is right, then we're heading for 3C of global heating by the end of the century (which is actually very bad news).

Good prose does not make a good scientific or factual argument. It is as you say, just "good talks", or hot air. Lawson was so bad at denial that his appearances on the BBC were more a black comedy five minutes than actual contrarianism.


This is the worst paragraph of the whole article:

> Perhaps one of the least fashionable predictions I made nine years ago was that ‘the ecological footprint of human activity is probably shrinking’ and ‘we are getting more sustainable, not less, in the way we use the planet’. That is to say: our population and economy would grow, but we’d learn how to reduce what we take from the planet. And so it has proved. An MIT scientist, Andrew McAfee, recently documented this in a book called More from Less, showing how some nations are beginning to use less stuff: less metal, less water, less land. Not just in proportion to productivity: less stuff overall.

...and what you're leaving out here is that this is far too little, far too late. This is like noting a decrease in the number of iceburg collisions in the last hours before the Titanic sank.

This is NOT a cause for optimism. We're destroying the environment at a slower rate, but that doesn't mean we're not destroying the environment.

Even that is wrong - we aren’t slowing the rate we are damaging the environment- that is fated to go up.

What we are doing is reducing the rate at which our damage grows.

Reduction in acceleration is not reduction in velocity or reversal.

But the least fashionable prediction is just completely false. No one is using less stuff. The book he cites just notes that that less stuff is being consumed by manufacturing within the borders of the continental United States of America, while ignoring the fact that all the manufacturing for Americans has moved to other countries. It's a completely bogus argument in the book, being repurposed as a completely bogus argument on this webpage. Just pure fiction.

We are using natural resources at a rate which is constantly increasing, and the rate of increase is increasing as well.


Given this is obviously too vague/broad a question to be answerable, I get the feeling you're just asking so you can say, "Gotcha, you don't know, environmentalism is bullshit!"

On the off-chance that you are actually asking this question in good faith to try to learn something, I'd start by looking at the Wikipedia page on Global Warming[1].

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

I think the question asked is rather important if we want to know where we should get to. Maybe it is not easy to answer - but then you can rather ask how do we know it is too rapidly now - and then really you can answer the question by saying we know if X happens it is too rapidly, so we can only use it at a rate below what would cause X to happen.

Also, correct me if I'm wrong, global warming is not caused by the rate at which we are using natural resources but by the amount of CO2 we are putting in the atmosphere.

> I think the question asked is rather important if we want to know where we should get to. Maybe it is not easy to answer - but then you can rather ask how do we know it is too rapidly now - and then really you can answer the question by saying we know if X happens it is too rapidly, so we can only use it at a rate below what would cause X to happen.

I don't think the question asked is important, because it's not even specific enough to be coherent. For starters, what is X? If X is "oil", the answer is a lot different from if X is "sunlight", and asking about "resources" as if that broad category is a coherent entity is not going to yield any useful information.

> Also, correct me if I'm wrong, global warming is not caused by the rate at which we are using natural resources but by the amount of CO2 we are putting in the atmosphere.

Well, yes. But they're related questions: consuming fossil fuels and meat produces a lot of our carbon emissions.

One of the major forms of natural resource is ancient sequestered carbon, held in easily usable hydrocarbon form, that we consume (burn) to put that CO2 into the atmosphere.

Yes, and due to CO2 there is presumably no ideal rate at which to use it other than 0. Great. If the person I replied to meant oil, they should have said oil. Not resources.

There's many measures of environmental impact, some good, some less so, some that try to be wide ranging others more focused. One of the oldest is Earth Overshoot Day which imperfectly marks the point each year, that we pass the earth's ability to recover what we have used that year. Or that we go into ecological debt each year if you prefer. We've been running a debt, and accelerating its growth since the seventies.

It gets earlier nearly every year. This year was July 29th. In 1987 it was October 23rd. So right now we need 1.7 earths to sustainably supply what we are taking.

This measure focuses on renewable resources. Our point of non-sustainability may worsen markedly if we include non-renewable resources and other forms of pollution.


We've used up our budget of CO2 we can add to the atmosphere without major consequences. Anything we add from here on out is CO2 we have to recapture and put back, or live with even more expensive consequences.

Water is more of a local problem. Desalination is getting cheaper, but any region that just drains their aquifers without transitioning to either a sustainable amount of water use or a sustainable water source will be in for a lot of pain.

Our consumption of metals is honestly fine. Most are easy to recycle, and it looks like we will figure out asteroid mining before we come close to running out of anything.

Oil will take care of itself through economics as long as we figure out how to (re)capture the released CO2.

https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33133712 has a pretty good discussion of this question.

> Compare the lifestyle of a subsistence farmer with that of a wealthy city-dweller in a developed country. More land is required to grow the city dweller's food

Maybe I'm misreading this - but is the productivity of Subsistence farming so much better than that of more industrial farming methods, and if so why would we not just switch all farms to using same methods that Subsistence farmers do?

Without digging into the topic in depth, ten will get you twenty it is primarily a question of diet rather than technique. Maybe less food waste. The lessons from the diet will be ones you probably already know (eat less meat, especially beef), and not all good. The reasons for less food waste aren't particularly useful, unless you want to adopt the hyperlocal production implicit in subsistence farming.

> unless you want to adopt the hyperlocal production implicit in subsistence farming.

Will it have better crop yields than modern farming techniques? Then maybe? I mean for that efficiency it may be worth it. I still find the claim astounding and I would love to see some citation for it though rather than some anecdotes on waste less.

There are easily three major reasons you could find for why the statement in the BBC article (per person, fewer acres are used growing food for a subsistence farmer than a city-dweller):

1. Diet (subsistence farmers probably eat less meat, beef in particular; beef has an absurd environment footprint in on basically all metrics).

2. Food waste (the transport of food and delay between production and consumption of food is a major source of food waste; food doesn't spoil in the grocery store waiting to be bought if it is never in a grocery store).

3. Better per-acre yield (which would be surprising, given that for major crops, per-acre yields increased by 3-10x over the last century of industrial farming).

I'm saying I don't think 3 is the case at all, and that mostly 1 and maybe 2 explain the difference adequately.

"More land is required to grow the city dweller's food, more materials are used to build the city dweller's home and workplace, more energy is required for transport, heating and cooling."

Presumably, American city dwellers waste more food than subsistence farmers, but that factor is dwarfed by such measures as CO2 production. As the article describes.

The claim is not that they waste more food but as you quoted that "More land is required to grow the city dweller's food".

Which as I pointed out I find hard to believe and would like to see supporting evidence for.

Futher, if the CO2 production of subsistence farming methods for the same output is so much lower - why not switch all food production to those?

I really would like to see something to support the claims in this article.

About half of what we're doing, as a rule of thumb.

The answer to this question is far too vast and complex for a hacker news comment. The real problem is that the people who hold the levers of power to create change are far too invested in the status quo. They may have an ethical and humanitarian reason to respond to the scientific communities concerns and data, but they have literally every other single interest pointed in the exact opposite direction.

I think we're rapidly approaching the point where the youngest people are going to abandon "civil" methods of change. They're being faced with a world they won't be able to live in, and are derided, mocked, parodied, and of course denied any kind of power to exact the changes needed.

Power isn't denied, authority is.

They are denied authority on public media platforms.

What is authority if not a kind of power?


>What kind of power is exactly being denied and to whom?


>Who says what changes are needed and when?

this is a completely disingenuous question (both are really) since we all here are aware of climate change abatement recommendations

The UN council on climate change and all of the world's climate researchers could be a signal worth paying someind to.

By their account, we need to change the basis of our economy, and we should have started 10 or 20 years ago, so today would be the latest that can save some areas.

The power to enact this change is denied to everyone who will suffer from it.


If you're sincerely asking these questions, I suggest you read up on climate change at large. This an incredibly large and dense topic and simply asking "how do we fix the planet" as though it's some busted code isn't productive for anyone involved.

It is an honest question. I have read a bunch about the subject and I can’t find any answer that tells individuals what they can personally do without forcing anything into others.

Do you have suggestions?

Your question is fundamentally in bad faith, and it’s like asking, “What can individuals do to stay safe on roads without forcing others to abide by driving laws?”

Individuals can’t, by and large, make the minds of changes necessary to avert the oncoming climate disaster.

A big part of the issue is that individual incentives are misaligned, which is exactly where government is supposed to step in: realign incentives such that the individually optimal choice is compatible with averting global catastrophe. Expecting billions of individuals to act against their own individual self-interest is lunacy.


Please don't perpetuate flamewars on HN. You did a ton of that in this thread, and it's not cool here.

Even if your questions are sincere, it became clear a long time ago that they were not contributing to a genuine conversation.


> I take as a premise, my only premise in life, that what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours. Anything that violates this premise is, according to my own opinion and set of values, wrong.

What's yours is yours and what's mine is mine, but the planet and the presumption of a climate compatible with civilization are shared. It is owned neither by you nor me, and this necessitates an agreement where neither of us agree to exploit it for our own self-benefit at the detriment of others.

Is it against your set of values that we both agree to drive on same side of the road? If one of of us fails to do so, the government will step in and deprive the offender of their property and freedoms. As a result, we both benefit from the increased reliability and safety of transportation afforded by us agreeing to abide by the same set of rules.

> By that value, I’m ok with life as we know it ending if that means that individuals liberties will be kept. > > On the other hand, it seems like you don’t mind if a few million people die when we force third world countries to reduce their carbon emission by asking them to shut down coal plants and other processes generating carbon.

You literally state you're okay with "life as we know it ending" as a result of your absurdly rigid philosophy, but somehow you project me as being okay with millions of people dying.

As a sibling commenter said, your entire reply is essentially you clarifying that—yes—you are indeed arguing in bad faith. You've declared as ground rules a completely indefensible moral philosophy and have declared that anything opposing it is inherently wrong. This isn't a path to a productive conversation, and while I suspect you know that, it's a great way to make yourself feel superior and feel like you've "won" the argument when others don't agree to play by your rigged set of rules.

Your liberty ends where it impacts others, which is where extreme libertarianism has to stop and we start creating laws. Your freedom to pollute ends when it poisons someone else, etc.

As to your point about third world countries, as we saw from reporting of the COP25 the other week, it is the poor (third world) countries complaining not enough is being done. It is the wealthier nations who are being difficult.

Your comment is literally explaining that you are asking "in bad faith".

Libertarianism is a philosophy only the wealthy and safe can afford because it is so ill suited for the survival of a nation due to the extreme stupidity of individual members of the human race.

Please explicate how you believe millions of people will die by virtue of shutting down foreign coal plants?


We've banned this account for repeatedly breaking the site guidelines and ignoring our requests to stop.


All the really big ones require legal restrictions on emissions. I had a bit of an epiphany about this recently when I saw the local ethylene plant flaring - visible from twenty miles away in the middle of the day. There's no amount of personal cuts in consumption that can match up to a hundred foot column of flame pumping carbon dioxide directly into the atmosphere. Flaring needs to be stopped, and no amount of "individual" action is going to do that.

Civilization is that thing we all impose upon each other because we all individually lack the perspective to moderate our behaviors in a fashion so as to bring about our own and others well being. Rather than we each muddle through experts in every field compose recommendations that become regulations that allows us to shape society in such a fashion as to bring about our health and wealth.

You can't drive as fast as you like or run an unsafe factory, or lock all the fire exits. It's not merely that one may not act in such a way as would immediately harm or impose upon the other. One also may not act in such a way as will ultimately on the overall bring about harm even indirectly by changing the parameters of the system.

At our present trajectory of each nation choosing the head morons in a myriad ways every n years and trying to respond only to immediate needs it seems likely that our actions will degrade our planet and with it our and our children's and their children's chances at health and wealth or even existence.

We need therefore a critical mass of citizens all over the world to make our continued survival as a species a priority. This will at some point logically in any given nation at some point be a minority, then a slim majority then an solid one. Any action undertaken will by definition be imposed on the ones that disagree and there will always be dissenters in any action under the sun. Some 30% of the US for example believes the earth is 6000 years old and we heading towards a future in which Jesus will either fix everything or take us somewhere else. They are as fundamentally unfit to make decisions about our future as crazy people on a life boat and we cannot all survive if we allow them to eat all the food and poke holes in the boat.

There are some individuals who have the power to make meaningful change (mostly board members and such) but they are actually more bound then anyone by the tragedy of the commons. Without organized cooperation that has the ability to punish cheaters who benefit, the tragedy cannot be overcome.


Oh, that's right, that's "forcing anything into others." So, I guess...learn to swim?

> without forcing anything into others

You are not an island. Neither am I. If we only act in our own individual best interests, we denigrate society as a whole. We are social animals. We do our best work and are at our most capable when we work together.

Individualism is fine enough for small communities. On the world stage, we need to get past our petty bullshit if we want to continue living the way we do on this planet. And the worst part is failure to do so will not affect those who failed, but their children, and their grandchildren.

I don't think humanity will die off. We're too clever for that. But our world will look quite different in many ways in a few hundred years, and good luck explaining to our children that, well, Amazon Prime was just too good to let go of.

A metaphor: You and your fellow fishermen live in a bog. The bog's water level is kept just so to allow for optimum fishing, and this is accomplished with a dam that was installed many years ago by your ancestors. However, one year the fishing isn't great, and you and your fellow fishermen are now working extra long days to make up for the bad fishing, and to keep your output strong and your family fed. One of the villagers explains that the dam is leaking; it's causing the water to rise, which is messing with the fishing and also threatening the village at large.

Your individual interest is to keep fishing, because you're already having trouble meeting your goals for fish to sell. Now more than ever. You might say something like "I can't help fix the dam, I'm barely making ends meet as it is! I don't have time!" And your fellow fishermen will say the same. But the fishermen are the only ones who know how to patch leaks in boats, so no one else in the village can do the work.

In this example, your individual needs are legitimate, and your objection to fixing the dam is correct; if you take time to fix the dam instead of fish, your family will go hungry. However, if no one fixes the damn, then everyone's home could be flooded, the fishing will continue to get worse, until the entire village is destroyed.

This would be where some kind of authority would come into play, either a tribal leader, or some elected official, who could step in and say "No fishermen. Today you will fix the dam, and in return, we will feed your families while you do so with the village food stocks." It's directly opposed to their individual interests, but is in alignment with the group's interests. And nobody goes hungry.

This incredibly simple stuff is what has made mankind the dominant species on the planet. The ability to not just group together, but to perceive and understand larger threats to that group and react accordingly with proactive solutions, and is the lack of that activity, because, as Greta Thunberg best put it I think, the leaders are too busy telling each other fairy tales of infinite economic growth, that we are now in trouble.

I like how you are stating your opinions in a respectful way. Thank you for that.

For part of my opinion see my response below.

As for the other part, I just say that it is naive to expect “someone” to fix the worlds problems. No government or authority can fix it.

If the two fisherman can’t get in an agreement for the greater good and they both die, so be it.

What we can’t do is use apparently good excuses that will hurt and kill millions of people for the “greater good”.

When we demand that countries lower their emissions what we are doing is forcing them in poverty, hunger and death.

The world is not made by super advanced countries like US or European ones.

For people fighting for food on a daily basis these kinds of demands are simply not achievable.

> If the two fisherman can’t get in an agreement for the greater good and they both die, so be it.

Literally this is what the EU fish quota fixes - although in that case it's the risk of the fish dying out.

> When we demand that countries lower their emissions what we are doing is forcing them in poverty, hunger and death.

Not reducing emissions also does that in many cases. Large areas of Bangladesh are predicted to be physically underwater, for example.

There is enough of everything including food for all the world. If not killing the planet requires a transfer of wealth so that foreigners can both eat and help us achieve our goals I don't see why this would be an extreme barrier.

Practice self sufficiency. Stop relying on companies to gather your food, distill your water, even bring the water to your tap. Expect it all to shut off. No fixing it now, get ready for when it hits the fan. We will adapt or die. Let's hope we can keep some of this knowledge around, oh and those of you with your nice bunkers, dont forget to pass it on to your kids. Lets try not to make the same mistakes next time eh? Good luck and have fun all.

What is the “uncivil” way of stopping climate change? Might as well go to the beach and punch waves as they roll in, it would be the same result.

Civil unrest. Protests that devolve into riots.

Ever seen the painting "Bastille Day"? There are always options when the powerful fail the powerless. Large amounts of modern society were put in place to prevent this sort of thing from happening, but if the leadership is intent on making those protections ineffective, well, there's always guillotines again.

For those who consider this uncouth or believe there must be another way: even if the answer is to come through reforms, having a tangible threat of revolution on the table helps bring meaningful concessions from those who have thus far preferred symbolic gestures to placate.

What use is a guillotine against a hydra?

I believe Hercules solved this one by cutting all the heads off at the same time. So, in theory, you just need one guillotine per head.

He cut the heads off and his nephew, Iolaos, cauterised the wounds so they wouldn't grow back.

So you'd also need fire.

Because "Of course you should fight fire with fire. You should fight everything with fire".

For an invective against environmental politics, this Spectator article somehow managed to avoid even alluding to carbon.

If you're going to say that all green types are nuts because everything is hunky dory, you have to at least put in some claim that the Earth isn't even really warming, or isn't warming as much as we thought, or that rapid warming is good. Any of them would be false, but you've at least got to try.

It is important for us to celebrate good news and talk about positive things. It's part of positive reinforcement and giving us a more holistic view of things.

Always focusing on the negative and problems has many thinking there has not been positive movement, has left people with more anxiety and depressions, and causes hordes of other problems.

Celebrating and talking about positives is important. It doesn't mean all things are hunky dory. But, it's healthy to do.

I agree in general, but this article in particular is mostly a rant against environmentalists.

How so? The article I read is mostly a list of interesting factoids about resource and commodity consumption. It doesn't attack environmentalists, if anything it starts with a jibe at journalists, but only insomuch as it notes "good news is no news".

In particular, what parts were ranty? I didn't see anything that would rise to the level of a rant. It's remarkably good natured given the invectives routinely dished out by those who would disagree.

Or its warming but the warming isn't so terrible to outweigh the other advances.

I can even buy that! I have the apparently rare perspective that economic growth is good; climate change is likely to be both deadly and a consistent drag on economic growth; and well-designed policies to decrease carbon emissions (like a carbon tax with rebate) are likely to more than pay for themselves. Climate change denialists seem to have zero interest in that debate, though, while at least green politics seems interested in that dialog.

> deadly and a consistent drag on economic growth

It seems to depend very much on where you are:


Yes, people who are highly invested in beach resorts in Siberia will benefit by climate change.

Countries with an aggregate population today of roughly six billion will suffer for it, though.

Yes it is. Global warming is an existential threat to human existence on earth in a way that few other environmental issues are.

> in a way that few other environmental issues are.

I often wonder about that. It could also be that our collective attention can only handle one big emergency at the time, and we make that our sole focus.

I would not be surprised if in some years another emergency will dominate the news. Maybe its about ecocide then, large-scale collapse of ecosystems due to a combination of overfishing, poaching, natural habitat destruction and pollution. And man-made climate change only an additional factor in that.

I really don't understand people who believe this kind of thing. Existential means existence, yet not a single scientist believes global warming threatens human existence.

Where exactly are you getting this from? It's certainly not from the science.

> Existential means existence, yet not a single scientist believes global warming threatens human existence.

If you're going to argue this pedantically, perhaps don't start by claiming you know the opinions of every scientist, because if we're being pedantic, that's obviously not true.

Less pedantically, I think we agree that probably humans will survive global warming. But I think that we can agree that there's a temperature that's not survivable, even if we don't know what temperature that is. There's no long-term upper bound on how hot earth can get, and we're modeling uncharted territory: earth has never been as hot as it's going to get, while life has been on earth. So we really don't know how bad it will get. There is some chance that global warming will literally wipe out humanity, and given the stakes, I think that's a significant risk we need to be addressing.

> There's no long-term upper bound on how hot earth can get, and we're modeling uncharted territory: earth has never been as hot as it's going to get, while life has been on earth. So we really don't know how bad it will get.

Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum [0]

The associated period of massive carbon release into the atmosphere has been estimated to have lasted from 20,000 to 50,000 years. The entire warm period lasted for about 200,000 years. Global temperatures increased by 5–8 °C. Paired δ13C, δ11B, and δ18O data suggest that ~12000 Gt of carbon (at least 44000 Gt CO 2e) were released over 50,000 years, averaging 0.24 Gt per year.

Since at least 1997, the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum has been investigated in geoscience as an analog to understand the effects of global warming and of massive carbon inputs to the ocean and atmosphere, including ocean acidification. Humans today emit about 10 Gt of carbon per year, and will have released a comparable amount in about 1,000 years at that rate.

Take a look also at "Abrupt climate change" article [1]:

Timescales of events described as 'abrupt' may vary dramatically. Changes recorded in the climate of Greenland at the end of the Younger Dryas, as measured by ice-cores, imply a sudden warming of +10 °C (+18 °F) within a timescale of a few years. Other abrupt changes are the +4 °C (+7.2 °F) on Greenland 11,270 years ago or the abrupt +6 °C (11 °F) warming 22,000 years ago on Antarctica.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleocene%E2%80%93Eocene_Therm... [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abrupt_climate_change

Is this some kind of satire modeled after climate deniers?

I mean that's even less scientific than what climate deniers say.

Is this what the world has come to? You have two camps: climate deniers, and climate alarmists, neither party caring in the slightest about science?

Is there any science to back that up?

By that reasoning, literally everything is an existential threat to humanity.

> this Spectator article somehow managed to avoid even alluding to carbon.

It was alluded to in this section (ctrl-f "emissions"):

>> A wind farm requires far more concrete and steel than an equivalent system based on gas. Environmental opposition to nuclear power has hindered the generating system that needs the least land, least fuel and least steel or concrete per megawatt. Burning wood instead of coal in power stations means the exploitation of more land, the eviction of more woodpeckers — and even higher emissions.

Emissions here can't refer to carbon, because burning wood doesn't inject any new carbon into the carbon cycle. So he's only referring to particulate matter. Which, sure, coal beats wood on. But my main concern is about carbon, not anything else.

Is someone suggesting burning wood?

One of the ways the UK has reduced emissions is by burning wood pellets.


"Wood pellets are the most common type of pellet fuel and are generally made from compacted sawdust and related industrial wastes from the milling of lumber, manufacture of wood products and furniture, and construction. Other industrial waste sources include empty fruit bunches, palm kernel shells, coconut shells, and tree tops and branches discarded during logging operations."


Interesting. I wonder how much power is available from that.

Right now 7.1% of our power generation is coming from biomass.


I'm not convinced it's all waste product.

This was from 2015:

> Europe imported more than 4 million tons of wood pellets from US forests last year and wrote it all off as renewable energy.


I think this is partly why he believes wood burning can be worse than coal. Yes in theory growing trees and burning them is closed-loop ... if you assume the trees are grown right next to the power station and requires no energy input to grow or move them, which isn't the case.

Coal is very energy dense. Imports and other automated machinery like wood-cutting machines, planes for seed planting all burn oil. If you import coal and import wood, you could end up burning a lot more fuel with the wood option.

Now, that's kind of a tricky form of accounting because it would make wood burning worse from the perspective of the importing country only. But the carbon was still pulled out of the atmosphere in the exporting country.

The real reason wood burning/planting doesn't make much sense for reducing emissions is just one of scale. You end up needing to plant billions of trees to balance even just airline travel, let alone everything else. There isn't enough space short of terraforming deserts and other very energy intensive activities that probably wouldn't balance.

This is true, but where I live, leftover plant matter, typically from logging, is routinely just burned. Capturing that energy is a win up to the point it takes more to capture than it produces.

Wouldn't it be better to return that organic matter to the soil?

I read the implicit claim to be that technological innovation has fairly rapidly mitigated it’s own problems.

What I think the author misses is the interplay between pessimists identifying problems and innovators creating solutions. A voice identifying a severe problem is important, but do is the own saying “we got this, let’s fix it.”


Earth is just a ball of rock hurtling through space. Earth is going to be okay at any temperature because it doesn't even make sense for a ball of rock hurtling through space to not be okay. It's not Earth we have to worry about, it's humans.

1. We know is that there's a range of temperatures where humans have thrived for hundreds of thousands of years, and life has thrived for millions of years.

2. We also know that there's a range of temperatures where it will be too hot for humans to survive.

3. We also know that global temperature is changing from the former to the latter.

Given these three facts I don't think we need to know what the ideal temperature of the earth is to be concerned.

“All humans are going to die because the temperature gets too hot for our biology” is fallacious. Do you think we’ll gain 30C and Siberia will become unlivable? Does everyone die when the summer temperature is 30C higher than winter? We are literally planning Martian colonies, do you think we can’t figure out how to survive on Earth?

The issue is the effects of moderate temperature increases, rising sea levels, changing farming, etc. so it’s a mass disruption to our civilization (migration, resource wars, etc.) Not that we’ll literally be too hot and can’t somehow survive that as a species.

Humans live in Australian Outback and Alaska. We are adaptable, but the growing pains are not pleasant, hence the problem to civilization.

There are a lot of periods in Earth's own geological history that humans would not have survived. There are also a lot of other rocks in our solar system that humans would not survive on. Whether or not we can survive climate change depends on the bounds of how much change happens and how quickly, especially in terms of feedback mechanisms (clathrate gun, H2S from an anaerobic sea, etc).

There was a temperature in recent times (hundreds of millions of years) where humans would not have survived, anywhere on Earth? Yet giant dinosaurs with the wrong ratio of mass to surface area did?

Really, when? How much hotter was it in the past?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t fix the issue. I’m saying the argument that the average temperature will be unlivable is bad. It’s like saying bullets kill people because of the lead content, not the process of getting injected. The process of climate change will impact us most, not the impact of the temperature on our biology.


We do have to be careful playing with the chemistry of the atmosphere of the only habitable planet we have.

You do realize the chemistry of the atmosphere has changed far more than a few ppm of carbon, right? Like oxygen varying from 15% to 35%?


The argument that extra CO2 or a few degrees C will be unlivable for humans is laughable. The changes to our civilization from this is not (farming, weather patterns, mass migrations).

Yes, and that history of chemical changes is punctuated by global mass extinction events!

Just saying, it's not like there's a law of nature that keeps Earth habitable for humans. We should be aware of that. I think you're shifting the goalposts -- earlier you seemed quite confident that there wasn't a period within hundreds of millions of years that wouldn't have been habitable by humans. Have I changed your mind about that?

I don't think anyone who worries about climate change as an existential threat is thinking of sea level rise, a few degrees C and a few hundred ppm of carbon doing us in. Those could make life quote difficult at most. But it's the feedbacks that might run away from there, which are very hard to bound. How quickly might a few hundred ppm become a few thousand, if methane hydrates start to off-gas? Etc.

How confident can you be that it won't happen, when the Earth has carried itself away before?

Sorry, not convinced that the earth has been uninhabitable for humans in the past few hundred million years. What conditions made it uninhabitable everywhere on the planet?

Earlier posters made it seem like the problem with climate change was that earth was moving out of a narrow temperature band that supported human life. We live in the arctic, jungles, deserts, ice ages, mountaintops. We will be fine. The problem is the transition’s impact on our existing civilization (sea level change, new weather patterns), not the final temperature.

Let me put it this way: if we discovered earth 100 years in the future, even with our current climate change rate, we would rejoice about how easily it could be colonized (vs Mars, the moon, etc).

The climate will get hotter, and it’ll still be quite livable in places. This is the equivalent of people who think earth is in the “just right” orbit, if it were 10 feet off in either direction the planet would freeze or burn. And yet the elliptical orbit of the earth around the sun varies by millions of miles, and we don’t light on fire when climbing a ladder. We don’t die because someone left the AC 5 degrees too hot or cold.

Thanks, I appreciate your thoughtful responses so far.


If you can, please let me know what you think of the image on page 6. Mind you this is an unproven theory about the end permian mass extinction. But it's an interesting perspective on what could cause the whole planet to become uninhabitable, rather than just shifting the comfortable zone farther to the poles. I'm curious about your thoughts on, if it did happen that way, how long humans would last in such conditions.

Humans are hardy and adaptable, but so are insects, birds, rats, and many other species. Somehow the end permian extinction killed up to 96% of all species, including even insects and the formerly ubiquitous trilobite, and apparently nowhere on Earth was spared. Land vertebrates were almost wiped out.

I also appreciate the optimism about mars colonies, but we actually haven't demonstrated the technology or robustness to even sustain a colony on Antarctica without outside support. If we did set up a mars colony, I'm skeptical that it could last even a hundred years on its own. Technology is a powerful tool but supporting cement factories, steel mills, silicon fabs, power plants, farms, and everything else, in a self-sustaining way, really requires a habitable planet. I don't think it would be possible to sustain in an underground bunker for very long.

Thanks for the reference, that is interesting. I think that's what I was looking for in a theory of why things will be bad: it's not the temperature change itself (a few degrees is fine), or the atmospheric CO2 levels (still far less than 1%), or even the water levels (we can move, if painful economically), but the release of H2S, which kicks off a chain reaction of extinction, which may impact food supply etc.

I hardly know enough to comment on whether that is likely. But I think it's a much better argument about why the Earth will be uninhabitable for us specifically.

(That said, it doesn't really matter if the earth eventually becomes uninhabitable or not, we want to avoid the cost of having to move everyone for even minor sea level rises.)

Thanks for replying. Yeah I fully agree with you. The more probable impacts of climate change are bad enough that they should be the motivation. I think as an existential threat, it's an unlikely outcome but not one that we can totally rule out... Like other existential threats.


I'm saying that we don't need to know what those numbers are to know there's a problem.

You're asking leading questions which contain a lot of presuppositions, and you're ignoring my post in which I specifically reject those presuppositions, which makes it hard for me to believe that you're just trying to learn.

One metric which indicates "definitely super broken" is if the wet bulb temperature[1] get's to the mid to high 30's. Any regions where that happens for sustained periods is uninhabitable for mammals (which we are a subset of)

Before a region get's there consistently, it'll be that way intermittently and many people who can leave probably will because even in the high 20's and low 30's it'll significantly impact humans ability to do things.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wet-bulb_temperature

Awesome! Thanks!

Let’s assume that’s the number.

What I, as an individual, can do to help?

This serves for all the other commenters complaining about my responses.

If you can’t provide something that I can do as an individual I can’t help you.

It doesn’t matter how much we complain about how governments are not doing what they are supposed to if we can’t start with the smallest organizational unit of our planet which is the individual.

1. Involve yourself in pro-environmental politics, vote for pro-environmental leaders and policies. Most personal environmental decisions are dwarfed by the poor decisions made by large, corporations.

2. Consume less.

3. When you must consume, buy used (much of the carbon footprint of many products comes from producing the item).

4. Buy more local goods (much of the carbon footprint of many products comes from transporting them long distances).

5. Travel less, and more carbon-efficiently. Live closer to where you work. Walk > bike > public transit > cars.

6. Stop arguing that climate change doesn't exist.

7. Spend a few minutes researching the answers to your own questions before going on the internet and arguing that environmentalists don't have any answers. There's a wealth of information out there, and lots of people who are trying very hard to educate people, who would be happy to educate you if you asked questions in good faith, or typed your questions into a search engine.

You can do what you can to reduce your own carbon footprint and you can join organizations like the Citizen's Climate Lobby (https://citizensclimatelobby.org/) to convince politicians to finally start acting. These people here (https://www.drawdown.org/) put together a list of actions, some of which require you to change your behavior, some which you can influence by getting involved in local politics, and some which require global action.

In terms of global average temperature, we consider "average temperature in the decades before industrialization" as "healthy/fixed" and the previous temperature plus 4-6 degrees Celsius as "broken beyond repair".

In reality it's of course a bit more complicated since earth is complicated. Another good proxy for "fixed" would be "glaciers and permafrost exist and are not decreasing" while broken would be "large areas in the third world have become uninhabitable to humans"

We have very little understanding of the range of temperatures that are "fixed". We know for sure that at pre-industrial levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and at that temperature, the complex ecological systems of the world were more or less sustainably living.

Here's an opinion on it.

Haven't gone out and done my own validation, or checked other sources, but it'll give you somewhere to start



Alright, I'm not going to entertain this charade where you just pretend you are "trying to learn" any further. Crap or get off the toilet: either state your disagreement with what I've said, or don't.

I'm not arguing that there's some "ideal Earth temperature": that's your straw man argument that you're making and has nothing to do with anything I've said. I don't need to provide data to prove a claim I never made. I've made three points, numbered in my previous post. Two have data behind them, and the other is fairly self-evident. If you'd like to share which of the claims I've actually made that you disagree with, I'd be happy to engage you in a discussion where we present evidence for our respective positions, but I'm not going to answer you if you continue asking me questions of the form, "Why can't you provide evidence for this claim you never made?"

It seems that you have a number of threads going on here that are deliberately argumentative.

Clearly you haven't even had the time to read any of the references that you were specifically given that answer many (if not all) of your questions - yet here you are, continuing the climate-denial fight.

Do the honorable thing and stop phrasing your statements as questions - it is a waste of peoples time answering them.


Socratic trolling doesn't make you some grand truth fighter; it's just a pose you think is clever because you can conveniently demand answers without stating any positions, skip reading any references, repeat the same question, and proclaim victory when people get annoyed at your duplicity.

Just to make it explicit for the audience: before he was claiming just to be an honest truth seeker looking for references to learn about the topic, and now he acknowledged he's just a troll. Which was obvious from the start, but worth pointing out.

"...demanding they stop using plastic straws by showing pictures of turtles."

You do realize the plastic waste issue is separate from climate change?

I'm afraid that, since you seem to be reasonably intelligent and informed, I have to assume your replies are not made in good faith.

> Every time I try to argue around the subject and ask questions about it I get downvoted to oblivion or get answers like yours.

That's because you aren't asking questions, you're making vague points with question marks at the end.

> If these people were actually worried about climate and all related subjects they would be working on providing actual things reasonable people could do to help as oppose to calling other names and demanding they stop using plastic straws by showing pictures of turtles.

One thing actual reasonable people can do is stop pretending climate change doesn't exist and isn't a problem.

[1] https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/04/07/yes-we-have-noticed-th...

then instead of asking questions you are not interested in the answers to, give evidence of your own position.

I'm not here to argue with you. I am just pointing out that people are linking you to references, and you clearly aren't even reading them before you post your follow-up "questions".

If you want to argue, argue with evidence - don't dress it up as a question.

Are you replying to yourself, or is HN broken?

The ideal temperature for humans and the ecosystems we depend on is probably fairly close to what it has been since the last ice age, so for the last 10k years or so.

Dumb question. It can be either X or X+10F. The issue is how rapidly we move from one to the other. If it happens at a slow enough rate, natural patterns of human migration and urban development can account for it; if it's fast enough, it kills people and causes tens of trillions of dollars of economic damage.


You're playing a silly game by trying to make me state there is some "ideal" way the world "should" work, since everyone here knows the world isn't designed for anything. I can just as well demand you tell me what the ideal rate of change in temperature is. Note that you can't dodge that with "whatever the rate of temperature change would be if we enacted no policies", because there's no particular reason to think that whatever that exact amount is isn't too high (or too low!).

The point is that current levels of climate emissions are much costlier and deadlier than a world where (good) policies have been enacted to decrease the flow of carbon into the atmosphere.

Just to throw it out there, though, I'd suggest a guaranteed change of 2F/century would be greeted with an instant acceptance and sigh of relief by everyone.

The change from the last ice age to the current climate took thousands of years. It was still fast enough to eradicate a good chunk of ecosphere. The change we're causing will happen at least ten times faster.

That depends on what you would deem acceptable "impact" to our existing ecosystems.

> What’s the ideal rate then at what temperatures should change?

Ideal for what goal?

many times slower than it is now. The answer is of little relevancy because every single plan we have for reducing this rate either doesn't reduce it enough or only barely does so.

I broadly agree with Ridley, Pinker, et al, that material conditions, education, crime reduction, and various other aspects of life have been improving lately.

I would also agree that economic growth and energy usage aren't inherently bad; these are only problematic at our current level of technology. And we're going to need a lot more of both in order to tackle future existential problems among other things.

However one aspect of well-being which isn't always included in these treatments is that of 'mental health' or the state of our 'souls' as it used to be thought of. Both concepts are vague but they do point to something real and profoundly important. So here's an unrhetorical question: are we getting better or worse in this respect, on average? Or is it simply impossible to measure at our present inadequate level of understanding?

Although it would be silly to expect much better from The Spectator, this is an shockingly bad article which does little more than say “some metrics are better therefore green policies are shit”.

I like positivism. And I think given what we see in the news all the time it's important to promote good things.

But stating "best decade in human" history is really tongue in cheek. You could has well hand pick other indicators and state "end of the world signs were clear starting from 2010":

- The biggest economical power in the world, China, is now turning into 1984

- 60 % of the insect species considered extinct, and because of us

- Micro plastics everywhere

- USA general opioid addiction

- For the first time literacy, IQ and lifespan decrease in some occidental countries

- Obesity and diabetes epidemics

- Highest difference between rich and poor in centuries, while the former never paid such low taxes.

- Mass surveillance and black torture sites are now considered standard practice

- Extremism rising

- Mega corporations now have more economical power than some small countries

- Ads, ads everywhere. Comments are ads. Articles are ads. The entire internet has been sold to PR companies.

- Huge revealed scandals (panama papers, PRISM, Epstein, snowden, equifax...) ended up with no consequences for the criminals, screaming to the world that the powerful can actually do whatever they want

- Health care and justice systems in rich countries are saturated

- Jails are businesses, filled mostly with males from a few minorities.

- The population is violently divided on major political issues: Trump in the US, Brexit in the UK, Gilets Jaunes in France, Hong Kong in China...

- Privacy is at a all time low with the rise of IoT and smart speakers/cameras to complement the already omnipresent internet trackers and ubiquitous phones

- Star Wars 9

I would add to that, complete collapse in civilized political discourse, fueled by social media. Post-shame, post-fact world.

Isn't people calling the other side names like "post fact" and "post shame" the very collapse of civilized discourse you're lamenting?

No side was specified. There's typically no shortage of untrue words on either side of any divide.

> I like positivism.

Not disagreeing with your main point, but positivism doesn't mean what you think it does (you wanted "positivity" instead.)

noun: positivism

1. a philosophical system that holds that every rationally justifiable assertion can be scientifically verified or is capable of logical or mathematical proof, and that therefore rejects metaphysics and theism. a humanistic religious system founded on positivism. another term for logical positivism.

2. the theory that laws are to be understood as social rules, valid because they are enacted by authority or derive logically from existing decisions, and that ideal or moral considerations (e.g., that a rule is unjust) should not limit the scope or operation of the law.

Thanks. French here, I need this.


> What’s inherently bad with differences between poor and rich people?

This is not the argument. Concern rests on the size of the gap, rather than the fact of differences. Greater inequality is associated with many negative properties, such as decreased social trust, declining mortality rates, political instability, etc.

> The poorest people in the planet today have access to more resources than the greatest king had 500 hundred years ago.

Is the new bar going to be 500 years ago?

> Are you saying you would like all of us to be equally poor?


> To me this sounds more like jealousy and virtue signaling than anything else.

Are you suggesting that a concern for mounting inequality is a form of jealousy? And to the extent that what you say about signaling is true, I'd take a whole heaping pile of "virtue signaling" over bad faith reactionary arguments to very real and very dangerous social problems.

How can you say that wealth is not a zero sum game when resources are finite?

It's bad because wealth provides power, and power is currently being wielded to take away the autonomy of those who are poorer. Economic means are used by the obscenely wealthy to do some pretty horrid things, from buying elections to covering up their child sweatshop operations. Wealth inequality rapidly leads to general inequality in the eyes of the state.

First off, you’re wrong. “The poorest people on the planet” in no way have access to “more resources than the greatest king had 500 years ago”. It’s self-evidently nonsense.

Second, massive inequality between rich and poor is a signal that something has gone horribly wrong with the distribution of wealth generated by society. That does not mean that “all of us need to be poor”. It does indicate that the rewards of civilisation have been unevenly distributed.

> Second, massive inequality between rich and poor is a signal that something has gone horribly wrong with the distribution of wealth generated by society.

Is it? It seems to me like a world where a small group of people can improve the lives of a wide swath of the population (as measured and evidenced by that wide swath of people willingly giving them money in exchange for goods/services), that it’s fairly natural and even desirable for those creators of value to retain some of it for themselves.

Perhaps the relatively new capability of efficient global transportation and widespread Internet communication allows small groups to improve the lives of even larger groups than they could 50, 100, or 250 years ago.

We should celebrate that lives are improved broadly rather than excoriating those who are providing the improvements in exchange for money.

What are the improvements? Who is providing them and how?

When I give money to a merchant, I do so because they have improved my life. Whether it’s a gallon of gas, a gallon of milk, a car, a month of cell phone service, doesn’t matter.

>Second, massive inequality between rich and poor is a signal that something has gone horribly wrong with the distribution of wealth generated by society. That does not mean that “all of us need to be poor”. It does indicate that the rewards of civilisation have been unevenly distributed.

What is the "right" distribution then? Given that wealth invested will grow exponentially, it seems pretty self-evident that people who invest wealth will end up with way more wealth then people who don't. Even in a very simple model where half the population invests 30% of their savings and the other invests 10%, over a few decades the former will end up massively wealthier than the latter. Similarly, if both halves invest the same amount but one is able to find investments with 10% return and the other with 2% return, the former will end up way wealthier. What's unnatural about this?

Hence if we assume people have different degrees of preference for and competence at investing (there's no reason to assume these traits don't vary), we'd expect that even if everyone started from the same position some would end up way wealthier than others.

Fortunately, of course, excessive wealth and power disparities are reset periodically by major wars (WWI/2, the French Revolution, the Thirty Years War,...) and other civilizational upheavals (out on a limb, but the collapse of the Roman Empire).

Of course, many people regard that sort of thing as something to avoid.

Read Piketty

It's not a matter of morality, politic leaning or envy. We collectively agree, as a human specy, that fairness, equality and democracy are quality we want to cultivate.

A high difference between rich and poor is a sign of power concentrating, which is the opposite of what you want for democracy. It also means resources are getting less and less evenly distributed. If you aim for more fairness and equality, you need the reversed trend. Eventually, it means exhibit symptoms of being optimized for economic efficiency and a certain part of the population, while we know monoculture is not in favor of the specie on the long run.

Although it is true that wealth is not a zero-sum game, the poorest in the world today are essentially as poor now as they were 500 years ago. Extreme poverty, defined as less than $1.90/day, still affects 734 million people in 2016. This is a massive improvement, but it’s still a thing. The poorest in developed nations might be richer than the monarchs of 1519 by all counts except land and slave ownership (and gold, and political power), but the world doesn’t stop at the borders of the G20.

Unfortunately, it seems that it is still bad to have relative poverty even in the absence of absolute poverty, as it leads to political and civil unrest. Calling it jealousy doesn’t make it go away. Likewise, you can call anything you don’t like “virtue signalling”, so it’s not got any predictive power unless you want to be more precise.

The article starts out by addressing the very point you're making here: what about bad things that happened in the last decade? His answer is that things can get better in big ways, such that things that get worse in small ways don't counterbalance them.

I guess also the problem here is that many statements about things getting worse are very subjective, whereas the article tries to focus on objective metrics like absolute poverty, metals usage, etc. And it takes a global view.

Your list is pretty large but, for instance, you say "ads everywhere". The internet has been funded by ads for decades. Did it objectively get moreso in the past decade? And if so, isn't the worseness of this purely subjective given that many services we enjoy may not exist without ads or, possibly, would be charged for and thus available only to the rich, in rich countries? This is highly debatable. Whereas "child mortality is at record lows" is metric-based and objectively good.

Also many of these are very USA specific, but the worst places to live are really outside the USA. If your child died of TB "too many ads" and "the rise of smart speakers" is going to seem really trivial in comparison. No quantity of ads will counterbalance even a small rise in child mortality as a problem.

The article makes pretty much the same arguments he made in his 2010 book "The Rational Optimist"[1]. Although I mostly agree with the overall message, I have the same qualms with this article as I did with the book, namely the almost total lack of references, and often uselessly manipulative language.

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

Yeah, I very much agree. I just didn’t want to jump in with the point that this stuff is basically righteous reassurance porn for the centre-right.

There are certainly many major issues to address.

Still, it's good for our collective mental health to acknowledge that many really important elements of the human experience are really improving in meaningful ways.

If nothing else, openly acknowledging the successes of the past decades gives humanity confidence to address the considerable challenges of the present.

Strictly focusing on either the negative or the positive is out of balance. Balance is healthy.

All of this is great but it doesn't change the fact that our emissions are ridiculously high and we are entering the most perilous time for humanity.

The sea level rising by two centimeters is not more perilous than nuclear annihilation.

The wars caused by crop failures precipitated by climate inaction increase the risks of nuclear annihilation exponentially.

Yeah, but they said "most perilous time". It's hard to argue that nuclear annihilation is more likely now than in 1950~1990.

Humans didn't launch any global nuclear offensive but they have "launched" climate change.

Even if a miracle happened and we reached zero emissions today there are still 40 years of warming from current emissions in the atmosphere plus unstoppable feedbacks that have already been triggered (Arctic ice, methane in the permafrost, etc). Nobody really knows how much warming these feedbacks will add or for how long.

And even in the best case scenario we won't get to zero emissions in at least a couple of decades.

Last I checked crop yields and global food production is going up, not down.

For now, but changes in weather will change the places where we can grow crops. This change will happen fast, the question is if our adaptation can keep up with the change.

Don't forget that the high yields are caused by the crops being highly optimized for current conditions..

Sea level rise is the least of our problems.

I know, people are stupid. There is no way to give our children their childhoods back, in this era of Trump, and when a child from Sweden asks him how he can do that for her he starts a cyber bullying war with her. The world is literally dying right now.

And by “we” I presume you mean Asia and South America [1]. By blaming the US and European countries, Greta & co are barking the wrong tree. What we really need is to get China off coal to make a dent. The EU and US have been doing some decent progress already.

[1] https://cdn.zmescience.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Global...

No, by "we" I mean humanity.

Edit: Also that graph doesn't show emissions per capita which is the metric that really matters.


Also see this about cumulative emissions:


The US is still the country that has emitted more CO2.

It’s not the consumption per capita that matters to the climate.

You shifted the conversation to responsibility by country/region.

That’s a breakdown, not a ratio.

The EU and the US have not made decent progress if you measure it by likelihood of staying under 2° of warming. Both have goals that are incompatible with the Paris agreement, and they're not even meeting those weak ambitions.

Americans consume way more than the average person in S. America or China and produce way more CO2 per capita.

Just one click to the author's name reveals these titles:


>The most dangerous thing about the Amazon fires is the apocalyptic rhetoric

>Ignore the global warming hysteria: hurricanes are not getting worse

>The eradication of South Georgia’s rats proves we can do anything

>Wind turbines are neither clean nor green and they provide zero global energy

>The world is getting greener. Why does no one want to know?

And my personal favorite:

>How hunting and shooting help wildlife – and not just in Africa

Bloody brilliant, let me tell you.

I haven’t read those articles but I can think of a few good points behind many of those titles. It appeared the Amazon fires weren’t worse than any other year, wind turbines have lots of challenges that make them pretty much unsuitable as a primary source of energy at scale, as for hunting, it seems counter intuitive but it is often what supports financially many natural reserves, which happen to also require population control.

They do reveal a pattern that is equivalent to ignoring the canaries in a coalmine. The Amazon's fires are crucial this year not because there was not burning previously, but because once the ecosystems collapse, there is no regaining the rainforest. And of course it will happen, anyone who thinks otherwise is either ignorant, stupid, or plainly paid to ignore it. Wind? There is a difference between it being not good enough to be a primary source vs "providing zero energy", and the list goes on.

The hunting of endangered species is a gross practice that is a natural extension of the colonialist history of the West. When rich whites go to shoot animals who are not capable of defending themselves, no one should kid itself that yeah, there are alternatives to that horrid practice - and meanwhile, illegal hunting continues to eat up entire species, so the whole talk about hunting conserving the population is simply not true when taken in its actual context.

And we completely ignored the times when the ruling class goes to countries, shoots animals unlawfully, and gets away with it. Examples:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/dec/11/donald-trump... https://dailynewshungary.com/deputy-pm-semjens-swedish-hunt-...

And we could continue with more historic examples, like this piece of art right here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smithsonian%E2%80%93Roosevelt_...

Makes my skin crawl.

Those titles are not damning at all. You can’t think of a single way that hunting and shooting wildlife helps wildlife? Of course he’s not referring to the actual animals shot and killed but the population of wildlife holistically.

Appropriate hunting and other wildlife management are helping wildlife, given that the only other alternative is extinction.

But it's still a weird definition of "help". And I would argue that, if you look at it holistically, in many cases it is little more than a temporary holding action.

He should do a suggestion box for new pieces... ‘The plucky resilience of poor children who still drink tap water in Flint, Michigan’, ‘Why we are better off without polar bears’, ‘Are snow capped mountains really all that?’...

The number of homeless is increasing, but so is the number of humans in general.

"Productivity is up and wages might stagnate - but here's why its actually a good thing"

I appreciate the positivity until it comes at the snarky expense of environmentalists and ecologists.

Does this guy think we were born yesterday?

> predictions I made ... that ‘the ecological footprint of human activity is probably shrinking’ and ‘we are getting more sustainable, not less...’... our population and economy would grow, but we’d learn how to reduce what we take from the planet. And so it has proved. An MIT scientist, Andrew McAfee, recently documented this in a book called More from Less, showing how some nations are beginning to use less stuff: less metal, less water, less land. Not just in proportion to productivity: less stuff overall.

That's the kind of evidence he gives?

* "Some" nations, not all nor most, nor the largest ones.

* "Beginning" to use less stuff, not "using" less stuff.

* "less stuff: [one kind], [another kind], [a third kind]" - not using less generally, but using less of certain kinds of things, albeit important ones.

and so on. This is Junk commentary. I wouldn't be surprised if even his sources are also painting an overly rosy picture.

>> For example, a normal drink can today contains 13 grams of aluminium, much of it recycled. In 1959, it contained 85 grams. Substituting the former for the latter is a contribution to economic growth, but it reduces the resources consumed per drink.

Interesting. But before I hip-hip-hurray, I'd like to know how many 13g drink cans were made in 2019, and how many 85g cans were made in 1959.

I don't know about cans but overall aluminium production has rocketed, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_aluminium#/media/Fi...

Yes, that bit about the cans was a very suspect statistic to quote so out of context.

The google shall set you free --> http://www.cancentral.com/can-stats/statistics

At a quick glance I'd say, umm, more...

Yep, thanks, you're absolutely right.

Though the numbers are only for the US, total number of empty beverage cans produced and shipped in the US and US-controlled territories in 1960 was 9.700 (billions or tonnes, I'm not sure, the unit is not in the table) and in 2010 it was 96.457. So there's been a ten-fold increase of production for an eight-fold decrease in aluminum used. Note the numbers are for total cans, which I think includes steel, but there's only aggregate data up to 1979.

Data from this table from the page you linked:


Fortunately, it seems that for other types of cans production went down. For example, total number of food cans was 34.600 in 1970 and 28.432 in 2010.

This table:


Again thanks, I should have looked it up myself :)

This commentator is appealing to the idea that existential threats basically aren't real because they aren't measurable.

Look: measurement a,b,c,d all show things are improving. So this is the truth.

It's one point of view. There are plenty of other ways to look at the world seriously. It doesn't have to be reduced to 5 or 6 numbers.

We also passed 400 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere. Best decade ever for sealing peoplekind's fate.

Seems like they should mention how the global debt crisis is going to be resolved, if everything is really so great.

The "roaring 20s" preceded the great depression. And then a world war.

Strangely enough, I was just compiling a list of "good things that happened this decade" in an adjoining window for a different purpose. Here's what I got so far:

Cheap solar energy

Electric cars

CRISPR gene editing

Real world machine learning applications

Commercial space vehicles

Ebola vaccine

Heightened public awareness of: plastics, climate change, inequality, sexual harrassment

We fixed the Ozone hole

Extreme poverty down by half

Higgs boson and gravitational waves discovered

Everything has to do with science and innovation.

What about mass surveilance, rising suicides and homelessness, or never-ending wars, among other things?

to be fair to gp, i probably wouldn't include those in a list of the best parts of the last decade either

Suicide rates have been falling around the world:


I was just compiling a list of "good things that happened this decade"...

Those aren't good things?

I know that, but the topic we are discussing is that this is the greatest decade. My response is in that context.

Since they aren't good things they don't belong on the list.

No mention of any cultural or individual progress. Of course technology will get better because we can build on the past. Individual and cultural progress should be the measure of a society.

How would we measure that?

Tell that to all the people oppressed by the right wing shitheads that are in power in so many countries.

Soft paywall

Sounds about right.

That can't possibly be true, not while Trump is president.

Honestly the world is awesome and there is no time I’d rather live than the present. The endless complaining and “sky is falling” stories made me unplug from the media, when I do read the news I skim over anything like that (which is usually most of it).

My wife has a coworker who has to go to therapy to deal with her generalized anxiety about the world’s issue, which went into overdrive after the Trump election. She is constantly on top of the latest NYT disaster article. Her hair has started to fall out and she’s only in her mid-30s. It’s really, really sad.

Or my two unemployed Facebook friends that spend every waking hour on their endless political crusade. I want to shake them and tell them: maybe your world view is tainted by your local environment. It's convenient to attack political leaders for your problems, but maybe you need to spend all that time and energy focusing on finding an income instead of adding another useless voice to the chorus.


The best decade technologically and economically? Yes, no question.

But the best decade politically? Not even close. Nobody saw the resurgence of right-wing populism coming, of anti-immigrant vitriol, of rejecting the international institutions safeguarding peace, or breakdown of constitutional norms.

And with climate change on its way, I wouldn't count our chickens before they're hatched.

Name a better decade. Seriously. Starting from 1900, every one up to the '40s is out because two world wars, then all of the ones until the '90s is out because we were literally a paranoid mid-ranking officer away from global thermonuclear destruction, giving us the '90s, the '00s, and the '10s to work with. So we seem quite unarguably in the top 25% of the past 12 decades, so "not even close" is rather unfair. I will not argue the relative rankings of the past three decades except to state that it is not obvious what they should be.

I am not disputing that our world is on a knife edge. I am saying that it has always been like this, or worse.

Politically, 1990s were a big bunch of positive (or at least positive-seeming) political changes, the world had moved away from totalitarianism and it seemed that there was a momentum for improvement - while this decade has shown lots and lots of regression. IMHO there is an obvious difference between these past three decades, and the political climate was obviously better in 2000 than in 2019. Currently there's so much tension and public support for authoritarian leadership and us-vs-them policies that it reminds me very much of the global mindset during late 1920s or 1930s, and we all know the outcome of that - even without a particular mustachioed guy or two, that world situation would have resulted in some horrible violence.

Consider though, much of this sentiment has been present but unseen, or new, often as a result of being "left behind" by globalism. I don't think it's safe to assume that visible racist sentiments are as simple as they seem, but rather, people are mad, for a wide variety of reasons, and taking it out on out-groups is how this manifests.

Intellectuals and progressives are very guilty of similar behavior, it's just that their out-groups are not delineated by skin color, so no one notices it.

You literally just answered your own question -- the other decades since the cold war, meaning the 90's and 00's were obviously far, far better politically.

But I'd argue that what's particularly scary is the fact that things have gotten worse politically. It's not that the 10's were improving less fast -- it's that long-trusted political institutions are falling apart, and nobody knows how much further they have to go, or if they'll be able to be put back together.

> it's that long-trusted political institutions are falling apart, and nobody knows how much further they have to go, or if they'll be able to be put back together.

Or... we're witnessing a rebalancing of power where an executive branch will no longer have carte blanche and there will once again be a balance of power between the three branches of government (in the US at least, can't speak to how other countries do their politics).

One can hope at least.

Except we're not witnessing that rebalancing of power. I don't know where you would even get that hope from. There are literally zero signs of any rebalancing currently. The Senate claiming to conduct a sham trial is a new low, not a pendulum swinging back.

> it's that long-trusted political institutions are falling apart

This isn't the first time that's happened, you know. And the institutions that replace them will also fall apart and be replaced. And those as well.

You should stop worrying about governing body A or B and start hoping that the next group who seizes power respects inalienable rights as much as the ones who created your current situation.

I'm well aware of history. But constitutional checks and balances falling apart, or NATO losing credibility, or Britain retreating, are not things to "stop worrying about". To the contrary, they're everything to worry about.

You're implying that it's more important who rules ("the next group") rather than which institutions constrain them. I would suggest that this is deeply misguided. Institutions are what we have to protect us. Worrying about them is incredibly important, because they're what determines who the next group will be.

Wasn’t that long ago that the American south elected open, blatant racists to positions of high political power, and South Africa had Apartheid as official government policy. I think we need to appreciate how far the world has come in such a short time.

You could say most of those things about the previous decade. The anti-Muslim vitriol fueled by 9/11 and other events, the "Hague Invasion Act", etc

How many miles of rightwing, anti-immigrant wall have been actually constructed, though? Seems to me that a lot of people are conflating rhetoric with actual reality.

> But the best decade politically? Not even close.

That's very much a matter of perspective, almost by definition. "Right-wing populism" is just grassroots politics that some people don't like. We're also seeing a resurgence of left-wing grassroots movements; and again, plenty of people might dislike these political stances, but one can also see where they're coming from.

Sadly, it hasn’t really been a great decade for human dignity.

Compared to which one?

Your definition of what is great for humanity doesn’t necessarily need to be relative. You can have absolute criteria for what you consider a great decade for human dignity. Perhaps there has not yet been a great decade for human dignity.

Sure, but then you're playing semantics to grandstand and detract from real achievements.

I didn't make it past the first paragraph because I really can't stand the worst logic flaw in web performance being turned into a worldview. Hiding glaring flaws behind averages by just trying to overwhelm the average with a much higher volume of "good" traffic.

If poverty is an error, then a 60% error rate on 1 billion requests and a 10% error rate on 6 billion requests is the exact same thing for those people.

You should look at the data and not invent some silly comparisons to error rates. Poverty is declining both in absolute and relative terms.

There is less poor people now than there was 10 years ago.


Those data on poverty are a joke! Read for example: https://www.jasonhickel.org/blog/2019/4/27/200-years-to-end-...

It's basically the World Bank covering its ass for its own spectacular failure.

> If poverty is an error, then a 60% error rate on 1 billion requests and a 10% error rate on 6 billion requests is the exact same thing.

I can't conceive of the mental contortions you must have forced yourself into to conclude that a world of 600 million people, all in abject poverty, is just as good the world we live in now.

edited in a "for those people" to be clearer.

Yeah, but the other people matter too...

> If poverty is an error, then a 60% error rate on 1 billion requests and a 10% error rate on 6 billion requests is the exact same thing.

No. They are not the same thing. Error rate does not automatically drop when requests grow. The number of errors remains the same, but the number of "good" increases, how is that "the exact same thing"?

Also, 1 billion world population was in 1800s, at that time poverty rate was 80%.

There is an interesting phenomenon happening here on hacker news.

Optimistic comments are being voted down by the moderators (who have a high enough ranking to do so). Yet, this article has been pushed to the top by regular members.

The messages within the down-voted comments aren't breaking any of the community rules. So the down-voting is happening because of a political disagreement. The moderators are intolerant of an opposing view and rather than engage in open debate; they instead wink the things they disagree with, out of the conversation entirely.

By 'moderators' it seems that you mean users with enough karma to downvote and/or flag. Those are the users who've been affecting this thread. What you're seeing here is that the article is a divisive one, which is unsurprising, no?

It's always been ok for downvoting to express disagreement on HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16131314.

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